This post was last updated on February 17th, 2020 at 01:43 pm
Thailand transportation is cheap, efficient, and almost always fast. Whether you have a large or small budget, everyone can travel around Thailand. There are options ranging from domestic flights to buses with hard seats and no air conditioning. The transportation options in Thailand are better and easier than anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
The buses are fast, cheap, frequent, and can be very luxurious; Trains are slower but safer, and more likely to give you some much-needed rest/sleep while traveling at night. Tuk-tuks will take you everywhere for a few baht and minivans are a great invention.
Thailand Transportation Options
The way you travel can have a major impact on your journey. Domestic flights, for example, are a great option if you have less time, but you will see less of the country. In our opinion, traveling with a scooter is the best way to see everything the country has to offer, but it also takes a lot of time. Make sure to keep your time and budget in mind when you choose your means of transportation in Thailand.
Scooters in Thailand
The scooter is definitely one of the most special ways to discover Thailand. Renting a scooter in Thailand is very easy; every hostel or hotel rents them out. If not, there is always a place in town where you can rent a scooter, just ask around! The locals are very friendly and helpful, even if they can’t always understand you that well.
Keep in mind that riding a scooter in Thailand is (probably) a very different experience than in your own country. The traffic here is quite chaotic and some experience with scooters will help you get a head start.
TIP – Scooters of around 100cc, either fully automatic or shifting, are best for novice drivers, but they are not really suitable for long journeys.
If you drive a bit more into the countryside and the mountains it’s better that you rent a 125cc scooter. These are often shifters and have a little more power. The 150-250cc scooters are less easy to rent but easier to ride. They are also cheaper in terms of fuel.
Prices vary per region but prepare to spend about 150-200 baht (US$4.80 to $6.40) per day for a light scooter. Landlords often ask you to leave your passport or credit card details as a deposit. We do not recommend this because you are not obliged to do so. Insurance is not often available, so it is a good idea to ensure that your travel insurance covers you for potential accidents.
Northern Thailand and on Islands
The scooter is a great option for islands and driving in the north of Thailand. Exploring the environment in the north of Thailand with a scooter is special because, in comparison to a taxi or organized tour, you will see many different regions. You often meet locals who know the most beautiful places. Islands in Thailand are usually not that big so you can quickly and easily explore large parts of the island with a scooter.
Buses in Thailand
Buses are generally the most convenient option in terms of transportation in Thailand. The bus network in Thailand is good and runs to every corner of the country. They are often fast, cheap, and comfortable. And the latter is not unimportant since bus trips often last at least 6 hours or more. The buses can be divided into four categories. In ascending order of comfort, speed, and costs.
- Normal buses ➜ (rot thammadaa) without air conditioning, usually orange.
- Second class buses ➜ (rot air or rotten thua buses), with air conditioning, usually blue.
- First class buses ➜ (rot air or rotten thua buses), with air conditioning, usually blue.
- VIP buses ➜ (rot air or rotten thua buses), with air conditioning, usually blue.
Regular Buses and Second Class
The regular buses, or local buses, and most buses with air conditioning fall under the Baw Khaw Saw (BKS), the government bus company. These buses run on most routes, including almost all routes from Bangkok.
The buses are gradually being replaced by the slightly more luxurious second class buses. You can recognize this by the “2” on the side of the bus. The local buses still run in lesser-known regions, on the short routes.
The big advantage of these buses, both local and second class, is that they are extremely cheap. You can sit on this bus for hours for just a few baht. They are not comfortable, they usually do not have air conditioning, and they only start driving when they are packed. They regularly stop to pick up people, so your journey is considerably delayed.
TIP – These buses are not as comfortable and fast as the VIP buses but it is a nice and very cheap experience to try one of these buses!
You can find many buses near all the known highlights of Thailand, like the victory monument in Bangkok
First Class and VIP Buses
First class and VIP buses are often more expensive and have fewer stops. The first class buses can be recognized by the “1” on the side and VIP is usually written in English on the side of the bus. The first class buses and VIP buses are often used for long distances. Some call them long-distance buses.
They are often quite pricey but you do get a lot in return. Think of air conditioning, blankets, snacks, and non-stop DVD viewing. The first class buses have fewer places than the second class and more legroom. The VIP buses have fewer places than the second class buses and, therefore, have more space (and they are more expensive). Other, even more, luxurious buses are also used and these are often referred to as Super VIP or Gold Class.
It is best to ask a local where the bus stops. If that fails, look for designated bus stops, often characterized by small open, wooden structures with benches. These are often located along the main long-distance bus routes through the city or on the outskirts of each city.
How to Book Bus Seats
Long-distance buses often leave at the same time (early in the morning or late in the evening), leaving a gap of five hours or more between journeys. The best sources of information, with the exception of the bus stations themselves, are your accommodation or tour operator in the city.
Book Bus Seats Online
You can also book your tickets for buses, boats, or trains online. This is easy if you want to book in advance and do not want to run the risk of missing buses or trains. One of these ways is using 12go Asia. You can use this for any country in Asia, not just for Thailand. It is very useful to view all the prices and different routes of Thailand, check it out here.
Minivans in Thailand
Minivans are often used for the shorter routes. The advantage is that they are much faster and often depart from inside the city whereas larger buses often depart from outside the city. Minivans are often slightly more expensive. These small vans don’t belong to the government.
If you book a tour or transport with your accommodation or tour operator you can opt for the minivan. The big advantage is that they will pick you up at your accommodation nine out of ten times. That saves a lot of searching and dragging around suitcases and backpacks
Travelers in Thailand often say that minivans are more comfortable than buses. We do not entirely agree with this statement. They don’t call it a “minivan” for nothing; space is often limited. In addition, minivans will be completely stuffed and the driver often drives fast. For long distances, it’s a better idea to book a VIP bus.
Fares depend on the class, air conditioning, and the speed of the train. Trains with wooden seats are much cheaper than buses (Bangkok – Chiang Mai is about 120 to 220 Baht, US$3.80 to $7). For longer journeys, it is advisable to opt for adjustable seats in second class. The Bangkok-Chiang Mai route will then cost around 280 to 400 Baht (US$9 to $12.75).
There are also second class Sleeper Trains (Bangkok-Chiang Mai will be around 490 to 630 Baht, US$15.60 to $20 + air-conditioning). They are expensive, but a lot more comfortable. First class trains are the most expensive (Bangkok-Surat Thani will cost around 1,050 to 1,250 Baht, US$33.50 to $40). You do however have more luxury with two-person sleeping cabins. It provides air conditioning and even a sink.
Trains in Thailand
A trip by train is usually cheaper than by bus, but it also takes longer. In Thailand, there are three classes in the trains, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class. On most trains, only the 2nd and 3rd class can be booked. In the 3rd class, there is often no more than a wooden bench to sit on.
This is certainly not advisable for long train journeys. The train journeys take longer here because the trains do not run particularly fast. The speed is usually between 60 and 80 km/h (37 to 50 mph). A train journey from Bangkok to Phuket quickly amounts to 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) and is, therefore, a long journey.
Main Train Company in Thailand
Transport by train in Thailand is provided by the SRT, the State Railways of Thailand. The railways in Thailand can be divided into 4 main lines. All in all, there is almost 4,000 kilometers (2500 miles) of track in Thailand. All these main lines depart from the main station of Thailand.
For example, the Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok. From here, one goes north, also called the “Northern Line”. This line goes to Chiang Mai. The “Eastern Line” takes you to the East, to Aranya Prathet. “Northeastern Line” is going (not entirely illogical) towards the Northeast, to Nong Khai and the last major railway line, the “Southern Line” takes you south to Sungai Golok.
You can buy tickets at the train station in the city. Some accommodations can help you with this, although they often charge commission. At almost every train station there is someone who speaks English and would be more than willing to help you.
Buy Tickets Online
You can also book your tickets for buses, boats, or trains online. This is easy if you want to book in advance and do not want to run the risk of missing buses or trains. For example, you can check out 12go Asia here, and see all routes, prices and transportation means to get there.
The Famous Tuk-Tuks
If you are in Thailand you cannot escape the tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuks in Thailand are world famous and run in all major cities and around the most important highlights. A tuk-tuk is a scooter with a seating area at the rear where passengers can enter.
The tuk-tuk is a cheaper means of transport and it is quite fast since it can go through everything (with pretty high speeds). Especially in the larger cities, the tuk-tuk is a better option than the taxi. Remember that with the tuk-tuk drivers you can negotiate for the price. If you don’t, you will pay the full price.
TIP – Prices are, regardless of the number of people, around 100 baht (US$3.20) for an average ride in the city. In Bangkok, you will also pay around 100 baht.
Pay attention to extra low prices for a tuk-tuk ride, especially in Bangkok. If they easily agree to a (much) lower price, chances are that they will take you to shops where the tuk-tuk drivers get a commission if you buy something in the store (usually tailors). Therefore, always tell the tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok: “no shops”.
Domestic Flights in Thailand
Flying is becoming an increasingly popular means of transport in Thailand. Because Thailand is pretty decent in size, it is not always possible to travel through the country within a certain time period by bus, train, car, or scooter.
To travel faster through the country, more and more people are choosing for domestic flights. A very effective and cheap option since you can already fly from North to South Thailand for $50.
The disadvantage of domestic flights is that you will see less of Thailand itself. Thai Airways and Bangkok Airlines have good connections within Thailand. Air Asia, Nok Air, and Orient Thai (formerly One-Two-Go) are the most important budget airlines.
TIP – We book all our domestic flights in Asia with Skyscanner.
Cars in Thailand
If you want to rent a car, make sure to go to a good car dealer such as Avis, Budget, or National and watch out for scams. Also, make sure you are insured if you’re going to drive a car in Thailand! There are international car rental companies at many airports, including Bangkok Suvarnabhumi.
Driving in Thailand is a bit different than in most countries. For example, they drive on the left here and they also drive aggressively without attaching too much importance to traffic rules.
TIP – Different traffic rules apply in Thailand than in your own country. Just stay calm, be careful and everything will work itself out! Even though it can be very chaotic on the roads, we’ve actually never seen an accident happen.
Jeeps or four-wheel drives are popular with farangs (foreigners), especially at beach resorts and islands such as Pattaya, Phuket, and Koh Samui, but they are dangerous. A large number of tourists manage to tilt their jeeps on steep slopes and sharp turns. Jeeps usually cost around 1,000-1,200 baht (US$32 to $38) per day.
The price of renting a small car starts at around 900 baht (US$28.70) per day when you book online. In some parts of the country such as Chiang Mai, you can rent a car or minibus with a driver and air conditioning for around 1,000 baht (US$32) per day.
Ferries and Long-tail Boats
Ferries connect all major islands with the mainland. You can often buy a ticket on board. Safety standards are generally minimal but adequate; it can happen that you will travel on boats that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition. In tourist areas, competition ensures that prices are kept quite low.
TIP – Ferries are pretty cheap. The Chumphon – Koh Tao route costs between 200 baht (6 hours) and 600 baht (1 hour 45 minutes) which about $6.40 to $19.10.
On the east coast and the Andaman coast, ferries often sail less frequently during the rainy season (May-October). Ferries that connect Koh Samui and the surrounding islands all year round.
Where there is water, there is a long-tail boat that is ready to take you to every possible place. It is the tuk-tuk of the water and typically Thai. The streamlined boats are powered by deafening diesel engines – sometimes custom-built, with a propeller mounted on a long pole that is used mainly at the islands.
Long-tails can take between eight and twenty passengers. It is a nice way to discover coastal towns.
The Thailand transportation options are cheap and efficient, and almost always fast. Whether you have a large or small budget, everyone can travel around Thailand. Transportation ranges from domestic flights to buses with hard seats and no air conditioning. Transport in Thailand is better and easier than anywhere else in Southeast Asia. The buses are fast, cheap, frequent, and can be very luxurious. Trains are slower but safer, and you will be more likely to get some much-needed rest/sleep while traveling at night. Tuk-tuks take you everywhere for a few baht and minivans are a great invention!