Monday, March 4th 2019

A Guide to Public Transport in Thailand

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Public transportation in Thailand

You will find an abundance of public transport options when traveling around Thailand and we would like to share some tips and advice to help you make the most of them. Getting from one place to another can be a daunting experience in an unfamiliar country, but a little knowledge of what to expect will help to allay your fears. Continue reading to learn all you need to know about getting around Thailand by plane, train, bus, ferry, and taxi, including the best places to buy tickets, the perks of each method of travel, and the odd red flag to watch out for.

Booking planes in Thailand

Traveling on Planes in Thailand:

For long distance internal travel, flying is by far and away the best choice of transport in Thailand. The train has its merits, but don’t count speed among them. Journeying by rail between further flung destinations can take agonizing amounts of time—catch the train from Chiang Mai to Phuket, for example, and you may find yourself rolling along the tracks for anywhere up to 24 hours. The same journey by plane takes 2. That is a lot of potential time saved for sightseeing, relaxing, or whatever else you have planned for your stay once you have arrived at your long distance destination.   

Thailand’s well-connected internal flight network spans two-dozen airports and connects all areas of the country. Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways are the two major airlines operating flights across the internal network, and Air Asia, Nok Air, are reputable budget alternatives.

Fares, while generally inexpensive, have a habit fluctuating. To secure the best prices, try to book your tickets at least two months in advance. You will also want to make sure your tickets are booked long before you intend to travel if your flight dates fall within peak tourism months or Thai national holidays.

Tickets can be booked directly with any of the airlines mentioned above by clicking on the links provided. Their websites will also feature details of any special deals currently on offer. Flights can also be booked on 12goasia, an online travel agency that is also useful for comparing ticket prices. Be sure to make your bookings well before you intend to travel if your flight dates fall within peak tourism months or Thai national holidays.

Best for: long distance travel

How do I book trains in Thailand?

Traveling on Trains in Thailand:

Flying is great for getting around Thailand fast, but it does have one major drawback. By choosing speed, you will sacrifice your view of the scenery. Thailand’s spectacular landscapes are one of its biggest draws for tourists, and one great way to feast your eyes on them is to catch one of the many trains that meander right through them.

Although rail is a slower means of traveling around Thailand, the country’s trains are generally well maintained and offer a safer service than its buses. If you are only traveling a short distance by train, it is likely you will be riding on an ‘ordinary’ local service. Three additional types of train cover longer distance journeys: the ‘rapid,’ actually the slowest of the three; the ‘express,’ which is faster; and the ‘special express,’ which is the fastest.

Typically, each of Thailand’s three types of long distance train offer three different classes of travel. The comfort of your journey and the price of your fare will largely depend upon which class of travel you opt for.

3rd class is your bog standard, frills-free ticket. You’ll likely spend your journey sitting on a bare wooden bench, or a slender layer of padding if you are lucky. Either way, do not expect a great deal of comfort or the luxury of air conditioning. That being said, 3rd class is cheap, and usually perfectly adequate for journeys lasting anywhere under three hours.

2nd class is the choice for intermediary comfort. If your carriage is not air conditioned, you can probably at least expect a fan to circulate the air. Purchase a sleeper fare if you are planning to travel overnight and you will also be provided with a fold-down bed complete with privacy curtains.

1st class is, unsurprisingly, the most luxurious option of the three. A 1st class ticket will usually secure you a place in a private 2-person cabin complete with a sink and your own fold out bed. You can probably expect air conditioning too.

Dining services are normally available for every class of passenger on all types of train, though may not be included in the price of your ticket.

Tickets can be booked at any of Thailand’s train stations. They can also now be booked on thailandtrains.com, but if you plan to book tickets through this site, be sure to do so at least two days in advance. Also, be aware that online services are only ever allocated tickets for a certain number of the available seats on any given journey. Alternatively, advanced bookings can be made on 12goasia or through trusted Thai travel agents such as Thailand Train Ticket or Royal Exclusive Travel. As with traveling around Thailand by plane, make your bookings early if you plan to catch the train for long distance journeys during peak tourism months or Thai national holidays.

It is also worth remembering that Thailand’s trains aren’t famed for their punctuality. Patience is an asset when traveling around Thailand by rail.

Best for: taking in Thailand’s scenery while in transit

Taking a bus in Thailand

Traveling on Buses in Thailand:

If reliability and affordability sit atop your traveling around Thailand agenda, then the bus might be the perfect option for you. Where Thailand’s trains are tardy, its buses have a much better penchant for good timekeeping. If you are one for diverging from the beaten tourist trail, you’ll also be happy to hear that Thailand’s bus services extend deep into the country’s rural hinterlands.

Buses are one of the most varied forms of transport in Thailand. As far as speed and comfort are concerned, you get what you pay for. Ordinary municipal buses are usually orange and aren’t air conditioned. Private bus services are also common. They range in quality from 2nd class, to 1st class, through to VIP, and all the way up to super VIP. VIP and upward class buses feature toilets, TV's and spacious reclining seats. Some also provide a hot meal service included in the price of the ticket. The Transport Company and Green Bus Company are two Thai VIP bus service providers that are held in high regard.

Be wary of overnight bus travel. Some of Thailand’s bus drivers are known to dose up on amphetamines to help see them through the long shifts, and this carries a raft of obvious risks. We would also advise staying well away from the so called ‘backpacker buses.’ These are the dirt-cheap bus services located on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Similar operations can be found in Thailand’s other major cities. Passengers on these services endure overcrowding, drivers wired on drugs, and the stowing of their bags in infamously unsecure luggage bays that are often ransacked and plundered of valuables.

For long distance bus journeys, we would recommend buying tickets direct from bus stations. That way you’ll dodge the scammers hanging around some hostels and get to choose from the broadest available selection of options running along your route. Again, however, bookings for bus travel can also be made on 12goasia.

Best for: reliable travel on a budget

How do I book a ferry in Thailand

Booking Ferries in Thailand:

If you are planning a trip to one or more of Thailand’s many beautiful islands, then to get to them, you have two options. Either you embark on a flight, which will only take you as far as either Koh Samui Island or Phuket, or you can sail on a ferry. Thailand’s ferries come in all shapes and sizes ranging from large vehicle carrying vessels to rickety rafts propelled by outboard motors. Almost all are privately operated, and you will find a disparity in price and quality from one crossing to another.

Ferries are another form of transport in Thailand with something of a dubious reputation for safety. A number have sunk in the past, and issues of overcrowding and drunken sailors persist. That being said, it is very unlikely that you will find yourself aboard one that happens to be sinking. Keep your wits about you though. If your would-be ferry is a limping rust bucket, overcrowded, crewed by drunkards, or casting sail into a storm, then it is probably a good idea to let it weigh anchor and wait to board another.

Ferry tickets are best purchased from your hotel’s reception or local agency. It is easy to fall foul of ferry ticket scams online and legitimate website vendors charge additional fees that you need not pay. Booking in advance is not normally necessary, but if you are traveling to a full moon party, or simply crave a little peace of mind, then you may wish to purchase your tickets a day or two in advance.

Best for: voyaging to the islands

Riding tuk tuks in Thailand

Booking Taxis in Thailand:

When hailing in the street, stick to taxis that price by the meter. Drivers are usually friendly, but many will not think twice when the opportunity arises to cajole a naive tourist out of an inflated fare. When you can see the price of your journey displayed in lights, you know you are getting a fair deal.

The more adventurous of those traveling around Thailand might decide to opt for a ride in a tuk-tuk or on the back of a motorbike taxi. These are the fun options, and they may get you to your destination a little faster, but they won’t necessarily do so for a cheaper fare. Neither make use of meters so you will have to negotiate a price with the driver before setting off. Be prepared to haggle. The first price offered by drivers will almost always be above the standard rate. It goes without saying that these options offer little room for luggage.

Songthaews are another similar means of getting around in Thailand. These are the big old trucks that have been converted into shared taxis. Hail them as you would any other taxi, state your destination, negotiate your fare, hop on, and enjoy the ride, but be prepared for detours.

Fans of Uber will be pleased to know that Southeast Asia has its own affiliated equivalent: Grab. It works in much the same way as Uber. Download the app, enter your location and destination, receive an estimated fare, and track your driver while you wait for them to pick you up. You can pay for your Grab ride either through the app, or in cash, which many drivers prefer.

It is a good idea to carry a map of your destination including its address written in Thai. Doing so can save time and confusion for both you and your driver, whatever your cab of preference is for getting around Thailand.

Best for: zipping about town

Whatever means of public transport you are planning to make use of when traveling around Thailand, we hope that this article has given you a better understanding of your available options and will help to smooth the journeys you eventually take.  Enjoy your trip.

We want to thank you for making it to the end of our article.

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