Updated: 02/08/20 | February 8th, 2020
Thailand is one of the most popular backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia.
It’s also my favorite.
Of course, I’m biased.
Thailand was where I decided to quit my job and travel the world. I lived there for two years. I ran tours there. I speak the language. I feel at home there.
But that aside, Thailand remains popular some thirty years after the first hippies arrived on the “banana pancake trail” for a simple reason: it’s awesome.
The succulent food, the warm people, the postcard-perfect beaches, the lush jungles, the hot weather — Thailand is simply a wonderful place.
That said, Thailand is also a pretty big country.
What’s the best way to get around Thailand?
Well, how you will get around Thailand depend greatly on how long you’re staying. You have options!
So what should you do?
Here’s a breakdown of the best ways to travel around Thailand (including travel times) regardless of budget or the length of your stay in the country:
Table of Contents
- Getting Around Thailand By Flying
- Getting Around Thailand By Train
- Getting Around Thailand By Bus
- Getting Around Thailand By Car
- Getting Around Thailand By Ferry
- Distance/Times for Getting Around
- The Bottom Line on Getting Around Thailand
Getting Around Thailand By Flying
Flying is obviously the most expensive but quickest way to get around. You can get pretty much anywhere in the country in two hours or less, making flying the perfect choice for people who are rushed for time.
Thai Airways is the largest (and costliest) carrier, but there are numerous budget airlines, like Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways, Thai Lion, AirAsia, and Nok Air. But avoid some of the smaller budget airlines like Orient Thai, as their safety records are pretty spotty.
Flights around Thailand generally cost 1,400-6,600 THB ($44-200 USD). Flights to the islands tend to be costlier than those between large cities like Bangkok and Phuket. Flights to Ko Samui are always more expensive than anywhere else, thanks to monopoly pricing by Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways.
Here are some sample fares (as of February 2019) so you can get an idea of how much flights cost:
- Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 780 THB/$25 USD (one way), 1,560 THB/$50 USD (round-trip)
- Bangkok to Phuket – 735 THB/$30 USD (one way), 1,311 THB/$42 USD (round-trip)
- Bangkok to Koh Samui – 3,715 THB/$119 USD (one way), 7,274 THB/$233 USD (round-trip)
- Chiang Mai to Phuket – 1,561 THB/$50 USD (one way), 2,997 THB/$96 USD (round-trip)
If you book early, you can save on fares as the budget carriers usually offer around 30-50% off tickets when they have sales — and they always have sales (especially Air Asia).
Keep in mind that each airline has different baggage fees and policies – budget airlines typically charge extra for like credit card processing (the stupidest of all fees), baggage fees, and preferred seating.
Getting Around Thailand By Train
Thailand is one of the few countries in the region with a decent rail network. It covers 2,796 miles and is one of the best and cheapest ways to get around the country.
There are three classes of travel: first class is the most expensive and is available only on night trains. Second class is quite comfortable and has softer seats, as well as air-conditioned cars. Third class is bare-bones cars, with hard seats and no A/C. However, these are the cheapest seats around! (I actually like third class, though, as you meet more interesting people and there are always vendors coming on and off selling delicious and cheap food.)
Trains here move very, very slowly. The Chiang Mai-to-Bangkok night train — a distance of only 430 miles — takes 12 hours.
Day trains are even worse, as there are frequent stops and waiting at stations for reasons I’ve never figured out.
There’s no high-speed train in this country so don’t be in a rush if you’re traveling Thailand by train!
That said, I love traveling by train in Thailand if I’m not in a rush. The trains are spacious, there’s always food and drinks available, most of the cars have A/C, vendors get on and off at each stop to sell meals, fruit, or drinks, and the scenery as you cruise through the tropical countryside is out of this world.
It’s also crazy cheap, especially if you take the day train. Heck, even the night train is super cheap! Here are some example fares for both day and night trains:
- Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 890 THB/$28 USD (day train), 1,011 THB/$32 USD (night train)
- Bangkok to Chumphon – 550 THB/$17 USD (day train), 920 THB/$28 USD (night train)
- Bangkok to Surat Thani – 858 THB/$26 USD (day train), 1,058 THB/$33 USD (night train)
- Bangkok to Ayutthaya – 30 THB/$1 USD (day train)
- Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai – 866 THB/$27 USD (day train), 1,131 THB/$35 USD (night train)
- Ayutthaya to Lopburi – 30 THB/$1 USD (day train)
- Bangkok to Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) – 425 THB/$13.50 USD (day train), 1,010 THB/$32 USD (night train)
- Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) to Surin – 300 THB/$9.50 (day train)
- Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) to Ubon Ratchathani – 243 THB/$7.75 USD (day train), 593 THB/$19 USD (night train)
You can see train schedules and ticket prices on the State Railway of Thailand website (railway.co.th).
You can buy train tickets through a travel agent (there’s a slight upcharge) or directly at the train station. You can buy tickets the day of travel — there’s always space, especially on the day trains. That said, if you are looking for a bed on the night train, I would book at least three days in advance to ensure you have a reservation, especially during high season.
Getting Around Thailand By Bus
As trains don’t go everywhere in Thailand, taking the bus is your second-best option. Actually, buses are the widest form of transportation here. You can go anywhere in Thailand by bus. Though they often show bad Thai movies with the sound turned up too loud and blast the A/C, they are a comfortable and spacious ride.
If you’re taking a day bus, note that they often stop in multiple towns along the way to pick people up and drop them off, and they also pick up people by the side of the road. Don’t expect to move in an efficient or quick manner. They aren’t in a rush.
Be sure to tell them exactly where you want to go, because often there are no signs when you pull into bus stations.
There are also “tourist buses” that, while more expensive, are usually a lot more convenient. They are usually best for long distances (they tend to travel at night), and when combined with island ferry tickets (say, Bangkok to Ko Phi Phi). They are more expensive than local buses, but they are more direct, and you don’t have to worry about where you are or if it’s your stop. They usually pick up in the tourist area and drop you off in the tourist area of the next place — plus there’s no stopping to pick up other people along the way.
You can book these via the many travel agents that line the tourist areas of town.
Here are some sample fares for bus routes in Thailand:
- Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 534 THB/$17 USD (day bus), 830 THB/$26 USD (night bus)
- Chiang Mai to Pai – 150 THB/$5 USD (day bus)
- Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai – 229 THB/$7 USD (day bus), 312 THB/$10 USD (night bus)
- Lampang to Chiang Rai – 237 THB/$7.50 USD (day bus)
- Bangkok to Phuket City – 643 THB/$20 USD (day bus), 998 THB/$31 USD (night bus)
- Bangkok to Chumphon – 373 THB/$12 USD (day bus), 427 THB/$13 USD (night bus)
- Bangkok to Surat Thani – 858 THB/$27 USD (day bus), 1,058 THB/$33 USD (night bus)
- Bangkok to Hua Hin – 289 THB/$9 USD (day bus), 400 THB/$12 USD (night bus)
- Bangkok to Trat – 350 THB/$11 USD (day bus), 390 THB/$12 USD (night bus)
- Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) to Surin – 291 THB/$10 USD (day bus)
- Surin to Ubon Ratchathani – 200 THB/$7 USD (day bus)
Getting Around Thailand By Car
Don’t rent a car in Thailand. They are expensive, and the roads in Thailand are crazy.
It’s much better to rent a motorbike and ride across the country. It’s quite a common thing to do. This is a good article to help you plan a trip.
Getting Around Thailand By Ferry
While you won’t be using the ferry to get around Thailand, it will definitely be an important mode of transportation when you’re exploring the islands. Due to the well-established travel trail, booking your ferry ride is simple and straightforward – you can often book tickets online or just show up. Most hostels and hotels will be able to help you with this if you need assistance. They will also have the most up-to-date schedules.
Here are some example routes and fares to help you plan your trip:
- Koh Tao to Koh Samui – 500 THB/$16 (one way)
- Surat Thani to Koh Phangan – 625 THB/$20 (one way)
- Phuket to Koh Phi Phi – 780 THB/$25 (one way)
- Krabi to Koh Lanta – 550 THB/$17 (one way)
How Long Does It Take to Get Around Thailand?
Trying to figure out how long it will take you to get from point A to point B? Here is a distance and time chart so you can get an idea of how long it takes to get from place to place.
*No direct flights.
What’s the Bottom Line on Getting Around Thailand?
Trains are the best way to get around Thailand cheaply and in comfort, night buses are great for places that aren’t serviced by the train, and if you’re short on time, just fly.
That’s it. These are the best ways to get around Thailand. It’s pretty easy, as visitors have been traveling around here for decades and there’s an extensive network to make sure you can get from A to B no matter what!
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments!
Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Thailand!
My detailed, 350+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money while in Thailand, a country I used to call home (so I know it really well!). You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more!! Click here to learn more and get started.
Book Your Trip to Thailand: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Thailand?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide to Thailand for even more planning tips!