Getting around in Bangkok: a guide to public transport

When people say ‘Bangkok’ it conjures up ideas of a heavily populated, busy and crazy city that would be impossible to get around. So when I arrived it was very tempting to just take a taxi everywhere, but there are so many other ways of getting around the city, and a lot of them will save you cash.

GrabTaxi

This app has been a bit of a life saver on my travels. If you´re not sure about buses or trains, or in my case, when you get to your destination and you just want a quick ride to your accommodation so you don´t have to carry your bags on the public transport, this is a good way to go. Much like Uber (which you can also use in Bangkok) you type in your pick-up and select your destination, then pick the transport you want: GrabTaxi (a regular taxi, but metered), GrabCar (more like an Uber), GrabBike (the cheapest, but you are on the back of a motorbike), GrabCar+ (premium private taxi), Taxi 7-seater (self-explanatory), GrabXL (a mini-van) or a GrabBike volunteer (like an Uber, but for bikes). The app will then show you the estimated price, and give you the option of writing a note for the driver e.g. ´standing outside Terminal 1 of the Airport´.

Pros: easy to sort out, don´t need to haggle with taxis/tuktuks, cheaper than a regular taxi.

Cons: sometimes the drivers will accept your request but will not be able to find you, so they will often cancel the booking and you will need to find another driver (this happened to me three times one day). It´s not quite as quick as it is for an Uber back in the UK.


Tuk Tuk 

When you think of Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, this is exactly the transport that springs to mind. I´m finding it difficult to actually describe what a Tuk Tuk looks like, but it´s kind of like a very small car without doors and with various ornaments, stickers, lights and other decorations plastered all over it. A Tuk Tuk is definitely something you should try at least once.

Pros: it´s fun to zoom around the city in one of these, it´s usually quicker than a bus/taxi as they are smaller so they can fit through some traffic, and it´s an iconic mode of transport for Thailand.

Cons: they tend to charge you way more than a taxi would. This is where you can start practicing your haggling skills: the general rule is to ask for a third of the price of what they have quoted and then work your way up from there.


Public bus

This is by far the cheapest way to get around the city. Before you leave, type your destination in to Google Maps on your phone, and write down the buses that you can get (unless you have internet access everywhere then just use it on your phone). Some buses charge the same amount for everyone regardless of where you are going, for example, I got the bus from Samsen Road to Chatuchak Market (about a 20-minute bus ride) and it was 9 baht (approx 2p); everyone paid the same amount no matter where they were going. Sometimes there isn´t even anyone on the bus to take your payment and you get the ride for free.

Pros: super cheap (or free), you can feel like a local and not a tourist, you get to see a lot of the city you might not go to otherwise, and the civilians on the bus are always friendly and help you get to where you want to go.

Cons: buses often don´t keep to their schedule, some are very crowded and hot (although some have AC) and they can take a long time in the Bangkok traffic.


It´s very useful to have your destination up on Google Maps on your phone so you know where to get off. If you don´t have data, I highly recommend downloading Maps.me which is an app that you can use even when you´re offline; I would have struggled to get around the city many times without this app.

Boat/ferry

Another cheap, local experience. You can walk down to the various piers along the river and hire a taxi boat to take you to the attractions dotted around the city, you can take an express boat from one pier to another up/down the river, or you can take a short ferry (literally about 2 minutes) from one side to another. Prices vary, but the ferry costs about 3.5 baht (0.08p!). You couldn´t get any type of transport in the UK for that price!

Pros: cheap, efficient, and easy. Plus some are really fun, e.g. canal boats or long-tail boat rides which are other iconic modes of transport for Thailand.

Cons: I actually can´t think of any bad things about getting a boat, unless you get sea-sick, but then you wouldn´t take a boat, surely?

BTS

BTS stands for ´Bangkok Transit System´, or as we might call it: the Subway. This connects all of the main areas of the city, much like the London Underground or Newcastle´s Metro. You can buy a single ticket to your destination from 15 baht (approx 34p), a full-day ticket which you can use to go anywhere you want for 24 hours for 140 baht (approx £3), a Standard Rabbit Card which you can top-up as you go (minimum top-up is 100 baht) or a 30-day pass for 15, 25, 40 or 50 trips (starting from 375 baht/£9).

Pros: there are only two lines, the Sukhumvit Line and the Silom Line, so it´s very easy to navigate, they are efficient and quick (unlike the buses) and they feel safe.

Cons: they can be quite pricey (for Thailand, not for Europe) if you buy a single ticket as one stop is only 15 baht but the price continues to go up depending on the distance.

If you´re arriving from the Airport, the train is a cheap option if you are traveling alone. The rail link is accessible from the 1st floor of the Airport between 6am and midnight, and it can connect you to the BTS at Phayathai station. This works both ways, in and out of Bangkok.


Regular trains

I would say this is also something you should do at least once (I´ve just managed to squeeze in a train trip in my last week of being here!) as it is another enjoyable local experience. You can get a train to places slightly out of the city, such as Pattaya on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand, about 3 hours from Bangkok for 30 baht/70p, or to Kanchanaburi, about 3 hours north-west of Bangkok, for 100 baht/£2.50. The trains are old, which makes it all-the-more charming, and it´s usually a lovely scenic route that you wouldn´t get to see otherwise. You will also see locals walking up and down the train selling sweets, local delicacies, and drinks. It´s a beautiful way to get around, and I highly recommend it.

Pros: it´s scenic, slow (a pro for me as I enjoy the scenery), relatively comfortable, and cheap.

Cons: there´s no AC (but the windows usually give a breeze, although I´m not sure about the hot season), if you don´t run for a seat you might not get one, and sometimes they can be very busy and therefore sweaty.

My suggestion is that if you´re coming to Bangkok, don´t just get a taxi everywhere … take a slow walk around, haggle for a Tuk Tuk, or jump on a train for a day out. I promise, it really isn´t as scary as you think.

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