Bangkok can be daunting. Like any big city – bright lights, a buzzing atmosphere, people walking past you on the sidewalk with a focused mission, foreign smells and sights at every turn – but it need not be as overwhelming as it may seem. When you embrace the high energy, fast paced city that seems to be passing you by – you suddenly realise you are a part of the hum making up this incredible metropolis.
Trains, taxis, buses, tuk-tuks – how do you choose the right transport for the journey you are on? Here are a few tips and tricks to get you around this amazing city!
There are many different taxis and companies, identified by their external colour – green, yellow, white, pink – but they all have the same end goal. Getting you where you need to be. Do not be surprised when you hail a taxi, that they may not speak a lot of English. This should not stop you from jumping in to these air-conditioned vehicles of respite from the stifling heat. All you need is an address, a destination, some hand gestures or at worst, a phone number that the taxi driver can call to get directions in Thai to your destination. Be prepared to negotiate with the driver for the fee, even if it says ‘meter taxi’ as they will often offer you a flat fee rather than putting on the meter to your destination. Also you may be required to pay ‘toll fees’ if you choose to go on these quicker expressway routes. The taxi driver will almost always ask you if you wish to take the expressway, and when you hit the payment points, it is your responsibility to pay the fee in cash and your taxi driver will ask you for this when you arrive at each stop. Be wary of peak hours and a lot of traffic. You can and may sit in bumper to bumper traffic for some hours depending on destination and time of day…but remember, you are in air-conditioned comfort, heaven!
One of the best train systems in the world, BTS Sky Train is both efficient and cost effective when making your way around Bangkok. The system and maps are fairly easy to understand and your journey far quicker than being stuck in traffic. BTS stations are positioned at most major tourist spots and places of interest. You can purchase a very economical pass that will allow you to travel the city with ease and be comfortable asking most ticket sellers or passersby about your destination and which platform or direction you are meant to go. Definitely the cheapest and quickest way to get around the city and see the sights at the same time, but be sure to take a jacket, as unlike the outside heat, the trains can be a little chilly when travelling.
Slightly daunting yet an iconic way to get around the city, tuk-tuks are an exhilarating way to see the streets. Loud, fast and fun! Although cheap, some tuk-tuk drivers are commissioned to work for various retail shops, so will ‘detour’ on your way to your destination and take you to these shops in the hope you will purchase something. So be very sure when negotiating your fare that you are extremely clear about your destination with no unwanted stop-offs or before you know it you will be in a suit shop you never wished to visit!
Buses are another way you can get around Bangkok and they are incredibly cheap, starting from around 6 baht. Although, be aware unlike trains they can be slower due to traffic and packed with sweaty and sometimes not-so-happy passengers! If you wish to board a bus, you must indicate that you want the bus to pull over and pick you up by flagging it down or it may just pass you by. Buses with blue signs in the front window will drive the normal roads throughout the city but buses with a yellow sign in their front window will take the expressway and do therefore not stop at many stops. With hundreds of routes available, your best way to navigate which bus you need is to pick up an MBTA map (available at most bus stations) and identify the bus routes by the number they display, as most buses have the destination written in Thai rather than English.
Running from 6am until midnight, the MRT is Bangkok’s subway train system and consists of only one line which forms a horseshoe shape. With 18 stations, the trains run frequently, on an average of every 5-6 minutes. Unlike the BTS tickets are purchased in the form of tokens from machines at the stations. The subway is connected to the BTS at at Sukhumvit and Silom stations, making it easy to navigate the city.
It is not uncommon in Bangkok to be able to hire a personal driver. Unlike taxis, you can be sure you are in a clean, well-maintained vehicle (some even have magazines, choice of CDs and drinking water) with a driver who is educated on locations, routes and even general conversation in English. There are many reputable companies and most major hotels will have their preferred service, so if you are looking for the freedom to stop when and where you want, change destinations and most importantly relax knowing that you are headed to the right location every time, then a personal driver is a great option!