Transport in Thailand can be eye-opening, thrilling, scary and confusing all at the same time, but it is something that every single person on a gap year in Thailand should experience. Indeed, the country is so vast that jumping on a train or plane is almost essential should you wish to see everything that the country offers. What’s more, as with most things on a Thailand gap year, the prices are generally rock bottom, meaning that transport in Thailand is accessible even for those on a low budget.
Below we’ve highlighted some of the main forms of transport found in Thailand, so that you can have some insight into what to expect before you land in this beguiling and exciting corner of south-east Asia…
Travelling by Car
Before we start, this has to be said: even if you are an experienced driver back home, driving in Thailand is certainly not for the faint hearted! Rules on the road really aren’t observed by drivers, and you can expect to see lots of reckless overtaking and strange manoeuvres from other drivers. For that reason, we would not recommend driving in this country – although there are companies that do offer car rentals, such as Budget, Avis and Hertz. If you do rent, use a reputable company – such as the aforementioned ones – as you will know that the cars are in a good state and that you are properly insured.
For shorter journeys, there are many taxis working the streets of every town and city. While they are still at risk of the bad driving seen in the country, at least they are experienced and should have a good idea of what is going on. They are very cheap, although not as cheap as the next mode of transport for short journeys…
Travelling by Tuk-Tuk
Tuk-tuks are seen all over the streets of Thailand. They are basically three-wheeled vehicles, running off a low powered engine. While they aren’t fast, they are able to nip in and out of the busy traffic, so getting a tuk-tuk is often the fastest way to travel in busy places like Bangkok. These are without doubt the cheapest way to travel, although as a tourist you’ll be quoted a high price when you first enter one. Make sure you haggle, as you’ll be able to get the journey for much cheaper than previously thought.
Make sure you don’t confuse a tuk-tuk with a songthaew though, as these are larger vehicles, designed to carry multiple passengers. They are more like coaches and will pick up other patrons on the way. They are more expensive if you are the only person using them, so should be avoided – unless you want a snug ride with a number of other people on board!
Travelling by Plane
Thailand is a massive country, so air travel is the most convenient way to get around. For example, the distance between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is around 700km and takes about 7 hours to drive. You can make the same journey in just over an hour when you fly though. That leaves you with 6 extra hours to explore the delights of this northern Thailand destination! Most major cities have airports, and cheap flights are also usually available to neighbouring countries as well.
Of course, air travel is slightly more expensive than getting a bus or train, however the prices are still remarkably cheap. Domestic airlines, such as AirAsia, Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways, will usually get you anywhere in the country for under 2000 baht – absolutely nothing when you consider how much you paid for your ticket to Thailand from abroad!
When travelling by air in Thailand, make sure you do some research before booking tickets. You’ll see adverts everywhere for different airlines, but the prices shown are not usually the ones you’ll pay – surcharges and added extras are almost always tacked onto the price when you go to pay.
Travelling by Bus
The national bus company, BKS, is without doubt the best choice for anyone looking to make journeys using this type of transport. It is possible to get to every single corner of the country using a BKS bus, although long journeys can take some time – even though the roads in Thailand are much better than other countries in the region.
There are six different types of buses offered by BKS, ranging from the cheap, slow and cramped Local buses, through to the comfortable and quick S-VIP buses. Most travellers should attempt to get a first or second class bus, as they are still cheap but come with some on-board amenities, such as air conditioning. That being said, they also often come with TVs and stereos, which are perfect for spoiling any plans of sleep. Therefore, ear plugs are an absolute must if you want to get some rest!
When travelling by bus in Thailand, it is vital that you avoid any illegal bus companies. These pick up passengers from busy tourist locations, and are cheap. However, the price comes with a catch, as they are uncomfortable and, most importantly, sometimes not very safe. They also have a habit of “breaking down” conveniently next to restaurants and hotels…
Travelling by Train
The State Railway of Thailand has a comprehensive covering of tracks throughout the country, meaning you can get to any town or city with this form of transport. They might not be the fastest trains in the world – buses can sometimes be faster – however they are incredibly cheap and are very safe.
When travelling by train in Thailand, you’ll be charged depending on how fast the train is and which class you elect to travel by. There are three different classes, with first class offering air conditioning and sleeping berths. Second class is probably the best option for travellers, as it is comfortable but also not too expensive – although the toilets aren’t always amazing. Third class is incredibly basic, although the prices are so low you won’t notice at all. For longer journeys, third class is best avoided though.
If you want to travel by train in Thailand, it is usually best to pre-book online first, especially if you want a sleeper berth. Don’t be disheartened if the website – www.thairailwayticket.com – shows a train as fully booked though, as only 10% of tickets can be sold online. This means that you can turn up at the train station and still probably get a seat easily. If you aren’t tech-savvy, or simply can’t be bothered, agencies can book tickets for you for about 100 baht.
Don’t be surprised if you end up waiting longer than you expected for your train, as delays on Thai railways are extremely common. Every station has vendors selling food and drink though, so you’ll be able to keep yourself amused while waiting.
In Bangkok, you’ll also get the chance to use the Skytrain — and you certainly should! It is the way the locals get around the city quickly and safely, and costs next to nothing. What’s more, it is modern and reliable. Just think of it as the underground, but above the city instead! It comprises of 24 different stations and you can get anywhere in the city using it.
Thailand has loads of beautiful islands around its coast, so you will usually need to get a boat in order to reach them (except Ko Samui, which has its own airport). Generally boats are safe and are also a cheap way to travel – hiring a longboat for a few hours should come to around 350 baht. Speedboats can also be used, but expect to pay more for their services. Just be prepared to get wet should the sea be slightly rough the day you travel!