Transportation System in Thailand
Urban Mass Transit
Thailand has a well-developed transportation system. Its main components are described briefly below, but anyone going to Thailand would be well advised to take a good guidebook along. Without one, getting from place to place can be very expensive and frustrating.
To get around in urban areas, most people ride boats, buses, taxis, three-wheeled vehicles (samlors or tuk tuks), or motor scooters. All of these options are described below.
Some Thai cities have canals (klongs), and many people use long-tailed motorized boats for transportation. The Chao Praya Express company, for example, plies the Chao Praya River, and takes commuters and tourists to destinations all along the river. Now that traffic is so terrible in Bangkok, it is often faster to take the express boat through town. Ferries take passengers across the water at various points.
In Bangkok, traveling by bus is one of the fastest methods of getting around because of an intricate system of one-way streets and bus lanes. Bus maps are a good investment, and are available at any of the major hotels and book stores.
There are air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned buses. All are crowded, cheap, and a pickpocket’s dream, so be sure to protect your money and valuables. The air-conditioned bus has closed windows and curtains to protect passengers from the sun. The microbus is smaller, has TV and magazines – it is expensive by Thai standards. If you can figure out the routes they take, microbuses are the best option for comfort, but English-language guides to the buses are not readily available.
Samlors (tuk tuks)
These vehicles are open-air three-wheelers that can be hired like taxis. Motorized (tuk tuk) and pedal-driven (samlor) versions are both common. Negotiate your fare ahead of time, as they can be expensive. In Bangkok, long, motorized tuk tuk rides can be quite unpleasant due to the extreme air pollution and noise, but tuk tuks can get around some traffic snarls in which taxis get stuck. In general, these are good for short trips.
Metered and unmetered taxis are available in Bangkok and in most other Thai cities. Fares for unmetered taxis are negotiable, and should be agreed upon in advance. Metered taxis are generally less expensive than unmetered taxis, and by bargaining; however, during rush hour taxi drivers often simply turn off their meters (a generally accepted practice) and increase the fare to compensate for traffic slowdowns. Taxis are more comfortable than buses, but buses are often quicker because taxis aren’t allowed in the bus lanes. Traveling by taxi can require miles-long detours, which result in a longer and more expensive trip. Try to get an idea of a typical fare from a third party so that you may negotiate an appropriate fare with the taxi driver. Although there’s a train to the Bangkok Airport, taxis are the quickest way, and are reasonably priced – especially if you can find someone to split the fare.
Long-distance transportation within Thailand is primarily by rail, airplane, and bus. Some people have cars, but most ride some form of public transportation.
By far the easiest and fastest way to get from city to city is by air. Thai Airways has almost a total monopoly on domestic flights in Thailand, and they have offices in North America and in many Thai cities. Bangkok Airways also flies between some cities, and their fares are comparable to those of Thai Airways.
Almost every main city in Thailand is connected by direct public bus with Bangkok and other cities. There are several types of buses. Rot tamadaa are ordinary buses that stop in every town, have no air conditioning, and are typically orange. Rot ae are air conditioned, colored blue, and don’t usually stop so often. For long distance travel, people take overnight, air conditioned buses, the most comfortable of which are called VIP or Super VIP (rot VIP), and have more leg and reclining room than normal air conditioned buses.
Tickets may be purchased at one of the three public bus stations in Bangkok: for northern destinations, go to moh chit station; for destinations east, go to sataanii ek-amai; to go south, buy your ticket at the station at the intersection of Nakhon Chaisi Road and Phra Pinklao Road in Thonburi. In cities outside of Bangkok, tickets are often sold at store-front locations as well as in the bus station. Private bus companies offer service to some tourist destinations.
Songtaew means “two rows,” and is literally a covered bed truck with two rows of benches that run down the sides. If you are going to a remote place, or between two smaller cities, you may need to take a songtaew. These are the final link in the public transportation system, and are quite fun to take if you don’t mind having young uniformed students sitting on the roof and baskets of farmer produce at your feet.
Traveling by train in Thailand is an experience you should not miss. There are limits on where the train can take you, but if you can get close to your destination, you will appreciate the comfort, safety, and scenery viewing opportunities that trains offer. When traveling long distances, most budget travelers take the second class sleeper, which has wide padded seats that face each other and that can be made up into roomy bunks by the steward. The lower bunk is larger than the upper, but there is plenty of luggage storage space in racks on the aisles. Air-conditioned and fan sleepers are available on express trains only. There are also first class sleepers, which have private, air-conditioned cabins. For shorter trips, or if you want to travel during the day, you can reserve second- or third-class seats, which are similar to bus seats.
To travel to another city by train, you must reserve a ticket ahead of time at the train station or from a travel agent in Thailand. Tickets for trains are not sold from abroad. Tickets from the same day will usually be third class seats, so it is best to reserve sleepers at least a week in advance. Be sure to buy your ticket early if you plan to travel during a Thai holiday. Train passes similar to the Eurail pass are available for Thailand, but it’s doubtful that they’ll save you much money. For more information, contact a travel agent at the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) in Bangkok.