We basically tried out every form of transport in Thailand, except for hiring a car and driving ourselves around. From flights, trains and buses to tuk tuks, scooters and bicycles – we hopped onto them all to take us around on our month adventure through Thailand.
The transport was generally pretty easy to figure out, most of the time at least, but I’ve put together a few tips to make getting around in Thailand super simple (and to make sure you don’t get hustled).
Here are the transport options that we tried out:
We decided to use trains as our main form of transport between cities in Thailand. We used the northern train line to travel up from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, stopping in Ayutthaya and Phitsanulok along the way. At the end of our trip, we then used the southern train line from Chumpon back to Bangkok. We decided to use trains so that we could see more of the landscape as we traveled, it was really great to see the towns and open landscapes as we made our way up north.
We found the website Seat61 quite helpful with guiding us around train routes and times. Just remember that Thailand train travel is nothing at all like European train travel, the time trains are merely just a guideline and are often very different when you go and book the tickets at the train station. Even then, trains are always delayed. So make sure to have a book or doodle pad handy to pass the time.
We hopped onto two night trains while in Thailand. They have three classes available, 3rd class (up right bench style seats), 2nd class (reclining seats) and sleeper cabins. If you want a sleeper cabin, make sure to book in advance (especially during peak travel times). We left booking to the day before both times and only managed to get seats in 2nd class.
Here are some views from the train tracks.
We flew from Chiang Mai to Phuket to save some time on travelling from the North to the South of Thailand. We flew with Air Asia as they were the most affordable, and have no complaints about the flight. The only thing to remember is to book your flights quite far in advance. I’d heard so much about how cheap domestic flights are in Thailand, but unfortunately found out the hard way that they are only really cheap if you book in advance. We left booking our flights until about 5 days before and ended up paying 3 times as much as what we had originally found when we researched a month before. It was a huge bummer!
Many backpackers make use of the bus to travel between cities in Thailand, some said that its cheaper than the trains, but we didn’t really do too much investigating to find out whether this was the case. We only made use of the bus to get from Krabi to Surat Thani, where we were planning on the staying the night before catching the ferry to Koh Samui the next day. This was a huge rookie error, as we should have rather just booked one of the bus-ferry transport tickets directly to Koh Samui, it would have been a lot easier and cheaper.
Our bus took us to a random stop in Surat Thani where we then got hustled into buying a really expensive bus ticket to Donsak (which is where the pier is, and close to where we booked our accommodation for the night). The bus driver was supposedly taking us straight to our accommodation but instead took us to the pier. After much confusion and debating with the bus driver/taxi drivers we decided to rather just hop straight onto a ferry and go straight to Koh Samui.
So if you do take a bus, be aware of hustlers. And be prepared to be dropped off at random spots (we met a traveler who was dropped off on the side of a highway…).
The best way to travel between the islands. You can either buy your tickets from tour centers or at the pier. Like the trains, the departure times are sometimes different to what you’re expecting so be prepared. Most of the ferries are really comfortable, with both indoor and outdoor seating areas. The outdoor areas are great to enjoy the scenery (which will undoubtedly be breathtaking), just remember to put on sunscreen and wear a hat! The breeze on the moving boat doesn’t mean you’re not still roasting under the harsh Thai sun!
You can’t go to Thailand without hopping into a Tuk Tuk at some point in your journey. We found each city/town tended to have their own style of Tuk Tuk, which was really interesting to see. In Bangkok, you have the more traditional style Tuk Tuk that you’re used to seeing, but then as you go higher up they have much bigger ones, geared more towards carrying larger groups of tourists.
As I’m sure you have read in many blogs/articles about Thailand, you need to agree your fare with the Tuk Tuk driver before you hop in. We found to always offer the absolute lowest price at first, they’ll then say another higher price, we’ll then increase our initial price to usually meet halfway. More often than not this will work, but sometimes they are non-negotiable. If they’re being ridiculous, then just walk away, you’ll find another one for your price soon enough.
If you’re tired of hustling, and just want a comfortable ride, then look for a taxi. If you’re in Bangkok, make sure to use a metered taxi and confirm with the taxi driver that you want him to use the meter. Some refuse as they’d rather tell you a set price (which is often much higher than it should be), if they do then just walk away. In some of the other cities/towns we were told that they don’t use metered taxi’s (we were told this in Chiang Mai), I’m not sure if this is the case or if we were just hustled?
Yep, scooter taxi’s. My first experience on a scooter in Thailand was squished between Michael and our Thai scooter taxi driver in Phuket. We were staying in Old Phuket Town, which is not at all pedestrian friendly and not as touristy as the beach side, so there weren’t many Tuk Tuk’s or Taxi’s around. After the long and very dangerous walk from our hotel into the city to get dinner, we decided to hail down one of the scooter taxi’s to take us back to our hotel. It was really cheap, and I guess a nice intro into scooting. Phuket was the only place I really noticed the scooter taxi’s, I’m not sure where else they are common in Thailand.
Another notorious form of transport in Thailand. If you’re island hopping on the East Coast, you’ll undoubtedly hop onto a long boat at some point – either as a taxi option to travel around islands or on a tour. We hopped onto a long boat on a snorkeling tour on Koh Phi Phi, and then again when we were staying in Krabi to get to Railey Beach.
In the smaller towns, it’s very common for bicycles to be the transport choice for tourists. In Ayutthaya and Sukothai, they were quite popular. We rented bicycles in Sukothai to cycle around the ruins in the Historical Park. It was so much better than walking would have been!
Many tourists tend to hire scooters in Thailand to have a bit more freedom on your traveling. It’s great as you can set your own itinerary and can easily stop off wherever you want.
Be aware of the many scams though. Most places are going to ask you to leave your passport behind, which is obviously a very risky thing to do. You can refuse, and then keep on trying other places. We didn’t have much luck with getting ourselves out of leaving a passport though. The first two places that we hired a scooter (in Phuket and Koh Samui) we hired from our hotel, which I felt was a lot more reliable and felt slightly more comfortable with leaving our passport with them. Our third time was in Koh Toa at a scooter rental place in town – we got good vibes from the lady and put our trust in her. We were very lucky to not have any bad experiences, as I have heard some horror stories.
I’d say the biggest tips of hiring a scooter in Thailand are to make sure the place that you’re hiring from looks legit (your hotel would be the best bet), make sure the scooters are in good condition (test drive it before) and take photos of all scratches on the scooter before you leave. Also, make sure you know how to actually ride a scooter! And keep it for the islands/mountain towns…if you hire a scooter in Bangkok you’re just plain crazy.
Sky Train in Bangkok
Our last form of transport that we tried out in Bangkok was the Sky Train. It’s pretty much like any metro/underground system around the world. It works really well and is a great way to get around Bangkok. We got the 24 hour access pass for our last day in Bangkok and used it to go all over the city. We also used it to go to the airport, which was much quicker and cheaper than taking a taxi.