(A bus parked outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok)
This week I will be writing about the beautiful islands in Southern Thailand. But before that, I will write how I learned the transportation system in Thailand to make your future land travels more comfortable, faster and much cheaper way. I’ve taken both short rides (1.5- 3 hours) and long rides (15-24 hours) and overnight bus trips across countries, most especially in Thailand. For the purpose of this post, I will talk about buses that are coming to and from Bangkok.
My Tips on Taking Buses in Thailand
1. Know the right station
First of all, know where you’re going. To save yourself time, money and frustration check where you’re going before you tell the cab driver (most of the cab drivers in Bangkok don’t speak English) If you’re heading to the Northern Part (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Ayuthaya, etc.), you want to go to Mo Chit Station. If you’re heading to the Southern Part (Thai Islands, etc), you want to go to the Southern Bus Station.
2. Know where to book
Back then I still didn’t know much of the way so the one time I did it, I booked an overnight ticket from a travel agent in Khao San Road in Bangkok to Phuket. I was told by the travel agent that I should book it asap because the buses to Phuket are almost full. I expected that it will be a special bus for backpackers. It wasn’t. The minivan picked us (backpackers) from Khao San Road only to drop us of at the Southern Bus station to be seated with locals. Luckily, I was seated with a ladyboy who was not only funny but was also good in speaking English. I asked him (her) where (s)he booked her ticket and like my first instinct, it was right at the bus station. I also asked for the price and it was almost half of what I paid the agent. If you want more comfort and prefer booking it with an agent, it’s also okay but expect that you will pay a lot more for their commission. I didn’t mind booking it with that agent at that time because eventually she became my friend and we kept in contact.
But if you’re doing long term travel just like me, small costs do add up and it’s a good way to save a few money for future trips.
My advice: Think like a local, buy your ticket in the bus station.
3. Check the time, day and events
The first time I booked an overnight bus was from Bangkok to Krabi. I didn’t realize that it was also the weekend before the Full Moon party in Koh Phangan. So when I got to the bus, the bus was packed with backpackers heading south for the full moon party. I booked the ticket with a travel agent in Khao San road last minute and the prices were a bit more expensive than usual. If you have more time and are more flexible, try to book it during a weekday. I did another overnight bus from Bangkok to Phuket on a Wednesday and it was a breeze. I took only a 3rd class one but it was one of the most comfortable bus rides I ever had. If you want more comfort and less stops, the first class buses will be your choice. There were only 10 people on a 45 seater bus I was able to lie down and stretch out my legs and have my backpack with me in my seat.
My advice: Travel during the weekdays
(Inside the third class overnight bus from Phuket to Bangkok)
4. Take an Overnight Bus
If the travel time is 8 or more hours, I only recommend taking an overnight bus. Why? First, you get to save one day. You can take a day to explore a city or a new place than taking the whole day to travel. Second, it saves you money for an accommodation. Instead of paying for a guesthouse or a hostel, you not only pay for bus but also get a place to sleep for the night. It saves you more time, money and energy. By the time you wake up, you’ll be in your intended destination.
5. Prepare for your trip
Some buses, especially if they are local buses, tend to be noisy- babies screaming, people talking or Thai movies or maybe Thai Karaoke songs played on TV. I’m not a fuzzy traveler and I don’t mind this at all. I actually enjoy watching Thai comedy movies even if I don’t understand a word. But you may want to keep your earplugs with you. Remember: they keep the backpacks on a separate compartment. You don’t want to be on a long trip and realize you need to dig your earplugs. Also, you may want to pack some snacks and water on your trip. If you buy the ticket from the bus station, you will also be given a stub for a free meal- dinner, juice, water, milk and cookies. If you booked it with a travel agent in Khao San, they will not explain this free meal with you. This is also why I recommend booking it at the station.
5. Be careful with your valuables
Say you booked your bus trip from Khao San Road. Chances are you will get into a backpacker bus, meaning all of the passengers are backpackers, no locals and no local stops. If you do get this, keep your valuables always with you. I maintain a separate bag for my valuables- electronics, money, id, passports, credit cards. They keep the backpacks on a separate compartment in the bus and since this is an overnight bus, thieves have all the time to search through your stuff. I have heard of instances where people’s stuff have been stolen. Yes it is true what the lonely planet says.
My rule of thumb as a solo female traveler is this: It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
5. Most Importantly, Enjoy the ride
Sure long bus trips are not glamorous. But you will never know who you’ll meet while you’re in the bus. I have made friends with many interesting travelers during my overnight bus trips. In long term travel, there will be a lot of long land travels. Sure 8- 15 hours is a long time, take this time as an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and the ride.
Do you have any experiences with long bus rides in Thailand? If so, how was it? Leave a comment!