The iconic Tuk Tuk is synonymous with travel in many countries in Asia. One of the most atmospheric ways to travel, jumping in a local Tuk Tuk allows you to see the city with the wind in your hair while supporting a local business. Most Tuk Tuk drivers are self-employed and make the majority of their income ferrying tourists across the city. Prices can vary and expect to haggle. Get an idea of a fair price first from a guidebook or by asking at your guesthouse/hotel. A common practice is for drivers to offer a very low price in exchange for ‘one stop’ at a friend’s high-end store. Unless you are curious, politely decline and agree on a price. Be aware of belongings due to the open sides, bags should be kept facing inside. Useful for short distances, particularly within cities.
The best way to hail a taxi is to flag one down, instead of taking offers from drivers who approach you. Always agree ‘on the meter’, you will likely pay more by agreeing on a price in advance unless you know exactly how much the fare should cost. Taxis from both Bangkok airports now have a regulated taxi system and reservation desk. If travelling alone, consider sharing a taxi to common destinations from the airport. Useful for short-mid length journeys.
Motorbike taxis in Thailand are regulated and operated by the Land Transport Authority. Authorised drivers wear vests and have yellow number plates. Most will carry a spare helmet (all riders are required by law in Thailand to wear a helmet, although this is often ignored by locals.) This is a popular way to get short distances quickly, particularly in Bangkok where the traffic can be achingly slow. Useful for very short journeys.
Local buses are a good way of getting around with a bit of research. Some are a/c and some are fan only and generally comfortable for shorter journeys. Prices vary but they rarely more than $1 per trip. Let the conductor know where you’re going, and they’ll give you a nudge when it’s time to jump off.
Tourist buses service locations further away and usually come with movies playing, music and air conditioning. Although many travel agents will first suggest buses as long distance transportation (for example from Bangkok – Chiang Mai, or to Chumphon/Surat Thani for the islands), we suggest taking the excellent rail service for any route North/South. Most agents get more commission from the sales of bus tickets than rail so are more likely to recommend this over train tickets. Useful for cheap journeys and local life. Don’t use if you’re in a hurry!
The king of Thai transportation – the rail service that runs from the deep south to the far north allows comfortable, low-cost transport across the country. Each train has a number of different classes – from bare wooden seats to air-conditioned, first class carriages. For just $15-20 you can book a first class sleeper bunk which departs nightly and covers hundreds of miles.
In Thailand the seats flip into double bunks that are either side of a corridor. The conductor comes by and makes each bed individually with fresh individually wrapped sheets and blankets. Each bunk has its own curtain for privacy and the lower bunks are often slightly larger and cost a few dollars more. Unlike the tourist buses, the bunks are quiet and comfortable and allow you to wake in your new destination well rested. There is running water and toilets on board, as well as a full meal service for the evening or breakfast. Food vendors will also jump on and off throughout the morning hawking hot drinks, snacks and traditional Thai breakfasts. The uniformed conductors have a knack of remembering each traveller’s destination and you will be woken in due time to make your stop! Expect delays of 1-2 hours on trains arriving or departing from Bangkok – allow plenty of time if en-route to a connecting flight. Useful for long distance journeys, particularly overnight.
Many short and mid-length journeys in Thailand are serviced by local minivan fleets. These can range in comfort depending on how many other travellers they squeeze into the van. Routes such as Bangkok – Ayuthaya, Chaing Mai – Pai or airport runs are frequently operated by minivans and are perfectly comfortable. Useful for airport drop-offs and short-mid length journeys (1-3 hours.)
There are many low-cost carriers in Thailand if you are pressed for time. Check if the route you are taking is served by a direct flight or will stopover in Bangkok as this will be more expensive. Bear in mind that international flights in and out of Bangkok are usually from Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and domestic from Don Mueang (DMK), a taxi to the other will take around one hour (depending on Bangkok traffic). There is also a free shuttle bus if you show your onward ticket. For reasonably priced flights check Air Asia, Jetstar, Tiger Airways, Nok Air and Lion Air.
Do you have any other tips about transport in Thailand? Let us know in the comments!