Getting around in Bangkok like a local
- Published on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 08:45
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When you want to explore Bangkok, it goes without saying that you need a means to get around the city. With over 26 million visitors to Thailand every year, many of them spend part of their time in the capital which (in addition to the locals) makes things a little busy. There’s so much to see and do, the only way you can fit it all in is by knowing the local tricks and how to get around.
Here’s what you need to know.
Probably the easiest means of transport, there are taxi’s everywhere in the city, and they’re still very affordable. Most tourists jump in-and-out of taxi’s all day long, and many will also offer day rates to take you around the city for a fixed fee. To find a cab, head to a busy road and put your arm out, call 1681, or use an app like GrabTaxi.
- You’ll need to pay additional fee’s when you’re using a tollway, which range from 25-55 THB, and can shave hours off your total travel time. Definitely worth it.
- If you get a bad feeling about a particular driver or way they’re driving ask them to stop, get out and find a new taxi. There’s so many available you can easily just hop in the next one.
- It’s common for taxi drivers in Thailand to refuse a fare, which can happen if you’re heading into a particularly busy part of town, or it’s rush hour. Don’t let it get to you, and just keep asking, you’ll eventually find a driver willing to take you.
- Only ever take metered taxi’s, which may mean you need to walk past all the parked cars that sit outside of all the hotels and tourist attractions, and flag down one that’s driving past.
- You can’t expect every taxi driver to know every part of the city, so try to have at least a general understanding of the “right” and “wrong” directions, especially if you’re staying somewhere off the beaten path.
- If you’ve had a good driver and they’ve looked after you (particularly if you hired them for a day), consider buying them one of the flower garlands being sold at the traffic lights. They range from 20-40 THB, and are meant to bring good luck and protection on the roads.
- When it’s rush hour, Friday night or it’s raining, taxi’s aren’t going to be your best bet.
The Skytrain (BTS) and the MRT
One of the most efficient means of transport through the city is the BTS Skytrain, taking you in air-conditioned comfort to many of the most central areas of the city. It runs from 6am until midnight, and with only two separate lines that connect at Siam, it’s straightforward and easy to navigate. There is typically a BTS stop at most major destinations, unless you’re headed to Chinatown or some of the older areas of the city. Often you can take the skytrain most of the way, then get in a taxi or a motorbike taxi for the last leg. Bangkok’s underground train system, the MRT is a nice accompaniment to the skytrain, taking you to different areas of the city, while connecting to the skytrain at BTS station Asoke, and BTS Sala Daeng.
- Instead of buying a new ticket for every trip, get a Rabbit card that you can use for both the BTS and the MRT, saving you money and helping you to avoid any queues.
- You aren’t allowed to take any food or drinks onto the trains, and there are guards here who will be keeping an eye out.
- Local customs dictate that the elderly, monks and children get preference on a train, and it’s expected for you to give your seat up for them. Monks will generally sit in the seats near the doors, and because they’re not allowed to sit next to a woman this often means seats need to be shuffled.
- If your children are under 90cm they can travel free.
- The Airport Link via BTS Phaya Thai makes for an easy ride out to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
- The entry gates open and close fast, so if you’re trying to navigate small children or armfuls of shopping, give your ticket to a guard and ask their help getting through the big gate next to the ticket stand.
- You don’t need to worry about getting to the door before the train stops, especially during rush hour the trains are so full this is near impossible. Wait until you’re almost at the station or for the train to stop first, and people will let you through.
Tuk Tuks and the Motorbike Taxis
The Tuk Tuk is one of the most iconic symbols of Thailand, and no trip to the country is complete until you’ve had a ride on one of these. Plus, they’re a great way to get around if you’ve only got a short distance to go, or need to weave through busy traffic. Despite their ramshackle nature, it costs more-or-less about the same as a normal taxi ride to ride a Tuk Tuk. What is really handy though, are the motorbike taxis, especially when you’re on your own. If you need to get down a small street to reach your hotel they’re perfect, but try to avoid them if you’ve got anywhere far to go, or need to head down a main street. They get you where you need faster, but there is much more risk, and always wear a helmet.
- Spending 100 baht or more on a trip means you’re getting overcharged, or you’re going really, really far.
- Similar to taxi’s, avoid any Tuk Tuk drivers who are sitting waiting at tourist attractions or outside of a large hotel, they’re going to charge you more.
- Even if you see the locals doing it, don’t take young children in a Tuk Tuk or on a motorbike taxi.
- When taking a motorbike taxi, always wear a helmet, and if they dont offer one just ask. They will have a spare for you tucked under the seat or at the taxi stop.
- Girls, always sit side saddle when you’re wearing a skirt on a motorbike.
The bus system in Thailand is incredibly organized, they’re regular, go absolutely everywhere, and are usually on time. They are also outrageously cheap, which is perfect for the budget traveler or anyone wanting to see a different side to Thailand at a grassroots level.
- Always plan your journey ahead, and pick the best route possible so you’re not going to get stuck in a part of town where you’re completely lost.
- Download the app for the bus routes, or check online to determine the right buses to take.
- Riding the bus in Bangkok isn’t always an easy ride, and when you’re a pedestrian keep a wary eye out for any speeding buses when you’re crossing the roads, even when you’re at a set of traffic lights.
- You may need to energetically wave down the right bus as it approaches your stop, and once you get on the driver will take off again, so be sure to take hold of something and get to a seat as fast as possible.
- The small switches near the doors are the “please-stop-at-the-next-stop” bells.
You’ll be acting like a real local if you start travelling by boat, and it’s often the most efficient way to get around because Bangkok is a city built around the waterways. Aside from the local culture you’ll get to see, the water taxi’s race up and down the river all day long so you’ll always be able to get one. Of course during rush hour the extra commuters can increase the wait, and if you’re wanting to take in all the local sights the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat is your best bet, at 150 baht for a day ticket which allows you to hop-on and hop-off at each pier along its route. There are also colored express boats that head to specific piers if you have a certain destination in mind, and these are also far cheaper as well.
- If you’re on the side of a water taxi there’s a chance you’ll get wet, so keep watch and leave your phone in your pocket.
- Mind the gap as you pull up to a pier, and don’t be afraid to go a little slower or take the hand of one of the staff to help you get back onto solid ground.
- Don’t wait until the boat comes to a stop before making your way to disembark. The boats come in fast and leave just as quickly and you don’t want to miss your stop!
- Follow these tips and you’ll be navigating Bangkok just like a local, it’s really not that difficult once you’ve been here for a day or two and braved the different forms of transport available.