Transport in Thailand

Transport in Thailand is varied, with no one dominant means of transport. For long distance travel, bus transport dominates. Low-speed rail travel has long been a rural long-distance transport mechanism, though plans are underway to expand services with high-speed rail lines extending to several major regions of Thailand. Road transportation is the primary form of freight transport across the country.

A large number of buses, minibuses and taxis share the streets with private vehicles at Ratchadamri Road, Bangkok.
Tuk-tuks are one mode of public transport in Bangkok and other cities in Thailand.

For short trips motorbikes are common. There are public motorcycle taxis in Bangkok, Pattaya, and other large cities. An overwhelming number of taxis can also be found in Bangkok. Since the country's first rapid rail transit line opened in 1999 in Bangkok, daily ridership on Bangkok's various transit lines has risen to over 800,000, with multiple additional lines either under construction or being proposed.

Private automobiles, whose rapid growth contributed to Bangkok's notorious traffic congestion over the past two decades, have risen in popularity, especially among tourists, expats, the upper class, and the growing middle class. A motorway network across Thailand has been gradually implemented, with motorways completed in Bangkok and most of central Thailand.

Domestic air transport, which had been dominated by a select few air carriers, saw a surge in popularity since 2010 due in large part to the expanding services of low-cost carriers such as Thai Air Asia and Nok Air.

Areas with navigable waterways often have boats or boat service, and many innovative means of transport exist such as tuk-tuk, vanpool, songthaew, and even elephants in rural areas.

Rail transport

Second-class sleeping carriage of the State Railway of Thailand at Hua Lamphong Railway Station

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) operates all of Thailand's national rail lines. Bangkok Railway Station (Hua Lamphong Station) is the main terminus of all routes. Phahonyothin and ICD Lat Krabang are the main freight terminals.

As of 2017 SRT had 4,507 km (2,801 mi) of track, all of it meter gauge except the Airport Link. Nearly all is single-track (4,097 km), although some important sections around Bangkok are double (303 km or 188 mi) or triple-tracked (107 km or 66 mi) and there are plans to extend this.[1] By comparison, Thailand has 390,000 km (242,335 miles) of highways.[2]

The SRT has long been perceived by the public as inefficient and resistant to change. Trains are usually late, and most of its equipment is old and poorly maintained. The worst financially performing state enterprise, the SRT consistently operates at a loss despite being endowed with large amounts of property and receiving large government budgets; it reported a preliminary loss of 7.58 billion baht in 2010.[3] Recurring government attempts at restructuring and/or privatization throughout the 2000s have always been strongly opposed by the union and have not made any progress.[4][5]

There are two active rail links to adjacent countries. The line to Malaysia uses the same 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) gauge, as does the line to Laos across the Mekong River on the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. The line to Cambodia is currently disused and is being rebuilt, while the line to Myanmar is defunct (see Death Railway). A projected extension will rebuild the route[6] and in 2011 a link was also proposed from Kanchanaburi to Port Dawei.

Rail transport in Bangkok includes long-distance services, and some daily commuter trains running from and to the outskirts of the city during the rush hour, but passenger numbers have remained low. There are also three rapid transit rail systems in the capital.

Rail rapid transit systems

Bangkok Skytrain exterior at Mo Chit BTS Station.
Bangkok Metro at Si Lom MRT Station.

Bangkok Metropolitan Region

Bangkok is served by three rail rapid transit systems:

Khon Kaen

In March 2016, the Thai government approved the first LRT project in Khon Kaen province, to be built by the private sector. The first phase of the project will be a 26 km North-South route. Previously, this corridor was intended to be served by a bus rapid transit route. The Office of Transport and Traffic Policy (OTP) will fund an 8-month project study for Khon Kaen University with 38 million baht. The Khon-Kaenpattanmong or Khon Kaen Think Tank, a private company, will be the main investor in the project and responsible for the operation of the network. The Phase 1 budget is estimated at 1.5 billion baht.[7]

As of 2020, construction has yet to start.[8]

Other Provinces

Several other rapid transit systems have been proposed but have not been approved as of 2016: Chiang Mai monorail, Pattaya LRT, Phuket LRT and Hat Yai monorail.

Road transport

Thailand has 390,000 km (242,335 miles) of highways.[2] According to the BBC, Thailand has 462,133 roads and many multi-lane highways. As of 2017 Thailand had 37 million registered vehicles, 20 million of them two or three-wheeled motorbikes, and millions more that are unregistered.[9] It also had one million "heavy trucks", 158,000 buses, and 624,000 "other" vehicles.[10]:245 By mid-2019 the number of registered vehicles in Thailand had risen to 40,190,328. The majority—21,051,977—are motorbikes. Private automobiles with up to seven seats numbered 9,713,980.[11]

Road safety

According to the World Health Organization's, Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, Thailand had an estimated traffic fatality rate (all vehicle types) of 32.7 persons per 100,000 population in 2016. The only nations exceeding Thailand's death toll were Liberia; Saint Lucia (population: 178,000); Burundi; Zimbabwe; Dominican Republic; Democratic Republic of Congo; Venezuela; and the Central African Republic.[10]:114,119,133,136,181,222,245,263,266

Thailand's death rate for operators and passengers of motorized two- and three-wheeled motorbikes was the world's highest in 2016 at 74.4 fatalities per 100,000 population.[10]:310–311

Sixty-six persons die every day on Thai roads, one every 22 minutes,[12] seven of them children.[13][14] In 2015, Thailand's roads were the second deadliest in the world in 2015.[15][16] Among public transport options, passenger vans, with a monthly average of 19.5 accidents resulting in a monthly average of 9.4 deaths, rank as the most dangerous of all public transport services involved in road accidents. Regular tour buses on fixed routes were in second place with a total of 141 accidents, resulting in 56 deaths and 1,252 injuries. Third on the list were irregular tour buses, involved in 52 accidents, resulting in 47 deaths and 576 injuries. Taxis were fourth with 77 accidents, resulting in seven deaths and 84 injuries. Ordinary buses were involved in 48 accidents with 10 deaths and 75 injuries. As of 31 October 2016, there were 156,089 legally registered public transport vehicles in Thailand, 42,202 of which were passenger vans, including 16,002 regular vans, 24,136 irregular vans, and 1,064 private vans.[17]

From 2013–2017, an average of 17,634 children between the ages of 10–19 died on Thailand's roads. Most of the fatalities involved motorbikes.[18]

The two most dangerous travel periods in Thailand are at the New Year and at Songkran. Songkran 2016 (11-17 April) saw 442 deaths and 3,656 injuries.[19] New Year 2017's death toll for the seven-day period between 29 December 2016 and 4 January 2017 was 478 compared to the previous year's record of 380. A total of 4,128 people were injured in road accidents during the period. The Centre for the Prevention and Reduction of Road Accidents said that the death toll in 2016 was the highest of the last ten years. Death toll records from road accidents for the last ten New Year periods are: 449 deaths in 2007, 401 in 2008, 357 in 2009, 347 in 2010, 358 in 2011, 321 in 2012, 365 in 2013, 366 in 2014, 341 in 2015, 380 in 2016.[20] Lax enforcement of traffic laws appears to be a major contributor to traffic accidents: the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre for Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion found that only 20 percent of traffic violators on Thai roads are given tickets and only four percent of those cited pay their traffic fines.[21]

Government attempts to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries have proven ineffectual. In 2011 the government declared the following ten years to be Thailand's "decade of action on road safety". It named 2012 as the year of 100 percent helmet use on motorbikes. In 2015, about 1.3 million school-age children in Thailand regularly traveled on the back of motorcycles each day but only seven percent wore helmets.[14] In 2018, the WHO reported that motorcycle helmet use was 51 percent by operators and 20 percent by passengers.[10]:245 In 2015 the Interior Ministry's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation's (DDPM)[22] Road Safety Collaboration Centre[23] announced a target of reducing road deaths by 80 percent. According to the New York Times, in 2015, Thailand vowed at a United Nations forum to halve traffic deaths by 2020.[24] But DDPM's published mandate makes no mention of road safety.[25] Road safety falls under the purview of the Ministry of Interior's DDPM. Responsibility for roads falls under the Ministry of Transport.[9]

Thailand had no laws requiring child safety features or a rear seating position in vehicles,[10]:43,245 but, the government has announced that the use of child seat is mandatory and the violators will be fined since Sep 2022.[26]

National speed limits

The maximum rural speed limit is 90 km/h. For motorways it is 120 km/h. The maximum urban speed limit is 80 km/h, far above the best practice limit of 50 km/h recommended by the WHO.[10]:30,245

Public bus service

Buses are a major method of transportation for people, freight, and small parcels, and are the most popular means of long distance travel. Tour and VIP class long-distance buses tend to be luxurious, while city- and other-class buses are often very colorful with paint schemes and advertising.

There are fundamentally two types of long-distance buses in Thailand:

  • those run by The Transport Company, Ltd., (TCL), the state-owned bus company.[27] Known to Thais by the initials บขส (pronounced baw-kaw-saw), this 80-year-old company was formed by the government to ensure that citizens in even the most far-flung localities had access to the capital city, Bangkok. TCL buses are easily identified by the large golden coat of arms appliqued to each side of the bus.
  • those operated by private bus companies offer hundreds of routes in various service categories (express, VIP, local, air conditioned)

Public bus service in Bangkok

An air conditioned BMTA bus, one type of public bus service in Bangkok.

In Bangkok, the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority or BMTA, is the main operator of public transit buses within the Greater Bangkok area. The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority offers bus and van routes throughout the city and its suburban provinces. Many bus routes in Bangkok are served by several private companies, sometimes duplicating those from BMTA. Examples include orange minibuses, and cream-blue buses. The buses have the BMTA symbol on them, mostly seen below the driver's side window. These often follow slightly different routings from the main big BMTA bus or do not run along the whole route.

BMTA currently operates bus routes in Bangkok and its metropolitan area namely Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom.

Local buses and Bangkok city buses come in various sizes, types, and prices, from half size, full size, double length, open window, fan, and air conditioned.

Bus rapid transit system in Bangkok
A Bangkok BRT bus at the Sathon terminus

The Bangkok BRT is a bus rapid transit system in Bangkok. Of five routes that were originally planned, only one line has been operating since 2010. The 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) route has twelve stations in the centre of the road that give at-grade access to the right-hand side of the buses. Both terminals connect to the Silom Line of the BTS Skytrain; at Chong Nonsi (S3) and Talat Phlu (S10). The buses used are all Sunlong SLK6125CNG buses. The flat fare is five baht.

Highway network

An overview map of Bangkok's expressway system.

The Thai highway network links every part of Thailand. Most highways are in good state of repair, greatly enhancing safety and speed. The four-lane highways often have overhead concrete pedestrian crossings interspersed about every 250 meters in populated areas. There are few on and off ramps on eight-lane highways, most highways are separated by medians with breakage for U-turns, except on major roads where ramp style U-turns predominate.

A number of undivided two-lane highways have been converted into divided four-lane highways. A Bangkok - Chon Buri motorway (Route 7) now links to the new airport and Eastern Seaboard.

Motorway network

The Thai motorway network is small. Coupled with Bangkok's extensive expressway network, the motorways provide a relief from regular traffic in Bangkok. The Thai Government is planning infrastructure investment in various "megaprojects", including motorway expansion to approximately 4,500 kilometers.

Expressway network

Thailand uses the expressway term for the toll road or highway network. Most expressways are elevated with some sections at ground level. The current expressway network covers major parts of Bangkok and suburban areas. Expressways are used to avoid heavy traffic jams in Bangkok and reduce traffic time but are sometimes congested in rush hour.

Utility cycling

The Thai state has failed at promoting utility cycling as a mode of transport.[28] Officials regard bicycles as toys, and cycling as a leisure activity, not as a means of transport that could help solve traffic and environmental problems. Their attitude was on display at Bangkok's celebration of World Car-Free Day 2018, celebrated on 22 September. Bangkok's Deputy Governor, Sakoltee Phattiyakul, who presided over the event, arrived in his official automobile, as did his entourage. He then mounted a bicycle for a ceremonial ride.[29] Prior to the event, which encouraged the non-use of cars, the BMA announced there would be extensive free automobile parking spaces available for participants who were to ride bicycles in the parade.[30]

In his first year office, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha launched a cycling initiative, encouraging members of the public to cycle. But state investment in cycling lanes ended up a being a waste as they quickly devolved into parking lanes for motorists.[31] All Thai rail companies, whether commuter or long distance, make on-board transport of bicycles difficult or impractical.[29] Without state intervention, direction, and education, the public lacks the impetus to adopt a mode of transport that remains ignored by urban development projects.[28]

Other public transport

Other forms of road transport includes tuk-tuks, taxis—as of November 2018, Thailand has 80,647 registered taxis nationwide[32]—vans (minibus), motorbike taxis, and songthaews.

There are 4,125 public vans operating on 114 routes from Bangkok to the provinces alone. They are classed as Category 2 public transport vehicles (routes within 300 kilometres). Until 2016, most operated from a Bangkok terminus at Victory Monument. They are being moved from there to the Department of Land Transport's three Bangkok bus terminals.[33]

Passenger vans have a disturbing safety record. The Safe Public Transport Travel Project of the Foundation for Consumers, reports that passenger vans in 2018 were involved in 75 accidents, causing 314 injuries and 41 deaths.[34] In 2017 the numbers were 113 dead and 906 injured, and in 2016, 105 people died and 1,102 others were injured in passenger van accidents. A government initiative to replace existing vans with larger minibuses in 2017, then delayed to 2019, was put on hold by the incoming Prayut administration.[35][36]

Air transport


As of 2012, Thailand had 103 airports with 63 paved runways, in addition to 6 heliports. The busiest airport in the county is Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Major international airports


The national carrier of Thailand is Thai Airways International, founded in 1959. Bangkok Airways has been operating since 1968 and now markets itself as "Asia's Boutique Airline". Low-cost carriers have become prevalent since 2003, including Thai Smile, Thai AirAsia, Thai AirAsia X, Thai Lion Air, Thai Vietjet Air and Nok Air.

Water transport

Damnoen Saduak floating market in Ratchaburi Province

As of 2011 there were 3,999 km of principal waterways, of which 3,701 km had navigable depths of 0.9 m or more throughout the year. There are numerous minor waterways navigable by shallow-draft native craft, such as long-tailed boats.

River and canal transport

In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is a major transportation artery, with ferries, water taxis (the Chao Phraya Express Boat) and long-tailed boats. There are local, semi-express, and express lines for commuters, though the winding river means trips can be much farther than by bus. There is also the Khlong Saen Saeb boat service, which provides fast, inexpensive transport in central Bangkok.


Ferry service between hundreds of islands and the mainland is available, as well as across navigable rivers, such as Chao Phraya and Mae Khong (Mekong). There are a number of international ferries. In November 2018, Hua Hin deputy chief Chareewat Phramanee confirmed the ferry service, suspended due to low tourist numbers during low season, would be up and running again for high season between Hua Hin and Pattaya, a 2.5-hour journey for 1,250 Thai Bhat on a catamaran with a maximum capacity of 340.[37]

Sea transport

In Thailand, the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea is a transportation system:

  • Trat - Ko Chang boat service
  • Surat Thani - Ko Samui boat service
  • Phuket - Phi Phi Islands boat service
  • Phuket - Ao Nang boat service
  • Bang Pu - Hua Hin - Pranburi boat service
  • Bang Pu - Pattaya boat service
  • Pattaya - Hua Hin - Pranburi boat service

Ports and harbors

Merchant marine fleet

As of 2010 Thailand's merchant marine fleet consisted of 363 ships (1,000 GT or over) totaling 1,834,809 GT/2,949,558 tonnes deadweight (DWT). By type this includes 31 bulk carrier, 99 cargo ships, 28 chemical tankers, 18 container ships, 36 liquified gas vessels, 1 passenger ship, 10 passenger/cargo ships, 114 petroleum tankers, 24 refrigerated cargo ships, 1 roll-on/roll-off, 1 other passenger vessel.


Pipelines are used for bulk transport of gas (1,889 km as of 2010), liquid petroleum (85 km) and refined products: (1,099 km).

See also


  1. Thongkamkoon, Chaiwat. "Thailand's Railway Development Strategy 2015-2022" (PDF). Railway Technology Development Institute of Thailand. Retrieved 28 November 2014.
  2. Janssen, Peter (23 January 2017). "Thailand's expanding state 'threatens future growth'". Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  3. Chantanusornsiri, Wichit (23 January 2012). "State railway to finally account for assets and liabilities". Bangkok Post.
  4. Mahitthirook, Amornrat; Marukatat, Saritdet (22 December 2010). "Getting on track needs strong political will". Bangkok Post.
  5. Bowring, Philip (23 October 2009). "Thailand's Railways: Wrong Track". Asia Sentinel. Asia Sentinel. Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  6. "Neighbours to the west get closer | Bangkok Post: news". Bangkok Post. 28 February 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  7. "เซ็นสร้างรถรางไฟฟ้า1.5หมื่นล้าน - โพสต์ทูเดย์ ข่าวธุรกิจ-ตลาด". Archived from the original on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  8. "Khon Kaen Transit System – the proposed light rail transit (LRT) in Khon Kaen". 9 June 2020.
  9. Head, Jonathan (19 January 2017). "Life and death on Thailand's lethal roads". BBC News. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  10. Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018. World Health Organization (WHO). 2018. ISBN 9789241565684. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  11. "More new cars take to the roads". Bangkok Post. 16 July 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  12. "Toll still worst in the world" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. 8 January 2018. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  13. Sukprasert, Pattramon (22 January 2017). "Set 'fixed' road safety goal". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  14. "Crash helmet campaign to be strengthened to promote bike safety". National News Bureau of Thailand (NNT). 6 February 2017. Archived from the original on 6 February 2017. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  15. Marukatat, Saritdet (7 December 2018). "Thailand tops Asean road death table". Bangkok Post. Archived from the original on 17 June 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  16. "Thailand's roads second-deadliest in world, UN agency finds". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  17. "Passenger vans are the champion of road accidents among public transport services". Thai PBS. 22 December 2016. Archived from the original on 23 December 2016. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
  18. "More youngsters dying in road accidents". The Nation. 17 May 2019. Archived from the original on 17 May 2019. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  19. Barrow, Richard (18 April 2016). "FULL ROAD ACCIDENT STATISTICS FOR SONGKRAN 2016". Righard Barrow. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  20. "478 deaths and 4,128 injuries in seven days". Thai PBS. 5 January 2017. Archived from the original on 14 August 2018. Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  21. "Elderly cyclist dies in crash as SUV smashes into bike". Bangkok Post. 14 August 2018. Retrieved 14 August 2018.
  22. "Background". Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. Ministry of Interior (Thailand). Archived from the original on 31 January 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  23. "Organization Structure". Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. Ministry of Interior (Thailand). Archived from the original on 24 August 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  24. Beech, Hannah (19 August 2019). "Thailand's Roads Are Deadly. Especially if You're Poor". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2019.
  25. "Mandate". Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. Ministry of Interior (Thailand). Archived from the original on 24 August 2019. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  26. "ราชกิจจาฯประกาศแล้ว นั่งรถด้านหลังไม่คาดเข็มขัดนิรภัย โดนปรับ 2 พันบาท" (in Thai). Manager_Daily. 9 May 2022. Retrieved 12 May 2022.
  27. "Home". The Transport Co., Ltd. Archived from the original on 10 January 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  28. "Time for BMA to get on its bike" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. 3 June 2018. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  29. Atthakor, Ploenpote (24 September 2018). "Bangkok's car-free day is mere lip service" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  30. Wattanasukchai, Sirinya (27 September 2018). "City adopts old ruse to take over arts centre" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  31. Owen, Ulysses N (1 November 2017). "Bicycle lane projects in Bangkok have wasted 28 million baht in 9 years". Bicycle Thailand. Retrieved 3 June 2018.
  32. "The meter is ticking" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. 14 November 2018. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  33. Mahittirook, Amornrat (7 November 2016). "Public vans likely to offer 10% fare cut". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  34. "Expert slams govt for abandoning move requiring van operators to switch to microbus". The Nation. 11 August 2019. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  35. Prateepchaikul, Veera (12 August 2019). "Saksayam begins job with wrong turns" (Opinion). Bangkok Post. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  36. Mahitthirook, Amornrat; Nanuam, Wassana (6 January 2017). "Microbuses to replace passenger vans this year". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  37. "Hua Hin ferry service back again for high season". Phuket: The Thaiger. 4 November 2018. Retrieved 4 November 2018.

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