With one of the best roads systems in Southeast Asia, Thailand is quickly gaining a reputation as an outstanding fly-drive destination. The possibilities for this increasingly popular activity are almost endless, with modern highways connecting all major Thai cities and generally well-maintained secondary roads reaching into the remotest corners of a country the size of France or Spain.
Visitors who enjoy being independently mobile can thus explore some of the most beautiful but little known areas of the kingdom. And since there are plenty of car rental firms, including all the recognised international companies, it is easy, safe and convenient to hire a modern vehicle, usually with the option of a driver in the case of
people who would rather leave the actual driving to someone else. Daily hire rates are reasonable and most rental companies allow customers to collect the car in one destination and leave it elsewhere.
Thailand is well suited for driving holidays. With the exception of central Bangkok and occasionally Chiang Mai, both of which can suffer from
congestion, the roads here see little traffic. Driving is on the left and highway signs follow the international system. Laws forbid speeding and drinking while in charge of a vehicle, so it is reasonably safe for the experienced driver. Insurance is compulsory and any suggestions that it is not needed should be instantly dismissed.
Wherever you venture in Thailand, a hotel or guesthouse will never be far away. Because of the tropical heat and lack of campsites offering proper overnight facilities, camper vans are not available. That's not a problem as every town in Thailand has its central hotel, which will invariably feature as a minimum a choice of air-conditioned rooms, restaurant or coffee shop and modern communications like fax and email. Room rates in upcountry hotels rarely breach the 1,500 baht a night barrier, while dining is always excellent value.
All kinds of accurate Thailand road maps are available nowadays and although the English spelling of some towns and villages may vary from publication to publication, it is not difficult to decipher them.
The country is frequently divided into six distinct areas:
- The Central, including Bangkok and Ayutthaya;
- Eastern Seaboard, including Pattaya and eastwards to the border with Cambodia;
- The West, including Kanchanaburi and the beach resorts of Hua Hin and Cha-am;
- The South, including the islands of Phuket and Ko Samui;
- The North, including Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; and
- The Northeast, including the cities of Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani and Nong Khai.
Each of these regions has its own character, geography and cultural idiosyncrasies, ensuring that there's always much for visitors to discover and enjoy, wherever in Thailand they happen to be. And that's the beauty of getting to know the country on four wheels: you can see and learn so much in one holiday.