One of the biggest scams directed at tourists and backpackers in Thailand is the ‘VIP bus’. Targeted towards backpackers in the Khao San Road area, foreigners doing visa runs to Cambodia or Laos, or bus rides to popular destinations like Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samet, these VIP buses are not only expensive they’re a complete scam. If you’re a tourist or a backpacker planning on coming to Thailand be aware what the VIP bus actually offers and why it’s a waste of your money.
Public Transportation in Thailand – Public transportation in Thailand is some of the best in the world. With a plethora of trains, buses and vans criss-crossing the country at all hours of the day and night, there’s no reason to ever take a VIP bus.
A government-run alternative will get you there just the same, and usually faster. Take a train from the main Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok, or a bus from one of Bangkok’s three main bus terminals, and you can reach anywhere in the country easily and extremely cheaply. Plus, they run 24 hours a day.
Do VIP Buses Offer Better Service? – And the easy answer is “No”. VIP ‘buses’ are anything from a full-size coach to a mini van and, particularly with the mini vans, they’re small, overcrowded and the way the drivers often drive, frequently dangerous. Plus, unlike public transportation which is mostly traveled by Thais or foreigners who know about the VIP bus scam, the VIP buses are usually packed full of expats and unwashed backpackers. Nothing like a VIP experience, believe me.
On a VIP bus you also get no more extra services than you do on a government-run public transportation bus. In fact, many of the government-run buses even include bottled water, an iced towel, a snack, and a movie if your journey is longer than three hours. No VIP bus offers more.
VIP Buses Are Expensive – Once in Thailand, you’ll see many travel agents in the Khao San Road area of Bangkok, and in other tourist spots offering ‘VIP buses’. They’ll sell you a line about how much faster, how much safer and how much more comfortable they are than the government-run buses. Don’t believe them.
Not only do they offer the same service as public transportation and, in most cases, actually worse, they can also be two to three times more expensive when you factor in all the hidden costs – after all, you should pay for ‘comfort’ right?
VIP Buses Are Not Safe – Westerners, like myself, who live in Thailand know not to take VIP buses and one of the reasons is because of safety, or lack thereof. While bodily harm is not likely to happen to you, having your stuff stolen is a distinct possibility.
One of the big scams on VIP buses is forcing everyone to put their luggage in the hold underneath the bus, then climb on the bus and wait for it to leave. Not only will bus employees often rifle through your bags at this point or at one of several stops along the way, there have been thousands of reports of cameras, money, gifts, toiletries, cell phones, medications, even underwear being stolen from them, while the unsuspecting passenger is sitting up top enjoying their ‘VIP experience’.
Take the public transportation buses. Not only will you be highly unlikely to have anything stolen on a government-run bus, in many cases a nice Thai will watch your bags for you if you need to take a nap.
Stops And Guest House Scams – The government-run bus and trains will stop several times along the way for bathroom breaks and snacks. When they stop, they stop at cheap, typically Thai places where you can get coffee, a decent snack or meal, and a clean bathroom. Remember, Thais are traveling on these buses and trains, so they’re not going to stop at expensive rip-off joints.
With the ‘VIP bus’, on the other hand, you’ll stop at more expensive gas stations and roadside shopping areas, where the bus owners have been paid by them to bring by busloads of foreigners. Prices are higher, there’s too many ‘souvenirs’ and, basically, you’ll just get ripped-off.
The rip-off continues when you arrive at your destination as, unlike the government-run transportation, which drops you right at the main bus or train station in the center of town, the ‘VIP bus’ will do a run around various hotels and guest houses, all who have paid the bus owners to stop there.
Not only will you feel like a hostage, many passengers end up booking a few nights in a sub-standard guest house at an exorbitant price just to stop the ‘hard-sell’. Avoid the VIP buses like the plague, if you want any choice in where you’re staying.
Overall, if anyone in Thailand comes up to you and tries to sell you a ticket on a VIP bus, run screaming in the opposite direction. After all, it’s patently obvious how expensive and useless the VIP buses are when you think of this – you’ll never see a Thai sitting on one.
Take government-run public transportation all over Thailand. It’s cheap, reliable, safe, usually air-conditioned, clean and will get your to your destination in one piece and without having been parted from much of your hard-earned cash. Thailand is a lovely country, with excellent public transportation. The VIP buses are not.