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Post 354: Taking the Bus in Thailand .....

Here in Thailand most Westerners, or to give us our local name, ‘Farang’, seem quite happy to take internal flights and taxi’s, but steer clear of using other methods of public transport such as buses and trains. I don’t think it’s always because of time or cost issues, it’s probably more likely to be a fear of stepping into the unknown. Obviously buses here are cheaper than flights but on the face of it journeys will take longer, and trains are cheaper than buses but will probably take longer still. On the plus side, if you learn how to use the systems then they’re both great ways to travel and you’ll inevitably meet more fascinating people along the way. So, in my search for Naresuan I need to travel to Phitsanulok about 450km to the north of Bangkok, and here’s a beginners guide to taking the bus in Thailand ….

Mo Chit is probably the largest and busiest bus terminal anywhere in Southeast Asia. It’s situated to the north of central Bangkok. Day or night, it’s a heaving mass of people travelling to all points of the compass but if you know where you want to go, then it‘s really quite easy to navigate the system.
All of the various bus services are numbered, in this case 25 to 32. Where the destinations are written only in Thai, it’s probably best to ignore them. If you’re not already familiar with travelling on Public Transport in Asia then these services will probably be a discomfort too far for you. Keep walking on the 1st and 3rd floors of Mo Chit until you see your final destination written in English. It will probably say ’Phitsanulok VIP’ and have a time and written price next to it. Through the glass screen, state your destination and they will show you a ’Departure Time’ and a ’Price’. There’s no need to haggle, it’s a bus station not the night bazaar and the prices are dictated by the level of service provided. Once you accept, they will show you a screen and you can choose your seat. I chose the 1st Class bus to Phitsanulok and the cost was around 250 Baht, £5. My ticket tells me that my bus will depart from ’Platform 46’ at 10:30am and that leaves me with an hour to kill in Mo Chit.

The terminal is on 3 floors and you will find sufficient fascinating people, shops and food outlets to keep you entertained. Trust the information on your ticket because there are no public service announcements in English, and even if you speak Thai the PA system is so antiquated that you’ll never understand them.

Everything you could possibly need for your journey is available within the Mo Chit bus terminal. The food is actually very good and if you can’t travel without a stuffed Doraemon toy or a fake Blackberry then you’re in luck, they have everything.

As your departure time approaches, follow the signs to your platform. It will take you outside onto the main departure concourse and there the platform numbers will be written above parking place. It’s hot and busy and although chaotic, it actually works really well.

Ten minutes or so before your departure time, a bus will pull into the parking bay. On the bus will be written the main destinations in Thai and English and on the side of the bus, the service number. The service number will match the number on your ticket. A member of the crew will check your ticket and attach a tag to any luggage that you don’t want to carry on board, exactly like air travel. Find your seat on the bus and as the hostess passes around the bottled water, smile politely, point at your ticket and state the name of your destination. That might sound a little childish, but trust me, if you haven’t visited that particular place before and it’s not the terminus for the bus, then you’ll have no idea when you’ve arrived. Don’t be afraid to ask.

On board there will be entertainment, usually a Thai movie and several episodes of the amazingly popular and crazy Thai comedy show ’Ching Loi Ching Larn’. The Thai’s like there entertainment loud, so unless you’ve brought your ear plugs then don’t expect to sleep.

The journey from Mo Chit to Phitsanulok takes five hours on the bus compared to one hour on a flight. However, you don’t need to check-in 2 hours before your flight or wait another hour for your bag and then a taxi journey to the centre of town. The bus will drop you right in the centre and now you’ve spent the same amount of time travelling but arrived a couple of thousand Baht richer and probably made some new friends along the way …. mai pen rai kap