Thailand currently has six international airports, in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phuket and Ko Samui. The vast majority of travellers fly into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.
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Air fares to Thailand generally depend on the season, with the highest being approximately mid-November to mid-February, when the weather is best (with premium rates charged for flights between mid-Dec and New Year), and in July and August to coincide with school holidays. You will need to book several months in advance to get reasonably priced tickets during these peak periods.
The cheapest way of getting to most regional Thai airports is usually to buy a flight to Bangkok and then a separate domestic ticket. However, there are dozens of potentially useful, mostly seasonal, international routes into Phuket, including direct flights with several airlines from Australia. For Ko Samui, there are flights from Singapore, Hong Kong (both Bangkok Airways) and Kuala Lumpur (Berjaya Airlines and Firefly); for Krabi you can fly from KL with Air Asia, from Singapore with Tiger Airways or nonstop on seasonal, mostly charter flights from Scandinavia; and for Chiang Mai, Silk Air fly from Singapore, Air Asia from KL and Macau, while Korean Airlines from Seoul is a popular route for North American visitors.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
The fastest and most comfortable way of reaching Thailand from the UK is to fly nonstop from London to Bangkok with Qantas (wqantas.com.au), British Airways (wba.com), Thai Airways (wthaiair.com) or Eva Airways (wevaair.com), a journey of about eleven and a half hours. These airlines sometimes have special promotions, but a typical fare in high season might come in at around £900. Fares on indirect scheduled flights to Bangkok are always cheaper than nonstop flights – about £600 in high season if booked well in advance with Qatar Airways (wqatarairways.com), for example – though these journeys can take anything from two to twelve hours longer.
There are no nonstop flights from any regional airports in Britain or from any Irish airports, and rather than routing via London, you may find it convenient to fly to another hub such as Frankfurt (with Lufthansa; wlufthansa.com), Zurich (with Swiss; wswiss.com), Abu Dhabi (with Etihad; wetihadairways.com) or Dubai (with Emirates; wemirates.com), and take a connecting flight from there. Return flights from Newcastle upon Tyne with Emirates, for example, currently start at around £675 in high season, from Dublin via Copenhagen with SAS (wflysas.com), at around €800.
Flights from the US and Canada
Thai Airways (wwww.thaiairways.com) offers convenient flights from LA to Bangkok, with a one-hour stop in Seoul, charging around US$1600 in high season. Plenty of other airlines run to Bangkok from East and West Coast cities with one stop en route; it’s generally easier to find a reasonable fare on flights via Asia than via Europe, even if you’re departing from the East Coast. From New York, expect to pay upwards of US$1375 return in high season, including taxes, US$1250 from LA. Air Canada (waircanada.com) has the most convenient service to Bangkok from the largest number of Canadian cities; from Vancouver, expect to pay from around Can$1450 in high season; from Toronto, Can$1675. Cheaper rates are often available if you’re prepared to make two or three stops and take more time.
Minimum flying times are twenty hours from New York or Toronto (westbound or eastbound), including stopovers, seventeen hours (nonstop) or nineteen and a half hours (with one stop) from LA, and eighteen hours from Vancouver.
Flights from Australia and New Zealand
There’s no shortage of scheduled flights to Bangkok from Australia, with direct services from major cities operated by Thai Airways (wwww.thaiairways.com), Qantas (wqantas.com.au) and half a dozen others (around nine hours from Sydney and Perth), and plenty of indirect flights via Asian hubs, which take at least eleven and a half hours. You can also fly nonstop to Phuket from Sydney (with Jetstar; wjetstar.com) and Perth (on Thai and Virgin Australia; wvirginaustralia.com). There’s often not much difference between the fares on nonstop and indirect flights with the major carriers, nor between the fares from the major eastern cities. From Sydney, if you book far in advance, you should be able to get a ticket to Bangkok in high season for around Aus$900, on a low-cost carrier such as Jetstar or through a special promotion with one of the major airlines; nonstop flights with the major airlines more typically cost around Aus$1200. Fares from Perth and Darwin are up to Aus$200 cheaper.
From New Zealand, Thai Airways runs nonstop twelve-hour flights between Auckland and Bangkok, costing from around NZ$1700 (including taxes) in high season. British Airways/Qantas flights from Auckland make brief stops in Sydney, adding about three hours to the trip, and other major Asian airlines offer indirect flights via their hubs (from 13hr, but more typically 17hr): fares for indirect flights can start as low as NZ$1500 in high season.
Flights from South Africa
From South Africa, Thai Airways (wwww.thaiairways.com), code-sharing with South African Airways (wflysaa.com), currently operate three nonstop flights a week from Johannesburg to Bangkok, taking eleven and a half hours and costing from around ZAR9,500 return for an advance booking in high season, including taxes. Otherwise, you’ll be making a stop either in the Middle East or in Hong Kong or Southeast Asia, with fares starting at around ZAR8000 in high season.
Agents and operators
Adventure Center US t1-800/228-8747, wadventurecenter.com. Hiking and “soft adventure” specialist agent, offering dozens of packages to Thailand with well-regarded tour operators from all over the world.
All Points East UK t023/9225 8859, Thailand t081 885 9490; wallpointseast.com. Southeast Asia specialist operating small-group adventure holidays with off-the-beaten-track itineraries.
Andaman Discoveries Thailand andamandiscoveries.com. Village-based homestay community tourism programmes around Khuraburi on the north Andaman coast, lasting from one to five days, which allow visitors to experience daily activities such as soap making, cashew-nut farming and roof thatching. Other tours include four-day trips to Ko Surin National Park to learn about Moken life.
Creative Events Asia Thailand wcreativeeventsasia.com. Wedding specialists for everything from paperwork to the ceremony and guest accommodation.
Crooked Trails US t206-372-4405, crookedtrails.org. Not-for-profit community-based tourism organization offering homestays along the Andaman coast, featuring volunteer work as well as cultural tours.
Eastern & Oriental Express UK t0845 077 2222, US t1-800/524 2420; worient-express.com. Tours by luxury train between Bangkok and Singapore, as well as to northern and northeastern Thailand.
ETC (Educational Travel Centre) Thailand wetc.co.th. Unusual tour programmes including Thai cooking holidays, rice-barge cruises to Ayutthaya, and community-based programmes and homestays that might include trekking and teaching.
Flight Centre Australia t13 31 33, Canada t1-877/967 5302, New Zealand t0800/243 544, South Africa t0860 400 727, UK t0870/499 0040, US t1-877/992 4732; wflightcentre.com. Guarantees to offer the lowest international air fares.
Grasshopper Adventures Australia t03/9016 3172, Thailand t02 280 0832, UK t020/8123 8144, US t818/921-7101; wgrasshopperadventures.com. Cycling day-tours around Bangkok, longer rides to Kanchanaburi and Ko Samui, and around Chiang Mai.
Intrepid Travel Australia t1300/018 871, Canada t1-866/360-1151, Ireland t01/524 0071, New Zealand t0800/600 610, South Africa t087 985 2798, UK t0800 781 1660, US t1-800/970 7299; wintrepidtravel.com. Well-regarded, small-group, off-the-beaten-track tour operator that offers over sixty trips to Thailand.
North South Travel UK t01245/608 291, wnorthsouthtravel.co.uk. Friendly, competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.
Origin Asia Thailand walex-kerr.com. Cultural programmes that teach and explain living Thai arts such as dance, music, martial arts, textiles, flower offerings and cooking. Courses last from one day to a week and are held in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Responsible Travel UK t01273/600030, wresponsibletravel.com. One-stop shop for scores of fair-trade, ethically inclined holidays in Thailand, including trips that focus on wildlife, meditation, family activities and village life.
Spice Roads Thailand wspiceroads.com. Escorted bike tours through north, central and southern Thailand.
STA Travel Australia t134 782, New Zealand t0800/474 400, South Africa t0861/781 781, Thailand t02 236 0262, UK t0871/230/0040, US t1-800/781-4040; wstatravel.com. Worldwide specialists in independent travel. Good discounts for students and under-26s.
Symbiosis UK t0845/123 2844, wsymbiosis-travel.com. Upmarket, off-the-beaten-track tours with an environmentally sensitive, fair-trade focus, including visiting hill tribes by mountain bike, and kayaking at Khao Sok and Ko Tarutao.
Telltale Travel UK t0800/011 2571, wtelltaletravel.co.uk. Tailor-made, upscale company that offers off-the-beaten-track wildlife, cultural, family, cooking and well-being tours, as well as group trips for solo travellers.
Thailand Birdwatching Thailand wthailandbirdwatching.com. Specialist birdwatching tours in national parks and nature reserves.
Trailfinders UK t0845 058 5858, Ireland t01 677 7888; wtrailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers, with 24 branches in Britain and Ireland.
Travel Cuts Canada t1-800/667 2887, US t1-800/592-2887; wtravelcuts.com. Popular, long-established specialists in budget travel, including student and youth discount offers.
USIT Australia t1800 092499, Ireland t01/602 1906; wusit.ie. Ireland’s main outlet for discounted, youth and student fares, with a branch in Sydney.
Getting to Thailand from neighbouring countries
Sharing land borders with Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, Thailand works well as part of many overland itineraries, both across Asia and between Europe and Australia. Bangkok is also one of the major regional flight hubs for Southeast Asia.
The main restrictions on overland routes in and out of Thailand are determined by where the permitted land crossings lie and by visas. Details of visa requirements for travel to Thailand’s immediate neighbours are outlined below, but should be double-checked before you travel. All Asian embassies are located in Bangkok (see Gem scams), but waiting times can be shorter at visa-issuing consulates outside the capital: China and India run consulates in Chiang Mai, and Laos and Vietnam have consulates in Khon Kaen. In Bangkok, many Khao San tour agents offer to get your visa for you, but beware: some are reportedly faking the stamps, which could get you into pretty serious trouble, so it’s safer to go to the embassy yourself.
The right paperwork is also crucial if you’re planning to drive your own car or motorbike into Thailand; see the Golden Triangle Rider website (wgt-rider.com) for advice.
There is no overland access from Burma (Myanmar) into Thailand and access in the opposite direction is restricted. Western tourists are only allowed to make limited-distance trips into Burma, usually just for the day, at Thachileik opposite Mae Sai, at Myawaddy near Mae Sot, and at Kaw Thaung (Victoria Point) near Ranong. The crossing at Three Pagodas Pass near Kanchanaburi is currently open only to Thai tourists. At these borders you generally enter Burma on a temporary US$10 (or B500) visa and then get a new fifteen-day visa when returning to Thailand; see relevant accounts for details.
At the time of writing, six overland crossings on the Thai–Cambodia border are open to non-Thais. See the relevant town accounts for specific details on all the border crossings; for travellers’ up-to-the-minute experiences, plus an account of the common scam on through-transport from Bangkok to Siem Reap, consult wtalesofasia.com/cambodia-overland.htm.
Most travellers use either the crossing at Poipet, which has transport connections to Sisophon, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and lies just across the border from the Thai town of Aranyaprathet, with its transport to Bangkok and, with a change in Sa Kaew, to Chanthaburi; or they follow the route from Sihanoukville in Cambodia via Koh Kong and Hat Lek to Trat, which is near Ko Chang on Thailand’s east coast.
The crossings in northeast Thailand include the Chong Chom–O’Smach border pass, near Kap Choeng in Thailand’s Surin province (see Crossing the Cambodian border via Chong Chom), and the Sa Ngam–Choam border in Si Saket province; from both these borders there’s transport to Anlong Veng and Siem Reap. There are also two crossings in Chanthaburi province, with transport to and from Pailin in Cambodia.
Thirty-day tourist visas for Cambodia are issued to travellers on arrival at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports, and at all the above-listed land borders; you need US$20 and one photo for this. If you want to buy an advance thirty-day visa, you can do so online at wwww.mfaic.gov.kh which takes three working days and costs US$25; these “e-visas” can only be used at the international airports and at Poipet and Ko Kong land borders, but might help you to avoid the more excessive scams at the land borders.
Laos and Vietnam
There are five main points along the Lao border where tourists can cross into Thailand: Houayxai (for Chiang Khong); Vientiane (for Nong Khai); Khammouan (aka Thakhek, for Nakhon Phanom); Savannakhet (for Mukdahan); and Pakse (for Chong Mek). All these borders can also be used as exits into Laos; see relevant town account for transport details.
Visas are required for all non-Thai visitors to Laos. A thirty-day visa on arrival can be bought for US$30–42 (depending on your nationality), plus one photo, at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse airports, and all the above-listed land borders. Or you can buy one in advance from either the Lao Embassy in Bangkok or the Lao Consulate in Khon Kaen for about the same fee.
It’s possible to travel from Vietnam to Thailand via Savannakhet on the Lao–Thai border in a matter of hours; you’ll need to use Vietnam’s Lao Bao border crossing, west of Dong Ha, where you can catch a bus to Savannakhet and then another bus across the Mekong bridge to Mukdahan. All travellers into Vietnam need to buy a visa in advance. Thirty-day visas can take up to four working days to process at the embassy in Bangkok and cost from around B1000, depending on nationality (much more for same- or next-day processing); processing is usually quicker at the Vietnamese consulate in Khon Kaen.
Malaysia and Singapore
Travelling between Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore has in the past been a straightforward and very commonly used overland route, with plentiful connections by bus, minibus, share-taxi and train, most of them routed through the southern Thai city and transport hub of Hat Yai. However, because of the ongoing violence in Thailand’s deep south (see Trang town), all major Western governments are currently advising people not to travel to or through Songkhla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces, unless essential (and consequently most insurance companies are not covering travel there). This encompasses Hat Yai and the following border crossings to and from Malaysia: at Padang Besar, on the main rail line connecting Butterworth in Malaysia (and, ultimately, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) with Hat Yai and Bangkok; at Sungai Kolok, terminus of a railway line from Hat Yai and Bangkok, and at adjacent Ban Taba, both of which are connected by road to nearby Kota Bharu in Malaysia; and at the road crossings at Sadao, south of Hat Yai, and at Betong, south of Yala. (The routes towards Kota Bharu and Betong pass through particularly volatile territory, with martial law declared in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces; however, martial law is not in effect in Hat Yai itself.)
Nevertheless, the provinces of Trang and Satun on the west coast are not affected, and it’s still perfectly possible to travel overland via Satun: by ferry between Satun’s Thammalang pier and Kuala Perlis or the island of Langkawi, or overland between Ban Khuan and Kangar; or by boat between Ko Lipe and Langkawi (see Getting around). For up-to-the-minute advice, consult your government travel advisory.
Most Western tourists can spend thirty days in Malaysia and fourteen days in Singapore without having bought a visa beforehand, and there are useful Thai embassies or consulates in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu, Penang and Singapore (see Border runs, extensions and re-entry permits).
A better kind of travel
At Rough Guides we are passionately committed to travel. We believe it helps us understand the world we live in and the people we share it with – and of course tourism is vital to many developing economies. But the scale of modern tourism has also damaged some places irreparably, and climate change is accelerated by most forms of transport, especially flying. All Rough Guides’ flights are carbon-offset, and every year we donate money to a variety of environmental charities.