Getting to Thailand is fairly easy, since it is a popular destination serviced by dozens of airlines from all over the world. Another means of arriving is overland from Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia or Myanmar, but this is far less popular.
Bangkok is at Thailand’s geographical centre and its main transportation hub, serviced by a network of air routes, rail and bus links plus roadways. Most visitors to Thailand arrive by air, with the vast majority coming into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). The airport is located about 45 minutes drive southeast of the city, but a new high-speed rail link connects downtown (or nearby) in around 15 minutes. Don Muang Airport (BIA) is the old airport north of the city, currently used for some domestic flights.
Flight time for direct service from Europe averages at 12 hours. From the east coast of the US, flight times run between 22 and 24 hours, with one change. From the west coast of the US, it’s around 16 hours, usually with one stop or a change. It is now possible to fly directly to Bangkok from New York on Thai Airways in approximately 16 hours. From Australia’s east coast, the flying time is nine hours for a non-stop flight.
International passengers can also fly into Chiang Mai, Phuket, Samui and Hat Yai airports on a number of scheduled flights, mostly from neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. Phuket, Chiang Mai and Samui are all reachable directly from Hong Kong and Singapore. In addition, some charter flights arrive directly in Phuket and Pattaya.
By train, you can travel from Singapore to Bangkok on the luxurious and leisurely Eastern and Oriental Express service, which makes a number of stops along the way. There is also regular train service from Singapore to Bangkok with stops in Malaysia, crossing the border near Hat Yai, it continues north passing near Surat Thani (for Samui and Phuket connections by minbus) and onwards to Hua Hin and the capital. Trains also run from Bangkok northwards as far as Chiang Mai as well northeast to the Isaan region and Laos border. They offer comfortable sleeper coaches inexpensively but are slow and becoming less and less popular with tourists.
If you travel to Thailand by road, there are crossings from Malaysia in the south at Songkhla, Yala or Narathiwat. In the north, routes into Thailand from Myanmar are often closed because of internal disputes in Myanmar that occur near the border area. In addition, these crossings are sometimes open only to Thai and Myanmar nationals. The posts in Mae Sai (far north) and Mae Sot are popular for visa runs, but routes overland in Myanmar are restricted.
From Laos, you can cross into Thailand via the bridge at Nong Khai in the northeast. It’s quite popular to exit Thailand at Chiang Khong in the north and take the riverboat down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, while some do travel in the opposite direction. The main road crossing from Cambodia is at Aranyaprathet, part of the overland journey to Phnom Penh.
A good network of roads reach out from Bangkok to all corners of the country, with dual lane highways most of the way to Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi and Pattaya. Traffic is seldom congested but drivers can be somewhat reckless and accident rates are higher than usual, especially in the mountainous north. Many secondary roads offer fantastic scenery of rural Thai life and are paved. Even the inaccessible and remote areas are well penetrated with gravel roads. Finding gasoline is never a challenge.
Bus routes cover every conceivable stretch of the country, and ‘VIP’ buses (most suitable for tourists) travel very frequently between major centres, with local services departing several times a day to smaller destinations. Most are a safe, fairly efficient and certainly cost-effective means of crossing the kingdom. You may also want to consider hiring a car to explore local regions, with the freedom to visit the numerous national parks and attractions. Driving in Thailand is straightforward, but you are advised to avoid Bangkok’s gridlock.
By sea, Phuket, Pattaya and Bangkok are ports of call for major cruiselines. Cruising has recently become increasingly popular around Asia. There are, however, no regular ferries connecting Phuket ports with other countries. Instead there are numerous local ferries to islands, catering especially to tourists.
Additional information on transportation in Thailand can be found on our regional sites as follows: