Thailand's Songthaew: Cheap and Convenient

Flag One Down, Hop in Back

Bustling street of China Town in Bangkok
••• shomos uddin / Getty Images

Songthaews are covered pickup trucks with rows of seats in the back that transport people along set routes in Thailand, and they are a common way to get around. The word "songthaew" literally means "two rows" in Thai. You'll see songthaews in almost all urban areas and lots of beach areas, too. Once you know their routes and how to pay for the ride, you will likely find them to be a convenient way to reach your destination.

They are popular among locals as well as travelers and typically are the cheapest kind of transportation available, except for using your own two feet. You find songthaews in Laos as well as Thailand. Songthaews might also be called red trucks, taxis, or red cars.

How to Use Songthaews

Here's what you need to know about these trucks when you're visiting Thailand:

  • Songthaews are part of an informal public transportation system and serve set routes in most urban areas and many beach areas.
  • In some areas, songthaews have signs indicating their routes. In others, passengers go by the color of the truck. The system can be confusing even for locals, so tell the driver where you are going before you get on so you don't end up in the wrong place.
  • You can flag a songthaew down on the street, like a taxi. When it stops, hop in the back and grab a seat on one of the benches.
  • When you want to get out, press the buzzer inside the cab (usually on the ceiling but sometimes on one of the side panels). When the songthaew stops, climb out and walk around to the driver's side window to pay for your ride.
  • Fares are fixed, and the driver will tell you how much to pay when you get off. The price of a short ride varies from area to area.
  • Some songthaew drivers will also take you to your exact destination, but you'll pay extra for it, and they will only do it when there are no other passengers.

Different Kinds of Songthaews

While a standard songthaew has two rows of seats or two benches in the back of a truck, you might also see some with three benches.

Some have a roof or sides, which are often strips of hanging plastic, to keep out the elements. If the roof is high, you can stand, but if it is low you must sit down. You might also see a songthaew with a special platform off the back for additional passengers to stand on. Bigger trucks can be turned into songthaews that can hold up to 40 people.

You might see different-colored vehicles. Red ones are common inside bigger cities. You might also see yellow, blue and white vehicles, and these types will take you outside of the city.

Safety Issues

Passengers typically sit on a long bench that does not have a seat belt, and the truck does not have any other safety gear, such as air bags. You might be crammed in with a lot of people, and some might be standing inside or hanging outside of the vehicle. Still, the drivers tend to drive pretty slow and not too wildly.