Getting Around Thailand
Thai (www.thaiairways.com) runs services to all major domestic destinations, including Phuket and Chiang Mai. Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) flies several additional routes including Ko Samui. Discounts are available during off-peak seasons and during special promotional periods. Orient Thai Airlines (www.flyorientthai.com) and Nok Air (www.nokair.co.th) also offer domestic flights.
Discovery Airpass: allows you to fly on Bangkok Airways flights and Lao Airlines domestic flights. The fare is based on the number of coupons you buy and you need to buy a minimum of three coupons. Available from Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com).
Included in the price of the air ticket.
Roads in Thailand range from multi-lane freeways around Bangkok to tiny lanes known as sois.
Side of the roadLeft
There is a reasonable road network comprising of many highways which are designated by numbers. All major roads are paved.
Available in all main towns and cities from both international and local companies. The minimum age for hiring a car in Thailand is 21 but that could vary depending on the company you hire from.
Taxis are easy to find and cheap to use in Bangkok. In other cities, such as Chiang Mai, local transport such as tuk tuks is much cheaper and more common, but before riding in a tuk tuk, it’s advised to negotiate the fare.
Bike hire is available at most tourist locations throughout the country but due to the erratic nature of driving standards and heavy traffic, caution must be observed. The World Health Organisation has rated Thailand as one of the world's deadliest countries for fatalities on motorcycles. It is however, an excellent form of transport for those wishing to travel in the quieter areas of the country.
There are many intercity bus services, which range from uncomfortable and crowded buses to luxury, air-conditioned coaches. Prices are quite cheap, but the appalling traffic in some areas of Thailand makes travelling by bus quite slow.
The minimum age for driving a car in Thailand is 18 years, and 15 years to ride a motorcycle; the wearing of seat belts is compulsory. The speed limit is 50kph (31mph) to 60kph (37mph) in towns and cities and 90 to 120kph (56 to 74mph) on open roads and highways/ motorways.
A national licence or International Driving Permit is required. Once you have been in Thailand for over three months, you will need to obtain a Thai driving licence.
Conventional bus services in Bangkok are operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (www.bmta.co.th), but there are also extensive private minibus operations. Premium fares are charged for air-conditioned (cream-blue buses) and express buses. The ordinary buses are cream-red or white-blue, and charge a flat rate regardless of distance travelled. Fares are generally low and are collected by conductors.
In Bangkok, taxis displaying the TAXI-METER sign are metered. Samlors or tuk-tuks are three-wheeled taxis without a meter; the fare must be negotiated before the journey commences. These are cheaper than taxis but are only suitable for short distances.
There are express, rapid and ordinary motorboat services operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat (tel: +66 02 449 3000; www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com) on the Chao Phraya River between Nonthaburi pier to the north of Bangkok to Rajburana pier in southern Bangkok. The express boats, marked with yellow or green flags, are more expensive than the rapid orange-flag-flying boats. The ordinary flagless boats are the cheapest.
The Skytrain (BTS) is an elevated mass transit system in Bangkok and consists of 35 stations on two lines. The Metro has two lines: the Blue line runs from Hualamphong to Bang Sue and the Purple line runs from the Nonthaburi Province towards the mid north area of Bangkok where it joins the Blue line. There are expansion plans for the Metro with extensions to the Blue and Purple lines and the creation of the heavy rail Orange line and the monorails Pink, Yellow and Brown lines.
Chiang Mai public transport is limited to red songthaew (minibuses), tuk-tuks, rickshaws and distinctive yellow metered taxis mainly operating from the airport. There is also a limited bus service in operation.
The excellent railway network extends over 4,300km (2,670 miles), linking all major towns with the exception of Phuket. It’s run by the State Railway of Thailand (tel: 1690, in Thailand only; www.railway.co.th). There are four main routes to the northern, eastern, southern and northeastern regions, and also a western line serving Thon Buri, River Kwai Bridge and Nam Tok.
There are several daily services on each route, with air-conditioned sleeping and restaurant cars on the principal trains. The journeys are leisurely and comfortable, and travelling by train is certainly one of the best ways to get around the country. The Southern Line Express stops at Surat Thani for those who wish to continue by bus and ferry to the islands off the east coast. Most railway timetables are published in English. Give yourself extra time to reach your destination as trains are usually late.
Thailand Rail Pass: available for 20 days travel on all Ordinary, Rapid, and Express Trains either in Third-class (Air-Conditioned or Fan); Second-Class (Air-Conditioned or Fan); or Second-Class Sleeper Services (Air-Conditioned or Fan). The 20-day pass costs THB3,000 (around GBP£70 or USD$90). Tickets for children aged three to 12 are discounted by 50% if they are less than 150cm tall, and under 3’s can travel for free. Thailand Rail Passes are only available for purchase in Thailand. You can buy Thai Rail Passes at Bangkok's Hualamphong Rail Station or affiliated travel agencies.
Thailand has, depending on the season, up to 1,600km (1,000 miles) of navigable inland waterway. Services operate along the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok between Rajburana and Pakkred by taxi-boat ferries operated by the Chao Phraya Express Boat (tel: +66 02 449 3000; www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com). In addition, long-tailed motorboats ply the river.
Ferry services operate between the mainland and several islands including Surat Thani to Ko Samui, Phuket to Phi Phi, Pattaya to Ko Samet and Trat to Ko Chang, and can be booked in person at the dock. Strong competition on all of the major routes ensures that fares are kept low. Reduced services operate during the monsoon season from May to October along the east coast and Andaman coast, and from November until January on the Gulf coast. The more remote spots become inaccessible in these periods.