Traveling within Thailand
Traveling within Thailand was something I barely thought about before I got there. For the first part of my trip, I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend in Bangkok that had her own car and driver. If you have the funds for this luxury, I’d highly recommend it. Being able to call our driver to ferry us between sights or when we were just too hot and tired to take one more step, was definitely appreciated.
Although the day we left for Chiang Mai, we had the opportunity to use the MRT. The MRT is Bangkok’s version of public subway transit. It looks like the MRT is expanding with all of the construction we saw for new stations. We caught the MRT in the suburbs and rode it all the way into the city to catch the overnight to Chiang Mai. The MRT ticket kiosk was very user friendly, but you had to have exact change. Our short trip from the suburbs to Hua Lamphong cost 42 baht. The kiosk spits out a plastic token. Upon entering the subway station, you wave the token at the turnstile. Upon exiting at your destination, you must drop your token in the slot on the turnstile for the exit to open. I was surprised at how clean the trains and stations were, as I could never find a trash can when I needed one.
We decided to take the overnight train to Chiang Mai in order to save flying time during the day and get a good look at the countryside. We purchased 1st class tickets so that we could have our own compartment. The bathroom in the train station cost 2 baht and was the worst bathroom we saw throughout our entire trip. We bought some bottled water and snacks at the train station just in case. Before we boarded the train, there was a national anthem moment while facing the portrait of the King. The entire station stopped, stood up, and sang. It was kind of interesting since the King was in the hospital and the entire country is under military rule. Oh well. The train itself was pretty basic. Even in first class, the bathroom was a stand up and squat variety at the end of the train car. An attendant came by and set up our beds with clean sheets and a blanket.
There is another attendant that will take your order for dinner and breakfast. When asked if there was a dining car to visit, she lied and said no. While I did visit the dining car in the morning, it was crowded and chaotic. The food was absolutely horrible, so we were glad we had some breakfast bars and bought a sleeve of Pringles on the train. Second class was a haven for backpackers but I don’t think I’d be comfortable sleeping out in the open. I guess that shows my age? Overall, I slept well, but it could have been the earplugs and Benadryl I took just in case. We took the #13 train that left Bangkok at 7:35pm and got into Chiang Mai around 9am.
To get around Chiang Mai, we used a Tuk Tuk or a Songtaew. No matter which one you use, always agree to the destination and fare before you get in. Some Tuk Tuks can hold up to 4 people with a tiny jump seat next to the driver. The name came from the Tuk Tuk sound that the engine makes as you whiz along. The open air feel of the ride, is exhilarating and definitely made me feel like I was a part of the Asian culture. We took a Tuk Tuk from the train station to our hotel for 50 baht (for 2 people). Expect to bargain with your driver, it’s a part of the game. That particular driver started out at 100 baht, but the train information center told us that it should not be more than 50 baht. Well done, us!
The Songtaew is a red pick up truck taxi. The name actually means two rows, after the two bench rows in the back. The Songtaew is a shared ride vehicle and the preferred mode of transit for most Thai people in Chiang Mai. It is easy to hail, just like a taxi. It might take a few more stops to get to your destination than a Tuk Tuk, but you’d be surprised by the cool breeze coming through the windows. Most Thai know where to get off, but with tourists like us, the driver would bang on the window to let us know it was our stop. It didn’t take long for travel by Tuk Tuk and Songtaew to become second nature to us.
To return to Bangkok, we decided a quick and inexpensive Air Asia flight was the best option. In the months preceding our trip, there were a few missing planes in Asia, and at least one Air Asia flight. However, our short plane ride was not over the ocean (as the missing plane was) so I rationalized it and pressed on. The Chiang Mai airport is small and easy to navigate. Our terminal had one gift shop, a cafe, massage studio, and a coffee shop. Just enough to tide us over until we got back to Bangkok. The flight was quick and clean, with friendly flight attendants. It’s kind of like Spirit Airlines in the United States, where everything costs extra. The flight was cheaper than the train at approximately $50.
Overall, I thought travel within Thailand was relatively simple. Although I didn’t have to deal with it in Bangkok, so maybe the constant haggling over the price of a trip would have gotten old. I am certainly glad we took the overnight train and used Tuk Tuks and Songtaew in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai seems a little more manageable than Bangkok, just from a pure size standpoint. I found it easier to get my bearings there. It was also easier to feel apart of the city from an open air vehicle, than in an air-conditioned car, like we were in Bangkok. For me, our choices made the right balance between convenience and authenticity.