Entrenched with rich culture, captivating history, picture-perfect vistas – verdant hills and untouched beaches – the beautiful ‘land of smiles’ or Thailand’s bountiful offerings are best experienced by being on the move. And while it is possible to do so by the many modes of transport (air, train, ferry), it’s the road trips that are sure to leave you with memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime. 

However, before we get to the recommendations, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning a road trip through Thailand: 

  • Have a quick look at your license: Make sure you have an international license, which is required for you to even ride/ drive through the country.
  • Safety first: Driving through Thailand can be tricky (even if you’re good with Indian roads). Make sure you regard traffic rules and remain cautious in order to avoid accidents.
  • Larger vehicles first: it’s the thumb rule here. The larger vehicles always have the right of way.
  • Don’t always pick the cheaper option: Though this could be tempting, always make sure you hire a vehicle from a vendor who is well known. This ensures the quality of the vehicle is reliable. 
  • Always test drive: get comfortable with the vehicle before you zoom out with it into town or the countryside.
  • Keep your head safe: if biking around town is the plan, do not skip the helmet. They are mandatory in Thailand – give them a miss and you’ll invite attention from the police. 
  • Take pictures: make sure to take pictures of the vehicle you’re renting – any damages or telltale marks on it prior to hiring. This will keep you from getting into trouble later on.
  • Deposit: you will have to leave an official document as identification proof, but avoiding leaving the passport. 
  • Keep a map handy: while the signboards and directions are great for getting around, it helps to have your own map handy. 

And now, without further ado, here are our top recommendations for road trips through Thailand. 

1. Ayutthaya To Chiang Mai

Steeped in history, Ayutthaya (UNESCO site) is a land of delight for history lovers. The once bustling centre of commerce has a lot to offer its visitors – think stories from the 13th century. If you’d like to know more about the top things to do in Ayutthaya, read them here. The drive from here towards the Northern capital – Chiang Mai is relatively easy (as compared to that from Chiang Mai onwards) and accompanied by picturesque views that make it all worth it. This route has many historical landmarks from Thailand’s history along its 600+ kilometres. If you’re a history buff, this trip alone could stretch for a good two weeks before your appetite is sated. If not, the thick, caped forest-like national parks serve as your companions on this fabulous drive through the Thai countryside. This is easily one of the best road trips you’ll ever take.

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Time taken from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai: Distance – 616 kms
Driving: 7 hours
Bus: 9 hours

2. Chiang Mai To Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai was once the capital of the Lanna kingdom. These days, it is something of a haven for digital nomads who work from the many cafes that dot this town. While Chiang Mai itself has tonnes to do, which you can learn more about here, the trip to Chiang Rai from here is a must do! Chiang Rai is Thailand’s last city before the border with Laos, and the Golden Triangle. And the journey there is stunning! You can soak in the beauty of mountains that are complemented by pristine silvery waterfalls as you make your way into the heart of this tropical paradise. Needless to say, the roads are in excellent condition, making the journey so much more memorable. Along the way, you’ll also get a chance to visit the inviting hot springs, where a good soak can give the feet some rest. The utterly captivating White Temple or Wat Rong Khun, and the Blue Temple or Wat Rong Suea Ten, are also interesting places to visit when heading to Chiang Rai. You’ll be driving/riding into the mountains, so be prepared for some challenging terrain. Visual cues – verdant, rolling hills, dotted with waterfalls. A word to the wise – Chiang Rai is infamous for its clogged roads, loud & incessant honking, and traffic jams.

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Time taken from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: Distance – 186.6 kms
Driving: 3 hours
Bus: 3.3 hours

3. Chiang Mai To Pai

This one’s for the folks who are in the mood for some adventure. Make your way through one of the most treacherous terrains, to reach a place with breathtaking scenic views. And while they say that the fun of visiting Pai lies is in the journey itself, this might not be true for all. Especially, if you get road sick. The storied Route 1095, the highway to Pai, has a total of 762 bends! While the drive itself is pretty, offering breathtaking views of lush green and rolling mountains, those turns can get you queasy. If you are prone to road sickness, we recommend taking meds prior to this journey. That’ll keep you in shape for the many wonderful little cafes, waterfalls and other overlooks that dot the route. And once you arrive in Pai, you’ll see that it was worth the while. A relatively laid back town, Pai was once a place favoured by hippies. Pai may be a lot less slow (or relaxed) these days but it does have a great beach vibe. Pai also features in our ‘8 Unique places beyond Bangkok’ list. Read more about it here.

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Time taken from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: Distance – 129.6 kms
Driving: 3 hours
Bus: 3.3 hours

The routes suggested here take you through the lesser explored terrains of Thailand – the North. However, a word of caution: the routes can be treacherous and demanding, so consider riding a bike here only if you’re already good at it and comfortable taking on long journeys. 

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