It is true to say there is a bus to every corner of Thailand and a taxi on every city street corner waiting for you. Thailand’s ubiquitous tuk tuks are waiting everywhere and it doesn’t take long to hail a cab in Bangkok.
In the smaller provincial towns informal minibuses, mostly known as songthaews, roam the main roads with frequency. Buses depart almost hourly to even the smallest of towns, and are the lifeblood or locals to get about.
These are found everywhere where tourists are, and can sometimes be a pain with their persistent offers for a trip. Fortunately it’s not as bad as India or Vietnam and you use them at your leisure to get around. One of the advantages of visiting Thailand is that taxis are cheap and you needn’t think twice about catching them from airports, across town, to a far flung tourist site or even for a whole day to show you around.
You do have to often insist on using the meter, but the drivers are mostly honest and safe, and proper metered taxis must display a drivers official taxi ID. Some offer you free trips, which usually involve time wasting side excursions to aggressive salesmen, tailors and gem shops, so avoid these at all costs. A proper 20-minute journey across town should cost no more than 150-200 baht out of rush hour.
Metered taxis are the norm in Bangkok, easy to hail and the best option with their air conditioning. Be prepared for a long journey during rush hour, or opt for the Metro and Skytrain. They are found more and more in major centres like Phuket, Chiang Mai and Samui but the more touristy the area the more likely they are to refuse a ‘metered ride’, especially in Samui where a the taxi mafia is notorious for ripping off airport arrivals.
The famous Thai tuk tuk three wheeler is the official mascot of the 1stop travel series and a ride in one of these is a ‘must do’ activity when in Thailand. It can be fun, once you’ve finished haggling with the driver, but better in non-congested traffic, since you are at the mercy of car fumes.
In small towns songtheaw minibuses are the local public transport option and these can be commandeered for a private outing for roughly 60-80 baht for a short trip. Taxis will willingly take you long distances, for example from Bangkok to Pattaya, for a negotiated fee which might be more than the meter but affordable anyhow.
Taxis from Bangkok Airport are easily caught on the ground floor exit, after a short wait, but are levied a 50 baht parking fee. We advise you to avoid the officially promoted AOT (Airports of Thailand) Limo services which are no different but three times the cost and unfairly pushed onto naïve visitors. Their touts are the first people to greet you when you exit arrivals, which is quite a shame. More on getting about Bangkok.
Buses in Thailand
Tourists mostly use long distance buses to get from one town to another and opt for taxis to get about town rather than civic buses which are slow and impractical. VIP bus services link Bangkok and all the main tourist centres, they are comfortable, quick and come with hostesses, snack and drinks, movies and freezing air-conditioning (remember a jacket for overnight trips).
It’s not difficult to arrange a bus and pre-booking is seldom needed. Travel agents most typically arrange these, with transfer pickups to the bus stations. Some buses leave directly from Khao San Road and ferry piers as part of a well oiled network, which many a traveller has tread before you. Seldom is any real thinking needed, a ticket is sold to you which includes all necessary connections of various transport forms, plus transfers and meet-and-greet staff.
Mor Chit is Bangkok’s main bus station, located in the north of the city and buses depart from here to the north and northeast of Thailand with a few to southern destinations. The Southern Bus Station, across the river in Thon Buri, services southern destinations, while the Eastern Bus Station, at Ekkamai Skytrain Station, is where buses depart for Pattaya, Koh Samet and Koh Chang. Buses from competing private companies leave almost hourly, and travel through the night. More on Bangkok buses.
Local buses also depart regularly throughout the day from provincial towns, for example from Chiang Mai to Pai, or Krabi to Surat Thani. You don’t need to pre-book although the earliest departures can often be full. Over Thai long weekends, particularly Songkran out of Bangkok, the buses do get full. So try to avoid travelling at this time. More on Chiang Mai buses.
Since buses are cheap (600 baht for an 800kms journey) there is no need to travel on anything other than VIP or air-conditioned (first class) buses unless you really want to experience hardship in Thailand. If you can’t afford to fly to Phuket then catch the overnight VIP. Travelling by local bus, however, is a good way to see the real Thailand.
More on buses in Phuket.
Buses are sometimes the only option, for example, if you want to travel to Ayutthaya or Pattaya. It can also be a bit of riddle if you are travelling a long distance across country involving bus changes in the middle of nowhere. Since bus is bar far the most important transport option for Thais, the network is well developed, fairly reliable and frequent. It’s also very affordable. More on buses in Pattaya.
City bus transport is seldom used by tourists, except perhaps in Bangkok for reaching the Khao San Road and Grand Palace areas on a budget (the Skytrain and Metro do not penetrate this historic area). Buses from airports are offered but hardly worth it considering the price of a taxi.