Transport in Thailand: How to get around Thailand the Easy way

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Thailand is a country full of diversity. Covering over half a million square kilometres, you’ll find incredible beaches, fantastic diving, mountains, tropical rainforests, intricate temples in jaw-dropping locations and culture bursting from every direction. There’s a lot to see there!
Fortunately, getting around Thailand is actually pretty easy. It has a huge network of buses, trains, boats and flights that can whisk you from the famous Thai Islands right up to Pai in the North, whenever you fancy. Travelling around Thailand is also super budget-friendly meaning that your backpacking budget for Thailand can be spent more on doing the things you want to do.
I’ve visited Thailand twice now and have used a combination of all modes of transport to travel the length of the country. But before I first visited, I had no idea how you travel around Thailand. So I’ve put together this guide on how to get around different parts of Thailand easily to help you plan your trip and I’ll share my Thailand backpacking route to give you some inspiration.
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Things to know before visiting Thailand

  • The local currency is Thai Baht and at the time of writing this, £1 = 40 Thai Baht.
  • English is widely spoken through much of Thailand’s hotspots but it always helps to learn a few basic words in Thai.
  • Things happen on a completely different time scale compared to western countries. Be prepared that getting from A to B will most likely take longer than expected so be sure to factor in your travel time when planning your trip.
  • Buddhism is the most common religion in Thailand and it’s very important to dress appropriately, especially when visiting temples. I recommend you pack some lightweight and longer length items so you can cover up and be a responsible traveller.
  • You’ll most likely see Monks wherever you go in Thailand. Please be respectful of them by not getting in their way to get pictures, not touching them and if you want to speak to them, you should stand lower than them. Monks also aren’t allowed to touch women so be sure to give them space and not make them uncomfortable.

Tuk Tuks in Thailand

Getting around Thailand by bus

Buses are the cheapest way to travel around Thailand, and also the most commonly used. Buses also make border crossings if you’re travelling overland into Thailand from Malaysia, Cambodia or Laos so you can literally travel overland through the whole of Thailand to reach your next destinations.

One thing that is overwhelming are the number of bus operators available in Thailand, which is why a booking website like Bookaway is so handy. Bookaway is a one-stop-shop listing tonnes of companies, their prices, travel times and reviews before buying your ticket online. On my first trip to Thailand, I would go from booking office to booking office trying to work out the best value for money option. This wasted so much time though and to be honest, added a layer of unnecessary stress. Don’t do this guys, it’s really no fun!

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What are the buses like in Thailand?

There are three main bus types to choose from in Thailand – standard, express and VIP. Which one you choose will depend on your budget and how much time you have available. The standard bus services are the more basic (although still pretty decent) but take longer due to having more stop-offs. The Express buses are a little quicker and make fewer stops and the VIP buses are more spacious and might include more like food and blankets.

Overnight buses

For long distance journeys, for example from Krabi to Bangkok, you’ll most likely have the option to take an overnight bus. These buses usually leave late afternoon or early evening and you’ll be on the bus the whole night. They’re pretty comfortable with reclining seats and air conditioning and their pick up and drop off locations are super convenient. Overnight buses are a great way to travel Thailand on a budget as it saves on the cost of a night’s accommodation too.

Examples of travel times by bus in Thailand

Krabi to Bangkok: 12-14.5 hours

Bangkok to Pattaya: 1.5-4 hours

Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 10-12 hours

You do get what you pay for when it comes to travelling around Thailand by bus though. I tend to go for a mid-priced option (as I’m not as hardy as I was back in the day) to ensure a little bit more comfort on long journeys. If it’s a shorter journey in the day, I’m usually a little less fussy.

Overnight bus in Thailand

Train

If you’re looking for a great travel experience in Thailand, take the train. More specifically, take an overnight train! Thailand has a huge rail network that traverses the whole length of the country, making it easy to reach a lot of places. Trains are a little more expensive than buses but they’re definitely my favourite way to travel around Thailand.

Like the buses in Thailand, trains don’t run particularly quickly. But the actual travel part of travelling around Thailand is all part of the experience. The trains are spacious, comfortable, have air conditioning and food available to buy on board. I see train travel as a way time to relax and enjoy the landscapes that you would otherwise miss.

What are the trains like in Thailand?

The trains in Thailand have three classes to choose from. First class is for sleeper trains only where you’ll get a bed in an airconditioned carriage. Second class is a bit of a mix with some trains having comfortable seats and airconditioning or a sleeper train with just fans available. Third class is quite different and usually is simply wooden seats and windows.

I’ve personally travelled using all three classes of train and I feel each has its purpose. The longer the journey, the comfier I want to be. If it’s just a couple of hours though, third class is fine.

Overnight trains in Thailand

You haven’t been to Thailand if you don’t take an overnight train. I love travelling this way and have made the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai twice like this. I recommend booking your tickets a couple of days in advance, especially if you want to travel on the weekend as tickets can sell out. You’ll also get to choose between an upper and lower berth bed.

To paint a bit of a picture about what a sleeper train is like when you get onto the train, the beds won’t be set up. You’ll get nice big comfy seats, some storage space for luggage and there will be a toilet on board. Vendors selling food and drinks will get on and off as the train stops so you can always pick up a bite to eat. At some point, someone will come around to convert the seats into the lower berth bed and pull out the upper berth one. They also hand out blankets, pillows and put the curtains up. It’s a super slick operation and kinda fascinating to watch!

Examples of travel times by train in Thailand

Surat Thani to Bangkok: 12 hours

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Bangkok to Pattaya: 2 hours

Ferry

If you’re planning on doing any island hopping in Thailand, ferries will become your new best friend. If you’re going from the mainland to one of the islands it’s easiest to book a combination ticket that has your bus journey and ferry included.

Thailand has over 1000 islands, some more popular than others, but no matter what, they are definitely worth visiting. I even visited in the rainy season and the beaches were still incredible.

What are the ferries like in Thailand?

There are a number of ferry companies that run between the Thai islands, all with a similar journey time. Each ferry I took when I was island hopping was comfortable, clean and had air conditioning. Staff will help get luggage onto the ferry and this will sometimes be stored away to keep the boat from getting too crowded inside.

Examples of travel times by ferry in Thailand

Koh Phangan to Koh Samui: 30-45 minutes

Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta: 1 hour

Koh Phi Phi to Koh Samui: 7-8 hours (bus and ferry)

How to get around Thailand

Flight

Whilst flying might be the quickest way to get around Thailand, it can also be the most expensive. There are some great budget airlines that operate in Thailand allowing you to fly all over the country in just a few hours. As with all budget airlines, you do need to be careful about luggage allowance and the cost of checking luggage in.

The best Budget Airlines in Thailand

  • Thai Airways
  • Air Asia
  • Nok Air
  • Thai Lion Air 

My Backpacking route around Thailand

I spent 30 days in Thailand and travelled overland from Malaysia before leaving into Cambodia. I’ve put together a breakdown of where I went in Thailand and the transport I used.

Here’s my backpacking route around Thailand and a break down of the travel times for some inspiration.

My Thailand travel route

  • Krabi – Koh Phi Phi (2 hour ferry)
  • Koh Phi Phi – Koh Lanta (1 hour ferry)
  • Koh Lanta – Krabi (2 hour vehicle ferry on a minivan)
  • Krabi – Koh Samui (5 hours by bus and ferry)
  • Koh Samui – Koh Phangan (30 minute ferry)
  • Koh Phangan – Bangkok (14 hour overnight bus)
  • Bangkok – Chiang Mai (12 hour overnight train)
  • Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai (3.5 hour minivan)
  • Chiang Rai – Pai (via Chiang Mai) (6 hour minivan)
  • Pai – Chiang Mai (3 hour minivan)
  • Chiang Mai – Bangkok (flight)

There are often more ways to get from A to B though, so be sure to explore the options to find the best way for you. Just remember, travelling part of getting around Thailand is all part of the experience!

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