Thailand is a pretty big place. But the good news is there are many ways of getting about. One of the real joys of travelling long term is that you can take some of those longer, more budget friendly options. But there are pitfalls to many travel options that it is wise to avoid!
They can be expensive, but sometimes you just have to do it. There are many many low cost carriers in Thailand. Air Asia, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Lion are the ones we have used. BUT, even if the cost of the flight itself is cheap, bear in mind that getting to or from either Bangkok airport to Khao San Road is going to involve a taxi.
If you are staying near a BTS or MRT station (more later) then getting from Suvarnabhumi Airport is a relatively simple and inexpensive process. But most Low cost airlines fly to Don Mueang Airport, which does not have a link to either the BTS or MRT. There is also the exorbitant cost of food etc at airports which can be mitigated somewhat by using other means of transport.
For longer journey between cities, Trains are pretty cool. Thailand’s overnight train service is actually okay. Its not our favourite way of getting anywhere. However you do get a flat sleeper bunk, so with the aid of sleeping pill (distressingly easy to obtain in Thailand without prescription) you can get a fairly good night sleep. It’s slightly slower than the bus, but more comfortable. The 2nd class AC bunks are absolutely fine. Though always take extra clothing, and some food with you as the AC is brutal and the food on board is terrible and overpriced!.
Note that if you plan to go to the South of Thailand by train you still need to get a ferry or bus from Surat Thani to either the East or West. To Chiang Mai in the north, it’s a very straight forward 14 hour journey.
The overnight buses in Thailand are genuinely a thing of beauty. This is the way most Thais get places. You just need to make sure you get the right kind. Tourists buses should be avoided – see our post on why here. VIP buses are the best as the seats are wider and there are less of them on the bus.
There are also Minivans which ply the shorter of the long distance route such as Chiang Mai to Pai, or over to Koh Lanta from Krabi. These are a little cramped if you are over 5 ft tall, but they are serviceable and you’ll only be on them about 4 hours max.
Ferries are your route to the Islands. They come in various different forms but mainly they are big passenger ferries. The catamarans are quicker, but more expensive. They are all pretty comfortable. You can even get your sunbathing on if you pick a eat up top, or get your sleep on if you pick one on a lower air conditioned deck. Something for everyone abounds.
There are Island hopping passes you can buy but our experience of the Islands was that we loved a couple so much we went back. If you buy a pass up front then make sure it allows this.
These are pick up trucks with 2 benches in the back. They are used on many of the islands as a means of getting about. You’ll also see them everywhere in Chiang Mai. They offer fixed price journeys – but make sure you check the price before you get in – there are a few who will try to over inflate the price on you. They are often the cheapest way to get around a town if you don’t want to ride a scooter.
These come in various forms depending on the city but in principle they are all 3 wheeled, with either a side car or trailer for you and your stuff to sit on. InBangkok when you are asked if you want a taxi, this is what they mean. It doesn’t matter how far you are going, they start off asking for 400 baht. They don’t tend to like it when you try to negotiate. Which is why we rarely used them there.
In Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, Grab and Uber are available and are pretty cost effective options. The metered taxis are less so because somehow, the meters don’t seem to work, and guess what? The price is always at least 400 baht. We walked 6km one night out of spite and stubbornness after 6 taxis in a row refused to use a meter. In Koh Samui there is a well run mafia in charge of the taxi services. This means no bartering and no Uber.
MRT and BTS
In Bangkok, the Underground (MRT) and Sky Train (BTS) are very safe, relatively inexpensive and comfortable ways of getting around the centre. These should be your go to means of transport. They are Air conditioned, and not in the poor way the Northern Line is. People are well mannered, in a way they definitely aren’t on the northern line. Its is a wondrous public transport experience.
We have rarely used these for a number of reasons. Sarah tried riding one and hated it. Her hatred of driving one was only surpassed by her hatred of not being in control when she rode on the back of one. However, if you aren’t a control freak with terrible balance. These are not a bad way of getting around some places. Please do wear a helmet though, because the Thai police will give anything to get some cash out of you in the form of a fine. A fine that no one in authority will ever see – also, coincidently it seems to 400 baht.