Thailand Bus FAQs
Buses in Thailand – General information
How to travel by bus in Thailand
What do you need to know about traveling by bus in Thailand?
The first important thing to know about bus travel is that in Thailand you can get almost everywhere by bus. Buses are cheap and are often used by locals who do not own a car or prefer a bus to a train. At the end of the bus route, you can often continue your journey by other means of transportation: songthaews, tuk-tuks, taxis, etc.
Bus terminals in Bangkok
There are three major bus terminals in Bangkok, each serving particular regions.
Morchit Bus Terminal is located in the northern part of the capital, close to the namesake BTS station. It is also known as the Northern and Northeastern bus terminal as the overwhelming majority of routes originating there head to the North and Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand. The most popular tourist destinations served from Morchit include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, and Sukhothai in the north and Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Mukdahan, and Nong Khai in Isan.
Note that apart from the above-mentioned destinations, buses from Morchit go to some cities and towns located in the central part of the country and the west, including Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi. Certain privately run companies offer buses heading from Morchit to Phuket. Buses from Morchit also bring you to the popular destinations on the Eastern Seaboard including Pattaya, Rayong, Koh Samet, and Koh Chang.
Note that several international routes, including Bangkok–Vientiane (Laos) or Bangkok–Siem Reap (Cambodia) also originate from Morchit.
Sai Tai Mai Bus Terminal is often referred to as the Southern bus terminal. It is located on the Western banks of the Chao Phraya River and almost exclusively serves destinations south of Bangkok, both on the Andaman Coast and along the Gulf. This is the terminal you will most probably use if heading to Phuket, Krabi, and Trang, as well as Chumphon, Suratthani, and Hat Yai. The resort city of Hua Hin sitting in the upper part of the Gulf can also be reached from Sai Tai Mai.
For many Western travelers both Morchit and Sai Tai Mai may look more like large shopping centers than bus stations. At first sight, you feel you will get lost there in a wink of an eye. Do not panic. With every voucher bought through 12Go, you will get a picture of the counter with its number and the floor where to find it. If this does not help, do not hesitate to ask for directions from any of the numerous staff members – usually, they contact you themselves first asking if you need any assistance from them. Anyway, they will be more than happy to direct you to the counter or platform you are looking for.
Ekkamai Bus Terminal is the smallest of the three and is located in the eastern part of Bangkok right by the BTS station of the same name. There are frequent buses to Pattaya and other towns in Chonburi province, including Sri Racha, Bang Saen, or Ang Sila plus a variety of buses to all possible destinations of the Eastern Seaboard, including Rayong, Ban Phe (for Koh Samet), Chanthaburi or Trat (for Koh Chang), as well as buses to Chumphon and Suratthani (for Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui).
Bus terminals around the country
As a rule, any major city or town in Thailand has its bus terminal used by buses of different companies. In many locations, there are two or more bus stations which makes it more difficult for a foreign traveler to figure out where to get off the bus or from which bus station your next bus departs. As a general rule, in-city smaller (often old) bus station serves destinations within the province or local and express buses to neighboring provinces. Larger bus stations, or Bo-Ko-So, are often located on major highways and sit several kilometers out of the city. These large bus terminals are used by long-haul express and VIP buses.
Regardless of the size, here is what you can expect to find almost at any bus station or bus terminal in Thailand:
- clean squat or Western type toilets, sometimes free of charge, sometimes charging a small fee (3 or 5 baht);
- minimart(s) or small shops selling water, beverages, and snacks; sometimes beer and OTOP products;
- small or large food courts or at least a rice-and-curry joint with plastic tables serving food to hungry travelers;
- a couple of motorbike/tuk-tuk/taxi drivers hanging around in search of passengers or meeting arriving transport;
- very often ATMs can be found within the grounds of the bus station or close to it.
Some large bus companies, e.g. Sombat Tour, have bus stations that are not necessarily found close to Bo-Ko-So: check in advance.
Bus classes in Thailand
Local buses connect towns and villages within one province or sometimes within two neighboring provinces. Local buses exist in a variety of forms. A local bus may be air-conditioned or equipped with fans only; it may have soft reclining seats or hard, bench-like seats. Local buses may run on schedule or leave when full.
If there is more than one bus station in the city or town, local buses tend to use in-city bus stations which are often located very centrally and close to markets.
There is no need to book tickets for a local bus in advance – or rather it is impossible to do that. Buy tickets at the bus station before the departure. Prices are usually surprisingly low but do not expect extra comfort. Normally the distance the local buses travel does not exceed 100 km, making the whole trip bearable. Note though, that a local bus will stop a hundred times on the way to its destination to let people in or out. When all seats are taken people will stand in the aisle or, at night, lie on the floor.
Express buses are normally interprovincial long-haul buses. Some bus companies mark them as ‘standard class’, ‘second class’ or ‘third class’ buses, too. Quite often, to reach their destination express buses travel through several provinces. The length of the route and travel time of such buses varies greatly. Regardless of the name, express buses also stop during the route to pick up passengers, though less frequently than local buses do, or call to more bus stations en route than VIP buses. It means that express buses spend more time covering the distance they have to travel than you can expect. E.g. Bangkok–Trat express bus needs at least 8 to 10 hours to travel the distance of just under 400 km.
The positive thing about express buses is that you can flag some of these buses down if you happen to find yourself somewhere in the middle of the route. Night express buses are nevertheless a good way to save some baht. They are more affordable than VIP buses and traveling by night does not make as many stops as when traveling by day.
Express buses have from 46 to 54 soft reclining seats and provide toilets on board. Many of these buses are well worn-out and do not leave you with many legs and elbow space. That said, on longer routes water and/or snacks may be served and buses make several stops at large gas stations where you can use toilets or stock up on munchies in convenience stores.
Locals do travel a lot by express buses and most popular destinations, especially during festive periods, sell out quickly. Note that express buses are not the most convenient way to travel around Thailand for a foreign visitor, but in general they are quite ok if you are modest in your requirement as far as comfort is concerned.
VIP & VIP24 buses
VIP buses are the most comfortable and sometimes even luxurious way to travel by bus in Thailand. VIP buses are interprovincial long-haul buses linking Bangkok to all the provinces around the country. If you travel the length of the country from south to north, you will have to connect via Bangkok; it may not be necessary if you need to get from the North to Isan.
VIP buses usually have from 32 to 40 soft seats that recline to an angle of 125 degrees and ensure decent spacing to make you feel comfortable during the trip. Some buses provide massage seats and almost all of them offer pillows and blankets on longer and especially night routes. Toilets on board come as a standard, though you may prefer to wait until your bus makes a stop at some large gas station where you find clean toilets and a choice of forecourt operators.
Water and some snacks are normally served on every route, and your bus ticket/boarding pass may qualify as a lunch or dinner voucher at the pit stop. As a rule, such stops last from 20 to 30 minutes. Long-haul buses departing after 8 pm often stop for 'dinner' well after midnight, which is, in fact, quite an unusual time for foreigners to have a meal. On some routes, lunch or supper is served on board in lunch boxes containing some rice with curry.
If you are used to sleeping on the move, you may find night VIP buses a great way to travel; though you still can find it difficult to sleep comfortably through the whole trip: if it is not the TV or fellow passengers keeping you awake, then it will be the noise and the lights they turn on for every stop they make.
VIP24 or VIP32 is the most expensive and most comfortable bus on offer. Normally they have only three seats per row instead of the usual four, which means more space and larger seats. Some of these VIPs feature personal entertainment stations in the form of screens; some have USB ports or power outlets. If you can afford it, we would highly recommend traveling by VIP24 buses. Regardless of the price, seats sometimes sell out a couple of days before the departure date.
Note that VIP buses are also the fastest way to travel as they make only a few stops en route bringing you to your destination in the shortest time possible. The second thing to note about VIP buses is that it can be cold inside and even the blankets they hand out do not always help; so it makes sense to pack a jacket or a sweater.
Tourist charter buses
Several popular destinations throughout the country, including Bangkok–Chiang Mai or Bangkok–Koh Samui, are served by tourist charter buses. Depending on the popularity of the route and the demand, tourist charter buses may come in the form of a minivan or a plush VIP bus. These buses are not used by locals and should not pick up other passengers en route. They travel straight to your destination and are the fastest way to get where you want to get. Pick-up and drop-off points are usually located in the most touristy areas, e.g. Khao San Road in Bangkok or Old Town in Chiang Mai. Tickets do cost more compared to non-tourist buses, but taking into account the convenience these buses provide, it is a good investment.
Combo tickets with the ferry connection
On certain routes, e.g. from Bangkok to Koh Samui (among other things, this is part of a popular route with a subsequent transfer to a ferry to Koh Phangan if you want to visit the legendary Thai Full Moon Party festival), some companies like Lomprayah, Seatran, and some others offer combination tickets which include a bus ride to the ferry pier and ferry transportation to the island. In this case, the bus brings you to the pier where you have to get off the bus, retrieve your luggage and wait for your ferry. Keep your combination ticket at hand as on certain routes you will have to exchange it for the ferry ticket. In certain cases, ferry tickets are distributed on board the bus, if not, you will be directed to the booking office to get your ferry ticket.
When booking your combination bus+ferry ticket, always check the travel time as it may vary greatly with different companies or for different departures of the same company and depends on the waiting time on the pier.
International buses and border crossing
Several Thai border cities and towns are linked to their destinations in the neighboring countries by international routes. In recent years a couple of international long-haul routes connecting Thailand to Malaysia, Laos, and Cambodia have been introduced, too. Before buying your international bus ticket, always check the visa requirements for your passport in your destination country.
During the first part of your journey from Thailand to another country by bus, you are brought to Thai immigration at the border checkpoint. In some cases, you are given a badge with your bus number to make it easier for the driver to recognize their passengers after they get through immigration. You have then to get off the bus and go through immigration formalities. You may or may not be asked to retrieve your luggage and go through luggage check as well; this refers mostly to the travel between Thailand and Malaysia, while when heading to Laos and Cambodia you do not need to do that.
Exiting Thailand is quick and easy provided you have not overstayed your visa. After having your passport stamped out you board the same bus again or walk to the immigration of your destination country (depending on the border crossing organization) and have your passport stamped in. This process can take time as while Malaysia grants a 30- or 90-day free stay for the majority of the nationalities, you may need a visa for entering Laos and Cambodia. In both cases, you can obtain one on arrival at the border crossing. Visa scam alerts are a constant issue in Cambodia: you may be forced to apply for your visa at ‘an agency’ somewhere en route or just pushed to pay more at the border; to avoid such annoying situations, come prepared: get your e-visa in advance or insist on applying for one at the border. Getting Lao visa on arrival is easy, though you may have to pay some extra bucks if you do not have your photos to attach to your application.
All border formalities are finished, and you then board the same bus again on the other side of the border and get to your destination.
Important information: on some borders the buses can wait no longer than 30 minutes. If your immigration process takes longer, if there is a long queue or if you experience a spot check from customs you might not make it on time. In that case, look for the next bus from the same operator. They will take you to your destination, where you will find your luggage waiting for you. There is no need to get into panic mode, this happens frequently.
Dos and don’ts while traveling by bus in Thailand
Offer your seat to expecting mothers, kids, disabled or elderly people;
Come close to or sit next to a monk;
Lose your temper;
Expect to get where you want to get to;
Complain about loud music, TV, or that the movies are in the Thai language;
Expect to arrive on time;
Put your feet up or on the seat in front of you.
Public buses in Bangkok
There are plenty of bus lines in Bangkok, connecting one side of the big mango with the other. There are local buses, small buses, medium and large buses, with or without aircon, running on schedule or without. Some minivans do not stop if there are no more seats available. Express buses are running on dedicated lines and helping you not to be stuck in heavy traffic. In fact, 'express' does not refer to the actual speed of these buses; when there are no traffic jams, they can hardly compete with other buses. During rush hours you can expect buses to be overcrowded and packed with people. Getting stuck inside a bus without air-conditioning on a hot day can become real torture. And to tell the truth, in Bangkok all days are hot. A bus ride in Bangkok will cost you anywhere between 3 and 30 baht.
If the color coding of the buses is not confusing enough there is a little extra to make your life a bit more difficult: the Thai letter ก. ก (pronounced as /Goh/) is the first letter in the Thai alphabet and therefore similar to our A. The buses with a ก following the route number are running on routes different from the routes of the buses of the same number but without ก. Currently, there are 13 extra routes: 7ก, 21ก, 36ก, 73ก, 79ก, 80ก, 84ก, 91ก, 93ก, 95ก, 96ก, 105ก and 543ก. Oh, and then there is the second letter of the Thai alphabet: ข (/koh/). Luckily only one route in Bangkok is divided into three parts: 95, 95ก, and 95ข.
Have we mentioned the colors? There are orange, pink, cream/blue, cream/red, white-green, white-green-blue, green, white buses, and probably buses of several other colors and combinations. And please note that some of them bear the same number, but do not automatically run the same route.
Bus stops might or might not have a sign. Asking local people can help but does not necessarily mean they know the answer. It often happens that they send you in one direction with a friendly smile on their face, because they 'believe' this is where you want to go. If you see a group of locals standing around at the side of the road you might have found a bus stop. Hopefully, the one you were looking for.
Do not expect the driver to stop at the bus stop. If you are waiting for a bus and see it coming, better give the driver a sign that you wish to board. On the bus, push the button at the side of the wall or on the ceiling on some buses to give a signal that you would like to get off. Make sure that you carry change money. The conductors in the bus might not be able to change 100 baht banknotes and would not accept larger denominations either. Also, make sure that you keep the little stamp they give you as a ticket because there might be a check on the way. Female passengers should not sit next to a monk. If you are a woman and you see a monk, please keep your distance to ensure there is no chance for you to accidentally touch him.
You will surely find out that public transportation in Thailand can be very chaotic and a real adventure. You most probably will get on the wrong bus, miss your station or get off at the wrong one; will get stuck in traffic for hours, drive in circles and completely lose your way. You may also see parts of the town you would have never visited on your own and meet interesting people.