Thailand Travel Tips – See The Best Bits By Car
Thailand is a major tourist destination in South East Asia. It’s unique in SE Asia, in that it was never a colony of a European power, and therefore it has retained much of its own identity and culture; this is a huge draw for tourists. It addition, the country is home to some of the finest beaches in the world and some spectacular scenery.
The capital of Thailand is Bangkok; this city is by far the largest in the country. In reality the city’s name is 166 characters long (so you can see why it’s not really used) which the Thais shorten to Krung Thep Mahanakhon; the name Bangkok is actually the name of the original fishing village that later became the city. One of the best sights in the city is probably the Old Town district on Rattanakosin Island. And if you’d like to see some of the temples, the best ones to visit would be Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, featuring Wat Phra Kaew. For a spot of retail therapy why not head over to Sukhumvit Road?
Thailand Car Hire Tip: Though never a colony, the people of Thailand drive on the left; very handy for British and Irish drivers.
Located 150kms to the south and east of the city you’ll find Pattaya. This is a very popular resort city with many nice beaches. This city is very touristy and offers less Thai culture than other places but if you don’t mind that it can be a very enjoyable place to holiday. Aside from the beaches there are other things you can do, such as visit the sacred Buddha Hill or the Sanctuary of Truth or go to one of the theme parks such as Gems Gallery or the Million Years Stone Park & Pattaya Crocodile Farm.
Thailand Car Hire Tip: The speed limit within cities is 60km/h and between 90 and 100 km/h on motorways and country roads.
From Bangkok you have two options, head north or drive south. To the north you’ll find dense jungle areas and beautiful landscapes; to the south you’ll find some of the finest beaches in the world and it’s also quite scenic, though in a different way.
Heading north a good first stop would be Ayutthaya which was the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. Ayutthaya combines old with new (modern with ancient) and is only about 85 kms from Bangkok. The modern city extends to the east while Ayutthaya Historical Park is to the west. This area is protected and is also a UNESCO heritage site. Much of it is in ruins from a past war (in the 18th century) but there is still much to see.
Thailand Car Hire Tip: Thailand has enjoyed much more economic success than its neighbours in the recent past, and therefore its roads are much better quality than you would find in any of the neighbouring countries.
Continuing north you’ll come to Phitsanulok, which is about half way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. This historical city is not as touristy so it retains much of the Thai culture and charm. Popular attractions here include Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, the largest temple in the city. Phitsanulok is also located only about 60kms from Sukhothai, which in turn is located close to the Old Sukhothai, the original capital of Thailand and definitely worth a visit.
Thailand Car Hire Tip: Be aware though that when driving in the city, it’s not unusual for motorcyclists to drive up streets the wrong way, they usually hug the footpaths but it can be off putting if you aren’t expecting it.
Heading north again you should eventually get to Chiang Mai. Founded in 1296, this is the oldest city in the country and also one of the largest. Some of the original walls of the city still remain though they are mostly in ruins. Inside these walls you’ll find over 30 temples that range is styles and some even date back to the founding of the city! The most famous temple is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. This temple was built in 1383 and overlooks the entire city.
Thailand Car Hire Tip: Even though the roads are good, you won’t find much better driving. This is due in part to the past when driving licenses could be bought without any sort of test having to be taken. So expect some speeding and reckless overtaking – but at least they do it in a polite way as it’s rare to find honking of horns or other such aggressive behaviour.
Further north again you’ll come to Chiang Rai which is situated close to the borders with both Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. This area between the 3 countries is sometimes called the Golden Triangle and is definitely worth exploring. From the city you can even get a boat trip into Laos but you won’t be allowed to step on the mainland without a visa. While here you can visit the Gate of Siam which overlooks Laos and the Mekong River; the temples Wat Doi Tung and Wat Phra Kaeo; and just outside the city you can get to the Kun Korn Waterfall and the Wat Rong Kuhn Temple.
If you head south from Bangkok, you should possibly fly, or catch the overnight train, to Surat Thani or Phuket as the land inbetween, though beautiful, doesn’t have much of interest.
Thailand Car Hire Tip: Be wary about driving at night, as the local people’s vehicles can sometimes be in a poor state and not have functioning lights.
In Surat Thani you probably won’t find too much of interest. The main draw of the city is the ferries out to the islands of the Gulf of Thailand which offer some of the finest beaches in the world. These islands include Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui.
The city of Phuket is actually situated on an island, although it’s connected to the mainland by bridge. There are a large number of fantastic beaches on the west coast. These beaches were affected by the 2004 Tsunami but there is little or no trace of that incident today. Phuket isn’t as historical or cultured as Bangkok or Chiang Mai but it is a nice city to visit.
Thailand Car Hire Tip: Driving within the cities by car is not recommended as the streets tend to be poorly laid out and no one seems to understand the concept of a one-way street. It’s not all the locals fault as the city planners can change street routes without warning. Another option is to hire a bike, but this can be very dangerous and 90% of road deaths in Thailand are motorcyclists.
Further south close to the border with Malaysia you’ll come to Hat Yai, one of the largest cities in the country. While here you can visit a number of Chinese temples such as the Kuan Im Temple behind Hat Yai Municipal Park. Say hello to the reclining Buddha at Wat Hat Yai Nai or check out the Tone Nga Chang Waterfall.
If you have decided you would like to visit Thailand and that you would like to do it by car then have a look at our car hire Thailand page.
Remember to give us a shout via the comment box below if you have any questions or if you’ve any tips on hiring a car in Thailand…enjoy your trip!