Private transport



When time is more important than money, David Whitley reckons private taxi transfers are worth looking at in Thailand 


Sometimes the cheap, authentic option is not the best option. Whilst putting the plan for our Thailand trip together, there was one major snag: How to get from place to place.


From Bangkok to Hua Hin, it seemed obvious – get the train. So we booked train tickets online. Unfortunately, the trains didn’t fit in all that well with our flights. So we had to get into Bangkok, stay a night, then get a taxi to Bangkok’s main station before getting a train at 1pm the next day. By the time we were in Hua Hin, it was dark and we’d effectively wasted a whole day.


Whilst in Hua Hin, of course, we saw numerous signs for transfers to Bangkok airport. We could have landed at Bangkok airport, been transferred from outside the terminal to our hotel in Hua Hin and arrived late on the evening of arrival. It would have been a two-and-a-half to three hour transfer, and would have cost less than £60.


If ever you need an example of why doing things the cheap, authentic way isn’t always best, this is it. Sure, the train fares didn’t cost much, but the taxi fares (from the airport to the Bangkok hotel, from the hotel to the train station and from Hua Hin station to the Hua Hin hotel) mounted up.


Sometimes it’s not about money, though – it’s about time. Sure, if you’re travelling around Thailand for a few months, then ruling a day out for getting between places is fine. But if you’re on holiday for a couple of weeks, the time becomes more precious than the cash.


By the time we were in Hua Hin, I’d learned my lesson. Getting to the next stop – Kanchanaburi – was always going to be a pain in the arse. Delving into the murky forums of the internet, it seemed a train, then changing to a bus, was the best option. Not much fun when you’re carrying two people’s bags and suitcases. Even less fun when you consider how absurdly unreliable the timetables are.


So I asked at the hotel how much a taxi transfer from door to door would be – and the answer was 2,500 baht. That’s just over £50, but without any of the faff.


Sure, doing it the long way would have worked out cheaper (probably around 1,000 baht with bus tickets, train tickets and taxis from the station thrown in), but it would have taken all day. We were there within three hours and had the afternoon available for exploring.


Read a guide book, however, and you wouldn’t know this option was available. The Lonely Planet Thailand guide brings out many of Lonely Planet’s worst tendencies – banging on about temple after temple yet ignoring anything that could possibly be deemed fun, giving scant details about day tour options – and omitting the taxi transfer options is hugely annoying. It’s just assuming that everyone will put money ahead of time.


Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya would have been another two train, two taxi slog. We walked into a travel agent in Kanchanaburi, and booked one for 1,800 baht.  That’s just under £40 for a two-and-a-half hour door-to-door drive. Again, it’s an afternoon gained – well worth the extra £10ish each we would have saved going by public transport.


This option isn’t best for everyone, of course, but it’s worth knowing that it’s there for those who want to enjoy A and B rather than waste hours getting between them.

You can get Thailand included as a stopover in the Navigator RTW




From Bangkok cabbies to intercity buses – David Whitley presents a brief guide to transport in Thailand


Taxis from Bangkok Airport

Many cities in the world are relatively easy and pain-free to get around. Bangkok is not one of them. Jump in a cab from the airport, and you’ll soon discover why. An expressway takes you most of the way into the city, but the first two hurdles come as you’re on it. It’s a tollway, and the passenger is expected to pay the toll – not at the end of the ride when it’s all totted up, but directly as the taxi is going through the toll booth.  There are also two different toll booths. The first is for 25 baht (about 50p) and the second for 45 baht (90p). The two sums seem carefully calculated to be the ones you’re least likely to have the exact change for. This is the first instance of why, in Bangkok, you should forget any quibbles about soulless chain stores and make friends with the 7-Eleven. There are approximately seven billion of them in Bangkok, and they’re one of the few places where you can hand over 1,000 baht notes without all manner of gnashing and wailing. There’s one at arrivals in the airport – buying a bottle of water and breaking down the big note is probably going to save you an awful lot of pain. A taxi into the city will probably cost between 250 and 350 baht, depending on where you’re going. But the problems come once you’re off that expressway. Bangkok’s traffic is horrendous – it’s absolutely essential to have a good book with you before hailing a taxi, you’re probably going to be in there for some time.

Bangkok taxi drivers
It’s a good job they’re cheap – you’ll rarely pay more than 100 baht for any journey between the main areas – as they go incredibly slowly and the people driving them are often hopeless. Having the name and address of your hotel/ guesthouse written down in Thai is a good idea. That doesn’t mean they’ll know how to get you there. Bangkok taxi drivers don’t seem to consider A) buying a map or B) learning how to read one as a part of their task. To be fair, you’d probably struggle to read a Thai language map as well – they struggle to read an English language one in the same way. It’s a fine tradition that the first five minutes of the running meter are spent stationary, trying to work out where you’re going. Oh yes – and always make sure the meter is on.

Public transport in Bangkok
The alternative is public transport. There’s a direct train link from the airport that goes to two stations in town. There are also a Metro and two elevated ‘Skytrain’ lines. The first problem is that they rarely connect. Unless the place you want to go to is on your line, it’s a bit of a ballache – especially if switching from Metro to Skytrain and having to buy another ticket for the second leg of the journey. Fares tend to be about a third of the price of what a taxi would cost on the same journey. The real saving is on time not on money. The other massive problem, however, is that the train lines don’t cover the massive chunks of the city that visitors tend to want to go to. The riverside, Wat Phra Kaew, Dusit Park and the Khao San Road are a big hike away from the nearest Metro and Skytrain stations. So you’re back in the traffic in that taxi again…

Elsewhere in Thailand
If you’re going elsewhere in Thailand, it’s likely to be by bus or train. The trains are hardly Orient Express standard, but they’re decently comfortable and absurdly cheap by British standards. Sleeper services head to the corners of the country. The alternative is buses. Most are surprisingly good and ridiculously cheap – they feel more like coaches. The drawback is that the buses and trains usually depart from stations that are massively inconvenient to get to and from. They’re usually on the outskirts of town – far too far to walk. And, if you’re planning to connect from one to the other, the bus stations and train stations are rarely anywhere near each other. In this case (and for most intra-town transport), you’ll usually need to get a shared taxi that will pick up and drop off passengers en route to where you’re going. In most cases, these are essentially vans with long benches. 50 baht seems to be a suspiciously common fare in these babies.  The rule of thumb with transport in Thailand is it’ll be cheap, but you’ll have to sacrifice some time for the privilege. Nothing goes quickly – but don’t cram you’re schedule too much, and it’ll get you there in the end.

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