Thailand has a wide range of transport options that make it very easy to travel through the country affordably and relatively quickly. Thailand has few domestic full-service and low-cost airlines, a comprehensive railway network, numerous bus companies, a massive minibus network and ferries providing easy access to all major islands.
Domestic Air Travel
THAI Airways and Bangkok Airways are the major full-service airlines on the internal flight network. Low-cost carriers such as Thai AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Thai Smile, Thai Lionair and Nok Air make traveling by air inside Thailand convenient for a very reasonable price.
Fares with the low-cost carriers are often comparable to train or bus fares, especially if you book online far enough in advance. Airline tickets can be purchased online direct with the airlines or through travel agents and third-party flight agencies.
There are plenty of domestic airports to choose from. Full list of them and the map of Thailand airports can be found here: Domestic Flights in Thailand.
Thailand’s rail network is operated by State Railways of Thailand (SRT). Train travel is largely safe, comfortable but slow. The trains tend to start their journey on time, but arrival most probably will be an hour or two later than scheduled.
Tickets for sleeper services should be purchased in advance. It can be done online or from stations at a maximum of 60 days in advance. Fares depend on the class of seat and on the speed of the train.
Thailand’s rail network consists of four lines. The map of all the lines and more info about traveling around Thailand by train can be found here: Train Travel in Thailand.
Buses might be the most convenient way of getting around Thailand. They are connecting most provincial capitals and then linking them with smaller towns by secondary services.
Few types of buses are used for inter-town traveling in Thailand:
- Fan-cooled ordinary buses usually can be seen on shorter routes in more remote parts of the country, but they are getting less common in the country. On most routes, including nearly all services out of Bangkok, regular air-con buses are used. These basic buses are inexpensive and generally run frequently during daylight hours. The ride can be slow because they pack as many people in as possible and stop often.
- First-class and VIP buses, offering express services, with fewer stops, are the best option for long-distance journeys. First-class buses have fewer seats and more leg room for reclining than regular buses. VIP buses have even fewer seats and are often positively luxurious. These buses are still reasonably priced and usually the more you pay the larger and more comfortable your seating is.
Tickets can be bought from the departure terminal at the bus station, online direct with the bus company or through travel agents. Tickets for the more popular routes should be booked a day in advance.
All provincial capitals have at least one dedicated bus station. They are usually located not in the central part of town and a ride with local bus, tuk-tuk, songtaew or taxi is required for reaching it.
Another popular mean of transport in Thailand used all over the country is private air-conditioned minibuses. They run more frequently than inter-town buses and cover the distance faster, but they are often driven by maniacs at excessive speed and they can be uncomfortably cramped when full.
Minibuses are generally operating out of small offices or pavement desks in town centres but in some towns and cities authorities are trying to consolidate minibuses to central bus stations. The roads around Bangkok’s Victory Monument, once the busiest minibus pick-up point, were emptied of minibuses and they were all moved to bus stations around Bangkok.
Some of minibus services have a timetable, but usually they depart when they’re full. Tickets are most easily bought at the minibus office or pavement desk. Fares are reasonable, usually about the same of air-con buses.
In rural areas, the bus network is often supplemented by songtaews (literally “two rows”). They are modified pick-up trucks or occasionally cattle-trucks, with two parallel bench seats installed on the rear part.
Songtaews usually have set routes from larger towns out to their surrounding suburbs and villages, and between small towns with no regular bus service.
Songtaews sometimes operate from local bus stations but in most towns they can be found parked near the market.
The cost of inter-town songtaews is comparable to that of air-con buses.
Regular ferries connect all major islands with the mainland. Quality of vessels and safety standards can vary considerably but usually they are adequate.
For the vast majority of crossings ticket can be simply bought on board. Tickets or the more popular routes can be booked online. Prices are quite low and fares tend to vary with the speed of the crossing.
While many of the more popular islands rely mainly on large passenger speedboats and ferries for transport, smaller islands can be reached almost exclusively by long-tail boats. These boats can carry between eight and twenty passengers.
On popular fixed routes it is possible to wait until the boatman gets his wanted number of passengers and to get a fixed price for the route, otherwise chartering the whole boat is needed.