Transport and driving in Thailand can be chaotic, and there are many different options when it comes to getting around. Most long-distance travel is via buses, with motorcycles commonly used for short distances in larger cities.

While most foreigners should be able to get around safely, the country does have high road accident rates, particularly when it comes to motorcycles. The Thai capital is especially notorious – the traffic in Bangkok is among the worst in the world, and expats should take extra care when driving in the city.

Thailand has a fairly good public transport system which consists of buses, trains, motorcycles, taxis and tuk-tuks.


Public transport in Thailand

Trains

The train network in Thailand is run by the State Railway of Thailand. The network consists of four main routes, which travel to the north, the northeast, the east and the south. These railway lines intersect in Bangkok, so when travelling long distances, it is usually necessary to change lines.

Any part of Thailand can be accessed from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok, and tickets can be purchased in advance. There are three types of trains available – ordinary, rapid and express trains – as well as three classes of travel, from private first-class booths to third-class seats.

Trains are slower than buses but are often more comfortable for long-distance travel, particularly for long journeys such as those between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Rapid rail transit

Bangkok is home to the country’s only rapid transit system of its kind. This system includes the BTS Skytrain, the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT), and the Suvarnabhumi Rail Airport Link (ARL). Collectively, the system only consists of six lines total, though there are additional lines planned. Thailand is also constructing a high-speed train that is set to be completed by 2026. 

Buses

Buses are a common form of transport over long distances, providing access to some of the country’s more remote areas. Luxury long-distance buses, known as VIP buses, have air conditioning and reclining seats to make long-distance travel more comfortable. VIP bus tickets should be bought in advance due to limited seating.

Buses are not used as much within cities as between them, although Bangkok does have a well-developed local bus service with around 100 routes. To get on a bus, passengers wait at a bus stop and make a waving motion with the palm of their hand facing downwards as the bus approaches. The fare is paid on board the bus.

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Taxis in Thailand

There are taxis in most Thai cities, although many of them have malfunctioning meters or taxi drivers who refuse to use them, so fares must be negotiated before getting into the vehicle. 

Taxi cabs

Taxi cabs, which are usually bright pink, blue or yellow-and-green, are easy to find in major cities like Bangkok. It’s advised that expats book a taxi via phone or online before their trip. Raid-hailing services such as Grab are also available, which can be helpful in avoiding problems that may crop up due to the language barrier.

Motorcycle taxis

Motorcycle taxis are also popular and are often the fastest way of getting around cities. They are known to weave in and out of traffic, however, and might be a frightening experience for inexperienced passengers.

Tuk-tuks

The most popular taxis for tourists in Thailand are samlaws, better known as tuk-tuks. These are three-wheeled vehicles that are either motorised or non-motorised and can carry up to two or three passengers.

Songthaews

Also known as ‘red buses’ or ‘red trucks’, songthaews are another popular choice of transport in Thailand. These passenger vehicles are adapted from pick-up trucks and are used as shared taxis or buses. Songthaews are used both within towns and cities, as well as for longer routes between towns and villages.


Driving in Thailand

Although driving in Thailand can be frustrating, it is essential to remain calm and patient. Massive traffic volumes mean that it is usually better to use public transport within the cities, while some expats who regularly commute in urban areas hire a private driver. Traffic jams will ensure that getting to work is a slow process no matter who is driving.

Driving between cities is far more manageable, and having a personal vehicle is often the best way to travel through the Thai countryside. The system of highways in Thailand is of a relatively high standard and links every part of the country, with most roads being in acceptable condition. That said, the roads on Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Ngan are infamously dangerous. Road accidents are one of the top causes of death for foreigners in Thailand. 

Expats should drive defensively and be prepared for erratic drivers as well as children and animals on the road. Driving in rural areas at night is not recommended. Drink-driving is a problem in Thailand, and many cars do not have working headlights. Buses driving recklessly on country roads can also be a hazard at night.

Expats will need to apply for a Thai driving licence after three months of living in the country, and some insurers require the driver to have a Thai driving licence to be fully covered. Licences can be applied for at local transport offices or the Department of Land Transport in Bangkok. 

Newcomers to Thailand must attend a Department of Land Transport-approved driving school and take both a written and practical test to secure a driving licence. Additionally, prospective drivers will need to be cleared by a Thai medical doctor to certify that they are physically and mentally fit to drive. A Thai driving licence is valid for two years and must be renewed thereafter. 

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Walking in Thailand

Pedestrians are vulnerable in Thailand, especially in Bangkok’s notoriously busy streets. Some areas in the city have overhead walkways above the streets to allow pedestrians to cross, which is effective and safe, but other traffic controls, like pedestrian crossings, are often completely ignored by drivers. Expats who decide to traverse Thailand’s streets on foot are encouraged to remain vigilant and only do so where it’s largely considered safe. 


Air travel in Thailand

Air travel is a fast and affordable way to travel longer distances in Thailand. Many low-cost airlines operate in the country, with Air Asia being one of the most popular.

Thailand’s largest airport is Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, and the national carrier is Thai Airways. The other international airports in Thailand are in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat-Yai and Phuket, but the country has close to 100 airports in total.

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