How to Get Around Thailand on the Cheap

a sunny beach view in Thailand framed with rocky outcrops
Updated: 8/31/2022 | August 31st, 2022

Thailand is one of the most popular backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia.

It’s also my favorite. (Though I may be biased).

Thailand was where I first decided to quit my job and travel the world. I lived there for two years. I ran tours there. I feel at home there.

It’s not just a country that I love, however. Thailand remains popular some fifty years after the first hippies arrived on the “banana pancake trail” for a simple reason: it’s awesome.

The succulent food, the warm people, the postcard-perfect beaches, the lush jungles, the hot weather — Thailand is simply a wonderful place to explore — no matter your interest and budget.

That said, Thailand is also a big country and takes time to navigate.

What’s the best way to get around Thailand?” people often ask me.

Well, how you get around Thailand depends greatly on how long you’re staying. You have options!

To help you plan your trip, here’s a breakdown of the best ways to travel around Thailand (including travel times) regardless of budget or the length of your stay in the country:


Getting Around Thailand By Flying

a Thai Airways plane taking off in Thailand
Flying is the most expensive — but quickest — way to get around. You can get pretty much anywhere in the country in two hours or less, making flying the perfect choice for people who are rushed for time.

Thai Airways is the largest (and costliest) carrier, but there are numerous budget airlines, like Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways, Thai Lion, Thai Vietjet, AirAsia, and Nok Air.

Flights around Thailand generally cost between 825-4,500 THB. Flights to the islands tend to be costlier than those between large cities like Bangkok and Phuket. For example, Bangkok to Phuket or Chiang Mai costs 700-800 THB for a one-way ticket, while a one-way from Bangkok to Koh Samui is around 2,115 THB. Flights to Koh Samui are always more expensive than anywhere else, thanks to monopoly pricing by Bangkok Airways (who built the Samui airport).

Here are some sample fares so you can get an idea of how much flights cost:

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 765 THB (one way), 1,800 THB (round-trip)
  • Bangkok to Phuket – 735 THB (one way), 1,800 THB (round-trip)
  • Bangkok to Koh Samui – 2,115 THB (one way), 4,412 THB (round-trip)
  • Chiang Mai to Phuket – 1,825 THB (one way), 3,650 THB (round-trip)

If you book early, you can save on fares as the budget carriers usually offer around 30-50% off tickets when they have sales — and they always have sales (especially Air Asia).

Keep in mind that each airline has different baggage fees and policies; budget airlines typically charge extra for like credit card processing (the stupidest of all fees), baggage fees, and preferred seating.

Getting Around Thailand By Train

a busy train yard in Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand is one of the few countries in the region with a decent rail network. It covers 4,500 kilometers (2,796 miles) and is one of the best and cheapest ways to get around the country.

There are three classes of travel: first class is the most expensive and is available only on night trains. Second class is quite comfortable and has softer seats, as well as air-conditioned cars. Third class consists of bare-bones cars with hard seats and no A/C. However, these are the cheapest seats around! (I actually like third class, though, as you meet more interesting people and there are always vendors coming on and off selling delicious and cheap food.)

Trains here move very, very slowly. The Chiang Mai-to-Bangkok night train — a distance of only 692 kilometers (430 miles) — takes 12 hours.

Day trains are even worse, as there are frequent stops and waiting at stations for reasons I’ve never figured out.

There’s no high-speed train in this country so don’t be in a rush if you’re traveling Thailand by train!

That said, I love traveling by train in Thailand if I’m not in a hurry. The trains are spacious, there’s always food and drinks available, most of the cars have A/C, vendors get on and off at each stop to sell meals, fruit, or drinks, and the scenery as you cruise through the tropical countryside is out of this world.

It’s also crazy cheap, especially if you take the day train. Heck, even the night train is super cheap! Here are some example starting fares for both day and night trains (again, prices vary greatly depending on class):

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 890 THB (day train), 1,050 THB (night train)
  • Bangkok to Chumphon – 280 THB (day train), 1,020 THB (night train)
  • Bangkok to Surat Thani – 266 THB (day train), 825 THB (night train)
  • Bangkok to Ayutthaya – 30 THB (day train)
  • Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai – 300 THB (day train), 1,300 THB (night train)
  • Ayutthaya to Lopburi – 50 THB (day train)
  • Bangkok to Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) – 140 THB (day train), 890 THB (night train)
  • Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) to Surin – 135 THB (day train), 545 THB (night train)
  • Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) to Ubon Ratchathani – 220 THB (day train), 690 THB (night train)

You can see train schedules and ticket prices on the State Railway of Thailand website (though it’s often down, so it’s not always a reliable option).

You can buy train tickets through a travel agent (there’s a slight upcharge), on the booking website 12go.Asia, or directly at the train station (the cheapest option). You can buy tickets on the day of travel — there’s usually space, especially on the day trains.

That said, if you are looking for a bed on the night train, I would book at least three days in advance to ensure you have a reservation, especially during the high season. If you want a first-class sleeper, they can sell out weeks in advance.

Getting Around Thailand By Bus

people aboard a crowded bus in Thailand with fans attached to the ceiling
As trains don’t go everywhere in Thailand, taking the bus is your second-best option. Buses are the widest form of transportation here; you can go anywhere in Thailand by bus. Though they often show bad Thai movies with the sound turned up too loud and blasting the A/C, they are a comfortable and spacious ride.

If you’re taking a day bus, note that they often stop in multiple towns along the way to pick people up and drop them off, and they also pick up people by the side of the road. Don’t expect to move in an efficient or quick manner. They aren’t in a rush.

Be sure to tell them exactly where you want to go, because often there are no signs when you pull into bus stations.

There are also “tourist buses” that, while more expensive, are usually a lot more convenient. They are usually best for long distances (they tend to travel at night), and when combined with island ferry tickets (say, Bangkok to Ko Phi Phi). They are more expensive than local buses, but they are more direct, and you don’t have to worry about where you are or if it’s your stop. They usually pick up in the tourist area and drop you off in the tourist area of the next place. Plus, there’s no stopping to pick up other people along the way.

You can book these via the many travel agents that line the tourist areas of town.

Here are some sample fares for bus routes in Thailand:

  • Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 580 THB (day bus), 765 THB (night bus)
  • Bangkok to Phuket City – 700 THB (day bus), 1,200 THB (night bus)
  • Bangkok to Chumphon – 470 THB (day bus), 536 THB (night bus)
  • Bangkok to Surat Thani – 720 THB (day bus), 950 THB (night bus)
  • Bangkok to Hua Hin – 425 THB (day bus)
  • Bangkok to Trat – 280 THB (day bus)
  • Chiang Mai to Pai – 240 THB (day bus)
  • Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai – 270 THB (day bus)
  • Lampang to Chiang Rai – 290 THB (day bus)
  • Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima) to Surin – 291 THB (day bus)
  • Surin to Ubon Ratchathani – 167 THB (day bus)


Getting Around Thailand By Car

gridlocked traffic in the streets of Bangkok's Chinatown
Don’t rent a car in Thailand. The roads in Thailand are crazy and renting a car is expensive compared to the plethora of cheap transportation options here (a daily rental starts at 800 THB).

It’s much better to rent a motorbike and ride across the country. It’s quite a common thing to do. A rental generally starts at 150-300 THB per day.

Just make sure that if you’re renting a motorbike, you’re comfortable with driving it and never (ever) drink and drive. Accidents are incredibly common.

This is a good article to help you plan a trip.

For whatever reason, if you do want to rent a car, use Discover Cars to find the best deal.

Getting Around Thailand By Ferry

a small shuttle boat in Thailand speeding away from a small island.

While you won’t be using the ferry to get around Thailand, it’s definitely an important mode of transportation when you’re exploring the islands.

Due to the well-established travel trail, booking your ferry ride is simple and straightforward. You can often book tickets online or just show up. Most hostels and hotels will be able to help you with this if you need assistance. They also have the most up-to-date schedules.

Here are some example routes and fares to help you plan your trip:

  • Koh Tao to Koh Samui – 700 THB (one way)
  • Surat Thani to Koh Phangan – 390 THB (one way)
  • Phuket to Koh Phi Phi – 500 THB (one way)
  • Krabi to Koh Lanta – 400 THB (one way)


How Long Does It Take to Get Around Thailand?

Trying to figure out how long it will take you to get from point A to point B? Here is a distance and time chart so you can get an idea of how long it takes to get from place to place.

Air (hrs)
Bus (hrs)
Rail (hrs)
Bangkok –
Chiang Mai
Bangkok –
Phuket City
Bangkok –
Lampang –
Chiang Mai
Surat Thani –
Chiang Mai –
Chiang Rai
Ayutthaya –
Bangkok –
Koh Samui
Chiang Mai –
Bangkok –
Ubon Ratchathani

*No direct flights.
**Includes ferry.

What’s the Bottom Line on Getting Around Thailand?

At the end of the day, it all depends on your budget and timeframe. To review:

  1. Trains are the best way to get around Thailand cheaply and in comfort.
  2. Night buses are great for places that aren’t serviced by the train and if you’re on a budget.
  3. If you’re short on time, just fly.


That’s it. These are the best ways to get around Thailand. It’s pretty easy, as visitors have been traveling around here for decades and there’s an extensive network to make sure you can get from A to B no matter what!

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Thailand!

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Thailand!

My detailed 350+ page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel around Thailand. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, bars, safety tips, and much more! Click here to learn more and get your copy today.

Book Your Trip to Thailand: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on Thailand?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide to Thailand for even more planning tips!