Bangkok has the largest city-bus system in the country, while Udon Thani and a few other provincial capitals have some city-bus services. The etiquette for riding public buses is to wait at a bus stop and hail the vehicle by waving your hand palm-side downward. You typically pay the fare once you’ve taken a seat or, in some cases, when you disembark.
Elsewhere, public transport is provided by sŏrng·tăa·ou (a small pick-up truck outfitted with two facing rows of benches for passengers). They sometimes operate on fixed routes, just like buses, but they may also run a share-taxi service where they pick up passengers going in the same general direction. In tourist centres, sŏrng·tăa·ou can be chartered just like a regular taxi, but you’ll need to negotiate the fare beforehand. You can usually hail a sŏrng·tăa·ou anywhere along its route and pay the fare when you disembark.
Depending on the region, sŏrng·tăa·ou might also run a fixed route from the centre of town to outlying areas or even points within the provinces. Sometimes these vehicles are larger six-wheeled vehicles (sometimes called ‘rót hòk lór’).
Săhm·lór are three-wheeled pedicabs that are typically found in small towns where traffic is light and old-fashioned ways persist.
The modern era’s version of the human-powered săhm·lór is the motorised túk-túk. They’re small utility vehicles, powered by screaming engines (usually LPG-powered) with a lot of flash and sparkle.
With either form of transport the fare must be established by bargaining before departure. In tourist centres, túk-túk drivers often grossly overcharge foreigners so have a sense of how much the fare should be before soliciting a ride. Hotel staff are helpful in providing reasonable fare suggestions.
Readers interested in pedicab lore and design may want to have a look at Lonely Planet’s hardcover pictorial book, Chasing Rickshaws, by Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler.
Bangkok has the most formal system of metered taxis. In other cities, a taxi can be a private vehicle with negotiable rates and there are a variety of shared taxis in which the fare is split among a group of passengers.
Bangkok is the only city in Thailand to have an above-ground (BTS) and underground light-rail (MRT) public transport system.
Many cities in Thailand have mor·đeu·sai ráp jâhng (100cc to 125cc motorcycles) that can be hired, with a driver, for short distances. If you’re empty-handed or travelling with a small bag, they can’t be beaten for transport in a pinch.
In most cities, you’ll find motorcycle taxis clustered near street intersections. Usually they wear numbered jerseys. Fares tend to run from 10B to 50B, depending on distance and you’ll need to establish the price beforehand.
The bus network in Thailand is prolific and reliable. The Thai government subsidises the Transport Company (bò·rí·sàt kŏn sòng), usually abbreviated to Baw Khaw Saw (BKS). Every city and town in Thailand linked by bus has a BKS station, even if it’s just a patch of dirt by the side of the road.
By far the most reliable bus companies in Thailand are the ones that operate out of the government-run BKS stations. In some cases the companies are entirely state owned, in others they are private concessions.
We do not recommend using bus companies that operate directly out of tourist centres, like Bangkok’s Th Khao San, because of repeated instances of theft and commission-seeking stops. Be sure to be aware of bus scams and other common problems.
Minivans are increasingly becoming the middle-class option. Minivans are run by private companies and because their vehicles are smaller, they can depart from the market (instead of the out-of-town bus stations) and will deliver guests directly to their hotel. Just don’t sit in the front – that way you can avoid having to watch the driver’s daredevil techniques!
The cheapest and slowest buses are the rót tam·má·dah (ordinary fan buses) that stop in every little town and for every waving hand along the highway. Only a few of these ordinary buses, in rural locations or for local destinations, still exist since most have been replaced by air-con buses.
Rót aa (air-con buses) come in a variety of classes, depending on the destination's distance. Short distances are usually covered by the basic 2nd class bus, which does not have an on-board toilet on board. For longer routes, the buses increase in comfort and amenities, ranging from 1st class to ‘VIP’ and ‘Super VIP’. The latter two have fewer seats so that each seat reclines further; sometimes these are called rót norn (sleeper buses).
Bring along a jacket for long-distance bus trips as air-con keeps the cabin at arctic temperatures. The service on these buses is usually quite good and on certain routes sometimes includes a beverage and video, courtesy of an ‘air hostess’.
On overnight journeys the buses usually stop somewhere en route for ‘midnight kôw đôm’, when passengers are awakened to get off the bus for a free meal of rice soup.
You can book air-con BKS buses at any BKS terminal. Ordinary (fan) buses cannot be booked in advance. Privately run buses can be booked through most hotels or any travel agency, but it’s best to book directly through a bus office to be sure that you get what you pay for.