Traveling by plane is the quickest and easiest way to get from Chaing Mai or Chiang Rai to the beaches in the south. There are numerous airlines to choose from, including a bunch of low-cost carriers that can get you to the beach for under $50 US. Some airlines, including Thai Air Asia and Nok Air, offer island transfer options, where you can book your plane, bus and ferry tickets in one to explore Koh Lanta or party at the full moon party on Koh Phangan. For most jumping off points to the islands, there are direct flights; for others, you might need to change planes in Bangkok.
For those with a little more time on their hands and a preference for travelling overland, the train is a great option. Why not stop along the way to explore the temples in Sukhothai, the ancient capital of Ayutthaya and the bustle of Bangkok before making your way to Surat Thani or Hat Yai to explore the beaches and islands? Trains do not travel fast in Thailand, providing ample opportunity to soak in the landscapes, villages and towns you pass through. Long distance trains have first, second and third-class ticket options. It is advised to purchase train tickets well in advance, especially if you are travelling over a weekend or holiday period. Tickets can be purchased up to 30 days in advance at larger train stations or online. If you are travelling on a budget it might be a good idea to come prepared, as food and drinks are quite expensive on the trains.
The bus is not everyone’s first choice, but it is an ideal option for those with time to spare and who are travelling on a budget. Thailand has an intricate bus network connecting villages, towns and cities across the country. Buses range from old dilapidated models with fans and open windows to first class VIP coaches. Taking an overnight bus can save you a night’s accommodation costs and also not cut into valuable beach time. However, Thailand’s roads are notoriously dangerous, and travelling by day is advised, if possible. It is also good to pick a reputable company like Nakhon Chai Air or the Green Bus, which abide by strict safety regulations, including regularly changing drivers.