I never used public transportation in America. Ever. I’m also a terrible driver. My apologies to everyone in America, I probably should have been using public transportation.
I knew I didn’t want to rent a motorbike in Thailand because of the terrifying driving accident statistics and the aforementioned bad driving. Which meant I needed to either rely on taxis to get around (expensive, language issues) or learn how to use public transportation.
I chose the latter and it has been going great. I save a lot of Baht and it has improved my feeling of independence in my new home. I am going to break down for you how I get place to place both within in my city and within Thailand.
Within my city:
Songthaews or “minibuses” are pickup trucks with benches in the back. They have set routes but will pick you up or drop you off anywhere along the route. You just wave them down to be picked up or ring the bell to be dropped off. Songthaews cost about 10 baht (~30 cents). I recommend pulling up google maps the first time you get on to check the direction the driver is going and so you know when you need to get off. I usually pick a songthaew that has a route that gets me closest to my destination and walk the rest of the way (usually only 10 minutes additional).Checkout this view from my songthaew ride in Pattaya!
My fellow millennials I have great news! There is an Uber type app in Thailand called Grab. I usually use Grab when it is dark out and I cannot catch a songthaew. Grab is great because you enter in your destination address and it directs the driver via GPS (aka you don’t have to worry about communication issues). Grabs are usually between 80 and 150 baht, it tells you the price of the ride when you book and you pay in cash.
There are also Tuk Tuks and cabs everywhere. These usually require negotiating. As a foreigner they are going to start with a very high number. I would recommend learning how to say “that's too much!!” as well as your numbers in Thai. Being able to haggle in Thai and being willing to walk away will get you respect and low fares!
The most impressive thing about Thailand (besides how Pad Thai can be so damn delicious) is the extensive van and bus route system. It is so easy to travel within Thailand, and it’s bordering countries, if you are willing to take a bus or van. It is truly as simple as showing up to the bus station (no need to book in advance) and telling them where you want to go. Sometimes this means you go to Bangkok (I recommend taking the night bus which provides snacks!!) and take a van from there, sometimes it means you take a van to a random spot on the highway and magically another one appears and you take that one to your final destination. Bus and van tickets range from 100-360 baht depending on if it is a night or day bus and the distance it is traveling.It is cramped (sorry fellow tall people, you will not have leg room) and they drive fast (I recommend ZZQuil , praying, and experimenting with new curse words ) but it is so worth it.
I usually take the night bus Friday night to my desired destination and then wake up Saturday morning in the city ready to explore. This means for weekend trips you only need to pay for one night in a hotel! I then explore all saturday and sunday then take the night bus home sunday night. Monday morning I am back home just in time to go to school! It is not the most luxurious form of travel but it is cheap and allows me to check off so many places on my Thailand bucket list.
You’re only in Thailand for a short time - take the bus, trust you will get there, and make the distance a weekend trip, it is worth it.
The smiling faces of girls 80% sure they are on the right bus headed to Phimai Historical Park for a festival.
If you want to follow along on the many many miles I travel in Thailand you can follow me on Instagram at @cmargaroli