July 14, 2020

Do you need GPS for Thailand? What's the best?

Is GPS necessary in Thailand? Is Garmin GPS for Thailand in English? Find out…

This post may contain affiliate links, from which I receive a small commission on any resulting purchases at no cost to the customer. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. It keeps The Koh Samui Guide ad-free, never sponsored and 100% independent. See privacy policy for more details.

Garmin GPS for Thailand

We love our gadgets and have used Garmin GPS for Thailand for a few years now. If you’re planning a Thai road trip, or driving any distance either across Thailand or in its big cities, we recommend Garmin’s GPS maps for Thailand. Not because the product is fantastic, but because it’s the best available. Having tried and tested (and hated) the other options (including Google Maps – see why, below), we recommend Garmin as the best GPS for Thailand, especially while in Bangkok and other big-ish cities like Chiang Mai, Pattaya and heading cross-country.

What we use:

1. Is GPS necessary in Thailand?

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

You only need GPS in Thailand if you’re planning on doing any driving (A) between two points in Thailand (say heading up north from Bangkok, or taking a road trip from Koh Samui to Phuket, etc) or (B) driving in and around major cities. In these cases, GPS will be useful at some points in your journey. We've used it to (successfully) drive between Bangkok and Koh Samui on a number of occasions.

When don't you need GPS for Thailand?

Are you just coming to play regular beach tourist? If so, GPS isn’t necessary. For day-to-day tourist navigation and getting around on foot or by taxi/songthaew – you won't need it at all.

2. Is Garmin GPS for Thailand in English?

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

Yes, don’t worry! Garmin’s maps for Thailand are in English, not Thai. All roads and place names are transposed in English. Now, whether you can pronounce something like ‘Suvarnabhumi’ (BKK Airport), that’s another matter.

3. What is Garmin Thailand's of detail?

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

Garmin Thailand’s GPS detail throughout the country is quite reasonable, except for Koh Samui (see below). While it lacks the detail we’re accustomed to seeing for European, North American or Australian roads, it’s a good asset in cities (trying to drive out of Bangkok to Pattaya, for instance).

Garmin City Navigator Southeast Asia NT has good coverage of Bangkok and other larger Thai cities like Pattaya and Chiang Mai.

4. What do Garmin City Navigator Southeast Asia roadmaps include?

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

Several Southeast Asian countries are included in the map set, so if you enjoy your first road trip in Thailand, you can quickly plan the next.

The best way to use GPS in Thailand

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

First tip – stick to main roads. While Garmin Thailand will get you from Bangkok to Koh Samui, we wouldn’t recommend it for exploring byways along the route. You will swear at it at some point but, on arrival, you'll kiss and make up.

Our very cleverest tip: Use Garmin’s GPS for Thailand together with a paper road map. The paper map will have more detail, but the GPS has your back for the journey in macro – greatly improving your chances of making crucial turns and exits. Also, consider who will be assisting your navigation. Does your co-pilot have a good sense of direction, or will they probably fall asleep in the car on a nice, hot, sunny day?

Google Maps in Thailand (what not to do)

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

For driving directions in Thailand, don’t bother with Google Maps on your phone! Unlike Garmin, Google's maps want to default into Thai, meaning an ongoing techno-battle (lots of swearing and road rage). We’ve tried it. Never again.

If you can’t read Thai, don’t bother using Google Maps to navigate in Thailand.

Additionally, unless you have very attractive data roaming rates, it’s not a possibility. The detail on Google Maps is no better than on a GPS, and what happens if your phone loses coverage?

Garmin maps for Koh Samui?

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

Is GPS useful for Koh Samui?

No. Once you’ve used your Garmin to drive to Koh Samui from elsewhere, stick it in your luggage and forget it’s there. Koh Samui has just one ring road, and that’s about as much detail as the Garmin maps have available.

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

When first creating The Koh Samui Guide, we had the clever idea to “include some maps”. This after-thought ending up taking over the whole project, as no detailed English maps exist for Koh Samui whatsoever. As such, we’re very aware of what’s required (and what’s available) to navigate both Koh Samui and around Thailand generally.Many of Koh Samui’s smaller roads don’t appear on the Garmin map. For tourist purposes, a free map available at any hotel would be far more useful.

(The Koh Samui Guide now has a number of detailed maps – painstakingly made!). Despite just one ring road and a handful of secondary roads, it can be hard to find restaurants and attractions (without fraught U-Turns). Major landmarks tend to have road signs leading the way.

Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review
Do You Need GPS for Thailand? Garmin Thailand GPS Review

Only Koh Samui's major roads exist on Garmin's GPS Maps for Thailand – but we don't recommend exploring dirt tracks and small side roads, anyway – tourists often get lost in Samui's massive jungle and require rescue.

GPS for Thailand – our thumbs-up conclusion

While Garmin’s Thailand GPS maps are by no means required packing, they’ll be a useful part of a vacation or business trip that will include some cross-Thailand or Bangkok driving. Happy travels!