Planes Trains and Automobiles of Thailand: Part 1

Thailand is a big place. And it’s by no means uniform. From the mountains to the coast it contains every imaginable landscape, and all of the relaxing, interesting and exciting things you could ever imagine to do with said landscapes as a backdrop. There are different regional and religious cultures, all with different foods and drinks they want to serve you. There’s a lot of literal and metaphorical ground to cover in the Kingdom.


And in this golden age there are innumerable ways of getting to and from any particular destination in Thailand, but here is the proverbial rub. Which way is right for you and your family, or you and your friends or, as is often my case, you and you alone?

This is a tough question. If you can tolerate some, or even a lot, of discomfort you can travel very cheaply. But 18-20 hours in a cramped bus from the capitol to Chiang Mai can make you hate your life you aren’t up for it.

So, as objectively as possible, here is my personal outline of what you can expect with all of the major modes of long distance transit in and around Thailand.

bangkok-to-chiangmai-train-restaurantTrain – This might be interesting if you’re heading south to the beaches or north to the mountains. The train is actually pretty comfortable if you spring for a curtained sleeper, and one can only imagine even comfier if you feel like paying for one of the private sleeper cabins. The trains have dining cars, concession carts that are periodically pushed up and down the aisles, and breakfast in bed if you’re taking an overnight ride (you do have to order this and it is not included in the ticket, but still). But trains are slow, tight, and contain train bathrooms.

The biggest disadvantage to travel by train is time, as it takes almost twice as long to reach wherever you’re going than if you travel by bus or coach. Destinations not too far from each other are the easiest to swallow, but the overnight train experience is truly one of the most memorable.

Plane – I just recently started to try some of the short flights around the region and I have fallen in love. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the rugged, highly social sort of experiences offered by train when I was younger, but now I’m old and cranky. And after traveling the hard way long past my prime, I know what a beautiful feeling is to leave my room in Bangkok at 3 p.m. and be relaxing in my hotel room in Chiang Mai at 6:00, thinking about dinner with no sore muscles or headache.

Read Part Two for tips on buses, vans, coaches, and private vehicles. My least and most preferred means of getting there. And I’ll explain, by way of a handful of true stories, why I will not get on a coach or bus again unless it’s part of some kind of disaster evacuation.

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