Getting around Bangkok
With a population of more than 11 million inhabitants, Bangkok is by far the largest city of Thailand and also its capital city. It has been acting as a treasure house of Thailand and functions as a cultural, political, spiritual, educational, commercial and diplomatic centre.
Being one of the world’s most interesting cities is no easy task and Bangkok sure doesn’t disappoint; its intense heat, heavy traffic congestion, high-rise buildings and naughty nightlife does provide enough fuel to its reputation. But this is not what makes Bangkok. This city is one of the best cosmopolitan cities in Asia with some magnificent palaces and temples, busy markets, authentic canals and vibrant nightlife.
Bangkok’s traffic can be notorious and one can easily get caught up in the gridlock anytime of the day/night, and waste valuable hours in the process. Nevertheless, with modern and excellent transport systems under its disposal, this city surprisingly can be very easy to navigate.
BTS (Skytrain) and MRT (underground) rail networks connect the chief entertainment, shopping and business districts of Bangkok, while express boats and river taxis can be great mediums to explore the numerous attractions and historic sites by the riverside. Taxis can be cheap and virtually can be seen in every corner. Another big Bangkok attraction is the Tuk-tuks which are though on the verge of complete disappearance can be still worth a ride.
The public transport system of Bangkok is fairly convenient and efficient, with the first phase of it being now totally complete. Like any other developing cities, periodically suffers from paralytic traffic jams throughout the day. So during rush hours, it is worthwhile in combining public transport using different means.
Desperately built in an effort to ease the insane pollution and traffic of Bangkok, this train network covers almost all of the city’s downtown and is the perfect way of visiting Siam Square. Two lines are there: Sukhumvit Line (light green) and Silom Line (dark green). Both lines meet at Siam, where one can interchange between them.
5/10 baht coins are needed to purchase tickets from vending machines. Single touchscreen machines can be seen in certain stations that accept 20/50/100 baht notes. There are some ticket counters where you can change your large bills as well. Fares range between 15 and 52 baht, depending on the number of zones you are traveling.
Now, if you are in the city for several weeks, think about buying a rechargeable card, tourist passes, or multiple ride passes. All of these certainly save time searching for coins and queuing to buy the ticket.
Opened back in 2004, MRT features only one line (Blue Line), connecting Hualamphong to Bang Sue, and running along Silom, Sukhumvit, Ratchadaphisek and Phahonyothin. MRT may not be used as heavily as that of the Skytrain, but it does have some useful stops. MRT tickets are not exchangeable with Skytrain tickets, with price starting from 16 baht. Bags are regularly checked at all stations.
Airport Rail Link
Opened in 2010, this is the newest public transport in Bangkok. The only useful one is the Express Line as it begins at the airport, skips every station and brings one directly to Phaya Thai or Makkasan. The ride takes almost 15 minutes and is priced at 190 baht.
City Line on the other hand is much cheaper and is an ideal way in travelling around the city. The line connects the eastern side of the city with the city centre.
Suvarnabhumi Airport being the starting point, this line ceases at Phaya Thai. Ticket price ranges between 15 and 45 baht, with trains running every 15 minutes.
This is Bangkok’s bus rapid transit system. The route stretches at 16 km, covering 12 stations. The very first route connected Sathon with that of Ratchaphruek, via Rama III and Narathiwat Ratchanakharin. Both termini connect to BTS’ Silom Line at Talat Phlu and Chong Nonsi.
SRT Line This planned railway system here serves the Metropolitan Region of Bangkok. Presently, only 6 services operate every day on this line.
Chao Phraya Express Boat
This is a cheap and popular traveling option in Bangkok. This is mainly an aquatic bus that connects Wat Rajsingkorn with that of Nonthaburi. Stops are made at Tha Chang (major attraction being the Grand Palace) and Tha Tien (Wat Pho). The boat lines can be distinguished according to the flag colours that can be seen on top of each boat.
The most popular ones are the faster yellow and orange flag lines. It is better to avoid the yellow line since it skips several popular attractions such as Wat Pho, the Grand Palace and Khao San Road. The best bet here is the orange line. Not only is it is quick, but the line covers some of the major attractions as well.
Saen Saep Express Boat
This one here serves the Saen Saep Canal. Locals use this medium mainly to commute to their work because the service is inexpensive and one gets to see the ‘other side’ of the neighbourhoods. Also, it is free from the city’s notorious traffic jams. It covers a total distance of 18 km.
This is a comfortable and quick way to travel around the town, only if one is not going against the traffic. Taxi drivers here are infamous for finding ways in running up the fare.
Presently, all taxis are air-conditioned and metered, with fare price starting from 35 baht. Within downtown, it costs below 100 baht. Taxis cannot charge any surcharges (apart from the airport). You must always carry small bills or expect to face problems with change.
If the front window’s red sign is lit, it simply implies that the cab is available. You must make sure that you know the exact pronunciation of your destination or written it in Thai, as the Taxi drivers know limited English and are poor at reading maps.
It is best to avoid the yellow-green taxis as much as possible as they are operated by owners and usually have rigged meters. On some routes, it is better to use the “tollway” as it will help in saving quite an amount of time.
Bangkok is nothing without the much-loved and much-loathed tuk-tuks. These three-wheeled vehicles blaze around the city, leaving in their wake a black cloud of smog. They are not at all worth the price but can be an enjoyable ride for first timers.
Tuk-Tuk drivers are known for conning people and charge foreigners 4 to 5 times higher than the regular fare. It is highly recommended to agree on a certain amount before entering any of the tuk-tuks.
A less touristy, less colourful and less heralded version of tuk tuk is the songthaew. This usually enjoys serving back sois in neighbourhoods. Looks like a tiny truck, a songthaew comes with 4 wheels and 2 benches.
This mode of transport is fast and can be the perfect way to reach one’s destination when Bangkok traffic is crawling. The motosai cabbies (bikers mainly) wear colourful fluorescent red or yellow-orange vests and wait for customers at busy places.
For adrenaline junkies, this is THE ride, weaving past stopped vehicles at a speed of 50km/h, dodging pedestrians, tuk-tuks, other motorbikes, occasional elephants and stray dogs. Motorcycle accidents are quite common in this city. Under no circumstances travellers should be riding the pillion without a helmet.
BMTA or Bangkok Mass Transit Authority operates the local buses in Bangkok. Bus rides may be cheap but can be quite challenging in getting your way around. There is a confusing plethora of routes, marked usually only in Thai. The bus numbers are only listed in the bus stops. These can be terribly crowded, with many of them lacking proper air-conditioning systems.
Bus routes can be decrypted by following the BMTA website. BMTA buses come in many colours: orange, red, white/blue, cream/blue, blue/yellow, and pink/white. After boarding the bus, payment needs to be made to the roaming collector. To get off, the signal buzzer needs to be pressed.
Roads here are of international standards but driving within the city can be a nightmarish experience with a web of expressways, massive traffic jams, and often confusing road signage. Cars and motorcyclists here tend to change lanes all of a sudden that needs to be paid attention to.
Cars should not be parked on the road, especially in busy districts like Siam because other vehicles might lock one up by parking next to them. Covered car parks need to be used as much as possible. Renting cars is a popular option here. If possible, optional insurance must be taken. Policies need to be checked carefully.