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).