City Bus & Sŏrng·tăa·ou
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 ('two rows'; a small pick-up truck outfitted with two facing benches for passengers). They sometimes operate on fixed routes, just like buses, but they may also run a shared 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.
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, motorcycle taxis that can be hired 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. You’ll need to establish the price beforehand.
Săhm·lór & Túk-túk
Săhm·lór (also spelt sǎamláw) 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 (pronounced đúk dúk). 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, although other cities have growing 'taxi meter' networks. In some cases, fares are set in advance or require negotiation.
In bigger cities, traditional taxi alternatives and app-based taxi hailing initiatives are also available – at least, sort of.
Introduced to Thailand in 2014, Uber (www.uber.com) quickly gained popularity among those looking to avoid the usual Bangkok taxi headaches: communication issues, perpetual lack of change and inability to get a taxi during peak periods. Later that year, however, the service was banned because drivers and the payment system didn't meet government standards. It continues to operate, although less visibly.
Other app-based services include GrabTaxi (www.grabtaxi.com/th), All Thai Taxi (www.allthaitaxi.com) and Easy Taxi (www.easytaxi.com).