Bangkok was once notoriously known for its traffic jams and poor transport (well, it still is), but thankfully the introduction of the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) and Bangkok Metro system (MRT) during the past decade has helped somewhat. The traffic can still really snarl up at any time of the day, but at least tourists have a much easier means to get across town. Taxis are cheap and, therefore, practical, provided you travel outside of rush hour, while walking or biking is not recommended.
The city is somewhat spread out with several popular hotel districts. Many tourists end up staying in the Sukhumvit area, which is well serviced by the BTS, enabling them to get to Silom (business and evening entertainment area) or Siam Square (for shopping). However, the majority of the historic attractions are across town in Rattanakosin Isle – the old district, which has been spared the development of ugly transport infrastructure. Taxi, or even bus, is the recommended means to get to the Grand Palace or Khao San Road, while a boat trip is equally feasible and far more interesting.
Bangkok taxis are some of the best value you’ll encounter anywhere on your travels. They are cheap, always on hand and generally reliable. For 150-200 baht (US$5-$6), you can get a 30-minute ride across town in air-conditioned comfort, with door-to-door service.
If you’re new to Bangkok, save yourself the hassle by catching a taxi from the airport (about US$10) and using one until you’re confident getting about. Taxis are spotted everywhere in their distinct green and yellow, or sometimes pink, colours.
Most are quite new and will usually put the meter on, drive carefully and take you safely and honestly to your destination. In some tourist areas, you might persist in finding one agreeing to use his meter, others might turn you down if it’s on the cusp of the rush hour or school run. Flag fall is 35 baht, then charged per distance and/or time, with each carrying a driver ID card for your safety. On the motorways some tend to drive fast and a bit recklessly, but reports of accidents are few.
These are another option for the brave or desperate. Mostly they serve a really useful purpose congregating in (mafia) organised groups at the end of lanes along busy roads, so that you can alight from the BTS then pay 20 baht for one to ferry you down to your hotel; saving you a hot sweaty walk in the humid weather. They will take you across town, successfully beating the traffic, but make sure your insurance is in order.
The BTS was the best gift Bangkokians could have wished for at the turn of the millenium, and its two elevated lines have severely eased commuter time in the newer parts of the city. Modern trains run at very regular intervals along Sukhumvit Road to Siam Square, from where you can change to the Silom Line or go as far north as Chatuchak Market. If you are staying in hotels in this district, or Silom, you’ll find the BTS indespensible. It also links with the airport rail system at Phya Thai.
Stations are plentiful, efficient and supported by coffeeshops, newsagents and convenience booths. Tickets are per length of journey. Smart cards that you can top up with credit are also on sale at the booths. Vending machines take coins only.
The MRT is Bangkok’s underground lines that interlink with the BTS. Opened in 2004, this is equally useful to tourists, though is used a bit less since its lines run to the commuter areas of the city. However, it’s useful for getting to Hua Lampong railway station, Mochit main bus terminal, Lumphini Park and the Thailand Cultural Centre. It intersects with the airport rail line at the Makkasan city terminal, along with the BTS in the middle of Sukhumvit Road and at Chatuchak Market. Tokens are available at onsite vending machines (single journeys from 15 baht), with a one-day pass available for 120 baht. The tickets are not interchangeable for use on the BTS.
The recently opened Airport Rail Link connects Suvarnbhumi International Airport with Central Bangkok in about 15 minutes, although is not as straightforward as it sounds. The fast train only leaves every 30 minutes to and from Makkasan Terminal (where you can also check in), but getting there involves a 15-minute taxi ride across Bangkok and lugging your suitcases around a rather thoughtlessly designed station. It’s also connected via a long walkway and several escalators to the Metro lines. A slower train (25 minutes) runs more frequently (every 15 minutes) from Phaya Thai terminal and is easily connected to the BTS, though these are commuter trains and are less comfortable. The cost of the train is no more than 150 baht, but you’re probably better off taking a taxi direct – less hassle, provided the traffic isn’t heavy.
Buses in Bangok are probably the cheapest and least comfortable, or desirable, means of getting about, since they can get snarled up in the traffic. Numerous buses run across the city and are used mainly by the vast working class living in outlying areas. They range from super-chilled modern air-conditioned ‘double buses’ running along busy routes, through to belching eco-horror old models that put their passengers at the mercy of the thick traffic smog, but cost virtually nothing. As a tourist, you’re unlikely to need them, unless you’re a skint backpacker trying to get across town to Khao San Road on the cheap. Bus stops are common along main roads, with a map of the bus routes, but good luck figuring them out!
The Chao Phraya River meanders through Bangkok and is a major waterway for the country as scorpion boats, water buses, rice barges and upmarket cruise restaurants all compete for a share of the mixed views from the river. There is a well used boat-taxi route that hops along the east bank of the river, with other boats making the short hop back and forth across the west bank.
These arrive every 15 minutes on average and can prove to be a quick, breezy means of getting uptown to the historic district where modern infrastructural development has been banned. Fares are less than 50 baht for the longest journeys.
The most common trip is from Saphan Thaksin, where you can alight from the BTS and then catch the boat to Phra Arthit pier and walk five minutes to Khao San Road. Other stops include Chinatown/Paruhat, Wat Po, Wat Arun and the Royal Barge Museum. Note that most of Bangkok central is located on the east side of the river.
For all practical purposes the train serves little use to tourist or most commuters. Thailand’s rail system is in serious need of modernisation. The route from Hua Lampong Railway Station northwards towards Don Mueng Airport is used by some Bangkokians, going as far North as Ayutthaya,and is quite useful, though there are buses serving a similar route more effectively and comfortably.