For most visitors, flying is the most convenient way of getting to Thailand. Other routes include ferry, road, and rail via Malaysia; ferry and road via Cambodia; and limited but rapidly improving road links via Laos. Domestic flights within Thailand are easy and cut journey times considerably, with provincial airports dotted generously around the country. Flights to surrounding countries are cheaper if booked within Thailand. Regular rail services run between Bangkok and Singapore, via Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth (for Penang), and some Southern Thai towns. Rail travel is efficient, clean, and comfortable, but there is a limited number of lines. Long-distance and provincial buses of varying quality run to all towns and to most villages. At a local level there is a variety of taxis, songthaews, and tuk-tuks with which to get around.
Travel around Thailand is easy, convenient, and cheap, but not really very green. Most people will travel by train, long-distance coach, or car hire – the latter being the most flexible and user-friendly, as the kingdom’s roads are uniformly good and well-maintained (though driving can be hazardous at times). The only possibility for green travel in terms of fuel is the use of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG). This less-polluting fuel has been introduced in an attempt to combat increasing exhaust pollution in large cities and rising oil prices. However, vehicles using LPG are still relatively few, so the best that can reasonably be hoped for is the use of Gasohol, which combines ordinary benzene with fuel derived from sugar cane.
Some of Bangkok’s newer local buses now use LPG and the city authorities are slowly replacing the old polluting buses, but this will take time. Both LPG and Gasohol are, to some extent, subsidized by the government in an attempt to encourage their use. Bangkok’s Skytrain and MRT underground have made a huge difference to the city’s once clogged arteries, providing transport for thousands of commuters who would previously have used their cars.
Arriving by Air
Thailand is served by numerous airlines from all over the world. Direct flights are available from North America, Europe, Australasia, and Asia. Thai Airways operates direct flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok, and British Airways, United Airlines, and Delta have a connecting service from New York. Qantas has direct flights to Bangkok from Sydney, Melbourne, and London, and Singapore Airlines flies from Australia to Bangkok via Singapore. International flights also land at U-Tapao Airport, located 45 minutes from Pattaya. Flights from Asian countries may land at Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Krabi, or Ko Samui
The cost of flying to and from Thailand varies according to the destination, the airline, and the time of year. In the northern hemisphere low fares are available from September to April, and in the southern hemisphere from March to November. Bangkok is one of the cheapest cities in the world to fly out of due to loose government restrictions on air fares and fierce competition between the airlines and Bangkok’s travel agencies.
One of the busiest airports in Asia, Suvarnabhumi (BKK) is used for international as well as domestic flights. This huge modern airport is in Racha Thewa in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan Province, 18 miles (30 km) east of the capital. Named by King Bhumibol, Suvarnabhumi means “Golden Land.” In total, the airport stretches over 11 miles (17 km) and has the world’s tallest air traffic control tower. Arriving passengers enter the terminal on the second floor of the concourse buildings. After passing through passport control and customs, they can proceed to the arrivals hall, where they will find transportation and accommodation counters and tourist information. A meeting point is on the third floor.
The older but refurbished Don Muang Airport (DMK), north of the city, is the hub for Thai Air Asia, Nok Air, and many budget airlines such as Tiger, Scoot, and Thai Smile. Many domestic flights also go from Don Muang. If transferring between the airports, allow at least 3 hours between your first flight’s arrival and your next departure. A free shuttle bus (on production of a valid air ticket) takes around 50 minutes and leaves from the bus stand outside the main exit at arrivals. Taxis also leave from here, with a surcharge of 50 baht. The taxi booking stands are inside the airport. The nearest rail connections are at Morchit (Skytrain) and Chatuchak Park (MRT Metro), and there is a shuttle bus A1 to both
With more than 100 duty free shops, Suvarnabhumi Airport is a shopper’s paradise. Tourists should, however, refrain from touching or moving merchandise that they do not intend to buy. Such actions might give the impression of shoplifting, and this may result in detention and questioning by the police.
Getting to and from Suvarnabhumi International Airport
Metered taxis are available outside the first floor. There is a surcharge of 50 baht in addition to the meter fare. A trip into the city will cost roughly 400 baht, including expressway charges, and take around 45 minutes, depending on traffic. Passengers can also take a shuttle bus or the rail link. People traveling to the airport by road are strongly advised to allow at least one hour for travel time and to take the expressway Check-ins, particularly at the Thai Airways counter, are often subject to delays. The walk from the passport checkpoint to the flight departure lounge is also a considerable distance.
A direct airport rail link runs every 40 minutes from Bangkok City Airport Terminal at Makkasan Station in the center of Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi Airport. The non-stop journey takes 15 minutes, while the stopping service takes about 30 minutes. Both services have considerably cut the journey time between the airport and the center of Bangkok.
Travelers wishing to go to Suvarnabhumi Airport from outside Bangkok should allow plenty of time – at least two hours per 60 miles (100 km) of the journey. It is advisable to shop around for taxis as fares can vary greatly. Many tourist areas now have air-conditioned regular minibus services at a fraction of the cost of private taxis (130 baht from Pattaya, for example).
While a good number of domestic flights from Bangkok leave from Suvarnabhumi, many also fly from Don Muang Airport. Located on Bangkok’s Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, Don Muang serves all the domestic flights of local budget carrier Nok Air. Thai Lion Air flies to many major destinations, such as Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Phuket, and Surat Thani. It also serves towns such as Krabi and Chiang Rai. Other airlines using Don Muang as their main hub include Thai Air Asia and Orient Thai Airlines. Tickets can be bought through travel agents and hotels, or booked directly through the airlines – in this case, passengers will need to pick up their ticket at the airport at least one hour before flying. On public holidays (see p55) and on weekends, when there are more people traveling, it can be difficult to get a flight, so book tickets well in advance or travel during the week
Arriving via Land or Water
Thailand shares land borders with four countries – Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. There are six border crossings with Myanmar, seven with Laos, six with Cambodia, and seven with Malaysia. Visas obtained at a land border crossing are only valid for 15 days.
Myanmar is the most difficult country to enter Thailand from, with the authorities regularly closing border points and causing many other problems for independent travelers. It is not recommended to enter Thailand from Myanmar via any of the land routes. The crossings from Laos are Huay Xai to Chiang Khong; Nam Hong to Nakasing; Tha Na Leng to Nong Khai via the Friendship Bridge; Paksan to Beung Khan; Tha Khaek to Nakhon Phanom; Savannakhet to Mukdahan; and Vang Tao to Chong Mek. The Friendship Bridge is the most popular entry point as it is close to the capital, Vientiane.
Entry from Cambodia is relatively easy. Crossings include Poipet to Aranya Prathet; Cham Yeam to Hat Lek; O’Smach to Chong Jom; Anlong Veng to Chong Sa-Ngam; Phsa Prom Pailin to Ban Pakard; and Daun Lem to Ban Laem.
Entry from Malaysia has in the past been a formality, but with ongoing troubles in the three southernmost, mainly Muslim provinces, Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala, many Western govern ments may advise against crossing the border in these areas. Currently there are two crossings in Satun Province that are safe: Wang Prajan next to the Thale Ban National Park and Kuala Perlis to Satun town. The Butterworth to Bangkok express train uses the Padang Besar to Sadao crossing and this is also a safe point for crossing