Traveling around Thailand is relatively straightforward, with destinations countrywide linked via frequent inter-city bus and train routes.
For visitors wishing to see more of the country in a shorter amount of time, flying remains a convenient and affordable way to experience varied destinations around the kingdom; travelers taking off from the mountainous northern city of Chiang Mai can touch down on the tropical island of Phuket in the south of the country a mere two hours later.
Here are some of the main airlines servicing Thailand’s domestic routes:
1. Thai Airways & Thai Smile
In recent years the national carrier Thai Airways launched a subsidiary “light premium” airline, the latter positioned half way between a budget and a full service airline servicing short haul domestic and regional destinations.
Some routes (such as Bangkok to Chiang Mai or Bangkok to Phuket) are serviced by both, but luckily the online booking systems are integrated, so to avoid confusion travelers can just book via the main thaiairways.com website.
For domestic routes, there is no noticeable difference between the two airlines — both offer free seat selection and checked luggage, and offer in-flight snacks. Rates are one of the higher (if not the highest) for domestic routes, but they do offer decent seasonal promotions on their site. Word of advice: For promotional fares, remember to click through via the relevant banner on the bottom of their homepage to proceed to booking.
From Bangkok, travelers can reach most destinations in the country in around an hour, with scheduled direct flights to: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Hat Yai, Khon Kaen, Koh Samui, Krabi, Phuket, Surat Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Thani.
The northern destination of Chiang Mai is also linked via a non-stop flight to the southern island of Phuket, approximately a two-hour journey.
2. Bangkok Airways
Bangkok Airways owns and operates airports in three destinations — Sukhothai, Trat, and Koh Samui — and is widely credited at putting the latter tropical destination on the map with its connectivity with Bangkok as well as regional hubs of Hong Kong and Singapore. The airline is one of the few that operate from the capital’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, allowing it to be well poised for international links.
Bangkok Airways bills itself as “Asia’s Boutique Airline” — as one of their “boutique” offerings, all passengers can access their exclusive airport lounges to enjoy free WiFi connectivity and a variety of snacks and beverages.
Their rates are usually comparable to that of Thai Airways / Thai Smile, but with inclusive checked baggage, seat selection costs (plus in-flight snack and drink), displayed rates are usually just THB200 baht off the final price inclusive of airport tax, making it easy to budget and compare.
From Bangkok, travelers can reach most destinations in the country in around an hour, with scheduled direct flights to: Chiang Mai, Krabi, Lampang, Koh Samui, Phuket, Sukhothai, Trat (gateway to Koh Chang), and Udon Thani.
From the southern destination of Phuket, travelers can continue their tropical holiday with direct flights to Koh Samui and Pattaya.
Chiang Mai and Koh Samui are also linked via a direct flight.
3. Air Asia Thai
Established over a decade ago, Air Asia was the pioneer of budget travel for the masses across the region. The Thailand operations is just one of four operation bases of Asia’s largest low-cost carrier (LCC) group, operating mainly out of Don Mueang Airport base in Bangkok.
Air Asia is ideal if you are able to lock down your travel itinerary in advance, especially during fare promotions. For last minute bookings, do compare prices; with all the add-on costs (everything from checked luggage to seat selection), Air Asia isn’t necessarily cheaper than traditional full-service carriers, and with strict itinerary revision restrictions.
From Bangkok, travelers can reach most destinations in the country in around an hour, with scheduled direct flights to: Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Phuket, Krabi, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom, Narathiwat, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phitsanulok, Ubon Ratchathani, Trang, Surat Thani, Udon Thani.
From the northern destination of Chiang Mai, direct flights to southern airports in Krabi, Phuket, and Hat Yai take approximately two hours.
Air Asia also offers all-in-one flight/bus/ferry island transfers to Koh Phi Phi (via Phuket), Koh Lanta (via Krabi), Koh Lipe (via Hat Yai), Koh Ngai (via Trang), and Koh Yao Noi (via Krabi).
4. Nok Air
Nok Air is a budget airline with a few basic frills, including a minimum 15 kilograms of free baggage allowance and a tiered fare structure that includes options with included free seat assignment, in-flight snack, and the ability to make changes to your booking without penalties. The airline is based out of Don Mueang Airport in the Thai capital.
From Bangkok, travelers can reach most destinations in the country in around an hour, with scheduled direct flights to:
Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chumphon, Hat Yai, Hua Hin, Krabi, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phitsanulok, Phuket, Ranong, Sakon Nakhon, Surat Thani, Trang, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Thani.
Nok Air also operates the sister commuter airline “Nok Mini”, which flies 34-seater planes between Bangkok’s Don Mueang and Loei, Mae Sot, Nan, Phrae, Roi Et, and Buri Ram. From its Chiang Mai base, Nok also operates flights to other northern destinations of Mae Hong Son, Udon Thani, and Mae Sot.
Similarly to Air Asia, Nok Air also offers “Fly n Ferry” tickets, comprising of air, coat, and ferry/catamaran transfers to:
Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan,Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Koh Lipe. Additional destinations of Koh Kradan, Koh Mook, and Koh Ngai are added seasonally from December through April.
5. Kan Air
Established in 2010, Kan Air is a small airline based in Chiang Mai, operating Cessna Grand Caravan 12-seaters. Most of the routes are relatively short distances; for example the Chiang Mai to Pai route can take a very reasonable (not to mention rather scenic) three to five hours in a car, but travelers pressed for time can take the 25-minute or so flight, excluding time spent with airport formalities.
In 2013, Kan Air announced they will be building an airport on Koh Phangan, with plans to launch scheduled flights from Bangkok to the tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, most well known for its monthly full moon parties. The first flights to land on the island is scheduled for later in 2014.
Kan Air currently operates out of Chiang Mai to: Nan, Pai, Phisanulok, and Mae Hong Son.
6. Other Airlines
Orient Thai Airlines
The former One-Two-Go Airline operates direct flights from Bangkok’s Don Mueang to Phuket, and from Chiang Mai to Pai.
Lesser known Happy Air operates from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport to Chumpon and Ranong.
Solar Air operates 18-single-seat aircrafts from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport to Chumphon, with an optional combined catamaran tickets to Koh Nangyuan, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, and Koh Phangan.