After years of promise, the dream of 'paperless travel' in Thailand has finally been fulfilled. Its now possible to book all of your travel in and around Thailand through the internet. Although not exactly paperless, you can nonetheless make all your arrangements by yourself, at your own convenience, without relying on a travel agent.
We tested out this new ability on a research trip to Chiang Rai at the end of March 2003. We travelled by Thai Airways from Bangkok to Chiang Rai using their newly introduced 'e-ticket' capability. We stayed at the Dusit Island Resort, which we booked through our travel partner Agoda. Finally, we wanted to see the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen, so we booked a day-trip from our other partner Viator.
We're happy to say that we didn't encounter any problems with any of our bookings. We did glean a few pointers which we've included in the details below.
Air Travel: Thai Airways
We booked our air travel directly through Thai Airways' web site. When checking schedules, flights on which you can use e-tickets are marked with a big 'E' next the flight numbers. Most, if not all, domestic flights are eligible for e-ticketing. As you continue through the booking process, you'll be given the option of using e-tickets.
If you go with the e-ticket option, you'll be asked for your credit card details. Once you complete the process, you'll receive an email right away regarding your requested flight plans. However, it will take another 24 hours or so before you receive full confirmation of your booking. Its a good idea to print out this email and bring it with you on your travels.
At the airport, you go to the regular check-in counters where you're required to show your passport or other picture ID along with the credit card you used to pay for the flight. This last bit is a security measure to make sure your credit card details haven't been stolen. The printout of the email is handy when checking in, since it has your flight details on it.
Its worth noting that Thai Airways now also has electronic check-in. If you don't have any baggage to check, you can just swipe your credit card or Royal Orchid (Thai's frequent flyer program) card at any one of the e-Service machines, and you'll receive your boarding pass.
Agoda is one of our oldest partners. We've used them to reserve rooms for our own business and pleasure travel many times over the years. Simply choose the hotel you want. Specify the dates needed, and within two days you should receive a voucher via email. In our experience, most hotels have never asked for the voucher, but you can never be sure, so always print it out and bring it with you.
Day Trip: Viator
The final part of our e-adventure was to book a tour from Chiang Rai up to the Golden Triangle and Chiang Saen. You can do this through tour desks at most hotels or sometimes at travel agencies in tourist towns. However, waiting until you get to your destination to book tours can be very hit and miss, and you can never know how much the tours will cost. By booking in advance with Viator, you can be sure to get the tour you want, and you can budget your trip mor effectively.
After selecting the tour(s) you want, you'll need to provide the name of your hotel for pick-up (this means, by the way, that the logical order to book things in is: flights first, then hotel, and finally tours). As with the hotel reservation, you'll receive a voucher by email for your tour within about 48 hours. Viator also has a feature to allow you to check the status of your tour booking and print the voucher online at their web site. You will need the voucher to give to your tour guide when they pick you up, so be sure to have it with you.