Getting around Bangkok
Getting around Bangkok may be difficult at first for the uninitiated but once you're familiar with the bus system the whole city is accessible. The main obstacle is the traffic, which moves at a snail's pace during much of the day. This means advance planning is a must when you are attending scheduled events or arranging appointments. If you travel can by river, canal or Skytrain from one point to another, it's always the best choice.
You can save a lot of money in Bangkok by sticking to the Bangkok Metropolitan Transit Authority public buses, which cost 7 Baht for any journey under 10km on the ordinary white and blue buses, or 5.50 Baht on the red buses or smaller green buses. Smaller 'baht buses' plying the lanes are painted red and maroon, and cost 5 baht each. Cream and blue air-con buses are available for 10 Baht for the first 8km, and increase by 2 Baht increments up to 20 Baht to 24 Baht, depending on the distance travelled. Orange Euro 2 air-con buses cost 12 Baht for any distance, while white and pink air-con buses cost 25 Baht to 30 Baht. The air-con buses are not only cooler but are usually less crowded (all bets are off during rush hours).
Most bus lines run from 5am to 11pm, except for the all-night cream and red ordinary buses, which run from 10pm to 5am on some routes and cost 5 Baht. Buddhist monks and novices ride for free. One air-con service that's never over crowded is the Microbus, it stops taking passengers once every seat if filled. The fare is a flat rate of 25 Baht, you deposit the money in a box at the front of the bus (exact change only). These buses are pink and white. A couple of useful Microbus lines include the No. 6, which starts on Thanon Si Phraya (near the River City shopping complex) and proceeds to the Siam Square area, then out to Thanon Sukhumvit; and the No. 8, which runs between the Victory Monument area and Banglamphu district.
Safety, be careful with your belongings while riding Bangkok buses. The place you are most likely to be 'touched' is on the crowded ordinary buses. Razor artists abound, particularly on buses in the Hualamphong station area. These dexterous thieves specialize in slashing your backpack, shoulder bag or even your trouser pockets with a sharp razor and slipping your valuables out unnoticed. Hold your bag in front of you, under your attention and carry money in a front shirt pocket, preferably (as the Thais do) maintaining a tactile and visual sensitivity to these areas if the bus is packed shoulder to shoulder.
The Skytrain elevated-rail network is perfect for those wanting to escape the often horrendous traffic jams on Bangkok's streets. So far two lines have been built by the Bangkok Mass Transit System Skytrain, known to the Thais simply as rot fai faa (sky train). One line starts from the Mo Chit station in the north, next to the Northern and Northeastern bus terminal as well as Chatuchak Park, and ends at the On Nut station, near Soi 81, Thanon Sukhumvit. Often referred to as 'the Sukhumvit line', work has begun to extended this line 9km further southeast to Samut Prakan. There is also talk of extending this line as far as the International Airport, now is opened.
The second line (the 'Silom line') runs from the National Stadium east to Siam Square and soon after makes an abrupt turn to the southwest, continuing above Thanon Ratchadamri, down Thanon Silom to Thanon Narathiwat Ratchanakharin, then out Thanon Sathon until it terminates next to the foot of Saphan Taksin on the banks of Mae Nam Chao Phraya. Work has begun to extend this line a further 2km over the river into Thonburi and possibly as far as Wong Wian train station. Although the Skytrain has yet to make a sizable dent in Bangkok traffic, it's estimated that on an average day there are 40,000 fewer cars on the road than before the train's 1999 launch, and that a large number of city residents have switched from the crowded air-con buses of BMTA, which has lowered the number of buses on the road at any one time, perhaps making a very small contribution to improving city air. Another advantage to the Skytrain is that it offers a pleasant semi-bird's eye view of the city, allowing glimpses of greenery and historic architecture not visible at street level due.
Riding the Skytrain, trains run frequently from 6am to midnight along both lines. If you've ever ridden a modern light rail system that used ticket cards with magnetic stripes, you'll have no trouble figuring out the simple Skytrain system. You can change between the two lines at the double height Siam Station (also known as 'Central Station'), in front of Siam Square and Siam Center. Free maps of the system are available at all Skytrain station ticket booths. All trains are air-conditioned, often heavily so. From your point of departure, fares very from 10 Baht to 40 Baht depending on which of the 23 current stations you plan to disembark from. Ticket machines at each station accept 5 Baht and 10 Baht coins only. If you don't have correct change, buy your ticket from staffed ticket booths at Skytrain stations.
You can also buy tickets in 100 Baht increments from all station ticket booths, and at branches of Siam Commercial Bank, Black Canyon Coffee shops and Watsons drug stores. Fares are posted inside every station. If you're not sure where you're going, ticket staff at each station offer helpful advice even though their English may be limited.
Since 1998, the Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) has been building the city's first-ever subway. The 18-station line is designed to link Hualamphong near the river with Bang Seu in the north via the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre. The line intersects Skytrain routes at two points near the Asoke Skytrian station. The subway (rot fai tai din) run from 2004.
Metered taxis (thaeksii miitoe) were introduced in Bangkok 1993, and now far outnumber the old non-metered taxis. The ones with meters have signs on top reading 'Taxi Meter', the others 'Taxi Thai' or just 'Taxi'. Fares for metered taxis are always lower than those for non-metered; however, they can be a little harder to flag down during peak hours. Demand often outstrips supply between 8am and 9am, 6am and 7pm, and also late at night when bars are closing (1am to 2am). Because metered-taxi drivers use rented vehicles and must return at the end of their shifts, they sometimes won't take longer fares as quitting time nears.
Metered taxis charge 35 Baht at flag fall for the first 2km, then 4.50 Baht for the next 10km, 5 Baht for 13km to 20km, and 5.50 Baht for any distance over 20km, but only when the taxi travels at 6km/h or more; at speeds under 6km/h, a surcharge of 1.25 Baht per minute kicks in. Freeway tolls-25 Baht to 45 Baht depending where you start- must be paid by the passenger. A 24-hour 'phone-a-taxi' service Siam Taxi (Tel. 0-2377-1771) is available for an extra 20 Baht.
For certain longer routes it can be vary difficult to find a taxi driver who's willing to use the meter. One such instance is going from the Southern bus terminal across the river to Bangkok proper- most drivers ask for a flat 350 Baht bu will settle for 250 Baht. For those times when you're forced to use a non-metered taxi, you'll have to negotiate the fare. Fares to most places within central Bangkok cost 60-80 Baht, and you should add 10 Baht or 20 Baht if it's during peak hour or after midnight. For trips to the airport the non-metered drivers charge 400-500 Baht. You should ask for Taxi metered, and you just paid for 250 Baht with Freeway tolls. I always paid for these fares.
In heavy traffic, tuk-tuk are usually faster than taxis since they're able to weave between cars and trucks. On the down side, they have no air-con, so you have to breathe all that lead-soaked air (at its thickest in the middle of Bangkok's wide avenues), and they're also more dangerous since they can easily flip over, when braking into a fast curve. The typical tuk-tuk fare nowadays offer no savings over a metered taxi – around 40 Baht for a short hop.
Tuk-tuk drivers tend to speak less English than taxi drivers, so many new arrivals have a hard time communicating their destinations. Although some travellers have complained about tuk-tuk drivers deliberately taking them to the wrong destination (to collect commissions from certain restaurants, gem shops or silk shops), others never seem to have a problem with tuk-tuk, and swear by them. Beware of tuk-tuk drivers who offer to take you on a sightseeing tour for 10 Baht or 20 Baht – it's a touting scheme designed to pressure you into purchasing overpriced goods.
As passengers become more desperate in their attempts to beat rush-hour gridlock, motorcycle taxis have moved from the lanes to the main avenues. Fares for a motorcycle taxi are about the same as tuk-tuk except during heavy traffic, when they may cost a bit more. Riding on the back of speeding motorcycle taxi is even more hair-raising than riding in a tuk-tuk. Keep your legs tucked in – the drivers are used to carrying passengers with shorter legs than those of the average Westerner and they pass perilously close to other vehicles while weaving in and out of traffic. Even if you're not in a hurry, catching a motorcycle taxi through traffic is a close approximation to an extreme sport.
Car & Motorcycle
Car and motorcycle are easily rented in Bangkok, if you can afford them and have steel nerves. Rates start at around 1500 Baht per day or 9000 Baht per week for a small car (much less than motorcycle), excluding insurance. For long-term rentals you can usually arrange a discount of up to 35%. An International Driving Permit and passport are required for all rentals. For long, cross- country trips, you might consider buying a new or used motorcycle and reselling it when you leave – this can end up being cheaper than renting, especially if you buy a good used bike. The following car-rental companies are located in Bangkok.
- Avis Rent-A-Car (Tel. 0-2255-5300-4, 2/12 Thanon Withayu; Bangkok International Airport (Tel.0-2535-4052), Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel (0-2245-1234), Le Meridien President Hotel (0-2253-0444).
- Budget Car rental (Tel. 0-2203-0250), 19/23 Bldg A, Royal City Avenue, Thanon Phetchaburi Tat Mai).
- Grand Car Rent (Tel. 0-2248-2991) 233-5 Thanon Asoke-Din Dang.
- Highway Car Rent (Tel. 0-2266-9393), 1018/5 Thanon Phra Ram IV.
- Lumpini Car Rent (Tel. 0-2255-1966, 0-2255-3482), 167/4 Thanon Withayu.
- National Car Rental (Tel. 0-2928-1525), Amari Airport Hotel; (Tel. 0-2722-8487) 727 Thanon Si Nakharin.
- Phetchaburi Car Rent (Tel. 0-2319-7255) 2371 Thanon Phetchaburi Tat Mai.
- Sathon Car Rent (Tel. 0-2633-8888) 6/8-9 Thanon Sathon Neua.
There are more rental agencies along Thanon Withayu and Thanon Phetchaburi Tat Mai. Some also rent motorcycles, but you're better off renting or leasing a bike at a place that specialises in motorcycles, like Chusak Yont Shop (Tel. 0-2251-9225) 1400 Thanon Phetchaburi Tat Mai.
Bangkok was once called the 'Venice of the East', but much of the original canal system has been filled in for road construction. Larger canals, especially on the Thonburi side, remain important commercial arteries but many of the smaller canals are hopelessly polluted and survive only as drains. Still there is plenty of transport along and across Mae Nam Chao Phraya and up adjoining canals. River transport is one of the nicest ways to get around Bangkok as well as, quite often, being much faster than any road-based alternatives. For a start, you get quite a different view of the city; secondly, it's much less of a hassle than tangling with the polluted, noisy and traffic-crowded Bangkok streets.
Along Mae Nam Chao Phraya, the Chao Phraya River Express (Tel. 0-2623-6001-3) operates from Wat Ratchasingkhon, in south-central Bangkok, northwards to Nonthaburi Province. There are three boat lines: two express lines (indicated by yellow or orange flags) and the local line (without a flag). Express boat stop at all certain piers during morning and evening (usually 6am to 9pm and 3pm to 7pm) and cost 10 Baht to 25 Baht, depending on the destination. Local boat stop at all piers from 6am to 7.40pm, and cost 6-12 Baht. For travellers staying in Banglamphu (near Thanon Khao San), the closest pier (tha) is Tha Banglamphu on Thanon Phra Athit. Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, operates two lengthy and useful canal routes: Khlong Saen Saep (Banglamphu to Bang Kapi) and Khlong Phasi Charoen in Thonburi (Kaset Bang Khae port to Saphan Phra Ram I).
Although the canal boats can be crowded, the service is generally much faster than either a taxi or bus. Along Thanon Sukhumvit, however, the Skytrain is generally preferable.
The Khlong Saen Saep canal service is one of the most useful for most visitors. This one provides a quicker alternative to road transport between the river and eastern Bangkok. The boat from Banglamphu to the Ramkhamhaeng University area, for example, costs 10 Baht and takes only 40 minutes. A bus would takes at least an hour under Bangkok's normal traffic conditions. The main detraction from this route is the seriously polluted canal – passengers typically hold newspapers over their clothes and faces to prevent being splashed by the stinking black water. Not the best choice of transport if you're dressed for a formal occasion. Most visitors, however, use the Khlong Saen Seap canal taxi to get to Siam Square; the boat stops at Thah Ratchathewi by the bridge next to the Asia Hotel. It is really easy to miss this stop, so let the person sitting next to you know that you want 'Sa-yahm Sa-quare'. The canal-taxi pier in Banglamphu is near Wat Saket and Democracy Monument.
At first glance, Bangkok doesn't seem like a great town for walking – its main avenues are so choked with traffic that the noise and thick air will probably drive you indoors. However, quite spots, where walks are rewarding, do exist. And certain places are much more conveniently seen on foot, particularly the older sections of town along Mae Nam Chao Phraya where the roads are so narrow and twisting that bus lines don't get there.