There’s a reason that Thailand is the most popular of the countries in Southeast Asia to visit. Compared to it’s neighbors, this is a country with great infrastructure, plenty of the amenities that matter to foreign visitors (like fast wifi and spa therapies), and a high percentage of English speaking locals who always seem happy to help. In addition, the cell phone networks are great; check out local recommendations in our Southeast Asia Cell Phone Guide.
Thailand is often referred to as the ‘land of smiles,’ and most visitors that I know would agree. The climate is fantastic, the food is out of this world, and your first world dollar goes a lot further here than it does at home. In the past few years it’s become a hot spot for the digital nomad crowd and if you’re looking for a place to hunker down and spend a few weeks to a few months developing your work-life balance, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to do it than Thailand.
Of course the two big logistical questions are always transportation and accommodation. Where will you stay? How will you get there? This post consolidates the best of our resources on those topics, brought to you, first hand, by people who’ve lived and worked in Thailand extensively.
Have something to add? Has something changed and you want to update us? Leave a note in the comments and we’d be grateful.
Table of Contents
- Hotels Under $150
- Boutique Hotels
- Vacation Rentals
- Unusual Accommodations
- City Travel
The luxury hotel chains most Western travelers usually rely on are in shorter supply here and are often limited to city centers. If you stay in them, expect to pay the same rates as a luxury hotel chain in Europe, or North America. If you’re looking for something truly luxurious in Thailand, give up the idea of staying in a chain hotel, and go for something more unique. Local luxury is easy to find, and you’ll get more bang for your buck. Phuket, Thailand has the world’s cheapest luxury resorts.
Four Seasons Resorts: One of the classiest resort chains out there, Four Seasons has 3 locations in Thailand, all of them stunning. Choose from Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, or The Golden Triangle.
Novotel: A go-to for hotels in general. Novotel has nineteen hotels in Thailand to choose from, with options to suit most price ranges.
Aman: The Amanpuri resort, on Phuket, is stunning. Choose from pavilion or villa accommodations, with luxurious pools, full spa service and incredible dining.
The Suhkothai Bangkok: This is the place to stay if you are looking for old world charm and five star service in Bangkok. Absolutely impeccable accommodations in the heart of the city, they consider themselves, “A place apart.”
When I was living and traveling in Thailand, I used Agoda to book most of my hotel stays and often had beautiful rooms for less than $30 USD a night. It is also perfectly doable to find a room upon arrival without much prior planning in most places. Plan according to where you’re headed, and when. For example, finding a room is simple during the off-season, or when traveling off the beaten track. Headed to Phuket in tourist season? Book way ahead of time if you want to get a good deal. Tourist season makes prior planning essential, especially if you’re staying in, or near, a tourist hot spot, visiting during a festival, or staying on the coast.
Tips for saving money on a hotel in Thailand:
- Contact the local tourist board before you arrive to check for the best local budget hotels – some may not be listed online.
- Trust that there will be available rooms. Unless you’re traveling in a popular area during tourist season, there WILL be something available. If you’re willing to wing it, you may save on booking fees and find special deals.
- Stay away from Western hotels. Look for locally run businesses, and you’ll find local prices to match.
- Choose accommodation further away from festivals or big events.
- Adjust your expectations. What do you really need from a hotel? You’ll save money by doing without fine dining and a pool.
Keep an eye out for hotel deals on the following sites:
Travelfish: One of the single most useful websites for finding Thai accommodation, Travelfish is an independent travel guide that focuses specifically on Southeast Asia. Use it to find hotels, restaurants, tours, and top destinations. Great for finding off-the-beaten-path adventures.
Agoda: Plug in your destination and dates here for a comprehensive list of available hotels and the sorts of rooms they have available. The ratings and recommendations feature of this site is specific to various types of travelers, so you’ll find ratings based on business travel, family travel, romantic travel, and more. This is super helpful in choosing a hotel that will be a good fit. Agoda is also good for last minute planning, as well as reservations in advance. I’ve been known to sit in the lobby of a hotel in Chiang Mai, after being quoted one price at the desk, and find a better deal at the same hotel through Agoda, book it online, and check in with a smile.
Expedia: Reliable service when looking for the comfort you’re used to, but won’t always give you the best deal. Check your prices against another booking agent, if getting the lowest price is important to you.
Travelocity: A personal favorite no matter where I’m traveling. Travelocity brings up over 200 hotels in Thailand alone.
Hotels.com: Hotels has you covered, no matter where you’re going. Similar to Agoda, Hotels is one of the best ways to find budget hotels all over Thailand, in even the most remote locations.
A boutique hotel is any small hotel with under 100 rooms. By that definition, you’re going to be able to find a “boutique” hotel in nearly any town in Thailand. Personally, I believe that a boutique hotel needs to have a certain measure of style and uniqueness before it’s earned its title.
iescape: This is the best site out there for finding the perfect boutique hotel, in my opinion. The hotels it recommends for Thailand are especially stunning.
Boutique Hotels Thailand: Lists twenty of the best boutique hotels in the country; from the islands of the south to the hill country up north.
Design Hotels: This site lists luxury, boutique, hotels around the world. There are six in Thailand, all in the south, three on Phuket.
If you plan to stay in Thailand for a more than a few weeks, a vacation rental may be the way to go.
Not only are vacation rentals far more comfortable and private, they may save you money in the long run. Vacation rentals are my first choice nearly everywhere I travel. Living in a fully furnished home and being able to cook all my own meals is far more sustainable for a stay of a week or more.
In Thailand, I spent a glorious few months in a vacation rental on Phuket, just a short walk from the beach. Feeling like part of the community, shopping in the market alongside my Thai neighbors and enjoying Thai cuisine from the local beach restaurants, was what made it home away from home.
Vacation rentals offer a very uniquely immersive travel experience, and are fairly easy to find.
Booking through any of the online agencies is, absolutely, possible; however, booking on the ground is often the better way to go. A bit of bravery and some flexibility are required. Just turn up, book a couple of nights in a hotel where you want to spend more time, and pound the pavement. All of our best home rentals, in Thailand and elsewhere, have been located through locals on the ground.
How do you do it? Find a local real-estate agency and ask for a referral to a rental agent, or, rent a motorbike and ride around writing down the phone numbers from signs on the gates of rentals. They are out there, by the hundreds, trust me.
Wimdu: 500+ properties in Thailand alone, more spread out across SEA. One of the most popular vacation rental websites out there.
Vacation Rentals: Affiliated with Homeaway and VRBO, provides a comprehensive list of all the rentals in the area you’re searching in.
Airbnb: Possibly the most well-known vacation rental and B&B locator on the web. With thousands of properties in 150+ countries around the world, it’s a go-to for house-hunting.
Roomorama: An easy to use vacation rental booking site that allows you to narrow your search from thousands of homes to the perfect stay for you.
To be honest, camping in Thailand is generally not recommended. Camping is not impossible, it’s just more difficult to do than in other places in the world, and may be more trouble than it’s worth, for a few reasons. According to travelers who have tried it, these include:
- High population density
- Wildlife & jungle = insects
- Campground fees are often higher than cheap hotel prices
- Also: gear
TravelPod: Lists 30 campgrounds for Thailand
Travelled Paths: Lists their top places to sleep out under the stars in Southeast Asia, one of them is in Thailand.
Thailand has a range of unusual accommodations, but most of them you won’t find online. The most unusual accommodations are the ones you tend to stumble across accidentally along the way.
Some things can’t be planned. That said, there are a few unique accommodations that you can check out in advance. Varying in price, some may be the height of luxury, while others are very affordable and simple.
River Kwai Jungle Rafts: An eco-hotel near Kanchanaburi, has been welcoming guests since 1976.
Limestone Lake Tours: My friends run this family style tour provider into the stunning Chieow Laan Lake and Khao Sok National Park. I can’t recommend enough letting them plan a few days excursion for you into one of the most stunning ecosystems in the world. We stayed at the floating houses, but there are tree houses further in too.
Khao Sok Treehouse Resort: This place is nothing short of amazing. Nestled in the rain forest, you’ll hear the gibbons in the morning.
Elephant Nature Park: There are a lot of dodgy elephant experiences to be had in Thailand. This is not one of them. An elephant rescue and rehabilitation center, this is a place to come and stay with the elephants, learn about them, and volunteer in their preservation. If you have one elephant experience in Thailand, this should be it.
Rarely, is it necessary to stay at a hostel in Thailand; simply because you can generally find hotels for low prices, and it’s often worth the extra buck not to hear the guy in the next room snoring loudly, or have to wade through the crazy on Khao San Road.
Find a cheap hotel instead and you’ll generally be better off. That said, if you’re a serious hostel fan and want to give it a go, or the legendary Bangkok hostel scene is calling to you, these sites will help you to find what you’re looking for.
HostelWorld: Relied upon by backpackers around the globe, HostelWorld has a decent selection of Thai hostels to check out.
Southeast Asia Backpacker: If you’re hosteling Southeast Asia, treat this site like your golden handbook. With information on all the best (and worst) hostels, as well as everything you need to know to backpack SEA, this site is a must-read. Thailand is featured prominently, of course.
Agoda: Easily book hostel rooms as well as hotel rooms.
Hostel Bookers: Similar to HostelWorld, works on an international level and showcases a large collection of Thai hostels.
The airlines in Thailand will quickly become your best friends. They’re easily the cheapest and most convenient way to get around Thailand and Southeast Asia, especially if you’re on a tight schedule. International carriers service multiple routes into the region, while domestic carriers will get you where you need to go within Thailand for under $70 USD most of the time.
Keep in mind that flights are not restricted to capital cities, and may be cheaper if you’re willing to be flexible with your destination and dates of arrival and departure. For example, try checking flights to Thailand through Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or Phuket, instead of through Bangkok.
Where to Fly In:
With sixty two airports, it’s very easy to fly almost anywhere you want to go in Thailand. Among the most popular hop-in-hop out destinations for people arriving to Thailand from abroad are:
- Chiang Mai
- Chiang Rai
Carriers Within Thailand
These airlines stay within Thailand, specifically.
Train travel in Thailand is very doable, but comfort and service vary greatly by class and by route. Train service tends to be limited and can be more expensive than travel by bus.
There are many places that trains don’t service at all. Thailand’s network is the best in Southeast Asia with direct routes between major cities. That said, if there happens to be a train route that fits into your schedule, go for it! You’ll see parts of a country by rail that you won’t see any other way.
Train travel can be faster than taking the bus, and in some cases is even faster than flying. Check out these popular train routes before you go to see if incorporating train travel into your journey will work for you:
Bangkok to Chiang Mai: Thai trains are easy to use, clean, efficient, and cheap. Choose from overnight, or day, trains with a variety of pricing or class options.
Bangkok to Kanchanaburi: A great scenic route which highlights the Bridge over River Kwai and Hellfire Pass.
Thailand to Singapore: A multi-day train journey which stops at Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur along the way for under $100.
State Railway of Thailand: Southeast Asia’s most extensive rail network.
Thailand Train Ticket: Will help you book Thai train tickets in advance.
City Metro Trains
The public transportation in Bangkok is very good. The train system is clean, well organized and runs on time. It is signed in English as well as Thai, making it easy for English speakers to get around.
The train from the airport to downtown is, by far, the best and most affordable option in traveling in and out of the city for your flights.
Metro Bangkok: Rail transit information for Bangkok, Thailand.
Most backpackers and many vacationers to Thailand travel by bus, taking advantage of the low cost and ease of booking. With the bus, it’s possible to play your trip by ear instead of planning your flights weeks in advance. Bus tickets cost between $5-10 for a 5-6 hour journey, with overnight buses generally costing twice that, depending on the distance.
Booking can happen days in advance, the day before, or even the day of. In my experience, Thailand has the best buses, in Southeast Asia.
Booking bus tickets is usually done on the ground at the bus station. It can be hectic, with multiple companies vying for your attention and dozens of sales representatives trying to sell you their tickets. When you can, it’s best to check prices online, or with other travelers, to avoid paying more than you should. Recently, a travel website called 12GO.Asia has made it much easier to book tickets online and avoid running into a scam at the station.
Before traveling internationally by bus, be sure to check visa requirements for each country you plan to cross into, as you may need to pre-arrange visas for land crossings.
Best Tip for Bus Travel in Thailand
Keep your expectations realistic. Traveling by bus can be an adventure, and it’s important that you know how to be flexible with your plans. Buses can arrive late, or take longer on the road than you planned for.
Breakdowns are quite common and speed limits are suggestions. Drivers can be expected to blast loud music videos, or soap operas, through the bus at all hours. If you keep a sense of humor and go with the flow, the buses are an excellent way to get around, but you should expect it to be a culturally broadening experience.
12GO.Asia: Our go-to website for booking passage via train, plane, or automobile in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.
EasyBook: Largest land sea travel and tours booking website in SE Asia, including Thailand.
Bamba Experience: Hop on hop off independent bus travel servicing Thailand, among many other countries.
Local transport in Thailand can be an adventure and offers the chance to hobnob with locals, check out scenery up close, and visit towns you wouldn’t normally have access to.
The longtail boats in Thailand are famous, and you can easily charter a Thai fishing boat to take you out snorkeling on the nearest reef. For a truly local experience, skip the tourist cruises and find a local guide to take you boating for the day or motor you up the river to a hidden local treasure. On Chieow Laan Lake, in Thailand, take a boat deep into the jungle of towering karst formations and stay a night in a floating house where your fish dinner is caught off of the kitchen deck. Where there is water, boats are often the most interesting mode of transportation.
Of course there are cruises available too and for those who want to travel the water in style, they’re a great option.
Guide to Southeast Asia by Boat: Frommer’s ultimate guide to Southeast Asian travel by boat (includes Thailand).
Southeast Asia Tours: Top tours in Southeast Asian countries, multiple by boat, take a pre-planned one or have one tailor made for you (includes Thailand).
In Thailand it’s possible to hire a motorbike, car, or bicycle. Most locals rely on mopeds or motorbikes to get around, so renting one is easy to do. When living on Phuket for a few months, having a small moped on hand to zip around town in came in very handy.
If you go this route, be sure you read up on the local rules of the road, and don’t assume they’re always followed by locals. Licensing is often not required so safety is a concern. Wear a helmet, and don’t overestimate your motorbiking abilities.
Whether you’re renting a car or a bike, be sure you understand the liability situation, and that you have the experience necessary to cope with the many differences. Especially if you’re in a country that drives on the opposite side of the road from what you’re accustomed. Thailand is left hand drive.
You can expect animals (everything from dogs, to water buffalo, to elephants) in the roadways in addition to highly unpredictable human traffic. Unless you are a very alert and adaptable driver, you may want to hire a driver along with your vehicle.
Renting a car is easily done. You can reserve ahead of time through the airport you fly into. Or, you can rent from one of the numerous mom and pop style car hire places that dot the tourist districts of most towns. If you are in a place long enough, it’s also often a possibility to secure a private rental agreement through a local person or a tour company.
Use good judgement and understand that these places are “buyer beware.” They may, or may not, be properly insured, the car maintenance is not guaranteed, and it’s entirely possible that there is no back up for you if something goes wrong. They are, however, by far the most affordable option.
Renting motorbikes is almost dangerously easy. As a result, there are a lot of accidents. Keep that in mind and check several places before renting. Look not only at price, but also vehicle maintenance, terms of agreement, and the quality of the safety equipment that is provided with the bike. (Is there a helmet? No, not that one, a REAL one!)
Thai Rent-a-Car: Car rental company specific to Thailand.
What to know before driving Southeast Asia: A useful guide to rules of the road and choosing a vehicle.
Car Hire Thailand: A UK company that consolidates rentals from the big name to the local.
Sixt: A top vehicle rental company in Thailand and elsewhere.
DriveAway: Drive from one location, drop off the vehicle in another.
City transportation in this part of the world is extremely diverse. Mopeds speed around en masse, and it’s possible to hop on the back of a local guide’s moped for a tour of the city. Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous – tiny three-wheeled, open-air vehicles that act as cheap taxis and can miraculously always hold “just one more” person. Pickup trucks with seats built into the backs act as local buses in many areas.
The cost of local transport generally depends on the haggling abilities of the traveler. In most cases, you will be asked for fully twice what is fair. Offer a little less than your final price, and work your way up from there. Never immediately offer the price you actually intend to pay.
Understand that there is almost always tiered pricing and you’re very unlikely to pay what locals do. Consider this your luxury tax for being there and remember that paying a buck for what locals are paying .75 for is okay, because the same ride in NYC would cost you twenty five dollars, and the story wouldn’t be nearly as good.
The trick to successful city transport without getting taken for more rides than you’re hoping for, is in upfront negotiation of price and a cheerful attitude. Never get into a cab or tuk tuk without knowing that the driver understands where you are going and having agreed upon the price. Always have correct change to pay with (because if you don’t… they won’t either!) Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away. If you have a bad feeling about a particular driver, thank him with a smile and keep looking, there will be dozens of other drivers vying for your business.
Thailand is the easiest country in Southeast Asia for travelers to visit; with the best infrastructure in the region and a well supported tourist industry. Many Thai people (particularly in the service industries) speak some English, which makes language barriers seem less daunting.
Whether you’re looking for five star luxury, boutique hotels, or dirt cheap hostels, you’ll find them. In all but the highest of high seasons, there are usually last minute accommodations to be found.
Flying between major cities on a regional airline, like Nok or Air Asia, might be the best bet for your time and money. Buses are, by far, the most affordable and most flexible option. Remember to agree on a price up front before getting into a cab or a tuk-tuk.
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