Air travel is by far the quickest and easiest way to get around Thailand and travel between the major destinations. There is frequent service between Bangkok and the big provincial cities, and several carriers to choose from in both the full service and budget categories.
After the year 2000, the number of domestic air carriers has practically exploded, with as many as half a dozen carriers, depending on who is actually in business at the moment. In the last couple of years, with fuel price rises and the global economic downturn, there has been a bit of a shakeout and now there are only three or four carriers that you should really consider for your domestic travel needs.
A Bangkok Airways plane lands at one of the airline's 'boutique' airports
When planning your domestic travels, keep in mind that most flights go through Bangkok. There are very few direct flights between, for example, Chiang Mai and Phuket. The full service carriers will at least transfer your bags when transiting Bangkok, but when using a budget carrier, keep in mind that you will have to claim your bags and check them back in for your connecting flight.
- Thai Airways
- The national flag carrier flies to almost all major tourist destinations. Their web site allows you to view schedules and seat availability. You can even book and pay online for paperless travel.
- Bangkok Airways
- The nation's second carrier is almost solely responsible for developing special destinations such as Samui and Sukhothai. Their now extensive network covers several countries and many of the major world heritage destinations of Southeast Asia. You can purchase e-tickets on-line at their web site using Visa or Mastercard (but not American Express. If considering a vacation that includes several Bangkok Airways destinations, then you should have a look at their "Discovery Pass", which may save you some money.
- Air Asia
- Air Asia was the first budget airline to go regional. Based in Malaysia, Air Asia started flying in Thailand in 2002, and has a reputation for offering some of the lowest fares around. Thai destinations include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai and Phuket. The airline also flies from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and from there on to Bali, Singapore and other destinations. If considering Air Asia, it's important to keep in mind that the fares go up the closer you get to your departure date. To get the cheapest fares you need to book at least three months in advance.