Flying in Thailand and Thai airports

There are several international airports in Thailand, with Bangkok’s Survarnbhumi International Airport (BKK) being by far the largest and busiest with around 100 airlines. In fact, it’s the 6th busiest airport in asia, and a major international gateway in Southeast Asia.

Other international airports in Thailand can be found at Phuket, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Koh Samui and Hat Yai. These airports are linked by domestic flights, either directly or through Bangkok. You will find domestic airports in population centres around the country including Buriram, Chumphon, Khon Kaen, Krabi, Lampang, Loei, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sot, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan, Narathiwat, Phetchabun, Phitsanulok, Pai, Phrae, Ranong, Roi Et, Sakon Nakhon, Surat Thani, Trang, Ubon Ratchathani and Udon Thani.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport, opened in September 2006, is located some 30kms southeast of Bangkok. Despite teething problems and allegations of mass corruption, the airport is architecturally magnificent and beautifully designed with the world’s single largest terminal building. Set out on three levels in a single glass and steel structure, it is simple to navigate with an atmosphere of spaciousness and natural light.

Facilities are good and services are fairly efficient. Unfortunately overly aggressive duty-free shops, a lack of toilets, seats, poor transparency in management and some technical faults have dogged the airport’s PR campaign so far. A rail link opened in 2010 that links downtown (albeit in a not so convenient area) in around 15 minutes, from 06:00 until midnight. Metered taxis are also available. These are a better choice than using the overpriced airport limo services which are touted. See our Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport guide.

Don Muang Airport (BIA), situated 25kms to the north of the city centre, was re-opened to some domestic flights to cope with problems at the new airport. It’s sometimes easier to use this airport for domestic flights but not for international connections.

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Thai Airways handles the majority of the country’s domestic flights, with a modern fleet providing daily service to Thailand’s population centres. In addition, a number of low cost carriers now provide scheduled domestic services. These carriers include Air AsiaBangkok AirwaysNok Air and Orient Thai Airlines.

Out of season, you can virtually show up and buy a ticket on the spot, with typical budget fares from Bangkok to Phuket and Chiang Mai being roughly 3,000 baht for a return journey. Similar fares are available for regional flights in Southeast Asia. Tiger Airways offers good budget flights from Singapore to various Thai airports, and also offers services to Australia from Bangkok.

Chiang Mai and Bangkok are connected by a large number of scheduled flights every day, on several airlines, with a flight time of one hour 10 minutes. Domestically you can also fly directly from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son, Pai, Chiang Rai, Samui and Phuket. Some Bangkok flights stop at Sukhothai, which is convenient. There are also routes to Hong Kong, Kunming, Jinhong, Chittagong, Singapore, Taipei, Vientiane and Yangon.

Phuket International Airport handles more than three million passengers annually, and is second only to Bangkok’s international airport in the volume of passenger traffic. It is served by dozens of airlines, mostly providing international service. The flight duration from Bangkok to Phuket is one hour, 20 minutes. Domestic flights connect Phuket with Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There are also flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Sydney, Frankfurt, Munich and Incheon. It’s realistic to transfer from this airport to Krabi (one hour) or you can use the infrequent services to Krabi Airport.

Domestic service to Koh Samui is virtually monopolised by Bangkok Airways, as the company built and owns the airport in Samui. Flights run throughout the day to and from Bangkok and are quite reasonably priced, though not competitive. The flight time is one hour, 30 minutes. Bangkok Airways also links Samui to Phuket and Pattaya (U Tapao Airport), as well as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong. For Koh Chang, there is now an airport with limited services at Trat on the mainland, saving you the five-hour bus journey.

Returning to Bangkok is easy from most of Thailand’s population centres, as they are connected to Bangkok by air. It’s worth considering flying back to Bangkok as the competition among carriers has led to some very cheap fares.