The Guide to a Family Holiday in Thailand

ADVERTISE WITH

THAILAND4KIDS

DETAILS IN OUR

MEDIA PACK

Transport
TRANSPORT IN THAILAND

TRAVELLING ON THE ROAD 

Thailand’s roads are extremely dangerous, I have included road accidents among my list of dangers, but I think I also need to give you some practical advice on travelling on Thailand’s roads with children.

Crossing the Road 

The first thing you need to know is that Thais (nominally) drive on the left, this is an extremely important point if you come from a part of the world where you drive on the right - you need to re-teach yourself and your children how to cross the road. I have myself seen an Italian woman hit by a car when she looked the wrong way as she crossed the road. I have seen countless near misses. 

“Look Right, Look Left, Look Right again”

For those of you coming from the UK and other parts of the world where a Zebra Crossing (Black and white bars across the road) means “pedestrian right of way”, you need to un-learn this. In Thailand a Zebra crossing is only as suggested crossing point, nobody is going to stop to allow you to cross the road.

Tip: You and your children need to relearn crossing the road!

Driving 

If you are planning to travel by road you need to be aware of the distances; Thailand has about the same land area as France but because of the shape of Thailand the distances can be huge. See table of distances at the rear of this guide. 

Many people want to split their holiday, spending time in the North, perhaps Chiang Mai, and then some time down south, perhaps Phuket. These two places are almost 2000Km apart! More importantly, because of the roads and traffic, this would be three hard days driving. I’d always elect to fly. 

I have included a list of Driving Does and Don’ts in the "Driving in Thailand" page, it makes depressing reading but please believe me, driving in Thailand really is very dangerous, I think it is essential that you know the pitfalls before you make a decision on whether or not to drive. 

For this reason my general advice for anyone taking holiday in Thailand is don’t self drive, hire a driver and vehicle; doing so is a lot cheaper than you might imagine and it could save you a huge amount of problems if you do have an accident.

Nevertheless self driving does open up a huge number of possibilites not least access to parts of Thailand that you might never otherwise see so I have included advice on hiring and selfdrive for those of you who want to take that option.

Children’s Car Seats

These as an absolute must for young children, Thailand’s roads are extremely dangerous, they are even more so if you are not used to driving in such conditions. 

There are however two problems, the first is, rear seat belts have only recently become standard equipment in Thai cars, there are many older cars and taxis that don't have reas seat belts. However, all cars have front seatbelts so at least one child seat can be accommodated. 

Tip: If you are intending to drive, pre-book a car with rear seat belts. This is one more reason to book with one of the major international car hire companies as they are far more likely to meet your safety needs. 

Child Car Safety seats are available in Thailand but finding seats that are built to the same same standards as back home is difficult, my advice is, if you are going to drive or do any amount of road travel consider taking your child seat with you. 

Tip: Your child safety seat(s) should fly as free and not as part of your luggage allowance. If the airline try to include the child seat in your weighed luggage, remind them that golf bags and clubs travel free, and then ask them what their priorities are regarding golf and child safety. 

The other problem with taking a child safety seat along with you is simply lugging it around with you, this is an bigger problem if you are travelling independently and plan to move around a few times. 

However help is at hand, I recently came across a portable child car seat, the “Tote and Go’, see photo below. It is not approved for use on aircraft but might very well be the answer to your car seat needs.

 

 

                                         

 

An internet search for “Tote and Go” should bring you to this product, I have never tried it myself, but it might be worth looking at if you need to travel light.

Motor Bikes 

It surely must be one of the iconic images of Thailand, a family of four, perhaps five or even six, lazily weaving in and out of the traffic on a motor bike; Dad up front with a child sitting on the petrol tank, another child squeezed between mum and dad and, to cap it all, mum suckling a baby. 

This might seem like a real Thai experience and one that you might want to try yourselves, but before you do, let me give you another image:

Driving to work one morning I passed two Thai school girls, of about ten years old, they were lying on the floor in their spotlessly clean school uniforms, an up-turned motorbike next to them and the driver rolling around holding his head. The girls looked for all the world like dolls that had been tossed on the road. 

I learned later they were dead. It is a sight that haunts me; please take the warning, stay away from Thailand’s biggest road killer, motorbikes.

Planes, Trains, Buses and Boats 

Perhaps one of the great advantages of a family holiday in Thailand is the ease of travelling around the country, there is an excellent network of local buses, a great railway and internal air services that are cheap, safe and have regular flights to and from most the places you might want to visit. All the islands open to tourism have passenger ferry services and some are serviced by internal and international flights. 

Getting around Thailand is easy, but there are some things you need to know. 

 

Planes

Thailand has a superb network of internal flights and domestic airports, that can be accessed from the central hub adjacent to Bangkok International Airport.

Cheap, safe and regular services are available to:

AIRPORT

 

CARRIERS

AIRPORT

CARRIERS

Bangkok

TG, PG, 2Y, 9Q, 9R

Phitsanulok

TG

Buri Ram

TG

Phrae

TG. 2Y

Chiang Mai

TG, PG

Phuket

TG. PG

Chiang Rai

TG

Ranong

TG, 9R

Chumphon

TG, 2Y

Roi Et

TG,  9Q

Hat Yai

TG

Sakhon Nakhon

TG, 9Q

Hua Hin

PG

Samui

PG

Khon Kaen

TG

Sukhothai

PG

Krabi

TG, 9R

Surat Thani

TG

Lampang

TG, 9Q

Trang

TG

Mae Sot

TG, 2Y

Ubon Ratchathani

TG

Mae Hong Son

TG, PG

Udon Thani

TG

Nakhon Phanom

TG, 9Q

Utapao

PG

Nakhon Ratchasima

TG, 2Y

TG - Thai International

 

Nakhon Si Thammarat

TG, 9Q

PG - Bangkok Airways

 

Nan

TG, 2Y

2Y - Air Andaman

 

Narathiwat

TG, 2Y

9Q - P. B. Air

 

Phetchabun

TG,9Q

9R - Phuket Air

 

A quick look at a map of Thailand will tell you that you can access nearly all of Thailand, and certainly all the main tourist areas by aircraft.

 

Booking Internal Flights 

Your travel agent at home will be able to book all flights for you, and I strongly advise that you pre book your flights before you travel if you are visiting during the busy holiday periods of Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year or Songkran. 

If you do decide to use internal flights make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make connections, ideally at least two hours. 

Booking your flights from in Thailand could not be easier, almost everywhere you got there will be travel agents who can make the booking for you. Simply call at a travel agent and tell them what journey you want to make, they will do the rest for you. 

Be aware that very few travel agents can issue tickets; most will book a ticket and then have it printed either by the airline or by an accredited agent. This is not anything to be too worried about, but it may result in a delay for you getting your ticket. 

If this is a worry you would rather not have, simply ask your hotel to guide you to an agent that issues tickets, or of course to the airline office itself. 

 

Departure Tax (Internal Flights)

Dearture tax should be included in the ticket price but do check when making your bookings - make sure it is included and also recorded on your receipt.

There is one exception to this Kho Samui. The island’s airport is owned by a private company, Bangkok Air, and they use their monopoly to the best of their advantage, the departure tax is Bht300 for domestic departures and Bht500 for international departures (reduced to Bht200 if your international departure is via Bangkok), and all airfares to and from Samui are at a special premium rate. Welcome to Thailand!

Discover Thailand Air Pass 

If you are planning a multi centre holiday ask your travel agent to get you details of the ‘Discover Thailand Air Pass’ or visit  Thai Airways at http://www.thaiair.com the Discover Thailand Air Pass allows you three flights at a discounted rate; if you want to travel further you can add a further two flights, again at a discounted rate. 

Children 2 ~ 11 travel half price and children under 2 travel at 10% (but don't get their own seat).

The savings for a family of four would be significant. 

 

Trains (Rail Travel) 

Probably the mode of transport least used by foreign visitors is the rail network, I can’t explain why this is because the railways are cheap, convenient and very safe. It might just be visitors are not aware of how good Thailand’s railways are. 

The railway provides, First, Second and Third class services with Air-Con and Non Air-Con coaches. For long journeys you can enjoy one of the best services they provide and book a sleeper. I have a vivid memory of waking up on my first train journey in Thailand and looking out the window to see the forest and fields, in the very early morning light. It was a unique and special experience. 

 

Making a Rail Booking From Overseas

The State Railway of Thailand are unable to take online bookings, this makes booking from overseas a little tedious, but it can be done, the procedure is as follows:

1.    Check the availability of seats for your proposed journey on the State Railway of Thailand’s website http://www.railway.co.th/english/index.asp 

2.    When you have found seats are available Fax your request to the Sate Railway of Thailand Advance Booking Office at +66 2 225 6068, alternatively you can email your request to ‘passenger-ser@railway.co.th’     

Tip: I find faxes to be far surer than emails, I don’t know why but faxes get answers far more often than do emails.

3.    Make sure you include both a return email address and the point where you want to collect your tickets, usually at Hualam phong station in Bangkok or at the Airport Station. The Booking Office will confirm your booking and you will be able to collect your tickets at the agreed place and time.

Don’t forget to take the booking confirmation with you, and do collect your tickets at least one hour before the train departure.

There is one restriction; advance bookings cannot be made more than 60 days before your planned date of travel. This should not be a problem unless you plan to travel over the main holiday periods.

 

Booking Agents

The only booking agent I have ever used is www.traveller2000.com/train, they offer the additional services, such as they will deliver your  tickets to your hotel and they do accept online booking via credit cards. 

Tip: If you do decide to use a booking agent, I would still check the seats myself using the State Railway’s website, as this will help you understand the service and prices. Bear in mind that a booking agent is going to charge you extra for convenience and for ticket delivery.

  

Making a Rail Booking in Thailand

This could not be easier, simply go to the State Railway of Thailand website and check the seat availability, when you have found the seats you want, print the details and take them to the booking office at your nearest Railway Station. The staff there will book the seats and issue the tickets. Simple as that! I might add, a lot easier than going to an agent to do the booking for you.

 

Buses

Thailand is served with two very good bus services that provide cheap and relatively speedy transport to almost any destination you want to go on the mainland. There are some drawbacks, safety is one, but if you are travelling on a limited budget buses can be a great way of getting around. 

Non Air-con Buses

There are two classes of public bus service: The cheapest is the Orange “Rot Mai” or ‘mail coaches’, these travel to all parts of Thailand and are very cheap. However, they have no air conditioning, they call at every stop, so they can be very slow, and they also have a safety record which I regard as being at the lower end of acceptability. 

I used to use the Orange buses to get home from work sometimes and I can tell you I have had a few frights but nothing that compares to the time my wife had a lucky escape when the front wheel fell off the bus she was on. 

Let’s not get too concerned here, for a short journey the Orange Buses are cheap and cheerful and they are an introduction to a real Thai experience. 

The drawbacks are the safety, the speed and the fact that the bus seldom stops completely at a stop, they will almost always slow to a crawl, then with much blasting of the bus horns passengers leap on and off the, still moving, bus and within moments the bus will be on its way again. 

A Ryan-ory.

I was once driving to work behind one of the Orange buses when I witnessed a sight that I doubt I will ever forget. The buses are fitted with a roof-rack and sliding windows to allow air into the passenger compartment. On this particular occasion, there were two bus boys perched outside on the windows of the bus with their feet on the windowsills and one hand holding the roof-rack, with their free hand they were cleaning the windows. This at about 80Km per hour on some of the most dangerous roads I have ever driven on.

 

Air-Con Buses 

In addition to the Orange Buses there is a network of Blue ‘Express’ Air-Con Buses that travel between all the major towns. If you are travelling any distance by bus then this is definitely the way to go. The Air-Con buses are more expensive than the Orange service, but still cheap; more importantly they are safer and quicker.

The only drawback I can think of is they can be too cold, so take something warm to wear when travelling on the Air-Con buses.

Bus Tickets 

Buying bus tickets could not be easier. If you are boarding at a main terminal then buy your ticket at the ticket kiosk. If you are boarding from a stop along the route you will need small change for the fare and you’ll have to tell the bus boy where you are going, this is sometimes not so easy so you might want to get a fellow passenger to help you out.

Be aware that buses are the main form of transport for millions of Thai people during the main holidays - Keep this in mind if you need to travel during these periods, going a few days earlier to miss the rush is almost always a good idea.

 

Buses Travelling Tips 

I strongly advise that you avoid travelling at night on any bus that runs out of town, this is by far the most dangerous time and place to travel.

Buses are also renowned for the haunts of sneak thieves, there are frequent reports of bags that were under seats being cut open or stolen altogether. I read last month of a case in which bags that were stored in the luggage compartment of a bus travelling from Bangkok to Hua Hin had been opened and valuables removed, the culprit had hidden in the baggage compartment allowing him ample time to commit his crime. Be aware of this and keep an eye on your valuables, certainly keep them in your carry on luggage, not in the luggage compartment. 

 

Boats 

With perhaps the exception of flying into Phuket of Samui any visit to Thailand’s islands is going to involve a boat trip, I hope you noticed I said ‘boat trip’ and not ‘ferry crossing’. 

Depending on which island you travel to the boat may be a swish modern passenger ferry, small speed boat or a semi converted fishing boat. Fishing boats are by far the norm. 

 

Boats and Safety 

The seas around Thailand tend to be relatively calm and there is little marine traffic, so real risks aren’t actually storms and collisions. I would say the biggest risks are falling and tripping. 

The first challenge is getting on and off the boat. It is not unusual, Kho Samet is an example, to have to climb down off a fish dock, over several moored boats to reach the boat that is serving as a passenger ferry. This is extremely difficult and quite dangerous if you are traveling with small children or babies. 

We have always carried our bags on first before transferring our children onto the boat, if you are not used to climbing on and off boats a quick practice with your bags is better than practicing with your children. 

The trick is for one parent to climb onto the boat, and the other passes the children across – If you have to cross several boats, pass your children one boat at a time. Don’t be tempted to carry a child and a bag or rucksack on and off the boat at the same time, doing so will give you problems moving around and make it extremely difficult to balance or rescue a child that falls in the water.

Tip: Our children have their own life vests; we make them wear these at all times between the dock and arrival on the island. Apart from the obvious benefit of protection against drowning the vests and their harnesses make excellent ‘grab holds’ when carrying or passing children. If you are planning a lot of boat trips I would advise you bring a life vest for children who are not strong swimmers but if you do not have the luggage space to pack your own life vests consider a child’s harness for very young children. Again they make excellent ‘grab holds’ when passing your children on and off boats. 

I am sure that once on the boat you will have your eye out for the risk of falling overboard but I think the biggest danger is stumbling or being knocked/trapped by loose deck furniture. Check that deck benches are secured and that your children are not seated near anything that might become dislodged and fall on or against them; it is not unusual for the boat to also carry supplies of food, drink or building materials to the island, mixing goods and passengers is an extra risk that you have to watch out for. 

Watch out of sunburn on board the boat, especially on the longer crossings, reflected sunlight from the surface of the sea ensures UV exposure on board a boat is far higher than on the beach. Try to get a seat in the shade; That is, if the Thai passengers haven’t already taken the shaded seats. We have always applied sun cream before the crossing. 

 

A comfortable Crossing 

I mentioned above ‘If the Thai Passengers haven’t already taken the shaded seats’, I so because Thais avoid the sun like you or I might avoid freezing rain or sleet. What usually happens is the boat will not leave for the island until sufficient tickets have been sold, this might result in you having to wait on the boat for up to an hour before departure, Thais who are traveling on the boat with you will race to get the shaded seats and will not give this up for anyone, including mothers with babies. What they don’t take into account is which way the boat is pointing, and since the boat will generally turn around before setting to sea you will find the seats that are shaded in port will be in the sun at sea. My tip here is to look and see which seats are shaded during the journey and grab those, and don’t expect a Thai to give up a shaded seat for your young child, Thais just hate the sun!  

I also recommend that you carry water and some kind of blanket or beach towel/sarong with you on your boat crossing, you will be able to buy drinks on passenger ferries but they will be expensive and some form of wrap will help keep the sun off if you can’t manage to get a shaded seat.

 

Tickets 

The first question to ask when buying a ticket is which port is the boat going to, on some of the larger islands there might be several options that are miles apart. The second question to ask is ‘when is the boat leaving?’. The dedicated passenger ferries usually have a fixed timetable but the smaller converted fishing boats tend to sail when they have sufficient passengers. Take a little time to check this out, there are usually several options so don’t buy your tickets until you are satisfied the boat is going where you want to go and at the most convenient time for you.

I would advise that you buy single ‘one way’ tickets and not ‘return’ tickets, this for the simple reason if you buy a return ticket you will be tied to the one operator and perhaps one boat. Far better I think to have all your options open when making the return journey.

Tickets are usually sold at an office at the port, through agents or on the boat itself. I tend to use agents for the formal passenger ferries to the more popular destinations as it ensures you will get a place on the boat.

Children under twelve usually travel free but even if you have to pay the fares are cheap, for example expect to pay Bht50~100 for a 45 minute crossing.

 

Timing Your Crossing 

If you haven’t booked accommodation on the island then I suggest you try to make the earliest crossing you can, most rooms become available during period 9:00~11:00 am when people are checking out after breakfast. If you haven’t booked a room and you are arriving in the late afternoon it might be worth spending an extra night on the mainland rather than arriving on the island without a place to stay.

If you can arrive a couple of days before weekends and holidays, this too will make finding accommodation easier. 

 

Speed Boats 

If your budget allows you might want to consider taking a speed boat to the islands, these services are available at all the islands we have visited and they are a quick and convenient way of reaching your destination, but they are expensive, expect to pay around ten or twenty times the single fare on a normal ferry. There are however a couple of advantages, they will take you to the exact beach you are heading to and they are probably a better way of getting to an island if you suffer with sea sickness. 

The cost of a Speedboat will be per passenger, with a minimum number of passengers before setting sail, or as a single charter with a fixed price for the crossing. 

One last word about speed boats, they might open up the possibility of traveling to islands for families who are concerned about easy and quick access to medical care, see the section on Choosing a Destination with Health Care in Mind. 

 

River Crossings and River Boat Trips

All what I have said above regarding boat safety is applicable to river crossings and river boat trips, there are however some extra points you need to be aware of. 

A boat trip along Bangkok Canals; along Bangkok’s main river the “Choapraya” or a trip down the Mekong River, are all popular tourist attractions but there are of course some risks. Boat trips in Bangkok almost always cross the main river, which is extremely busy and a very dangerous waterway. Please be extremely careful to ensure you and your children all wear life vests on these trips. 

Many of the trips are made in ‘Long Tail Boats’, on the Mekong River these can be high speed boats with very noisy engines. When I say ‘very noisy’ I mean ‘Ear Splitting’, I really do recommend you take some earplugs along with you if you are planning the high-speed trip up the Mekong. I use the soft foam type, like the ones airlines provide in the in-flight goodies bag they give you.

 

River Taxis 

Within Bangkok there are a number of Taxi services that run up and down the Choapraya river, they are a cheap and convenient means of getting to many locations along the river, in particular to the Temple of Dawn ‘Wat Arun’ and to the area around the Grand Palace. However, I have concerns regarding their safety, if for no other reason than they are over crowded and they don’t ever actually stop to allow passengers on and off. Rather passengers have to step or jump on and off the slowly moving boat. This makes a great spectacle for visitors, I’m not convinced it is a good way to travel with children.

 

Rafting Trips 

Rafting trips fall into two categories, the lazy stroll down the river and the white water trip, both are very popular in tourist attractions in the very north of Thailand.

I have tried both and enjoyed my trips tremendously but I don’t think either are suited for anyone who is not a strong swimmer. I thing in both cases it would not be advisable to take any child who is not at least in their early teens on these trips.

Copyright©2005 CE Ryan King. All Rights Reserved.