The overnight buses in Thailand are genuinely a thing of beauty. Seats akin to an airline business class seat prior to full flat beds, with headrests, footrests, snacks, water, seat back screens, built in massage chairs, blankets, and often pillows.
Make the right choice
That is, if you book the right one. There are many options available, VIP buses, which have more room, include a meal, and often only have 3 seats across. Express buses which are still okay, but often don’t include the meal, and have a little less space, and the tourist bus options – targeted mainly at the backpacker market. A lot of Thais use the long distance buses, and some travellers don’t want to travel with locals or erroneously think that the Tourist version of the bus will be better. It is almost always not. It is almost always cheaper on the face of it. But be warned – scams and being dropped off in the middle of nowhere mean it almost always ends up more expensive, and often nowhere near as comfortable.
Here’s an example for you. 2 accounts of our many bus experiences.
VIP Bus to Bangkok from Krabi.
- No Pick up included. The Bus Station was well serviced by local transport options for a small fee (circa 80 baht for 2 of us)
- Our Bus was due to leave at 7pm from Krabi Bus Station. It left at 7pm.
- On the Bus there were blankets, pillows, a snack & water. The chairs reclined. There was decent Leg room and seat back screens with English language movies.
- The bus stopped at about 10.30pm for food at a large food court. This was included in the bus fare.
- We got back on bus & went to sleep.
- We both woke up as we arrived in Bangkok at 6am. The bus arrived on time, at a well known bus station.
Compare this to the combined Bus & Ferry ticket we bought from Koh Samui to Bangkok. When you book this separately you would book a Ferry to Surat Thani, and a bus from there to Bangkok. We figured buying a joint ticket would be easier – and we were very wrong!
- 11am Pick up at Hotel did not arrive. We had to pay for taxi to take us to the Port.
- Ferry was late leaving (this is pretty standard though)
- We arrived at a Port 20km away from Surat Thani where we boarded a bus
- This Bus took us to an abandoned bus terminal where we waited for 3 hours another bus to arrive. Our food options were the Thai equivalent of a pot noodle and chocolate bars – all overpriced.
Bus Number 2
- The bus arrived at 7pm. Seats reclined, there were blankets. Things look hopeful.
- We then drove to Surat Thani where we waited for 45 minutes for a bunch of people to join us from a train.
- We finally set off, at which point the driver decided he wanted to practise his formula one driving skills.
- At 1.30am we stopped for food. Obviously that’s when everyone wants to eat their dinner. The food was in addition to the cost of the ticket and was really not that good ( I am being charitable.
Bus Number 3 (yes, really)
- At 3am we pulled over at a Petrol station and are inexplicably transferred onto another bus. It’s like when the cabin crew run out of hours to fly. Except they transferred 40 people to another bus rather than swap the two drivers over. This bus had no leg room, and very little seat recline, and no blankets.
- This, is when the baby on board decided to get grumpy. Given that we had passed grumpy at 90kmph on our way to raging mad a few hours prior, we couldn’t really blame him.
- At 7am, 2 hours after we were supposed to arrive, we get dumped on the side of the road; near, but not actually on, Khao San Road. We had another bus to catch at 7.30am on Khao San Road so had to run to make it (though in typical fashion the next bus was late)
This bus was worse than our experience of the overnight bus we took with food poisoning where the porter burnt a hole in my backpack.
The moral of this story
Avoid the tourist bus. Aside from our own less than stellar experience, there are pages and pages on forums devoted to why these buses are awful. Including some real horror stories about crazy drivers and theft. It best to avoid buses that take you to Khao San Road. Go to the bus station to buy your ticket.
Unless you like suicidal driving, eating what might be rat at 1.30am and being herded from bus to bus with no explanation, in which, case, this is the bus for you. It might look like the cheap option, but the money you think you save you will undoubtedly be spent on overpriced food during the journey. If, like us you are in Koh Samui, or one of the Islands and there isn’t a bus station to visit, then you can buy tickets online at https://12go.asia/en for a relatively small fee Avoid buying joint tickets, and if an agent tells you that the bus will be full of tourists, smile politely and leave without booking.