Travel Sign in Thailand

Thailand Travel Tips: How to Get Around

Since we found up-to-date information about how to get around Thailand hard to come by when researching our three-month trip, we’ve decided to put all we know here to (hopefully) help other travellers. So, should you travel Thailand by bus, train or plane? How long does it take to get from the north of the country to south? Here’s all we know about how to get around Thailand.

General Thailand Travel Tips

Other than flying, which is way too expensive for us, there are two main ways to get around Thailand:  bus or train. Here are a few key points on each method of transport:

Doi Suthep Buddhas

By Train

  • More expensive than the buses
  • More comfortable and spacious, especially if you book a sleeper ticket
  • Very popular and tickets sell-out fast, so book early
  • There’s a (very smelly) toilet and sink on board

By Bus:

  • Cheaper than trains
  • There’s not always a toilet on board but the bus does make comfort stops along the way
  • Least comfortable option

Both bus and train:

  • Day or night journeys are available (if you go overnight then you save a night’s accommodation costs).
  • It’s Best to buy tickets from the train stations or bus terminals to get official tickets; tour agencies or guesthouses tend to be overpriced and you may not get what you paid for.
  • Locals use Government buses which are good value and offer fan buses or fancy VIP air-con buses depending on ticket price.
  • If you’re travelling to the islands then you can book joint tickets that include a ferry to your destination.
  • You are likely to be assaulted with freezing-cold air-con.
  • While on the islands it is very difficult (if not impossible) to book transport through anyone other than a tour agency, so you are likely to pay a higher price.
  • When booking through a tour agency you will likely have a free pick-up from your accommodation or the tour agency.
  • Most bus terminals and train stations are out of town so factor in some money for getting into the centre of your destination.

Since we have never had a decent night’s sleep on either  buses or trains in Thailand – we’ve had plenty of journeys from Hell – we usually choose to go by bus during the day and accept that we will be uncomfortable but ready to sleep in a nice bed that night. Avoid booking tickets for buses that leave from Kao San Road, there are plenty of stories about theft from the luggage compartments and you will just have to fight your way onto the bus to find a decent seat as they aren’t assigned.

Here’s what we paid, per person, for the following journeys around Thailand between August and November 2013 and in February 2014. Please note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of journey options.

The North

How to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (and vice versa)

  • Method of Transport: Train
  • How long? Up to 15 hours but be prepared for delays
  • How much? About £17 for an air con sleeper ticket
  • When? Bangkok to Chiang Mai: 08.30, 12.45, 18.10, 19.35 and 22.00; Chiang Mai to Bangkok: 05.45, 08.45, 16.00, 17.00 and 17.30
  • Where from/to? From Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai railway station which is east of the Mae Ping river.
    • We’ve taken this journey twice, once we were delayed six hours and the journey cost £27, the other time we were delayed three hours and spent £17. We caught the 19.35 train both times.
  • Method of Transport: Government bus
  • How long? About eight to ten  hours depending on time of day and type of bus
  • How much? £8 to £17 depending on company and type of bus
  • When? Early morning or late afternoon/evening at various times
  • Where from/to? From Mo Chit (north) bus terminal in Bangkok to Chiang Mai Arcade bus terminal in the north-east.
    • We have taken this journey five times there or back. Journeys ranged from eight to ten hours in length and cost between £8 and £17.

Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Street Market

How to get from Chiang Mai to Pai and Chiang Rai (and vice versa)

  • Method of Transport? Minibus and Green Bus Company
  • How long? About three hours to each destination
  • How much? About £3 to Pai (minibus), £3.70 to Chiang Rai (Green Bus Company)
  • When? From early morning until mid-afternoon about every hour
  • Where from/to? From Chiang Mai Arcade bus terminal to Pai and Chiang Rai bus stations in the centre of the towns.
    • We travelled to Pai from Chiang Mai once, which cost £3 each way. We went from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai twice  which cost £3.70 each way. All journeys took around three hours each; the Green Bus Company seems to be the only one offering services from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.

Travel Sign in Thailand

How to get from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

  • Method of Transport: Government bus
  • How long? About three hours
  • How much? About £1.30
  • When? Every hour from 06.00 to 17.00
  • Where from/to? From Chiang Rai bus terminal in the town centre to Chiang Khong bus terminal.
    • We took this trip once to cross the Mekong into Laos, we left at about 09.00, the journey cost £1.30 and took about three hours.

How to get from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (and vice versa)

  • Method of Transport: Train
  • How long? About three hours
  • How much? About £2 to £3
  • When? Bangkok to Kanchanaburi at 07.45 and 13.55, return at 07.19 and 14.44
  • Where from/to? Bangkok Thonburi railway station, which is just west of the Chao Phraya River opposite the Grand Palace, to Kanchanaburi railway station, which is just north of the main road.
    • We haven’t taken this journey by train
  • Method of Transport: Government Bus or Minibus
  • How long? About two to three hours
  • How much? About £2.50 for both minibuses and government buses
  • When? Throughout the day at regular times
  • Where from/to? From Bangkok southern bus terminal in the West of the city or Kao San Road to Kanchanaburi bus terminal in the south of Kanchanaburi.
    • We’ve taken this journey a couple of times, leaving from Bangkok southern bus terminal on a large air con bus and from Kao San Road by minibus. We’ve returned from the bus station in Kanchanaburi to Kao San Road by minibus too.

The Bridge on the River Kwai, Kanchanaburi

How to get from Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok

  • Method of Transport: Train
  • How long? About 12 hours
  • How much? About £8 to £9 (Sleeper ticket)
  • When? 07.00, 08.45, 14.50, 15.05, 16.50, 18.30 and 19.30
  • Where from/to? From Ubon Ratchathani railway station to Bangkok Hua Lamphong railway station.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 19.30 and arrived the next morning at 08.00, the sleeper tickets cost about £9 each.

Laos to Thailand

How to get from Pakse (Laos) to Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand)

  • Method of Transport: Minibus
  • How long? About two to three hours
  • How much? About £15
  • When? 15.00
  • Where from/to? From your guesthouse in Pakse to Ubon Ratchathani railway station.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left at 15.00 and crossed the Laos/Thailand border just after 16.00, meaning we had to pay a £0.70 ‘overtime fee’ (Bribe) each to be stamped out. We booked our travel all the way to Bangkok so our £24 per person tickets included sleeper tickets from Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok.

The Southern Islands

How to get from Bangkok to Koh Samui

  • Method of Transport: Train and boat
  • How long? About 13 to 16 hours
  • How much? About £15 to £20
  • When? 08.05, 18.30 and 19.30
  • Where from/to? From Bangkok  Hua Lamphong railway station to Nathon Pier in Koh Samui.
    • We haven’t taken this journey by train
  • Method of Transport: Government bus and boat
  • How long? About 12 hours
  • How much? About £10 to £15
  • When? Early morning or late afternoon/evening at various times
  • Where from/to? From Bangkok southern and Mo Chit bus terminals to Nathon Pier in Koh Samui.
    • We took this journey once; we left Mo Chit Southern bus terminal at 07.30, the journey cost £15 and it took us 12 hours.

Southern view from Koh Samui

How to get from Koh Samui to Bangkok

  • Method of Transport: Government bus and boat
  • How long? About 12 hours
  • How much? About £10 to £15
  • When? Early morning or late afternoon/evening at various times
  • Where from/to? From Nathon Pier in Koh Samui to Bangkok southern and Mo Chit bus terminals.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left Nathon Pier at 07.30, the journey cost £12 and it took us 12 hours.

How to get from Bangkok to Koh Phangan

  • Method of Transport: Train and boat
  • How long? About 17 hours
  • How much? About £18 for day train and boat to Koh Samui, between £22 and £34 for overnight trains and boat to Koh Phangan
  • When? 08:05 day train, 18.30 and 19.30 overnight trains
  • Where from/to? From Bangkok Hua Lamphong railway station to Thong Sala pier on Koh Phangan.
    • We’ve taken this journey by booking train tickets and bus and boat tickets separately. We took the day train to Surat Thani which cost £12.50 and took nine hours; we then stayed the night in town. The following morning we bought a joint bus and boat ticket to Koh Phangan for £6.50, this journey took about five hours
  • Method of Transport: Government bus and boat
  • How long? About 14 hours
  • How much? About £10 to £15
  • When? Early morning or late afternoon/evening at various times
  • Where from/to? From Bangkok southern and Mo Chit bus terminals to Tong Sala pier on Koh Phangan.
    • We haven’t taken this journey by bus.

Sunset in Koh Phangan, Thailand

How to get from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao

  • Method of Transport: Pick-up truck and boat
  • How long? About two to three hours
  • How much? About £11
  • When? 10.00, 12.30, 13.00
  • Where from/to? From our guesthouse in Koh Phangan to Mae Haad Beach in Koh Tao.
    • We took this journey once and spent £11. We were picked up from our accommodation and the journey lasted about two and a half hours.

Freedom Beach, Koh Tao

How to get from Koh Tao to Bangkok

  • Method of Transport: Train and boat
  • How long? About 10 to 22 hours
  • How much? About £25
  • When? 10.00, 10.30, 14.30, 22.00, 23.00 (if you take the night boat you are looking at a 22-hour journey)
  • Where from/to? From Mae Haad Beach in Koh Tao to Bangkok southern bus terminal.
    • We took this journey once and spent £25 each on tickets from Koh Tao to Bangkok, including pick up from the tour agency. This journey goes via Chumphon and took about 15 hours.

How to get from Bangkok to Koh Phi Phi

  • Method of Transport: Government and VIP bus and boat
  • How long? About 12 to 14 hours
  • How much? About £15 to £23
  • When? Early morning or late afternoon/evening at various times
  • Where from/to? From Bangkok southern bus terminal to Koh Phi Phi town pier
    • I took this journey once and spent £23 on two separate tickets from Bangkok to Krabi (£14) then to Koh Phi Phi by bus and boat (£9). This journey took about 14 hours since I booked the tickets separately.

Fishing on Koh Phi Phi

How to get from Koh Phi Phi to Bangkok

  • Method of Transport: VIP bus and boat
  • How long? About 12 to 14 hours
  • How much? About £20
  • When? Ferries depart daily for Krabi from Koh Phi Phi at 09.00, 10.30, 13.30, 15.30
  • Where from/to? From Koh Phi Phi town pier to Bangkok southern bus terminal.
    • I took this journey once and spent £20 on one overnight ticket from Koh Phi Phi to Bangkok, I arrived in Kao San Road after over 12 hours cramped in a ‘VIP’ bus.

Do you have any Thailand Travel Tips? Any updates? Let us know!

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