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Top 10 Things to know about taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (or back)

Tim Newton

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Top 10 Things to know about taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (or back) | The Thaiger

So you need to get from Phuket to Bangkok, or Bangkok to Phuket? You have choices of flying, driving or taking a bus. As the flight prices remain cheap and the services generally numerous and reliable, the buses have plenty of competition on their hands. But they are a cheaper option and you’ll certainly see more of the countryside along the way. But there are few things you need to know…

1. Choices of bus

You have plenty of choice of style of buses, prices and times. Most of the bus services leave from the Phuket Bus Terminal in Thepkasatri Road, between Phuket Town and the Bang Khu intersection. We chose a VIP Express bus service (more about that later). The buses are generally in better condition than the one plying the island packed with Chinese tourists which seem to rely on a lick of paint and a few prayers to hold them together. Most of the buses we saw at the various terminals were in good condition and some of them fairly new. You will need a bit of patience to find the right window to buy your ticket and someone who speaks Thai will make your life a lot easier and get you on the right bus at the right price. They left the ‘service’ out of Bus Service here but was better at Bangkok than Phuket. There are a few food outlets around the terminals at both ends and eager car and motorbike taxi drivers to get you to your next location. The food outlets are there for a reason, you’ll find out why later.

Top 10 Things to know about taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (or back) | News by The Thaiger

2. VIP buses

Growing up we though VIP stood for Very Important Person. When it comes to Thailand’s buses VIP stands for Vague Inconsistent Pricing. There are a number of better buses with only three seats across, compared to the usual four across, but you’ll have to ask a few questions to ascertain that you will actually be on one of the ‘first class’ buses or just an ordinary ‘VIP’ bus. All the buses heading to Bangkok are air-conditioned (more about that later too), usually have a small snack of biscuits and a bottle of water. The distinction between the three-seats across and four-seats-across buses was a bit difficult to figure out. Bottomline, the better, more comfortable seating costs more, up to 1,000 baht for the journey, depending on your chosen company. The ‘usual’ VIP tickets cost less than 700 baht. If your ticket is less than 700 baht you’ll be in a four-seats-across bus.

3. Express buses

Again, my poor understanding of the word ‘express’ led to another surprise about the bus services to and from Bangkok and Phuket. I, stupidly, assumed that Express Bus Services would stop infrequently and zoom me to my destination on a magic flying carpet.

That, in fact, is not the case.

Express buses stop often and sometimes for no particular reason. The Mercedes bus (a VIP Express service) had 90% of the seating upstairs with the driver, his assistant, a toilet (ummm, more later as well), luggage, the engine and about 8 extra seats for those who were happy to travel directly behind the driver’s curtain and were keen on listening to whatever was shuffling on his smartphone through very loud, but cheap, speakers. So, from the lofty heights of the top floor we knew little what was going on downstairs or why they needed to stop so frequently. But they did. Sometimes the driver leapt out of the coach and signed something, sometimes something suspicious was loaded into the back (mmmmm), sometimes a person appeared out of the darkness and jumped into a vacant seat. Sometime the bus just stopped for a few minutes. In all cases, none of the stops helped improve the reputation of the word ‘Express’.

4. Glacial 1

I asked, when purchasing the ticked, how long it would take in the journey from Phuket to Hua Hin. 10 hours! It was around 8 or 9 according to Google Maps in a car so I thought that was reasonable. Try 12 hours! Don’t think that I’m whinging here because Trip Advisor comments about the same services mostly make the same comments about the glacial pace of the buses and the later-than-anticipated arrival times. Just keep that in mind when planning your trip. Our journey north took us via Ranong – six hours up the west coast, through Khao Lak, before making a right hand turn and heading across the isthmus to Chumpon and then up the Gulf of Thailand coast from then on. Probably not the fastest route but understandable as it went through a lot of the tourist hot spots in Phang Nga and would be a popular way to get to Ranong for those doing a visa run (and I think a lot safer than the visa-run buses zooming up and down the same road). All said, our driver was excellent although he had a penchant for tooting his horn whenever passing a motorbike or when another bus came from the other direction, which was every 30 seconds or so!

5. Glacial 2

When Mr. Carrier invented air-conditioning in 1902 he surely had no idea how enthusiastically it would be applied by VIP Express buses plying the roads in the Land of Smiles. The operators provided each seat with a light blanket. When getting on the bus you look at the blanket thinking it might provide a nice little folded support for your lower back or your neck. But an hour into the ride you realise that the blanket is actually essential for your survival. Don’t jump on board in your skimpy shorts, singlet and sandals without taking some accessories appropriate for an Arctic expedition. Again, Trip Advisor posters all raved about the high effectiveness of the air-conditioning. It was FREEZING and no amount of adjustment to the perfunctory vents above or sign-language to the bus assistant could improve the situation. Take a warm jacket and wear long pants – you’ve been warned!

Top 10 Things to know about taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (or back) | News by The Thaiger

6. Snacks and eating

You would have thought, with all the stops, that there would be plenty of chances to jump out, stretch your legs and zoom around a local 7/11 for a quick snack. No. If you don’t stock up with something to eat you will likely have to travel for 11 hours or more (travelling north from Phuket) before you get a chance to get off the bus. About an hour out of Hua Hin there is a large, and very ‘Thai’, bus stop-over where there were 40 or more similar coaches with semi-frozen, rather stunned, tourists and locals disembarking. As a farang you may be challenged to find something to eat unless you feel just a little adventurous. There wasn’t even a 7/11. I found some delicious noodles. Then again, after 11 hours of rumbling away on the top floor wondering when the ordeal would end, I would have eaten anything. Take some provisions or become chummy with the person sitting next to you who was smart enough to pack something to eat. The packet or Oreos and single water bottle was never going to last the whole journey.

Top 10 Things to know about taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (or back) | News by The Thaiger

7. Toilets

Probably the less said the better. It seemed clean enough but nothing worked and the door wouldn’t close. Probably going to vary a lot from bus to bus. I didn’t have anything to eat or drink so it didn’t really matter. The toilets at the bus stop about an hour out of Hua Hin had excellent and super clean toilets.

8. Seats for pygmies

I fly a lot. I am used to small budget airline seats. I am not particular tall, or large (173cm, 72 Kilos). But the seats on the buses were made for people a lot smaller than I. Now the seats on the three-across arrangement were better than the four-across arrangement. But both had a short squab – the bit you sit on. There was NO way I could get comfortable in these seats, no matter what I did. And you’re sitting for a LONG time. Lumbar support was zero. The seats were clean. The mechanism for reclining on my seat didn’t work despite ‘experts’ from the seats around me all giving it a try. The seats would recline, about 20 degrees, and a foot support would raise up to support your calves. Well all that probably worked well in the factory with Peter Drinklage as the test pilot. But they were just bloody uncomfortable for a short-than-normal farang. Take a pillow.

9. Value for money

On the plus side the seats are reasonably cheap, even if you score a real VIP bus with the better seating for less than 1000 baht (one way). The other obvious option is jumping on an aeroplane or driving. In both cases it’s going to cost you more and, in the case of flying, you’ll end up with a 30-60 minute trip into the middle of the island or the middle of the city (depending which direction you’re travelling) from the airport. At least with the bus you are taken into the middle of the island or at least the outskirts of Bangkok. It’s cheaper than driving yourself and probably a lot less stressful.

10. Options

There are more flights per day than there are buses per day so you’ll have a lot more choice and probably be able to control your timing a lot more with the flying option. The bus arrival times were a long way from reality. BUT, if you have a strong bladder, don’t mind freezing air-conditioning, have patience, will sleep through a nuclear war and are not particularly fussy, the bus is your cheapest option.

The roads, mostly are either perfectly good – it’s mostly a dual carriage-way on the main Phuket-Surat Thani-Bangkok road – or under improvement. Our route through Khao Lak and Ranong was single lanes in both directions and the road across the isthmus from Ranong to Chumpon has a lot of roadworks going on as of March 2018. Don’t expect a movie although. If your TV’s actually work, I’m assured the movie does have English sub-titles. But, hey, you’re not going for the movies, you’re trying to get from A to B and, for that, the buses work perfectly well as long as you don’t expect everything to be perfect along the way.

Top 10 Things to know about taking a bus from Phuket to Bangkok (or back) | News by The Thaiger

I travelled from Phuket to Hua Hin and then onward to Bangkok. The trip from Phuket to Hua Hin took a full 12 hours, and Hua Hin to Bangkok another 4.5 hours – it’s a LOT of time. So take your snacks, plenty to drink, upload a few movies onto your laptop or phone, take some warm clothing and enjoy the ride! Tim



Read more headlines, reports & breaking news in Hua Hin. Or catch up on your Thailand news.

Find more Hua Hin top 10s and top 10s in Thailand on The Thaiger.

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now CEO and writer for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He presented for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and provides stories for Feature Story News as the south east Asian correspondent.

Bangkok

Bangkok luxury poised to push through the US$300 ceiling

Bill Barnett

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Bangkok luxury poised to push through the US$300 ceiling | The Thaiger

by Bill Barnett of c9hotelworks.com

PHOTOS: Rosewood Bangkok

For hotel owners and managers in South East Asia, one of the great mysteries of the past ten years has been the low rate profile of Bangkok’s luxury hotel set. Despite soaring and sustained tourism growth, rising airlift and a strong economy, rates at Bangkok’s top tier properties have remained fairly stagnant.

Have we reached the tipping point?

I had had the opportunity to visit the latest entry to the Bangkok luxury class a few days ago, the Rosewood. With 159 keys which includes a limited number of posh houses with private pools and terraces the property is seeing an exceptional response and already achieving high rates.

What’s impressive about the entry is a take on the design approach that sees hotel developers apply a non-uniform approach with AvroKO coming in to focus on the restaurants and bars, while the rooms and public areas were led by Celia Chu Design and Associates.

While the speakeasy Lennon’s has not be opened yet, the 6,000 record vinyl collection is impressive and the bar will clearly have a strong pull. Taking the approach to designing restaurants and not typical hotel outlets, the Chinese eatery Nan Bei is a breath of fresh air and limited seating provides a bespoke appeal.

Taking a step back, and looking at recent entries like the Waldorf Astoria, and upcoming 101 key Capella, what is clear is luxury properties are shifting in terms of key drivers of the segment of art, fashion, residential vibe, bar and restaurant offerings, wellness and events.

So, what about rates?

On a broad basis Bangkok’s top tier hotels have averaged rates of US$200-240 for the past few years. This set has seen longer serving properties such as the St. Regis, Kempinski, and Okura effectively flatline on rates, though newer entries have come up including the Park Hyatt. On the broader horizon is the return of the Four Seasons and Capella by the river and the Orient Express at the MahaNakhon skyscraper.

With the entry of Rosewood driving rates, my expectation is that a few of the set will follow and at the end of 2019 we will set limited number of hotels crash through the US$300 average room rate barrier and effectively smash the legacy glass ceiling of Bangkok’s luxury hotels.

As in any business there will be winners and losers. Smaller hotels with some rate leading premium key types will be able to push up average daily rates. Segmentation is another key and hotels on the river that lack substantial corporate numbers will remain challenged until transport links to the area improve.

Where in the world are Bangkok luxury hotels heading?

To sum up 2019, size and location matter, the shift on food and beverage and social events along with niches like wellness and  smaller meetings/weddings are the key to the future. As for the quantum leap in rates, it’s about time Bangkok hoteliers be confident and push rates towards a more global norm.

Bangkok luxury poised to push through the US$300 ceiling | News by The Thaiger

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Bangkok

Third runway for BKK Suvarnabhumi Airport

The Thaiger

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Third runway for BKK Suvarnabhumi Airport | The Thaiger

The Thai cabinet yesterday approved the construction of a third runway at Suvarnabhumi International Airport as part of the country’s ambition to become the aviation hub of ASEAN.

The 21.7 billion baht project will increase the combined capacity of Suvarnabhumi international airport’s runways to 94 arrivals and departures per hour from the current 64, said Lt-Gen Weerachon Sukonthapatipak, deputy government spokesman.

Suvarnabhumi Airport (aka. BKK) was opened in 2006 as Bangkok’s second airport. Initially it replaced the tired Don Mueang Airport but Don Mueang was later revamped as a low-coast airport to service the growing traffic demands.

Meanwhile Suvarnabhumi Airport was, and still is, operating above its designed capacity. An earlier bid to build a third terminal has been mired in controversy and is currently shelved pending a new brief from Airports of Thailand with a new round of design bids called for in the future.

Third runway for BKK Suvarnabhumi Airport | News by The Thaiger

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Bangkok

Newborn baby dumped beside garbage bins

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Newborn baby dumped beside garbage bins | The Thaiger

FILE PHOTO

A newborn baby has been found abandoned near rubbish bins in Chon Buri province, south-east of Bangkok, earlier today.

18 year old city sanitation worker, Anucha Boonkhai, has told police that he had loaded garbage from all the bins on Soi 4 of Ban Kao village in Tambon Ban Kao, Muang district, when he spotted a pile of towels. He checked and found a baby boy, whose umbilical cord was still attached still smudged with blood, wrapped in one of the towels.

The baby was alive but had been bitten by mosquitoes and insects so he called an emergency unit of a hospital and then informed police.

Police are now checking footage from security and CCTV cameras in the area to try to identify the mother or person who had dumped the newborn baby.

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