I had always been told that getting around Thailand was really simple because they have a great system of trains in place. Train travel is safe, efficient, and comfortable. Based on the city trains in Bangkok, I’m sure that’s true. But what I didn’t imagine was that train travel would take so long.
Flying domestically as an alternative
A train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, though it costs $25 or less, takes 12 hours. Meanwhile, a domestic flight for $30-50 takes less than 2 hours. In this case, you’re sacrificing a few dollars more but saving yourself a hellish train ride that’s going to eat up an entire day of your vacation. This makes flying domestically within the country a much better alternative.
It’s an even better option when you consider different routes. When we were booking our way back to Bangkok from Phuket, we found a flight for less than $10. This may have been an error fare, because even direct buses cost $15-30 (and take more than 18 hours). But still, the average cost of a flight usually ranges from $20-60.
So you may be looking at these prices and wondering…
Are you flying on a propeller plane with 8 seats?
Actually, no. All our domestic flights in Thailand were on major airlines with good amenities. We were surprised that there were meals on the flights, even though none of them were longer than 2 hours. It probably helps that we flew to three international airports, which have more traffic. And with the exception of one AirAsia flight, luggage was free. Though I don’t really sweat paying $20 to check my bag if the flight cost $10.
At the airport
The first thing you’ll notice when you fly from any airport in Thailand is that there is a security check before you get inside the building. It’s not a major check like you have to go through when you’re going to your gate. But you do have to pass through a metal detector and have your luggage scanned when you’re getting in.
From Chiang Mai to Phuket, I had to pay for my luggage. But unlike other airlines, I couldn’t do that at the check-in counter. They gave me a receipt and I had to go visit the airline’s customer service office at the airport before I was allowed to go through security to board the flight. I’m not entirely sure if that was an airline or airport procedure. But it was the first time I was unable to pay for a bag directly when checking in. So this is one of those things that you may want to keep in mind to avoid missing your flight.
The airports can be congested
Even busy, international airports can be really tiny. Phuket International Airport, for example, has almost no space before security. We thought it was funny when we arrived, and we walked out of the gate and were practically outside. When we were flying out of Phuket, it wasn’t so funny. Because you’re crammed in a departures hall with thousands of people who are all trying to check into their flight. Though we flew domestically, Phuket has a reputation for being awful if you have to go through customs. I can certainly imagine why.
Chiang Mai’s airport, though much bigger and more comfortable, also had a long line for security. So even though you are only taking a short trip across the country, you want to avoid getting to the airport less than two hours before your flight. The lines can be brutal.
Airport food is still expensive
Thailand is the cheapest country I’ve ever been to, hands down. Everything from food to accommodations is outrageously affordable. But if you’re flying through one of the airports, you’ll still get premium airport pricing. I usually get at least a snack at the airport before flying out somewhere. I’m either hungry, or I have time to kill before the flight.
But whether it’s fast food or some local treat, you wouldn’t know the difference between Bangkok International and LAX. When I was headed home from Bangkok, they were selling mango and sticky rice for 200 baht ($5.60). That costs $1.50 or less just outside the airport at any food stand. So don’t go to the airport hungry.
But if you’re wondering, I bought the mango and sticky rice anyway just to have my last taste of Thailand. And it was still totally worth it.