When it comes to getting around Bangkok, there are several transportation options available to tourists. It is likely that, as a tourist, you would use a variety of these modes of transportation, dependent upon where you want to go as well as other prevailing circumstances.
The most iconic mode of transport in Bangkok has to be the tuk-tuk – a three wheeled open-sided taxi with bench seating in the rear for passengers. First-timers in Thailand will want to ride a tuk-tuk at least once, just for the experience. They are fun, but they come with a challenge regarding fares. Tuk-tuks are not metered, so you are at the mercy of the driver who sets the fare for each journey. And you must negotiate a fare before the journey begins, or you really will be at his mercy (and probably a highly inflated fare). Be prepared to haggle over the proposed fare. You might think that a tuk-tuk ride would be cheap but they are not. They are often more expensive than a metered taxi.
As mentioned above, the metered-taxi usually works out to be a cheaper option than the tuk-tuk, as you pay whatever the meter says at the end of the journey. You have the added safety of being inside a regular car and they usually have air-conditioning. But, before you jump into a vacant taxi, you need to ask the driver if he can take you to your intended destination. They usually say yes, but you have to check. I had one taxi driver who agreed to take me and then, 50 metres down the road changed his mind and said he couldn’t take me. I hopped out without paying anything and looked for another taxi. A word of caution though! Beware of taxis that want to take you to your destination for a pre-set price, rather than running the meter, as the fare is usually highly inflated. I’ve seen this done outside busy venues such as night clubs. Wherever possible, insist on the meter being used.
Another form of taxi in Bangkok is the ‘motorbike taxi’. These are guys with motorcycles who will take you to your destination on the back of their bikes. You can recognise motorbike taxi drivers by the orange vests that they wear. They tend to congregate at strategic locations where their services may be required, such as at train stations. As with tuk-tuk drivers, you need to get a quote for the fare before you hop onto the back of a motorbike taxi. Again, as with the tuk-tuks, motorbike taxis tend to cost more than a metered taxi to go to the same destination, especially when you consider that they can only take a single passenger for that fare, whereas tuk-tuks and taxis could transport more passengers. But they are a good choice in rush hour traffic, as they nip between the stationary cars and get you to your destination much faster. Some drivers carry helmets for their passengers, but most locals don’t bother and just hop on the back of the bike.
My favourite mode of transportation is the BTS Skytrain – an elevated train system that runs above the road. It is safe, clean, fast, efficient and affordable. What’s not to love? But it doesn’t go everywhere in the city, so can’t be used for all journeys. However, with some planning, you can use the Skytrain to get you to the station closest to your destination and then take one of the other modes of transport to complete the journey.
The Skytrain is very user-friendly, so it doesn’t take long to become familiar with obtaining a ticket. When you enter a station, you need to locate the Skytrain route map and look for the station you wish to go to. Alongside the station name will be a number – that is the fare that you need to pay. For example, in the photo of the map below, you will see that On Nut station has the number 34 next to it. The fare from Nana to On Nut is 34 baht. You then go to the ticket machine and press the button for the fare you need to purchase – in this case press the 34 button. Then place sufficient coins into the coin slot to make up 34 baht, after which a ticket will be dispensed for the journey. If you don’t have enough coins, you can get some from a nearby booth. You put the ticket into the ‘turnstile’ gate to enter the station and be sure to retrieve it when it is spit out of the machine (you’ll need it to get out of the destination station). Also, you have to note on the map which direction you are heading, and what the final station on that route is (e.g. Mo Chit or Bearing), as you’ll need to know whether to go up to the Mo Chit track or the Bearing track.
The canal boats present another option for getting about the city. They are one of the least expensive options, with fares ranging from 10 to 20 baht, depending upon the distance travelled. They only cover a portion of the city, but they do link up with other public transport at some of the boarding piers. And they are an interesting and enjoyable way to see a different part of the city.
There are other boat options that can move you up and down along the Chao Phraya River. There are several boat lines of water taxis that operate on the river, identified by differently coloured flags flown at the rear of the boats. For example; a blue flag indicates a tourist boat; an orange flag boat stops at main piers along the river; a yellow flag denotes a large express boat for commuters; and a green flag is also an commuter express boat. The various piers on the river also fly the flags that correspond with the lines that stop there. These boats are affordable – rides on the orange flag boats cost 14 baht (less than 50 cents).
In addition to the boats that transport passengers up and down the river, there are also smaller ferries that move people across the river from one bank to the other. The ferry across to Wat Arun only costs 3 baht each way (about 10 cents).
Then there are the iconic longtail boats that can be hired for personal trips or tours along the river or canals. Prices can vary, and are subject to negotiation.
There are still more transportation options that I haven’t used on this visit. These include the MRT train, busses and songtaews. Songtaews are red pick-up trucks that have seats in the rear. They tend to travel specific routes and will pick up and drop off passengers along those routes – a bit like a mini-bus.
So, as you can see, there is no shortage of transportation options to get you around Bangkok. Each have their benefits and their challenges, but they comprise an efficient network of people movers.