Thailand Travel Advice: Transportation
There are two airports in Bangkok now, Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK). BKK services all international flights and DMK acts as a domestic airport for some airlines. Be sure and check when you have a connecting flight to make sure your domestic flight goes to the correct airport. A travel agency will normally double check to be sure you're going to the right place, but if you're doing a lot of ticketing yourself, you'll need to double check or you'll have a long taxi ride between airports.
Suvarnabhumi International & Don Mueang Domestic
The new airport opened on September 28, 2006 for all international flights and many domestic flights. There has been much speculation about how the new systems would work, but in the end, all international flights do indeed operate out of the new airport, and the old airport at Don Muang is used for some domestic schedules, VIP flights, charters, and aircraft maintenance. The time between the two airports is about 40 minutes during normal traffic.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport is located 18 miles (30 kilometers) east of downtown Bangkok and is approximately a thirty minute drive to/from downtown Bangkok in light traffic; this time is roughly equivalent to that for Don Mueang airport. However, the drive time could be longer due to Bangkok's ubiquitous unpredictable traffic. The newer airport has full taxi and limousine service, and a metered taxi stand just outside the airport, just as it did, and does, at Don Mueang. You pay a 50 THB surcharge, and then whatever price is on the meter. All in all, it's not a bad airport and it's improving with time. It's a lot faster now than when it first opened.
Getting from either airport to any of the tourist areas in Bangkok is a breeze as there are toll-ways connecting all popular places with both airports.
There is much confusion about the new name, and how it is pronounced as often spelling Thai in English can be confusing. The new airport name is pronounced "soo-wana-poom" and not "soo-varn-a-boom-ee". It means "Golden Land" and was named by the His Majesty the King. For more information about the new airport, please have a look at this link.
As time goes on, more and more small guesthouses and hotels have opened up around the airport. Some offer free transfers back and forth, so are good if you have a long layover.
Metered taxis are available throughout Bangkok and are extremely comfortable (air-conditioned) and convenient. Depending on the time of day, it can cost as little as 250 baht to get you back to the airport from downtown. Metered taxis are not available in the provinces or in tourist destinations such as Phuket or Koh Samui. Make sure the meter is on before you start your journey, and if no meter is available, discuss the price before you begin your journey. Bargaining is possible in many instances, but keep smiling and don't get mad! There is also a new 'sky train' which runs along Suhkumvit and Silom roads, and covers many tourist spots as well as many embassies along it's route. Fares are 10-40 baht, depending on distance traveled. There is a subway which connects with the Sky Train in many areas and it's an easy system to figure out. It's a great way to see the city and it's surprisingly organized and clean.
Thai Airways International (THAI) is the national airline and it is consistently named one of the best airlines in the world. Singapore, whose airline is also a world champion when it comes to service, is also a great place to make your entry to Southeast Asia as they have multiple connecting flights to Bangkok and Phuket every day as well. Phuket has a very busy international airport, with around 25 flights per day landing from all over the world. We get over 5 million arrivals every year to Phuket now.
Phuket welcomes direct flights from Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Europe. Most domestic flights departing Bangkok will force to to connect in Bangkok to other flights. It's best to contact a airline travel professional to help you sort through it all. It can get very confusing.
Thailand has now joined the ranks of other countries and has a number of discount budget airlines which can be good as long as you don't want to change your travel plans. You can save sometimes 50% or more using these types of services. Keep in mind, however, that they usually limit your luggage weight to 15kg or 33lbs, and for many divers, this is simply not enough. By the time you pay your over weight charges, it's often better to buy a full fare ticket.
The Thai Airways office telephone number in Bangkok is 02-356-1111 and in Phuket, 076-360 444.
Ground transportation in Thailand is very well organized and relatively comfortable both by bus and train–Bangkok being the exception as you've undoubtedly heard. Train travel is probably most comfortable ground transportation available, and very inexpensive, but trains are often full and therefore must be booked in advance. It is not as convenient to book trains as compared with buses as the trains are government run. There are no passenger trains to popular destinations on the West Coast of Thailand such as Phuket. You must disembark in Chumphon or Surat Thani then get a bus to the west.
Buses are common and go everywhere that's any place–and most places that are no where as well. Buses run in three different classes: tamada (normal), ae (air-conditioned), and VIP (the best). The most comfortable are the new double-decker VIP buses and their usage is common on most major routes. Be sure to bring warm clothes, however, as Thai air-conditioned buses are notorious for their extremely low temperatures! Rot too (mini-vans) are widely available as means of transport between tourist destinations, but keep in mind that the majority of these drivers think they are race-car drivers and are extremely unprofessional.
Ferries travel to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Samet, Koh Chang, Koh Tarutao–most islands in fact–on a daily basis. These are extremely easy to book at any travel agent locally. Obviously, some boats are more comfortable and safe than others. Check with your local agent upon arrival in the kingdom. There is no reason to book this type of transportation in advance as there are agents everywhere.
Local taxis and buses are widely available and prices vary from place to place. One thing you'll notice quickly: Thai people rarely walk, it's too friggin' hot. Thus, transportation is readily available any place you find people.
Motorbike and car rentals are available in most tourist areas. Insurance should be purchased if available. Be careful at all times when driving, both due to tourists not paying attention to where they are going, and the often suicidal driving habits of the locals. Motorbikes are good fun and a cheap way to get around. Again, drive carefully. A motorbike or car license is required, and a passport as a deposit in case of damage. We drive on the left-hand side here. All of the major islands such as Phuket and Koh Samui have a lot of traffic on their roads.
Local taxis and buses are widely available and prices vary from place to place. One thing you'll notice quickly: Thai people rarely walk. Thus, transportation is readily available any place you find people.