Khao Yai is an idyllic escape just three hours away from Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok. Situated in the lush surroundings of the National Park of the same name, Khao Yai features beautiful cafes, European-themed villages to whisk you a world away, stunning sunflower fields, awe-inspiring waterfalls and incredible natural views etc.
Therefore it’s easy to see why Khao Yai has become incredibly popular for visitors looking for a quick escape from the hectic city life.
To get to Khao Yai, there aren’t many options.
But for visitors who arrive from outside of Thailand, you’ll first have to arrive in Bangkok and travel for three hours on a vehicle.
As such, many have opted for hiring drivers or driving themselves.
This guide is a detailed breakdown of which option is best, considering driving habits in the urban heart of central Thailand, and perhaps most importantly, costs.
Factor 1: Cost
Hiring a Driver
Aside from using the services of private drivers, Klook is the easiest way to hire a driver and is the option most go with.
As a sample date for comparison, I’ll be using December 16th 2019 as it’ll be the peak season. Currency exchange rates are also accurate at time of writing and will naturally be subject to change.
Most tours via Klook will have you selecting a date, number of days of charter, as well as transportation types between a car or van.
Additional add-ons like SIM cards, tour guides etc. can be booked through the website with prices stated clearly.
Rates are pretty standard across the board, so just taking one as an example, a three day charter for a car and a maximum of 3 passengers will cost S$388.19, and S$424.30 for a van with a maximum of 10 passengers.
Therefore, each person will be paying S$129.40 for a car, and S$42.43 for a van.
Further breaking that down into a per-day basis, one would have to cough up S$43.13 per day on a car (group of 3 travellers) and S$14.14 per day on a van (group of 10 travellers).
Renting a Car
When it comes to hiring a car, all your usual suspects can be found, and Avis was the one I found to be cheapest (for my travel dates in August 2019) so I’ll use that as a base of comparison.
Dates set for this will be a total of 4 days from December 16 2019, assuming 3 days in Khao Yai and the fourth day to drive back to Bangkok and return the car.
Assuming the driver is above the age of 25 (thereby removing the young driver surcharge), a sedan like a Toyota Vios (3 passengers) or similar will set you back ฿3,785 / S$171, and a large SUV like a Toyota Fortuner (7 passengers) ฿8,131 / $367.
These are of course, base costs, and come with a Collision Damage Waiver in the case of Avis. If you pile on insurance of different levels, naturally you’ll expect costs to increase. For Avis, you’re looking at Personal Accident Insurance for ฿150 per day and Additional Liability Insurance at ฿200 per day.
Driving to Khao Yai from Bangkok and back incurs toll fees there and back of ฿30 each.
Adding all these fees up, for 3 passengers on a Toyota Vios, you’re looking at approximately S$19.74 per person per day.
For 7 passengers on a Toyota Fortuner, you’re looking at approximately S$15.47 per person per day.
And then there’s the additional fee to enter Khao Yai National Park which may or may not be in your itinerary, so I will omit this for these calculations.
Choice for Best Cost: Rental Car
Factor 2: Custom Itinerary
Many tour operators via Klook allow you to customise your itinerary, and this is stated clearly before you book.
Others have suggested itineraries / set highlights tours.
Of course, with a rental car, you make up your itinerary.
Choice for Itinerary: Both
Factor 3: Ease of Driving in Central Thailand
Everyone’s heard of the traffic situation in Bangkok.
Outside of central Bangkok and rush hour though, thankfully there’s not much to worry about.
It’s not unlike driving in any other urban and suburban areas around the world, traffic is moderate but constant and there are lots of heavy vehicles around.
When it comes to driving habits, they too are pretty similar, you’ll have the odd person cutting you off here and there, but in general after driving in Japan (Okinawa, Hokkaido), Thailand (Ko Samui), Spain (Andalusia) and Australia (Perth and Western Australia), it’s pretty similar in almost every urban area.
With that being said, you still do need to be a confident driver when driving in Khao Yai.
Roads at night will be dark, and driving in more rural areas might be a challenge for some, including the fact that some of the roads in Khao Yai can be quite narrow.
So if you have little to no trouble driving on a day-to-day basis, rent a car.
If not, get a driver.
Choice for Ease of Driving: Rental Car
Get a rental car if you have no troubles driving.
It’ll save you money, you can choose as and when you would like to visit places or change the itinerary as you go, and traffic is only really bad once you’re in central Bangkok itself.
If you’re in a big group, then it would make sense to hire a van and a driver, as being practical, packing a Toyota Fortuner to the rafters with 7 people and their suitcases sounds like a bit of a nightmare.
I enjoyed driving in Khao Yai, even if the trip to and from Bangkok wasn’t exactly a scenic road trip drive and honestly a bit mundane.
But all things considered, after a 3 hour motorway slog, once you’re in Khao Yai itself, it isn’t all that bad.