Getting there & away
Tickets can be purchased cheaply on the internet through booking and airline websites. Online ticket sales work well if you are doing a simple one-way or return trip on specified dates. However, online fare generators are no substitute for a travel agent who knows all about special deals; has strategies for avoiding layovers; and can offer advice on everything from picking the airline with the great vegetarian food to the best travel insurance to bundle with your ticket.
In Thailand, most travel arrangements are done through an agent. Most firms are honest and solvent, but there are some rogue fly-by-night outfits around. Paying by credit card generally offers protection, as most card issuers provide refunds if you can prove you didn’t get what you paid for. Agents who accept only cash should hand over the tickets straight away and not tell you to ‘come back tomorrow’. After you’ve made a booking or paid your deposit, call the airline and confirm that the booking was made.
Booking flights in and out of Bangkok during the high season (December to March) can be difficult and expensive. For air travel during these months you should make your bookings as far in advance as possible.
Also, be sure to reconfirm return or ongoing tickets when you arrive in Thailand. Failure to reconfirm can mean losing your reservation.
If you’re travelling to multiple countries, then an round-the-world (RTW) ticket – where you pay a single discounted price for several connections – may be the most economical way to go.
Here are a few online companies that can arrange RTW tickets:
Airstop & Go (www.airstop.be)
Air Brokers International (www.airbrokers.com)
Around the Worlds (www.aroundtheworlds.com)
Thailand shares land borders with Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia and Myanmar. Travel between all of these countries can be done by land via sanctioned border crossings. With improved highways, it is also becoming easier to travel from Thailand to China. See Border Crossings for specific immigration points and transport summaries.
Many visitors bring their own touring bicycles to Thailand. No special permits are needed for bringing a bicycle into the country, although it may be registered by customs – which means if you don’t leave the country with your bicycle, you’ll have to pay a huge customs duty.
It’s essential to bring a well-stocked repair kit and be sure to have your bike serviced before departure.
You can enter Thailand by bus through Laos and Malaysia at the moment – your bus will stop at a Thai immigration post at your point of entry so that each foreign passenger can receive an entry stamp in their passport. Thai visas are not normally included in bus fares. For overland routes through Cambodia, you’ll need to hire a shared taxi. You can exit Thailand into portions of Myanmar by bus or shared taxi.
Passenger vehicles (eg car, van, truck or motorcycle) can be brought into Thailand for tourist purposes for up to six months. Documents needed for the crossing are a valid International Driving Permit, passport, vehicle registration papers (in the case of a borrowed or hired vehicle, authorisation from the owner) and a cash or bank guarantee equal to the value of the vehicle plus 20%. For entry through Khlong Toey Port or Suvarnabhumi Airport, this means a letter of bank credit; for overland crossings via Malaysia, Cambodia or Laos a ‘self-guarantee’ filled in at the border is sufficient.
The only rail option into and out of Thailand is via Malaysia. The State Railway of Thailand (www.railway.co.th) and Malaysian Railway (www.ktmb.com.my) meet at Butterworth, 93km south of the Thai–Malaysian border, a transfer point to Penang or Kuala Lumpur.
Thai–Cambodian border crossings are typically straightforward. Most visitors cross at Poipet (Cambodia) to Aranya Prathet (Thailand). This is the most direct land route between Bangkok and Angkor Wat.
Several more remote crossings have opened between southeastern Thailand and southwestern Cambodia including: Kap Choeng-Chom Som, Chong Sa Ngam-Anlong Veng; Ban Laem-Daun Lem, Ban Phakkat-Pailin. Private or hired transport is required to access most of these crossings.
The China–Thailand highway will link Kunming, in China’s Yunnan Province, with Bangkok. As of 2006, 60% of the route (from Kunming to the Laos border town of Boten) has been completed. The routes from Boten, Laos across to Chiang Khong, Thailand, can be done relatively easily now, although roads between Boten and Huay Xai are rough.
Other roads emanating from China’s Yunnan Province will link to Myanmar and to Vietnam and then on to Thailand. The China–Myanmar highway stretches between Tachileik, which is on the border with Mae Sai, Thailand, to the Chinese town of Daluo.
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (1174m) spans a section of the Mekong River between Nong Khai, Thailand, and Tha Na Leng (near Vientiane, Laos) and is the main transport gateway between the two countries. You can easily reach the Thai border crossing from Vientiane by bus, taxi or sǎamláw (three-wheeled motorcycle taxi).
It’s legal for non-Thais to cross the Mekong River by ferry between Thailand and Laos at the following points: Beung Kan (opposite Paksan), Nakhon Phanom (opposite Tha Khaek), Chiang Khong (opposite Huay Xai).
The train heading into Malaysia from Bangkok splits at Hat Yai with one spur heading east toward the border town of Sungai Kolok and on to Kota Bahru. The western spur trundles travellers to Butterworth, the transfer point to Penang or other destinations along the west coast of Malaysia.
The land crossings into Myanmar have peculiar restrictions that often don’t allow full land access to the country. Of the four border crossing open to foreigners, only two allow more than a day’s access into the country. These borders are also the most sensitive to periodic closures due to fighting on the Myanmar side between ethnic armies and the Burmese government, or other unstable factors.
The crossing at Mae Sai–Tachileik is the only land point through which foreigners can really travel into Myanmar. From the border you can continue to Kengtung, as far as Mengla on the Thai–China border and into China as long as you have arranged the appropriate visas beforehand. Interestingly, the bridge that spans the two border towns is Lo Hsing-han’s former ‘Golden Triangle’ passageway for opium and heroin. Many travellers use this border as a way to renew their Thai visas.
In the past, Mae Sai immigration officials have been known to ask travellers to produce evidence of sufficient funds (10, 000B cash, the legal requirement for a tourist visa) before issuing an entry stamp.
The Mae Sot–Myawadi border crossing is open to foreigners only as a day trip into a border market, even though the road continues to Mawlamyaing (Moulmein) via Kawkareik. Unlike Three Pagodas Pass, this crossing can be used for visa renewal.
Once a gateway for various invading armies and an important smuggling route, Three Pagodas Pass is accessible to foreigners only as a day trip to a Burmese border market. You must surrender your passport on the Thai side and are unable to use this point for renewing your Thai visa.
In the southern part of Thailand, you can legally enter Myanmar by boat from Ranong to Kawthoung via the Gulf of Martaban and Pakchan estuary. You’ll need to arrange the appropriate visas before arrival in Myanmar. Many people use this crossing only as a day trip in order to renew their Thai visas; for day passes, no Myanmar visa is required.
All foreign-registered vessels, skippers and crew must check in with the relevant Thai authorities as soon as possible after entering Thai waters. Although major ports throughout Thailand offer port check-ins, most leisure boating visitors check in at Phuket, Krabi, Samui, Pranburi or Pattaya. Because Phuket’s Tha Ao Chalong brings customs, immigration and harbourmaster services together in one building, Phuket is the most popular check-in point nationwide.
Before departing from Thailand by boat, you must also check out with immigration, customs and harbourmaster. Vessels caught without harbour clearance may be fined up to 5000B. Lee Marine (www.leemarine.com) is a brokerage and dealership in Phuket.
Entry procedures for Thailand, by air or by land, are straightforward. You’ll have to show your passport, with any visa you may have obtained beforehand. You’ll also need to present completed arrival and departure cards. These are usually distributed on the incoming flight or, if arriving by land, can be picked up at the immigration counter.
You do not have to fill in a customs form on arrival unless you have imported goods to declare. In that case you can get the proper form from Thai customs officials at the point of entry.
The new Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok International Airport; www.bangkokairportonline.com) – pronounced sùwannáphuum – opened in September 2006 and has replaced the former airport at Don Muang for all Bangkok-arriving and -departing domestic and international flights. It is located in the Nong Ngu Hao area of Samut Prakan – 30km east of Bangkok and 60km from Pattaya.
The Bangkok International Airport at Don Muang was retired from commercial service in September 2006 only to be partially reopened five months later to handle overflow from Suvarnabhumi. As of March 2007, Don Muang began servicing some domestic carriers, but it was unclear at the time of writing what the operating duration or capacity of the old airport would be once construction problems at Suvarnabhumi.were resolved.
While most international flights arrive at and depart out of Bangkok, there are a few routes servicing Thailand’s other ‘international’ airports. Moderately up-to-date information about these airports is available online at www.airportthai.co.th. Besides Bangkok, the Chiang Mai International Airport has scheduled flights to many regional capitals. Phuket has a few flights to certain European destinations without a layover in Bangkok. Additional international airports include Chiang Rai , which is designated as international but is not currently receiving flights from abroad, Hat Yai, Samui and Sukhothai . Samui and Sukhothai airports are privately owned by Bangkok Airways. There are plans to add international flights to Udon Thani (the closest provincial airport to the Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos), and Khon Kaen .
Bangkok is one of the cheapest cities in the world to fly out of, due to the Thai government’s loose restrictions on air fares and close competition between airlines and travel agencies. Thailand’s national carrier is Thai Airways International (THAI), which also operates many domestic air routes.
Air Asia (0 2515 9999; www.airasia.com; Suvarnabhumi Airport)
Air France (0 2635 1191; www.airfrance.fr; 20th fl, Vorawat Bldg, 849 Th Silom)
Air New Zealand (0 2254 8440; www.airnewzealand.com; 11th fl, 140/17 ITF Tower, Th Silom)
American Airlines (0 2263 0225; www.aa.com; 11th fl Ploenchit Tower, 898 Th Ploenchit)
Bangkok Airways (0 2265 5555; www.bangkokair.com)
British Airways (0 2627 1701; www.britishairways.com; 21st fl, Charn Issara Tower, 942/160-163 Th Phra Rama IV)
Cathay Pacific Airways (0 2263 0606; www.cathaypacific.com; Ploenchit Tower, 898 Th Ploenchit)
China Airlines (0 2253 4242; www.china-airlines.com; 4th fl, Peninsula Plaza, 153 Th Ratchadamri)
Garuda Indonesia (0 2679 7371; www.garuda-indonesia.com; 27th fl, Lumphini Tower, 1168/77 Th Phra Ram IV)
Gulf Air (0 2254 7931-4; www.gulfairco.com; Maneeya Center, 518/5 Th Ploenchit)
Japan Airlines (0 2649 9555; www.jal.co.jp; Nantawan Bldg, 161 Th Ratchadamri)
KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines (0 2635 2300; www.klm.com; 20th fl, Vorawat Bldg, 849 Th Silom)
Korean Air (0 2635 0465; www.koreanair.com; 1st fl, Kongboonma Bldg, 699 Th Silom)
Lao Airlines (0 2236 9822; www.laoairlines.com; Silom Plaza, Th Silom)
Lufthansa Airlines (0 2264 2484, reservations 0 2264 2400; www.lufthansa.com; 18th fl, Q House, Soi 21/Asoke, Th Sukhumvit)
Malaysia Airlines (0 2263 0565; www.mas.com.my; 20th fl, Ploenchit Tower, 898 Th Ploenchit)
Myanmar Airways International (0 2630 0334-8; www.maiair.com; 8th fl, BB Bldg, 54 Soi 21/Asoke, Th Sukhumvit)
Northwest Airlines (0 2254 0789; www.nwa.com; 4th fl, Peninsula Plaza, 153 Th Ratchadamri)
Orient Thai (0 2229 4260; www.orient-thai.com; 18 Th Ratchadaphisek)
Qantas Airways (0 2236 2800, reservations 0 2636 1747; www.qantas.com.au; Tour East, 21st fl, Charn Issara Tower; 942/160-163 Th Phra Ram IV)
Royal Brunei Airlines (0 2637 5151; www.bruneiair.com; 17th fl, U Chu Liang Bldg, 968, Th Phra Ram IV)
Royal Nepal Airlines (0 2216 5691-5; www.royalnepal.com; 9th Floor Phayathai Plaza Bldg, 128 Th Phayathai)
Scandinavian Airlines (0 2645 8200; www.scandinavian.net; 8th fl, Glas Haus B Bldg, Th Sukhumvit)
Singapore Airlines (0 2353 6000, reservations 2236 5301; www.singaporeair.com; 12th fl, Silom Center Bldg; 2 Th Silom)
South African Airways (0 2635 1414; www.flysaa.com; 20th fl, Vorawat Bldg, 849 Th Silom)
Thai Airways International Silom (0 2232 8000; www.thaiair.com; 485 Th Silom); Banglamphu (0 2356 1111, 6 Th Lan Luang)
United Airlines (0 2296 7752; www.ual.com; 14th fl, Sindhorn Bldg, Tower 3, 130 Th Withayu)
Vietnam Airlines (0 2656 9056-8; www.vietnamair.com.vn; Th Sukhumvit)
There are regular flights to Suvarnabhumi Airport from almost every major city in Asia. With the emergence of budget airlines, quick hops from, say, Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Hong Kong are part of the Asian yuppies’ weekend budget. Air Asia and Dragon are two discount carriers that run frequent promotions. A very good internet source for discounted fares leaving from Bangkok is www.bangkoktickets.com.
Recommended booking agencies for reserving flights from Asia include STA Travel (www.statravel.com), which has offices in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. Another resource in Japan is No1 Travel (www.no1-travel.com); in Hong Kong try Four Seas Tours (www.fourseastravel.com). For India, try STIC Travels (www.stictravel.com), which has offices in dozens of Indian cities.
THAI and Qantas both have direct flights to Bangkok; in 2006, Jetstar announced that it would add more flights during peak travel times between Sydney and Melbourne to Thailand. Garuda Indonesia, Singapore Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Royal Brunei Airlines also have frequent flights with stopovers to Bangkok.
Air Canada, THAI, Cathay Pacific and several US-based airlines fly from different Canadian cities to Bangkok. Travel Cuts (800-667-2887; www.travelcuts.com) is Canada’s national student travel agency. For online bookings try www.expedia.ca and www.travelocity.ca.
Following are some recommended agencies across Europe.
Anyway (0 892 302 301; www.anyway.fr)
Lastminute (0 899 785 000; www.lastminute.fr)
Nouvelles Frontières (0 825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
OTU Voyages (www.otu.fr) This agency specialises in student and youth travellers.
Voyageurs du Monde (www.vdm.com)
Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (0 180 528 4366; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (0 697 430 3292; www.statravel.de) Good choice for travellers under the age of 26.
CTS Viaggi (06 462 0431; www.cts.it) Specialises in student and youth travel.
Airfair (0 900 7717 717; www.airfair.nl)
Barcelo Viajes (902 116 226; www.barceloviajes.com)
Some recommended agencies include the following:
Both Flight Centre (0800 243 544; www.flightcentre.co.nz) and STA Travel (0800 474 400; www.statravel.co.nz) have branches throughout the country. The site www.goholidays.co.nz is recommended for online bookings.
Some recommended agencies include the following:
At least two dozen airlines fly between London and Bangkok, although only three of them – British Airways, Qantas and THAI – fly nonstop. Discount air-travel ads appear in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free magazine TNT.
Recommended travel agencies include the following:
Bridge the World (0800 082 5000; www.b-t-w.co.uk)
Flight Centre (0870 499 0040; flightcentre.co.uk)
Flightbookers (0800 082 3000; www.ebookers.com)
North South Travel (www.northsouthtravel.com) Part of this company's profit is donated to projects in the developing world.
Quest Travel (0871 423 0135; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0871 230 0040; www.statravel.co.uk) Popular with travellers under 26, sells tickets to all. Branches throughout the UK.
Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0800 082 5000; www.travelbag.co.uk)
It’s cheaper to fly to Bangkok from West Coast cities than from the East Coast. You can get some great deals through the many bucket shops (which discount tickets by taking a cut in commissions) and consolidators (agencies that buy airline seats in bulk) in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The airlines that generally offer the lowest fares from the USA include China Airlines, EVA Airways, Korean Air and Northwest. EVA Airways (Taiwan) offers the ‘Evergreen Deluxe’ class between the USA and Bangkok, via Taipei, which has business-class-sized seats and personal movie screens for about the same cost as regular economy fares on most other airlines.
One of the most reliable discounters is Avia Travel (800 950 2842, 510 558 2150; www.aviatravel.com), which specialises in custom-designed RTW fares.
The following agencies are recommended for online bookings:
www.sta.com (For travellers under the age of 26.)