It's odd that with the purchase prices of vehicles drifting
towards kings' ransom levels that car rentals can be so
reasonable. On more than one occasion, we've rented a
Toyota Vios, automatic transmission, not more than a
year old, for USD 22-25 per day. I'll admit that I've
gotten better deals on rental cars in the U.S.; and in
scored a USD 20/day deal for a Korean version of a
Mini Cooper. But, in general, no one would complain
about $22-25 for a near brand new car rented in tourist
areas in the low season. On the Andaman Coast,
we paid more. $30 for a Toyota, manual transmission,
that was 4-5 years old. All these rental outlets were
ma & pa places. We've never rented from an Avis
or Budget over here.
Insurance? Whenever we've
rented a car in Thailand, we were told there was
comprehensive insurance on the car. Key word:
told. We were not given an option to pay extra
for comprehensive insurance, which a good share of the time
exceeds the actual daily cost of the rental. It was simply
included, so they said. Thankfully, we were never in a
position to test whether the insurance really would've been
applied had we run into trouble. As they say, the best insurance
is the one you never need.
bought some great October memories without anything
illegal being involved
A sales ploy from the multinational chains is to get you
that they're the only ones who really provide insurance.
This is Thailand, so there is a possibility that is true.
On the other hand, why would anyone rent you an almost brand
new Toyota Vios, costing megabucks in Thailand, and not
insure it for damage and theft? As an
experiment, my girlfriend went to a rental car outlet,
showed her Korean license written only in Korean,
and asked them if they'd honor that to rent a car.
No worries, they said. Since none of the Thais could
read Korean, the license could have been a Korean library
card or discount video card or some card in another person's
name. The Thais are either real trusting of any
and all, willing to rent a car to someone whose ID they
can't even read, or maybe they've been prudent beforehand
and insured the car, so that in the worst case, they're able
to make a claim on its value. I'd guess they've
thought over all the risks and insured the car for damage
and that you'll only be responsible for their deductible.
I can state unequivocally that in all the occasions I've
rented a car in Thailand and returned it, never did
the rental agency go over the car with a fine toothed comb,
spot a tiny nick you needed a magnifying glass to see, and
then assess me an additional charge. "Trustworthy"
Enterprise in the United States did this and billed me $50 for a dent that was
probably already there. Local agencies are also not
finicky about the tank containing exactly the same amount of
gasoline as was there when you first stepped inside the
vehicle, then adding on a 75-100% surcharge on gasoline
costs to refill it to the same point. Enterprise was
way ahead of their time. They charged me over
$3/gallon to refill my tank years before this price became
If you buy a car, get insurance on it! Insurance
will only cost you around USD 500 per year. I've been
told there's a very simple rule of thumb the Thais apply to any
motor accident involving a foreigner and a Thai: it's
always the foreigner's fault. There are four types of
coverage. Get Class 1, which covers you for all
accidents, your fault or not, because officially, any
accident with a Thai will always be your fault.
Once you arrive in a new town, with Bangkok being the one exception,
the easiest and most economical way of getting around is by motorbike --
you sitting atop your own motorbike and doing your own driving. Suzuki,
Yamaha, and Honda bikes, between 100cc and 125cc, are available for hire
in all tourist towns and even in some non-tourist towns. How much
you'll pay depends on how competitive the market is. In Hua Hin,
Kanchanaburi, and populated Phuket beaches, you'll pay around 150B/day
for a 4-gear manual and 200B/day for an automatic. By the week,
1,000B (manual) and 1,200B (automatic). By the month, 3,000B
walking in off the street, and if you know the renter
personally, possibly as low as 2,000B for an older bike. These
rates are negotiable, and I've found that you can many times get the
automatics for the same price as the manual ones if the outlet has
plenty of bikes to spare. Prices rise by 30-50% in less
competitive markets. In Udonthani, I rented a manual bike that had
seen much better days for 180B. The rental agency wanted 220B/day
for it but I was able to negotiate the price downwards. There were
no other rental outlets. The lowest price I've seen on motorbikes
per day was in Chiang Mai -- 80B for a bike more than a decade old.
Filling up a tank won't cost more than USD 3 or 4.
Doug posing intimately with various rentals over the
If you are living in Thailand, buying a motorbike is the way to go.
A brand new 100 to 125 cc bike, adequate for
getting around Thai towns, costs between 35,000 and 50,000 baht new.
Thais can get very attractive financing plans at even these prices,
allowing them to pay off the bike over years. Even with
interest, the 150B/day or 1,000B/week prices they rent the bike to you
let them make a profit. As a foreigner, you must pay the full cost
of the bike up front.
Bike shops often have used bikes out front for sale. I've never
seen one for sale for less than 22,000B. The advantage of buying a
motorbike from a shop is that it the bike has supposedly been tuned up
and checked mechanically and comes with some kind of limited warranty.
We managed to buy a used Suzuki Beat for 17,000B off a foreigner
returning to Europe. Since we were paying 3,000B/month for a bike
before we purchased, the Suzuki paid for itself in 6 months, and as of
this writing, we've had it almost 3 years. Lately, I saw some
more powerful models at 400cc available used for 54,000B.
Obviously, buying directly off another owner is best -- if you can score
that arrangement. We were lucky, and the seller let me test drive
the bike for 4 days before I made up my mind. It is not easy
finding a seller parting ways with a bike in great condition for an
equivalently great price.
Be sure to transfer ownership of the bike legally.
In Thailand, this is an intentionally convoluted process which involves
getting a certificate from the immigration office proving you live at a
certain place. You take this certificate along with the current
owner's Green Book and hand it, along with about $25, to your local
motor vehicle department. Fortunately, we did not have to endure
more time-consuming Thai bureaucracy. The owner had purchased the
bike used at the Suzuki outlet in town. We gave the Suzuki
money and the bike's Green Book and they did the transfer for us in two
Transferring the bike legally avoids later issues if you're ever in an
accident. If a bike were confiscated by authorities, only the
registered owner can retrieve it. If he's back in Europe, good
luck ever seeing your bike again.
Annually, you are expected to renew compulsory insurance cover on your
bike. I've read that this currently costs around 350B, but since
we renew ours directly through the bike shop, the bill comes to 650B but
handles all the paper work. This insurance should actually be called
voluntary compulsory insurance. No one knocks on your door or
sends you a renewal form when your insurance is due. One
year I visited the bike shop in July instead of January to renew.
They only billed me for a half a year. There are more
comprehensive plans you can purchase, and if I were driving a bike over
150cc at lightning speeds across the open potholed roles, much like I've
seen Thais do, those plans would've already been purchased.
This would be your most convenient, quickest, and cheapest way to
get around for long distance travel. The rickety non-aircon
versions are rarely used by
visitors for intracity travel, as local taxis are so reasonable that
saving a few baht becomes a headache.
The web site authority on bus travel throughout Thailand is
here. Unfortunately for most readers, the site is entirely in
Good luck wasting your time!
It used to be that Bangkok was the center of bus networks throughout the
country. All roads led to Bangkok and from there, to other
locales. This is slowly changing. In 2007, if I wanted to
catch a bus from Hua Hin (230 km south of Bangkok) north to Chiang Mai
or eastwards to Ubon Ratchathani, I had to travel to Bangkok first.
Depending upon my final destination, this might involve having to catch
a taxi between two different Bangkok bus terminals. Nowadays,
there are direct buses from Hua Hin to Chiang Mai or Ubon Ratchathani,
bypassing Bangkok completely.
Going first class in Thailand
Bus travel works on a class system. The uppermost tier is the VIP
bus. The moniker is more flattering than the real experience.
VIP buses are sometimes double decker buses, comfortable, with strong
air con. Depending on your tolerance, the air con may feel like an
ice bucket. Complimentary refreshments are served, like sweet
buns, a carton of juice, and a fried snack. On long journeys the
bus stops at a road side stall and you get a complimentary meal.
One step down is first class. The air con is still ice locker
quality, perfect for storing frozen fruits, you still get refreshments some of the time, but the seats may
not be as spacious or recline as far back. Second class buses are
where you start seeing a decline. The air con could work or may
coming through the vents like a slight breeze. The buses sell out their seats but never truly sell out.
Millions are welcomed on board for standing room only. Bring a
chicken, bring a duck, bring the kitchen sink -- no one cares.
Third class is where things really slide. There might be a
spinning fan above your head. Seats are more school bus style.
Some third class buses may actually be reconverted school buses.
All the things you can't legally do on a
Based on these descriptions and with bus travel being so economical, why
would you ever take second or third or tenth class buses? The
answer is that you wouldn't . . . voluntarily. There will be
instances were you're left with no choice, that the only bus leaving for
a locale of your choosing is a low quality bus. Whenever I do a
visa run to Ranong, I leave on a first
class bus. There are no first class buses at suitable times on the
return trip, and I have to grab whatever is going. When my father and I traveled from Chiang Rai
to Sukhothai, we had to take a second class bus. That was the only
type of bus plying the route. Usually, there are only one or two
VIP and first class buses leaving for a destination per day. If
you miss those, you're stuck on second class or worse.
Buying bus tickets in Thailand can be tricky. Follow the advice
John Denver sang about "leaving on jet plane" way back in '69.
Isn't it about time you started making a habit of leaving on one?
Several airlines share the dometic Thai skies and if fares are booked
far enough in advance, they're not much more expensive than the train.
Distances aren't far. You can fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in an
||Where they fly and for how bloody
||Flies from Bangkok's newer Suvarnabhumi Airport
to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Nakhon Si
Thammarat, Narathiwat, Phuket, Surat Thani, Ubon
Ratchathani, and Udon Thani. Routes are still
Bangkok-centric but changing. You can
now fly from Udonthani to Phuket, from Phuket to
Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani, and from Chiang Mai
to Hat Yai. A sample Bangkok-Chiang Mai
free booked a month in advance is about USD 65.
||Flying out Bangkok's old Don Muang Airport, Nok
Air, while slightly more expensive than Air Asia,
flies more places in Thailand. In addition to
the Air Asia locations mentioned, sweet Nok goes to
Nakhon Phanom, Phitsanalouk, Sakhon Nakhon, and
Trang. A Bangkok-Chiang Mai fare booked a
month in advance with Nok is about USD 85.
||Another airline flying out of the old Don Muang
Airport. Orient Thai doesn't fly that
many places, only to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai,
Phuket, and Trang. Orient Thai's selling point
is its prices. It's the cheapest of the three
budget airlines, and you'll still be able to obtain
the same cheap fare even if you book just a day in
advance, provided there is availability. Air
Asia, on the other hand, charges substantially more
for fares booked close to the departure date, to the
point that if you book just days in advance, you
might get a better bargain booking with a non-budget
The existence of bargain airlines means you can now fly one way to a
Thai destination, saving time, and work your way back via bus or train.
Thailand has a comprehensive train network. The trains don't go
everywhere, but they do go to all the major places.
Trains are not as cheap as buses and they can take almost twice as long
on some routes. Why then would you ever take a train?
Comfort. Moving around on a train is easier. For a marginal
extra cost, you can buy a place in a sleeper compartment which comes
with bedding and pillows. Ladies come around and sell drinks and
food. You don't get that on a bus.
Not quite the Orient Express but it'll do
Not so long ago, I needed to travel from Nong Khai, near the border with
Laos, to Bangkok. The last bus left Nong Khai around 5:30 PM and
would've put me in Bangkok around 2:30 AM. For not a lot more
money, I could get a sleeper in a second class aircon train compartment,
leaving Nong Khai at 7:15 PM and getting me to Bangkok at 8 AM. In
this case, I wanted to arrive in Bangkok later, at a more convenient
time when more public transport is operational. On the train
I was able to get a real night's sleep, something I cannot do on a bus.
One thing you must understand is that Thailand's train network is
composed of 4 different lines:
the Southern line,
the Northern line,
the Eastern line, and
the Northeastern line. If you're traveling from Nong Khai
(northeastern line) to an ultimate destination of Hua Hin (southern
line), you have to change trains in Bangkok. Trains in
Thailand can be notoriously late, so it can be risky purchasing a ticket
in advance on a connecting line. In my instance, there was a
southern train leaving Bangkok at 9:20 AM and arriving in Hua Hin at 1
PM. I would've had only an hour layover in Bangkok, enough time to
leisurely have a coffee and a donut and find the next train.
Another way of looking at it is that one hour doesn't provide much
cushioning room if the first train arrives late.
What if your first train does arrive late? Would the Thai railway
authorities offer a refund? I doubt it. Thailand is not a
nation renowned for ever giving your money back. Instead, they
would offer to put you on a later train at a time that may be
inconvenient for you.
Fares for longer journeys seem to be a better deal than shorter ones.
I arrived in Bangkok at 8 AM, as scheduled, and went to purchase a
ticket to Hua Hin. The
State Railways web site said the fare in first class was 202 baht.
When I went to pay, they wanted almost 400B. It was an express
train and there was no other option. A mini bus, on the other
hand, costs only 180B. I wasn't willing to pay more than
double the minibus fare to arrive in Hua Hin an hour later.