Transport in Thailand: Buses

Private buses are often highly decorative (Photo by Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer)

For travel between towns in Thailand, unless you spot a great deal on Air Asia, it is hard to beat the buses. We’ve tried just about every variety:

  • second class overnight
  • intercity stopping bus
  • first class
  • VIP Government bus
  • VIP cheaper sleeper
  • VIP privatised sophisticated
  • Mini Bus

Second class "Government Buses" are more basic (Same source)

All provide cheap efficient transport from one place to another, with enough loo and/or food stops. Most of the time, if you pay more, you get what you pay for, greater comfort, speed or extras (like on board loos, air-conditioning, blankets, drinks etc.). The mini buses will even stop pretty much on demand for loos or refreshment at the next roadside vendor’s. However, for daytime travel the stopping bus’s slower speed allows you to see more of real life in Thailand. Paying more also makes the journey seem more reliable. Our stopping bus sometimes seemed about to run out finally, though every time the driver and his assistant with the threat of the proverbial “flipping big spanner” managed to coax another 50Kms out of the old girl. As we reported two years back the second class overnight did break down once (until half the passengers got off and walked up the hill to relieve the load), and had its brakes catch fire. Despite this we still arrived only a little late, and the other buses were on time, every time. One bus even left early, since all the passengers were already aboard 🙂

There are two sorts of Bus station, those (like this one) where buses are boarded, and country ones where meal and loo stops are made (Photo by Jeremy Burgin)

The food/loo stops on night buses can seem rushed, we would not want to shovel down a meal of soup that fast, but then we chose the alternative drinks. Either way, you show your tickets (which are torn to invalidate them) and get your goodies. On day buses you pay for any refreshments at the loo stops, vendors do a roaring trade in sticky rice and kebabs in convenient plastic bags.

Ticketing is computerised, and you can buy your ticket (and book your seat) in advance, if they refuse to sell ahead of time it probably means that the buses are already full and they are not sure if extra ones will be put on – that was how we got our second class sleeper that broke down. On one occasion a language breakdown gave us a long delay before the VIP bus left, when a stopping bus arrived to leave several hours earlier (even though on a different company) we were able to cancel and redeem our tickets and grab the alternative.

The whole operation is a huge industry with many many hundreds of buses arriving at the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok every morning at 4:30-5:00am. The bus stations in larger places can also provide several hours of entertainment as you watch the world go by (or, like you, wait to go). All the bus stations are well equipped with seats and snack outlets, the loos are OK and only 3 Bhat, though they may seem a bit grubby, the number of times we paddled through recently swabbed floors suggests a strong ethos of cleanliness.

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One response to “Transport in Thailand: Buses

  1. Tim,
    I just read through several of your posts…finding your website through a Google search of Mae La Refugee Camp. Myself and 2 others are hoping to follow in some of your exact (and recent) footsteps very soon: Feb 12. I wonder if you might be willing to email me as I have a few questions I’d like to ask. Thank you!

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