Thailand has a well organized network of inter-city buses that connects all parts of the country. Buses are a good mode to access all provinces in Thailand, running both to and from Bangkok and between each other. There are comfortable buses providing service to every province and all the major towns, the cost generally is inexpensive. As an advice you should be sure to watch the bags unloaded at intermediate stops. The bus company BKS (known most commonly as the Transport Company) is the best option for both price and comfort, this company has a terminal in every town of the country. You can buy tickets at every bus terminal, in major hotels or contacting any local travel agent.
Once upon time, a long-distance bus in Thailand was either air-conditioned or non-conditioned, but those days are long gone. All major long distance, inter-provincial or inter-city bus routes are now air-conditioned. This all started a few years back when the Thailand’s Ministry of Transport banned non air-conditioned buses from all of the three major bus terminals in Bangkok, located at Mo chit (or Mo chit, for North Thailand), Ekamai (for East Thailand) and Sai Tai Mai (for Central and South Thailand). For shorter inter-provincial routes , outside of Bangkok, non air-conditioned buses are, for many, the only way to go.
Non Air-conditioned Buses
Non-air con bus in Nong-Khai, ThailandMost of Thailand’s non air-conditioned buses look-like they came off the production line 20-30 years ago. Who needs air-con though, when half the buses’ windows are wide open? For people who are 6 foot tall, these buses are definitely not the way to go as the seats are usually extremely cramped, fitting 5 seats in each row rather than the standard 4, with very little leg space, unless you get a seat on the spacious back row. Cheap is not the word, non air-conditioned buses are incredible value for money, in the region of 50-70 baht for a 100km ride. Cheap yes, but quick no! 100km may not sound too far, but you could be stuck on the bus for more than 2 hours as the driver stops at every possible location on the way to pick up and drop off passengers, and buy an energy drink for himself or food for his wife. Therefore, you can flag these buses down anywhere along the route and getting off is the same, as a provincial bus stop is a rare find. When it is time to get off, get up and stand by the front door and pat the driver on the back, will usually do the trick.
When boarding at main provincial bus stations, there is usually no need to buy a ticket in advance, but recommended if being slightly overcharged may annoy you. It’s first on, first seated, and once moving a bus-conductor will come around and collect the fares, and may increase the price by 5 to 20 baht, as a bonus for taking the time to learn the inflated price in English. Worst overcharging on non-air con buses is usually experienced when travelling from a nearby Thai town to the border. A good example is the non-air con bus from Hat Yai to the Malaysian border at Padang Basar, as they know the majority of border runners will pay many times the inflated bus fare for a Tuk Tuk or Songthaew covering the same journey.
In return for payment, you will be the recipient of a few little pieces of scrappy paper. As many of these buses are privately rented out by the driver and his bus-conductress wife, there are times when you won’t receive any ticket at all. With this type of bus there is no such word as full. If all the seats are taken up, then make do with either standing or sitting on your bag. If you have a big rucksack or something, take a seat on the back row where there is plenty of space for bags, rice and even livestock.
There are no toilets on non air-conditioned buses, but since the bus stops so often that you can tell the driver when you need a pee, obliviously to any passers by, out the bus back door which they don’t always bother to close between stops. Until a few years ago, it was possible to smoke on non-air con buses, but when the anti-smoking crusade finally hit Thailand; the Thai local transportation was targeted first. Again simply pop off the bus for a smoke when the driver comes to a stop and when you hear the rev of the engine it is time to run and jump back on again.
Normal Air-conditioned (Shorter distance)
Bangkok (Mo Chit) - Chonburi Bus Many of the shorter routes once owned by the non-air con buses have, since, been taken over by air-conditioned ones. And this is especially true with central region buses heading to and from Bangkok. There are two classes of air-con bus: first and second, which both have 32 seats. The main difference is that first-class has a toilet and the price of the fare is a bit higher, but the 2nd class is more likely to stop to let passengers on and off, along the way, so takes a bit longer.
With both first and second class, tickets can either be purchased in advance at the bus station or on board. If you are at the bus station check the bus first, if it is full, forget it and wait for the next one. When you get your ticket take care of it, as unlike the non air-conditioned buses these ones do have ticket inspectors. Depending on the bus company or the mood of the driver, most of the time passengers can usually get off, and sometimes on, wherever they like. But do remember, since drivers often enjoy driving at break-neck speeds, chances are he will zoom past you if you are waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere. Plus if they do stop, there is no guarantee there will still be a seat available, with the driver often happy to pocket the ticket money himself, and you will either have to stand or be given a plastic stool suitable for school children to sit on.
Air-conditioned (Long Distance)
Bangkok - Udon Thani - Nong Khai Bus, ThailandOften eloquently labeled as VIP, these buses do the main long distance routes to and from main provincial towns and the capital Bangkok of course. Most popular are the overnight ones where you can at least get a bit of sleep. Attached to your ticket may be some coupons which can be exchanged for a basic supper, like rice soup, at a stop-off restaurant along the way, but what even frequent bus passengers don’t know is that you can often alternatively use these coupons to purchase snacks or drinks in the stop-off shop instead. Since air-conditioned buses have a policy of having the air-con on full blast, it can get really quite cold, so blankets are provided and it is not unusual to see the whole bus wrapped up tightly by morning.
What is also occasionally provided, but not asked for, is an onboard TV showing TV game shows, slap-stick comedy, Thai country music videos and dubbed western movies with the volume turned up to maximum. Tickets for these buses have to be purchased in advance, however this can often mean by only five minutes, and these buses usually only stop at pre-designated places. If travelling out of Bangkok on an overnight bus, it is advised to arrive at the bus terminal in the early evening, say 6 or 7pm to guarantee a seat. Over the years, Thailand has seen a steady rise in the popularity of Super VIP 24 (compared to the normal 32) seat buses on the overnight routes, which for an extra few hundred baht, offer passengers wider seats as a row contains 3 not 4 seats, extra leg space and the ability to recline the seat to a near horizontal position, making the Super VIP the most comfortable method of long distance overland transport currently available in Thailand.
Bus Terminals :
Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai)
Used for routes to Pattaya, Rayong, Trat and other points east.
Address: 300 Soi 40, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110
Telephone: +66 (0) 2391 8097, +66 (0) 2391 2504
Northern, Northeastern & Central Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2)
Used for Chiang Mai and northern destinations
Address: 999 Kamphaengphet 2 Road, Bangkok 10900
Telephone: +66 (0) 2936 2841-48
Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai)
Used to destinations west and southwest
Address: 147 Boromratchonnani Road, Bangkok 10700
Telephone: +66 (0) 2434 5557-8,+66 (0) 2435 1200
Additional Information :
Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA)
Has information on bus routes in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.
Address: 131 Thiemruam-mitre Rd., Khet Huaykwang, Bangkok 10320
Telephone: +66 (0) 2246 0973, +66 (0) 2246 0741-4
The Transport Company Limited
Address: 999 Khumphaengphet 2 Road, Jatujak, Jatujak Bangkok 10900
Telephone: +66 (0) 2936 2841-48, +66 (0) 2936 2852-66