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 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, such as 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.
For an increasing number of destinations, minivans are superseding buses. 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 in some cases will deliver passengers directly to their hotel. Just don’t sit in the front – that way you can avoid watching 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 still exist, mostly in rural locations or for local destinations.
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. For longer routes, 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 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 a midnight meal.
You can book air-con BKS buses at any BKS terminal, or even by phone with a payment at 7-Eleven. Ordinary fan buses cannot be booked in advance. Privately run buses can be booked through most hotels or any travel agency.