By Arabella Freeman, ESL Teacher in Thailand
Taking the bus (or “coach” as we would call it in the UK), can lead to you being able to explore many other areas of the aesthetic Kingdom of Thailand. These Thai buses are either single story or double story, and often contain a toilet too. Many of the bus routes throughout the country can be very scenic and allow you to experience cities that you otherwise would not normally see; since the bus will stop off at random little towns along your journey to
pick-up/drop-off passengers. Some examples of these beautiful views include the green mountains, rolling hills and stunning rice fields. With the bus fares being cheap and affordable (especially on a teacher’s salary), I cannot
recommend this method of travel enough. Despite this, here are 5 things that I wish I had known before taking my very first bus trip in Thailand…
Rest Stop & “Free” Food
The bus often stops about halfway through the journey, in order to give the driver a rest. This means that at this stop, passengers can get off the bus and use the facilities (including the bathroom, which is usually a squat toilet with no toilet paper) and sometimes, your ticket will even include a “free meal”. At the stop there will be tables and chairs inside where you can sit and eat for approximately 20 minutes before the bus starts up again to set off. The selection of food is generally from a stall consisting of rice/noodles with spicy sides and meat. I have eaten a few of these meals and can vouch they are delicious and freshly cooked for your arrival. Furthermore, the buses will often also provide you a free snack and water that is included in the price of your ticket (this snack normally consists of water, juice and some crisps/biscuits).
Although you may be grateful for the AC when you first get on the bus, after many hours it can get incredibly cold. This is because the drivers often will have the AC on full-blast for the entire journey, keeping the window (and sometimes curtains) closed too – to prevent the sun/heat from creeping in.
This means that for your bus journeys, you will want to dress warm! It is at
least recommended that you bring an extra jumper, to cover up with if you get chilly. However, sometimes the bus service themselves may provide you with a blanket if you are taking an overnight/late evening bus (you could even ask if they have one available during the day if needed!).
Wear A Mask
Also like everywhere in Thailand, everyone on the bus with you will likely be wearing a face mask/covering. Although these are no longer mandatory to wear on transport in the country, you may get a few odd looks if you do not wear one, since it is still seen as the “societal norm”. I was surprised to see that many passengers will even “double mask” their face, but this is because there is still an enormous fear of contracting the Covid-19 virus amongst the Thai people.
Bus Facilities – Or Lack Of Them!
In the UK, it is normal and expected for most methods of transport to have a charging port (or multiple) for your devices, as well as a free local WiFi service (if you are lucky). However, during my time in Thailand so far I have taken
many buses to cities across the country and not on a single bus has there been a charging port for your devices – and definitely no free WiFi. Therefore, it is crucial that you ensure that you (and whoever you travel with) show up to the bus station with a full battery on your smartphones, have a decent power battery bank (as a backup), headphones with wires (to avoid turning on your phone’s Bluetooth and draining more battery quicker) and plenty of mobile data set up and ready to use.
In Thailand, the buses will leave early! The system in Thailand is that if the driver is ready to leave then they go; there is no checking of tickets, counting heads to see if everyone has arrived and there is definitely no waiting. There have been occasions where I have arrived exactly on time for the bus and have still managed to miss it – for example, one time my bus even left a solid 35 minutes before its scheduled departure time! The time the bus leaves is completely dependent on the driver, so I believe that it is always a good idea to arrive around 30-45 minutes before your bus leaves. This gives you enough time to print out your actual bus ticket at the stand (you must do this, even if you’ve already pre-bought your “ticket” as a physical or electronic copy, since usually this is just confirmation of purchase) and get to the designated gate before your bus leaves. Oftentimes, the departure time that you see on your bus ticket is an approximate or rough guide for when the bus MIGHT leave.
By arriving early, this means that you lessen the chance of missing the bus
(by a lot!) and in the worst case scenario, you only have to wait 20-30 minutes for the driver to be ready. Although that being said, oftentimes when I arrive early to the station, this is when the bus leaves late – oh ironic coincidences!
Those are all of my top tips for travelling via bus in Thailand. It is definitely one of the superior ways to travel around and for the price it is 100% worth it. For the cost of a 7 hour bus journey to Thailand it is 350 Baht (or approximately 8.5 GBP) – this journey is the equivalent of going from Cornwall to London in the UK but there it would cost you around 100 GBP. In summary,
I would strongly recommend giving the long-distance buses in Thailand a go, at least once, as a great (and cheap) way to travel the country.