Bangkok is a megacity with over 8 million inhabitants within its boundaries, and over 14 million people within the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. Furthermore, the city hosts about 21+ million tourists per year, all of which make transportation a very challenging task.
As a tourist, it’s important to know the key transportation options in order to avoid the headache and frustration when trying to move around the “City of Angels.” Here, we will provide a survey of some major modes of transportation to help our readers on how best to move around this megacity.
This is the most common and available way to get around Bangkok. Taxis are omnipresent and relatively cheaper than the Western standard, are air conditioned, and can accommodate up to 4 passengers (without luggage). The cost and convenience advantage becomes quite evident with more than 2 passengers when the fare is shared, for instance, a distance of more than 20 km you will not pay more than 300-400 THB. The longer the distance, the lower the fare per km, one can even take a taxi to Pattaya beach (approx. 150km from Bangkok) for less than 1500 THB. Each ride starts with 35 THB base fee, and incremental fare is charged around 10 THB per additional km.
There is a label (at the windshield in front of the passenger seat) that lights up in red to show people that this taxi is vacant. As soon as the taxi is occupied, it will be turned off.
Always ask the driver to use taxi meter
Some cab drivers will ask for a fixed price instead of using the taxi meter. They are trying to take advantage of customers due to certain challenging circumstances, but you should know that it’s always cheaper to go by a taxi meter. For a distance of 2 km that usually costs around 50-70 THB, a driver might demand 100-150 THB because you might be in a hurry or not having another option at a given moment. The difference might not seem much, but it will add up as you take frequent rides throughout the day.
According to the regulations, Thai taxis are not permitted to ask for a fixed price. As a matter of principle, you should not support this unlawful, exploitative, and dishonest behavior as it would only promote hurtful impact on other visitors and local citizens. After all, paying double or triple the normal fare doesn't sound really smart, does it?
Unfortunately, there are rare exceptions when you may have to pay a fixed price. These circumstances are: 1. you are in extreme hurry and no other options are available; 2. you have a group of special guests or ladies that you are trying to take home as quickly as possible, and taking the time to find a driver using the meter is simply not worth the hustle. Many cab drivers are aware of these circumstances and ask for unreasonable higher fares.
How to interact with taxi drivers in Bangkok
There are some unique situations when dealing with Thailand cab drivers:
- Not every driver will accept you as a customer: Some drivers will decline your request given his mood, the traffic pattern at the given destination, and the time of the day. Compare to driving under relatively normal traffic pattern, they earn less per hour when facing heavy traffic jams.
- Explaining your destination to a driver can be a challenge: You might pronounce the address wrongly and be taken to a wrong location with similar name. Alternatively, the driver might only know the general area of your destination and is expecting you to guide him to the final destination when arriving at the proximity, this could cause unforeseen delay.
After all, it's a megacity with thousands of streets. Therefore, it's a good practice to tell the driver well-known landmarks near your destination, and navigate towards the exact final location with the help of your smartphone i.e. hotel, temple, shopping center, BTS station etc. You could also call a local person to explain to the taxi driver over the phone if you are unsure of the situation.
- Avoid traffic jams by using tollways: During certain time of the day (rush hour) and on certain routes, the driver will ask you beforehand about taking a toll paying highway to avoid heavy traffic jam. Depending on the destination and distance, the toll expenses would average around 30-70 THB, and this extra toll expense is well worth the time saving and frustration avoided because Bangkok traffic jam is a nightmare that no one wants to experience.
The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is a great way to avoid traffic jams. These buses have their own dedicated lanes, usually move faster than regular buses, clean, reliable, and are air-conditioned. The BRT line runs from Chong Nonsi BTS Station to Ratchapruek Station (12 stops), and the Fares are around 12-20 THB.
Rail (MRT, BTS, ARL)
Bangkok has two MRT lines (purple and blue), which are mostly underground trains. In addition, there are 3 Skytrain lines that run on concrete viaducts above the roadways of the city: BTS Sukhumvit line, BTS Silom line, and the Airport Rail Link (ARL). All the rail systems are new and on par with the Western standards. Currently, construction is ongoing to extend existing lines and adding new ones.
Having access to Skytrain or MRT is such an important factor nowadays, that prices for condos and houses in close proximity are skyrocketing.
With fares about 15-52 THB depending on the final destination, it is a relatively cheap transportation option. Taking the Skytrain or MRT is the best choice when considering the factors of price, comfort, convenience, time, and reliability.
Both MRT and Skytrain are not affected by the hellish Bangkok traffic, the trains are modern, clean, air conditioned, and the directions are well explained through onboard maps and station platform signs.
Many areas are far from Sktrain or MRT stations
The major shortcomings of the MRT and Skytrain are: 1. many areas of the city are not served, and you need to take a cab or motorcycle taxi to reach a station; 2. the operating hour are only between 5:30AM through midnight every day.
During rush hours, taking MRT or Skytrain is the most convenient and reliable transportation option, but be prepared to experience heavy crowd during these hours. Generally, Thai people will stand and offer their seats to elderly, young children, and pregnant women.
Buy a top-up card instead of single ticket for saving and convenience
Generally, there are time consuming long ticket lines at the rail stations. If you are going to take multiple trips via the MRT or Skytrain, it is wise to buy a card that you can top-up when needed instead of buying a single ticket during every trip. This will save you money and avoid wasting time in line.
For Skytrain it’s a "Rabbit Card" and for MRT it's the "Blue Card." You can purchase them at the ticket counter by the entrance gates. Minimum top-up amount is 100 THB, the only downside is that these cards cannot be used interchangeably.
They are available throughout the city in major street corners, intersections, shopping malls and supermarkets, BTS stations, hotels, apartment complex etc. Most Thai people use them to reach places that are within a 2-5 km radius for quick access to another transportation station, or for longer distance to save time during heavy traffic hours and congested routes (some routes are only congested during certain hours of the day, some routes are congested at all times, and some routes are not congested throughout the entire day).
It costs about 20-30 THB per km, and most of the Motorbike taxi drivers are fairly honest. However, always ask the fare for your destination beforehand.
Good alternative when roads are congested
One of the major shortcomings of motorbike taxis is the safety issue. We do not have any official accident related statistics, but from personal experiences and observations we feel that this transportation mode is safe, and most of the motorbike taxi drivers are experienced and careful.
This is the cheapest transportation mode in Bangkok. An air conditioned bus costs 13 THB, and a bus with cooling fan costs 7 THB to go across the city. However, it is quite troublesome if you are not familiar with the bus routes.
Labels for directions are only in Thai language
The labels explaining the routes and showing major stops are written only in Thai. Although most bus lines and stops are marked on Google maps, it is often inaccurate or out-of-date. Therefore, when taking buses, it is wise to ask locals for directions.
Crowded bus in traffic jams requires great patience and time flexibility
Buses in Bangkok are quite noisy, packed, and often get stuck in traffic jams. Most of the bus lines have a posted regular schedule, but the posted schedules are useless due to traffic congestion, thus, it is nearly impossible to determine your arrival time on any given day. However, if you are not in a hurry, it's not rush hour, and you know the route, then taking a bus would be a suitable transportation option.
Passengers pay after boarding the bus
There is no need to buy a bus ticket beforehand as you will buy the ticket from a vendor aboard the bus.
Airport Bus to Don Muang airport
A reliable and cheap way to reach Don Muang Airport from Bangkok is to take BTS Skytrain to Mo Chit Station, and from there take the airport bus (A1 and A2). It costs only 30 THB and fast since the bus takes the toll highway which have less traffic. The bus stop is located on the left-hand side of the Mo Chit BTS Station (Exit 3, Jatujak Park side). Be sure to look for the “Airport Bus” sign that can easily be overlooked, and the bus comes through every 15 minutes.
Tuktuk - Why You Should Avoid Them
While Tuktuks were a major mean of public transportation decades ago, nowadays they are solely a tourist attraction for the fun experience. Most Thai people and experienced tourists don't use Tuktuks for the following reasons:
- Expensive and Uncomfortable: They cost about 2-3 times more than a taxi, they are loud, no air conditioning, and passengers are exposed to heavy exhaust fume.
- Safety Concerns: There are no seat belts and the cabin offers little protection in case of a crash.
- Possible Scams: Some Tuktuk drivers might offer you a city tour for only 40 THB, which sounds very appealing, but it’s a scam. Indeed, these Tuktuks will take you to places they promised, but you will also have to go to a tailor shop or other unwanted or undesirable places. They cannot force you to buy any products and/or services, but may pressure you, which can be quite annoying and time wasting.