Planes Trains and Automobiles of Thailand: Part 2
I started to outline some of the most prevalent forms of transit around Thailand in the first piece of the two part series. So with planes and trains out of the way, and without any undue preamble, let us now explore the world of seat in Coach, vans, and private cars……
Coaches – Lot’s of people might think that a coach would be more comfortable than a van, and in some cases this is true. But there are a wide range of different coach operators, all operating under different paradigms and with different target markets, and it’s very important that you understand what you’re getting into whenever you buy a ticket. Very important.
There are some larger, more established operators who can always be counted on for a quality service (more or less). Sombat is one such operator, and as far as coaches go I really don’t mind theirs. They offer direct routes, some of the buses have massaging seats (and all of the buses are well maintained), they provide decent meals and snacks along the way, as well as hot tea and coffee if you should want either of those. They have their own station as well, which is modern and comfortable with wifi and all the other amenities you might want.
On the other end of the spectrum is the small, independent operator, and this can be an entirely different ball of wax. The buses are not always well maintained and you are at risk of unexpected breakdown along the road, this can be beyond hellish if you aren’t young and fit. They can be very crowded, especially on routes where the operators will make many stops along the way and try to get as many people as possible on the bus, even if they’re standing like canned fish in the aisles (which is usually what ends up happening).
Another thing that I have found to be common with these long distance bus rides, both from high end operators and independents, is this strange practice of playing music of some sort very loudly and at inappropriate times. Whether it was Sombat with crushingly repetitive and sappy pop music at 5 in the morning after a 14 hour ride, or some random independent with some raucous Mor lam at 2:30 in the morning. Both times they seemed to want this music just as I had managed to fall asleep, and I was more than a little angry about it. I love mor lam, but I don’t love anything at all when I’m in a cramped seat with no sleep and an aching body. But there is nothing you can do; this appears to be the custom and the music will play. I hate complaining, and I have a short fuse when I’m sleepy or hungry, so I try to avoid these situations.
One last consideration when thinking of travelling by bus – terminals. This can make or break the trip, and it is probably the smallest part of it. Picking up the coach is usually not too much of a hassle, wherever you end up doing that. Getting away from wherever you’re dropped off in one piece is not always so simple.
The main station at Hua Lamphong is a super cool place to visit, I really do enjoy it. Strange little market/food court kind of stuff scattered around the compound. However, at particular times the traffic and availability of taxis around there is extremely limited.
Again, great place to catch a bus, not always a great place to get back off of one. You can end up spending a lot of unpleasant time at some strange hour waiting to get in a taxi, which is not an orderly process and involves a lot of pushing and moving around so that you might be standing in an ideal spot when an opportunity to escape presents itself. It truly is everyone for themselves.
Smaller satellite stations are much better, even stops at random points on the road somewhere if you can get off at one, are generally the best places to get away from the bus as quickly and comfortably as possible.
Read Part Three for tips on vans and private vehicles. My most preferred means of getting there.