Getting around Bangkok is not too difficult a feat to accomplish. It’s a large metropolitan area however, so you’re not going to be able to just walk around to get where you need. It’s not as easy or extensive as Seoul – though it’s less daunting; but it’s also far more convenient than Kuala Lumpur or Vietnam. There is a wide variety of ways to manage getting around.
In this entry, I’ll also include motorbike taxis or Xe Oms. They’re easy to discover, they tend to wear orange vests that display their license (which is nice). The motorbikes are not likely able to carry multiple people or with large packs, but can be great for a short distance.
Tuk tuks are the pretty much the same as throughout the rest of Southeast Asia. They can be convenient, and if you find a reputable driver – nice. But it’s very easy to get ripped off, scammed, and just generally fed up with them. We don’t like using them, but it’s up to you if you want to use them. We wouldn’t recommend using them if you’re traveling a long distance, but for a short distance, it may be ok if you agree to a price before hopping on.
As with most other cities, taxis are the first and most obvious mode of transportation that you’ll take. They’ll overcharge you if you come from the airport (don’t they always?), but elsewhere, the rates are pretty reasonable. We only took a taxi a few times – but they were usually quite straightforward. Our first taxi didn’t quite seem to know where he was going, but figured it out rather quickly. Our second taxi didn’t really speak English, but I showed him the address and a map and he got us there for 100 Baht (~$2.50). Our final taxi took us to the bus stop quite easily as well for around 150 Baht.
Grabbing a taxi is very simple as well, we never bothered to call for one – we simply walked out to the street and waved one down. There always seemed to be a taxi no matter where we were. It literally took me 30 seconds to flag down a taxi each time. One thing to keep in mind, is that traffic is awful in Bangkok, so the taxi will ask you if you want to take a toll road (highway) to get where you’re going, which you’ll have to pay for. We didn’t do it the first time, and it cost us over an hour’s drive – we took it the second time, paid 70 baht, and got where we were going within 20 minutes.
Be sure to use a metered taxi though! It will be cheaper, despite what the driver may say, but generally if you say use the meter, they will do it without complaint.
If you find yourself anywhere along the river, you can take boat taxis. In fact, if you want to get to some temples, you may need to use these (Temple of Dawn). We never did end up using them, mainly because we just didn’t have it in our itinerary, but if you do there are a few things to keep in mind.
There are three main waterways: Chao Phraya River (the main river), Klong Saen Saeb (cuts across Bangkok), and Klongs of Thonburi (networks of canals throughout the city.
There are 6 boat types: River Taxis, Long Tails (tuk tuks on water), Ferry, Canal Boats, Private Cruises, and Hotel Shuttles. These are pretty self-explanatory and unless a tour or hotel has already arranged these for you, you will only be bothering with River Taxis, Long Tails, and Ferries.
There are 5 types of River Boat, indicated by the flags, and these will be how you decide which you want to take:
No flag (local line) – Stops at every Pier
Blue flag (tourist boat) – Stops when you want. Will cost more, but may be more convenient.
Orange flag – Stops at main piers
Yellow flag – Large express boat for commuters
Green flag – Express boat for commuters
If you want to take one, it is easiest to access the Sathorn Central Pier, located in front of BTS Skytrain Station Saphan Taksin.
City buses are a convenient way to get around as well (though we never did use them). Generally quite cheap, with fares ranging from 7 to 20 Baht. They run 24/7, so they may be your go-to if you find yourself out after the metro has shut down. There are 12 lines of service, and most will have a stop near the main hotels.
Buses with blue signs in the window will run normal routes and stop at all bus stops, while yellow sign buses use expressways and have a limited locations. You purchase your ticket on the bus itself. You may want to do a bit of research before hand though, to know which route you want to take.
You can also arrange for a bus across international borders, such as we did for entering Cambodia. You read more about that here.
Van / Minibus / Truck
You may notice as you go about Bangkok what appears to be vans or trucks, with open backs and benches along the back. These are like buses, and tend to run some of the same routes, and some of the smaller routes that normal buses won’t frequent. You can simply hop on and pay the attendant a small fee (5 – 20 baht) and simply ride until you get where you need to go. Just let the driver or attendant know when you want to get off and you can simply walk off the back.
Metro / Subway / MRT:
Our primary method of getting around Bangkok was via the Metro, Skytrain, BTS Rail. It is not a streamlined as Seoul by any means – but they aren’t too difficult to manage. There are numerous stations that you can enter. When you come into the station, you will have your bags checked for bombs/contraband, but it’s pretty simple, and nothing at all like the airport (just open your backpack and you’re good).
Once in, you’ll usually find a small assortment of stalls selling food or drink. There are ticket vending machines which are convenient and will run in Thai and English, simply tell the kiosk which station you want to go, then feed in the bills or coins (wonderful way to get rid of excess coins). Once purchased, you will receive either plastic coins or cards to swipe to get to the platform. If you would prefer to talk to a person, there are regular kiosk operators as well (great if you have large bills to break).
Trains tend to arrive every 10 minutes, and can be a little crowded. We didn’t make it in once and had to wait for the next train, but usually it’s not a problem.
When you arrive at the station you will either leave completely or transfer to the next station. The stations are not as seamlessly integrated as Seoul, so you may need to leave your current station and enter a new one, especially if you’re changing from Skytrain to Subway. It’s not too difficult to manage, but it can throw you for a loop the first time you encounter it. You will need to purchase a new ticket at each station though.
If you are going to be Bangkok for a while though, you can simply purchase a longterm card which you simply recharge remotely and swipe, so you can have a more streamlined process.
Keep in mind, that there seem to be no bathrooms within the metro system – so take care of business before you travel!