Thailand has many main modes of transportation, and the capital city of Bangkok itself has nine ways to get around. The city offers a unique sky-train system, but also has a subway, taxis, buses, vans, motorbikes and a fleet of boats that use Bangkok’s canals. There are also safe elevated walking areas. Here’s an overview and guide to using each.
Bangkok’s sky-train is called the BTS, and will get you to major points around the city. It will also get you to the airport and back. The train system only stops at major landmarks primarily in the west and south, so you might need to walk a few blocks from the station to your ultimate destination. However, this is a fast way to bypass traffic, which is terribly congested in Bangkok. You take an escalator to enter the sky-train station and buy your entry card. A one trip card will get you to your destination, then the ticket machine on the other takes it. You can also buy refillable cards for multiple trips. These are scanned upon entry, and an amount is deducted from each trip. You hold it up to a scanner instead of inserting it into a ticket machine. Bangkok sky-trains are modern, safe and efficient. On the train, you’ll find TV screens to entertain you with commercials and music videos, all in Thai language. The cost (converted from Baht) is about .50 to $1.25 depending on how far you go.
Bangkok’s subway system is called the MRT. It uses cards the same way as the sky-train. The subway systems hits different points around the city, traveling under most of the east and north sides of the city (the sky-train is west and south). You can use the subway in combination with the sky-train, as they meet at a few stations for passengers to switch from one to the other. The subway is modern, extremely clean, and also has TV screens showing commercials in Thai. The cost is also from .50 to $1.25 depending on how far you’re going.
Bangkok has an intricate system of waterways or canals, called klongs, that wind through the city. Many longtail boats transport passengers from major universities and shopping centers around the city. They move extremely fast, but are safe. It’s not for the elderly or timid tourists, as you have about 30 seconds from the time the boat docks to jump into the boat. Other people will be getting off at the same time. About 50 people fit in each longtail boat. After you’re seated, someone will collect your 18 baht (about 58 cents). The boat takes off, and a canvas is lifted on each side to shield you from the water spray. The boats only run during daylight hours, for safety reasons. Most Malls and Universities have a pier, and signs direct you there. It’s a fast and economical way to get around during the day, but mainly suited to local people who’ve learned how to use it.
Thousands of buses drive around Bangkok, to and from just about any location. The cost is from .20 to .50 cents for a non-air-conditioned bus and about .75 cents for an air conditioned bus. This is the cheapest way to cross the city and literally get to the exact street you want. If you learn the buses, you can get anywhere you need to go. This can be slow, as the buses stop at every corner. You might need an hour to get to your destination, but it should drop you right where you need to go. Bus stops are marked with a bus logo and bus numbers, such as 545, 40A, etc.
Many small companies run mini vans that go between popular spots. For example, one mini van goes from Assumption University to Ramkamhaeng University. Another one goes from both Universities to the nearest Mall complex. Many hotels also have these vans that will take you to major shopping centers. This usually will have specific destinations written on the side in Thai, and cost about 40 baht ($1.28). Just ask a hotel employee to point you to the right one. It’s a nice comfortable ride in air conditioning. Often these mini vans will take you right to your door. So it may take you from the hotel door right to the front entrance of a shopping complex, and you won’t need to worry about getting lost.
Bangkok is teeming with thousands and thousands of taxis. About 30% of all cars on the street are taxis. Getting a taxi is as easy as lifting your hand. Each taxi has the Thai letters for “available” (ว่าง wang) in one corner of the front window. If this is lighted, it’s available. Raise your hand and the taxi will stop. Tell him where you want to go before you get inside. Most taxi drivers speak little or no English. If he’s having trouble understanding where you want to go, wave him on and try another taxi. The hotel staff can also help you with this by writing your destinations in Thai on a card for you. A taxi will cost from $1.50 to $7.00 to most areas in the city. They’ll even take you to another city, such as the beaches of Pattaya for about $45. Remember, they drive on the left side of the street in Thailand.
The tuk-tuks are 3-wheeled tourist attractions from years past. A few still zoom around the tourist areas, but are not recommended for transportation. Just ride a tuk-tuk once to get the experience. They cost the same as a taxi, but you are outside in a cart, so no air conditioning. It’s not very pleasant.
Motorbike taxis also stream through the city. The drivers wear orange vests with a number, so you can spot them as a motorbike taxi. Only one person can ride on the back (although I’ve occasionally seen 2), but they can weave in and out of traffic quickly and get you anywhere fast. This is mainly for locals, someone traveling alone from work or school. If you’re a tourist, you’ll probably lose your lunch. You likely won’t enjoy the speed, weaving between cars, unless you’re used to it. On the outskirts of Bangkok, the beaches, or the islands, you can rent a motorbike for about $50 a day. This is dangerous, unless you know what you’re doing. However, if you’re a safe driver, you can zip around fast this way.
The city of Bangkok is built with lots of concrete elevated walkways and bridges above ground. You can walk above the traffic from one place to another, especially between shopping centers and schools. The walkways are clean, and often are planted with unique tropical flowers all along their route. Use them as much as possible. They are a pleasant, safe way to see the city.