Arriving to Bangkok for the first time is an amazing experience, all the smells, sights, sounds and feelings will have you dazzled for a while. When moving around you will need details on how the city works.
Bangkok has gotten a lot easier to get around in recent years. Bangkok is infamous for its congestion, but these days there are ways around it. Public transport works well as there are plenty of options depending on route. Skytrain (BTS), subway/underground/metro (MRT), buses, taxis, tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis. A number of important sights are near the river, so the Skytrain/metro options coupled with the express boat service gets you covered well.
From the Airport
When you arrive by air at Suvarnabhumi Airport, your options to get to Bangkok are one of the following: shuttle bus, public taxi, limousine, car rental, Airport Express, Airport Rail Link or public bus. The most common way to the city is to take a taxi from the ground floor, or Airport Rail Link train. If you decide to take a taxi from the airport, be sure to take a taxi at the correct floor where there is small counter outside usually accompanied by a queue. At the counter they will ask where you are going and hand you a written paper about your destination and another one to your driver. This is to make sure you’re not getting scammed and end up over paying. Otherwise, in the airport there are plenty of men asking if you need a ride. They will ask anything between 500-2500 baht for the ride to the city whereas the official ride with meter on is only about 200 baht.
Airport Rail Link
Three train options are available, the non-stop Express Line trains which run between Suvarnabhumi and Makkasan station (connection to Phetchaburi MRT metro) or to Phaya Thai BTS station. The slower commuter City Line trains that run between Suvarnabhumi and Phaya Thai BTS Skytrain station. The Airport Rail Link operates daily from 06:00 to midnight. A single-trip journey costs between 15 and 45 baht or 150 baht on the City Line and Express Line service.
For locals one of the fastest ways to travel around the city is to ride a Bangkok motorbike taxi. Motorbike taxi is the most dangerous form of transportation in Thailand. These modern day Asian cowboys are recognized by their orange vests. They do not ride all over the city as you want, instead they are gathered at some key spots where locals or expats need a short ride to the nearest Skytrain station or some location within approximately 1km or half a mile. The cost of the ride is usually 20 to 60 baht depending on the distance. If you really are going to use a motorbike taxi, wear a helmet. The law requires you to wear a crash helmet. If pulled over by the police and you are not wearing a helmet, you will be the one who is fined, even if the motorbike taxi driver didn’t give you a helmet. Actual costs can be higher because they rarely do offer you a helmet (which law requires). Efficiency of motorbike taxis in traffic is based on speed and nimble moving between the traffic and occasionally on sidewalks.
Tuk-tuk, the most famous of all Thai transports. What would Bangkok be without the hated and loved tuk-tuks? Tuk-tuks are named because of the sound of their engine, these are basically motorized rickshaws. However tuk-tuks have their place and they used to be everyone’s favorite way of getting around Bangkok before the BTS, MRT and colorful taxis took over. You’ll know them when you hear them, and you’ll hate them when you smell them. These three-wheeled monstrosities blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10 min jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price. If they give you a really good price for some distance, usually they will take you to see some sights or shops which you never intended or asked to go to. Not to mention the shopkeeper who is trying to scam you with jewelry or some other merchandise. Drivers get money from shopkeepers to bring tourists. A other option is that he will drive like a maniac just to get rid of you fast and then find someone else.
If you still want to use the tuk-tuk, always hail a moving tuk-tuk from the road. At popular tourist spots (like Khao San Road), these tuk-tuk drivers are waiting to mess up your plans. Always agree on a price before entering the tuk-tuk. Also never change your destination and make sure that the driver understands you. One quite common scam is to say that specific place “just happens to be closed today for some non-existing holiday”.
It’s essential to bargain the price with tuk-tuks before getting in. If you only ask after the ride, it’s likely to end in a request for a ridiculous fare, which can obviously lead to an unpleasant situation.
The easiest and most comfortable way to get around, if not always the quickest, is by taxi. There are 150,000 taxis in Bangkok. These come in quite a few different colors though the green-yellow, pink and red-blue ones are the most common. The other colors, or the single colored taxis, are all newer and you’ll get a smoother ride. Taxi’s are always air-conditioned which you will learn to appreciate on your first days in Bangkok.
The two-tone green and yellow taxis are generally are best because these are driven by the owner, while all others are rented by the driver for the day. Just to be sure, note the driver’s name and number of the taxi from the dashboard where the identity card is visible.
Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, when traffic is flowing your way, but be warned that Bangkok taxi drivers are notorious for finding ways to run up the fare; insist that the meter is used, sometimes if they don’t like that, they will drive a longer route to get more money out of you. If the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi. Tipping the taxi driver when you finish your trip isn’t necessary although rounding up the figure on the meter makes things easier for the driver to make change.
All taxis are metered with the starting fee of 35 baht for the first 3 kilometers and then 5 baht per kilometer. Apart from the meter fee, you are responsible for any expressway toll fees there might be on the route. Some taxi drives ask whether you want to go (and pay) expressway. Expressways are better roads with a toll. Tolls for the expressway range from 25 to 45 baht with 45 baht being the average fee. Commonly there are 1-3 tollbooths, usually one.
The Bangkok Skytrain or BTS as it is better known was completed in 1999 and is still expanding, but at a bit slower pace. The Skytrain has a good reputation for safety, having suffered nothing worse than the occasional power cut and stuck train since it started operating. A disadvantage of the Skytrain is the somewhat limited areas it goes to at present, as there are only two lines.
The Skytrain system is split into two lines, which are crossing and connecting at Siam station. Siam station is the busiest station of all, especially at rush hours. As if the crossing station is not busy enough, nearby huge shopping malls attract people like ants.
All the system’s stations are elevated and constructed on three levels. The first elevated level of the stations contains the ticket booths, small kiosks and shops and of course access control gates. The second level (and third at Siam station) is again accessed with stairs and escalators and contains the platforms and rails where you can get onto trains.
The cost of a ticket depends on your location and destination but generally it’s a really inexpensive, fast and comfortable way to move around. Cost is between 15 and 50 baht for a ticket. Tickets for single journeys can be bought from a ticket vending machine. The machine takes 5 and 10 baht coins, which can be obtained from the change counters which can be found at all stations. When entering the platform area, the ticket is fed into the gate and received back. When leaving the platform at your destination, ticket is once again fed into the machine but not received back. If you are carrying big packs, security guards often let you use manual gates because electric gate sensors might not work correctly with big bags. Three Skytrain stations, Sala Daeng, Asok and Mo Chit, are interchanges with the metro MRT system. Note that consumption of food or drinks is forbidden past the ticketing gate or on the Skytrain.
The MRT system was introduced in 2004 and today serves over 240,000 passengers per day. Operation hours are from 06:00 to midnight. MRT offers a fast and easy way to move around, especially when used with Skytrain. The cost of using MRT is based on distance similarly as in the Skytrain system ranging from 15 baht to 39 baht. When you select the destination with ticketing machines and pay the fee, you will get a black plastic RFID “coin” which you use to enter through electronic gates as is similar to Skytrain access.
Chao Praya riverboat
At the famous artery of Bangkok you can spend an entire day, even several. For first timers it is easiest to use Chao Praya Express, “Tourist boat” service. The boat is easily accessed from Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain station, which is along side of the Sathorn pier.
“Tourist boat” option whole day ticket cost only 150 baht and you can cruise along the river as much as you like between 9:00-19:30 in hop-on, hop-off manner. The boat provides service to 8 piers, which in turn gives access to Bangkok’s most famous attractions. Another option is to use routes which local people use. The pricing goes by distance/piers you use. Lines are named by colors and flags except one. Green, yellow, orange and “no flag/local line”.
Another excellent way to explore Chao Praya River is to hire a long-tail boat and driver for about 400 baht per hour. Surely you need to know something about Bangkok already since your boat driver is just a driver, rarely a guide. You can hire boats at piers like Tha Chang ferry pier or the pier at the River City Shopping Complex. You can also ask about boat rides from tourist offices, hotels or taxi drivers.