Bangkok is 17 hours from San Francisco, 18 hours from Seattle and Vancouver, 20 hours from Chicago, 22 hours from New York, and 10 hours from Sydney. Add more time for stopovers and connections, especially if you're using more than one carrier. Be sure to check your itinerary carefully if you are transferring in Bangkok—most low-cost carriers and domestic flights now operate out of Don Muang airport, while Suvarnabhumi airport remains the international hub. On popular tourist routes during peak holiday times, domestic flights in Thailand are often fully booked. Make sure you have reservations, and make them well in advance of your travel date. Be sure to reconfirm your return flight when you arrive in Thailand.
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Bangkok remains Thailand's gateway to the world. The look of that gateway changed a couple of years ago with the opening of the new international Suvarnabhumi (pronounced soo-wanna-poom) Airport, 30 km (18 miles) southeast of town. The new airport quickly exceeded capacity, however, and Don Muang is back in service: almost all budget airlines and domestic flights now operate out of Don Muang. Shuttle service is available between the two airports. Neither airport is close to the city, but both offer shuttle links and/or bus and taxi service throughout Bangkok. The smoothest ride to Suvarnabhumi is the BTS Skytrain, which now links the international airport with key areas in the city. Chiang Mai International Airport, which lies on the edge of that town, has a large new terminal to handle the recent sharp increases in national and regional air traffic. Taxi service to most hotels costs about B120 (about $4).
Perhaps Thailand's third-busiest airport (especially in high season) is the one at Phuket, a major link to the southern beaches region, particularly the islands of the Andaman Coast.
Bangkok Airways owns and runs the airports in Sukhothai, Trat, and Koh Samui. They have the only flights to these destinations, which can be expensive in high season. You also have to use the airport transport options they offer unless your hotel picks you up.
Airports of Thailand. Airports of Thailand has information on the country's major airports, though much of it is in Thai. www.airportthai.co.th.
Don Muang Airport (www.donmuangairportonline.com.)
Suvarnabhumi Airport (www.suvarnabhumiairport.com.)
At Suvarnabhumi, free shuttle buses run from the airport to a public bus stand, where you can catch a bus into the city. Many public buses stop near Don Muang; there's also a train stop across the highway from the airport, accessible by footbridge.
Meter taxis run between both airports and town and charge a B50 airport fee on top of the meter charge. Be sure to find the public taxi stand upon leaving either airport. Touts are notorious for approaching travelers in the airport and offering rides at rates that far exceed the norm. Taxis in town will often try to set a high flat fee to take you to the airport, though this is technically illegal. If you do talk a taxi driver into charging by the meter, expect a long, scenic trip to the airport.
Suvarnabhumi Airport offers six types of limousines for hire—visit the limo counter on Level 2 in the baggage claim hall.
If possible, plan your flights to arrive and depart outside of rush hours. A trip to Suvarnabhumi from the main hotel strip along Sukhumvit Road can take as little as 25 minutes if traffic is moving, but hours during traffic jams—the same goes for the Khao San Road area.
It helps to have a hotel brochure or an address in Thai for the driver. Also, stop at one of the ATMs in the arrival hall and get some baht before leaving the airport so you can pay your taxi driver.
Bangkok is one of Asia's—and the world's—largest air hubs, with flights to most corners of the globe and service from nearly all of the world's major carriers, plus dozens of minor carriers. Most flights from the United States stop in Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Taipei on the way to Bangkok.
Delta and Japan Airlines (JAL) are both major carriers with hubs in the United States and offer daily flights between the United States and Thailand. JAL is one of the best options, with a flight time of 17 hours from Dallas including a stopover at Tokyo's Narita airport. East Coast travelers departing from New York or Washington, D.C., could also consider using British Airways or Virgin Atlantic/Thai Airways via London or Singapore Airlines from Newark via Amsterdam. From the West Coast, Thai Airways has connections from Los Angeles. Cathay Pacific often has good fares from San Francisco. Often the best prices can be found on sites such as Kayak (www.kayak.com) or Vayama (www.vayama.com).
Many Asian airlines (Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines) are rated among the best in the world for their service. They often have more comfortable seats, better food selections (still without extra charge), and more entertainment options than do most U.S.-based carriers. Many Asian airlines also allow you to change your bookings for free (or for a nominal charge) if done a week in advance. Lastly, tickets purchased from these carriers are generally no more expensive than those offered by U.S. carriers. And the extra creature comforts these airlines provide can leave you a little less frazzled when you reach your destination, ensuring that you don't spend half your vacation recovering from the trip over.
For years, Bangkok Airways offered the only direct flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia (home of Angkor Wat), with exorbitant prices. A cheaper alternative exists now: Cambodia Angkor Air. The airline flies throughout the region, as do several budget airlines, making short country-hopping excursions far more feasible than before.
Chiang Mai, Thailand's second-biggest city, is slowly becoming an important regional destination, and direct flights between here and Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Taipei, various points in China, Luang Prabang in Laos, and other Asian destinations may be available. However, these routes seem to change with the wind, so check before your trip. As Myanmar opens up, more travelers are adding that country to their regional itineraries. Several carriers—Thai, Bangkok Airways, Myanmar International—offer regular nonstop flights between Bangkok and Yangon, as does budget AirAsia.
Asiana Airlines (800/227–4262. us.flyasiana.com.)
British Airways (800/247–9297. www.britishairways.com.)
Cathay Pacific (800/233–2742. www.cathaypacific.com.)
China Airlines (800/227–5118. www.china-airlines.com.)
Delta Airlines (888/750-3284 for U.S. reservations; 800/658-228 for international reservations. www.delta.com.)
EVA Air (800/695–1188. www.evaair.com.)
Japan Airlines (800/525–3663. www.jal.com.)
Korean Air (800/438–5000. www.koreanair.com.)
Lao Airlines (21/212051 in Laos. www.laoairlines.com.)
Malaysia Airlines (800/552–9264. www.malaysiaairlines.com.)
Royal Khmer Airlines (855/23994888. www.royalkhmerairlines.com.)
Singapore Airlines (800/742–3333. www.singaporeair.com.)
Thai Airways (800/426–5204. www.thaiairwaysusa.com.)
United Airlines (800/864–8331 for U.S. reservations; 800/538–2929 for international reservations. www.united.com.)
Thai Airways has by far the largest network of any airline in Thailand, and connects all major and many minor destinations across the country. Bangkok Airways, which bills itself as a luxury boutique airline with comfy seats and good food, covers many routes and is the only airline to service Koh Samui, Trat, and Sukhothai. Both Thai and Bangkok Airways fly a mix of larger jet aircraft and smaller turbo-props. For the last few years, buying tickets on the Thai Airways website was an act reserved for masochists; it can be easier and cheaper to go to a travel agent to get Thai Airways tickets. The websites of other Thai airlines generally work well for online bookings.
Budget airlines now cover Thailand's skies and have dramatically lowered the cost of travel. Best known are Nok Air (a subsidiary of Thai Airways), Thai AirAsia, and Orient Thai (parent company of the now-defunct One-Two-Go, which was grounded temporarily by the Thai government following a fatal crash in Phuket).
With budget carriers, you'll save the most by booking online and as far in advance as you can. There's a small fee for booking over the phone, and you may not get an English-speaking operator. The airlines keep their prices low by charging extra for services like food—or not offering it at all. They charge less for flights at odd hours (often late in the day), and change their schedules based on the availability of cheap landing and takeoff times. AirAsia, generally the cheapest of the budget carriers, seems to change its flight times and routes every couple of months. Delays are more common the later in the day you're flying, so if you need to make an international connection, morning flights are a safer bet.
AirAsia (02/515–9999 in Thailand. www.airasia.com.)
Bangkok Airways (02/134–3960 in Thailand. www.bangkokair.com.)
JetStar Asia (02/267–5125 in Thailand; 866/397–8170 from other countries. www.jetstar.com.)
Nok Air (02/900–9955. www.nokair.com.)
Myanmar Airways International (maiair.com/.)
Orient Thai Airlines (1126 in Thailand; 662/229–4100 Ext. 1 in other countries. www.orient-thai.com.)
Silk Airlines (053/904985 in Thailand. www.silkair.com.)
Thai Airways (02/288–7000 in Thailand. www.thaiairways.com.)
Tiger Airways (800/852–7146 in Thailand. www.tigerairways.com.)