Thailand’s growing popularity has made it an easy destination to reach. The burgeoning tourist economy means that it is now a regular stop for major airlines, and large and modern international airports that connect to smaller hubs have sprung up in response.
By air, by road, by sea, or by rail, you can easily make your way to Thailand to find those hidden secrets–the islands, the temples–you’ve only heard rumors about.
TRAVEL TO THAILAND BY AIRPLANE
Most visitors are welcomed into Thailand by air, arriving at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. This modern facility is about 45 minutes southeast of the city, but connects easily with the heart of the metro with a high-speed rail service. You can get yourself to the downtown area in about 15 minutes. Some flights might arrive at the older Don Muang Airport, but this is less common and generally reserved for domestic travel only.
If you are heading for Thailand from Europe, your flight will average about 12 hours. Visitors from the United States have a bit longer journey of about 23 hours. However, Thai Airways does fly direct from New York to Bangkok in about 17 hours, so that might be a desired option for those from the U.S.
Australians have the best travel time, and can expect only ten hours or so for a non-stop flight.
Some travelers may prefer a different route into Thailand, perhaps bypassing Bangkok and flying in from Hong Kong, Singapore or Malaysia. In this case, you are able to fly direct to many of chosen final destinations, such as Koh Samui, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. If you have chosen to spend your vacation on Koh Samui, for example, why not get there as easily as possible? Get that vacation started all the faster!
TRAVEL TO THAILAND BY LAND
Travel by land from neighboring countries is also possible, but much less popular than by airplane. Still, if you have a taste of adventure in you, you might really enjoy the idea of entering Thailand from Singapore on the Oriental Express train service.
Cruise lines are another popular way to take in Thailand as a stop on a longer journey. Local ferries that specialize in tourist travel are the connecting service between mainland ports and the smaller islands. Phuket has become a particular favorite of cruise ships.
Trains are a fine way to travel to and around Thailand, connecting Bangkok up as far north as Chiang Mai. Comfortable sleeper cabins make travel pleasurable, but keep in mind…trains are not the fastest way to go and aren’t always running perfectly on schedule. If you want to get to your destination quickly, stick with air travel.
Buses, of course, are going to make an important appearance in any discussion on traveling within Thailand. Once again, they are definitely not as speedy as an airplane, and unless you’re looking forward to a 12-hour bus ride to get to locales further south, you might want to leave bus travel for the connecting journeys within your vacation and not how you get to your destination.
GETTING TICKETS AND BOOKING TRAVEL
It is not difficult to book your travel tickets, even from home before you arrive. You can always book your flights and travel on your own on popular online travel sites, but finding an experienced travel agent who knows Thailand may pay off in the long run, for both travel to Thailand and traveling in Thailand.
December through March is peak travel time in Thailand, so expect higher fees and rates if you plan on traveling then.
TRAVELING AROUND THAILAND
First, the tuk tuk.
You will see these three-wheeled motorbike-like vehicles everywhere, and you may want to ride one for the experience alone, but they certainly aren’t going to be a major part of your travel plans once inside Thailand. These are usually used with in a city or specific locale.
Getting around Thailand is better left to buses, trains, cars, or ferries. Before we get started, remember this general idea: not every tuk tuk, taxi, or bus is on the up-and-up. As a tourist, you may be bombarded with transportation offers in some areas of Thailand. Choose carefully and for taxis or tuk tuks, be sure you have negotiated the price up front.
CARS AND BUSES
You can think of Bangkok as a bit of a hub when you think of the roads that stretch across Thailand, which has a good network of roads, some modern dual lane while others are off-the-beaten-path.
Gas stations are plentiful, drivers are daring (sometimes to excess), and the scenery is fantastic. Hire a taxi to take you around to see local sites, or take a bus and head to a new destination, but skip the congestion of Bangkok if you decide to try your hand at driving yourself. Be aware that renting a car can be expensive and your driving skills may not be up to it in congested cities. If you do hire a taxi, be sure that the driver has the meter running.
Traveling by bus is a fine option, though some tourists prefer to avoid riding an overnight bus. If you do choose to use a bus, stick to the less expensive government buses, and avoid any bus that seems a bit sketchy, particularly some of the buses that depart from the famed Khao San road.
Some backpackers would suggest renting a motorcycle, but that is best left to the experienced traveler.
Trains are a wonderful way to travel around Thailand; you can hop the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for about $35.
Though the train system isn’t as extensive as those found in Europe, it is a fun adventure in its own right, and a great way to see the countryside without the headache of cars and other traffic.
FERRIES AND BOATS
Ferry services between islands are in your future if that is your destination, but don’t worry–the prices are affordable and it is easy travel to arrange. You’ll find a lot of daytrippers taking advantage of beautiful beaches and then heading back home for the night using ferries. Koh Samui is one of these islands, where adventures are a plenty.
Many packages and travel combinations are available, depending upon the island destination on your itinerary. If you book your entire trip with a travel agent, necessary ferry service should be a part of the package.
CHOOSING YOUR BEST OPTION
The travel plans you make are best based on what you are looking for as far as experience, and what you can physically handle.
How fast do you want to arrive at your destination? Is your vacation about a destination, or about general exploration? To you have hotel or villa reservations that must be kept, or did you keep things open-ended? How much money are you wanting to spend? Do you want to avoid discomfort?
When you travel to Thailand outside of the peak season, you will have the ability to be more open-ended with your plans, and can easily hop a bus or train once there by heading to the train or bus stations to get your tickets.
If you are traveling during that peak December-March period and have specific destinations and reservations to meet, however, it would be wise to book all of your travel plans ahead of time.
If you’re seriously adventurous and making it up as you go, there are tourist information centers in Thai cities that can help you find travel options and destinations. You may also inquire at the hotel or make a contact where you have booked accommodations for suggestions on the best way to travel to what you’d like to see.
You will likely be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to get to a travel hub in Thailand, even if you’re on a beautiful island seemingly far from the hectic world.