Thailand has plenty of air, rail and road options to get you from one place to another inside the country. Use this overview will help you decide which is best.
Air Travel in Thailand
Traveling by plane in Thailand is generally convenient and inexpensive. There are three main airlines with extensive domestic routes – Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and budget carrier Air Asia. Thailand has more than a dozen airports, a whopping number considering the country is smaller than the state of Texas, so almost every spot in the country is within a couple of hours of an airport.
The main international airport, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi, just opened in 2006 and is a state of the art, modern facility servicing nearly 40 million passengers per year. Phuket and Chiang Mai also have international airports but are significantly smaller and offer fewer amenities to travelers. They do service very frequent flights from and to Bangkok and are usually hassle free and quick to get in and out of. Smaller airports, such as Loei Airport and Pai Airport, have limited flights and do not operate year round.
Thanks to budget carrier Air Asia’s competitive pricing, flights inside Thailand on all carriers are quite inexpensive by international standards. Round trip flights from Bangkok to Phuket or Chiang Mai can be as cheap as 1,800 Baht ($50) if booked in advance.
Train Travel in Thailand
Train travel is less expensive compared to flying and trains are comfortable and reasonably well-maintained, although it is the slowest way to get from one place to another. Thailand’s railway network serves all regions of the country on four separate lines. These lines do not interconnect, so to get from one region to another you must pass through Bangkok and switch trains.
Thai trains are separated into three different classes. First and second class cars typically have comfortable seats and air conditioning and on some routes the fare includes snacks and meals. Third class cars are fan cooled and seats are either padded or hard wood. Although not as comfortable as the seats in more expensive classes of service, third class cars are rarely overcrowded and are fine for shorter trips, such as to Ayutthaya from Bangkok.
Overnight trains are a great way to travel long distances in Thailand and you can choose anything from a private, first class berth to a second class fan-cooled open berth sleeper to a third class seat. Clean sheets, towels and pillows are provided on all sleepers. Remember to book these tickets as far in advance as possible since these trains book up quickly, especially on weekends or holidays. On the Bangkok – Chiang Mai route, expect to pay around 1,400 Baht ($40) for a first class sleeper and around 280 Baht ($8) for a third class seat.
Road Travel in Thailand
Thailand has an extensive, excellent highway system covering virtually all of the country. Local and international car rental agencies have outlets in major cities and at larger airports, and those who prefer to drive on their own find the country’s highways convenient and easy. City driving can be more challenging. In Thailand people drive on the left and traffic can be difficult to navigate for those not familiar with Thailand’s particular driving customs. Traffic in big cities, particularly Bangkok, can be terrible, so many find it better to use a car out in the country and to get from one city to another, but to use alternate transportation inside urban areas.
On a per mile basis, the government bus system is the cheapest way to travel in Thailand. There are frequent buses from Bangkok to all destinations in Thailand. Local long haul buses, often called "ordinary" buses, are fan cooled, make frequent stops and can be a bit of an adventure if you don’t mind standing for some or all of the journey (seats are not guaranteed). Air-conditioned express buses tend to be faster and more comfortable. There are also many private bus companies offering air-conditioned bus service to popular destinations. For popular routes such as Bangkok to Chiang Mai, fares are anywhere from 200 Baht on an ordinary government bus to 500 Baht on an air-conditioned sleeper bus.