Enjoy a mixture of fun and convenient ways to get around the city.
They say Bangkok is a city that never sleeps, powered by a world-class public transport infrastructure that whisks residents to virtually any part of the city or even the country at almost any time of the day or night.
Like many of the world’s leading cities, Thailand’s capital once faced traffic congestion problems. But that changed on December 5, 1999, when the launch of Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain system lifted commuters above the daily battle with gridlocked traffic and air pollution. These days, passengers can glide through the cityscape in airconditioned comfort from 5 am until the last train draws into the end-of-line station at 1am.
The Skytrain also offers easy access to the capital’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi, via the Airport Rail Link from BTS Phaya Thai station. However, the Link runs from 5.30 am to midnight so might not be useful if you’re catching an early-morning flight or are overloaded with luggage.
In mid-2004, Bangkok opened its subway system, better known as the MRT, which has two lines and runs from 6am to midnight every day. The MRT is great for exploring the city, whisking passengers to some of Bangkok’s best-known destinations such as Chatuchak weekend market, Chinatown and Rattanakosin Island. Moreover, commuters can also get a taste of unique Thai-style artworks on the extended Blue Line or “Heritage Line”. The subway stations including Wat Mangkon, Sam Yot, Sanam Chai and Itsaraphap have been designed as art spaces with artworks that reflect the areas above them.
The MRT also links up with the BTS at several points, creating a light rail network that covers most of the city. A new monorail feeder service known as the Gold Line linking the Krung Thonburi BTS station to Klong San and high-end mall Iconsiam is scheduled to open in October 2020.
However, tickets for each system have to be bought separately, though there is talk of them being linked up by single payment soon.
Credit cards cannot be used to purchase individual tickets in either system, so it’s advisable to always have cash handy. Users have the option of buying single-journey tickets or a card they can top up with credit for multiple trips.
As well as being linked with the MRT, the BTS is also connected to the BRT or Bus Rapid Transport service from Chong Nonsi station in central Bangkok to Talat Phlu across the river.
Venice of the East
In addition to Bangkok’s broad and still-expanding train network, travellers can also catch a boat to the capital’s historical sights and even new destinations like Asiatique and Iconsiam. Chao Phraya Express boats run below Saphan Taksin BTS from 6 am to 7 pm and fares start from 9 to 32 baht. Alternatively, river-trippers can opt for an all-day pass for 150 baht.
Commuter ferries also criss-cross the river, and some will even let you take your bicycle or motorbike across, including the service from Wat Khlong Toey Nok to Bang Krachao – Bangkok’s “green lung”.
Another easy way to avoid inner Bangkok’s traffic jams is by hopping aboard one of the water taxis that ply the 18-kilometre-long Saen Saep canal in the city’s heart. They share the canal with commuter boats, which run west to the Golden Mount and east to Wat Si Bunruang in Bang Kapi district. The interchange stop is right in the centre of the city, in Pratunam.
The canal boats run from dawn until about 8 pm on weekdays and until 7 pm on the weekends, with fares ranging from 8 baht to 18 baht.
Alternatively, if you’re travelling in a group and want to try something different, you can rent a long-tail boat.
Bangkok also has an extensive public bus network, which comes in all shapes, colours and sizes, ranging from smart airconditioned single-deckers to songthaews (converted trucks) and private vans. If these are your transport choice, downloading the “Via Bus” app will give you live information on bus routes and times. This is probably the cheapest way form of public transport in the city as fares start from as little as 8 baht.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is now introducing so-called smart bus stops. By the end of this year, BMA plans to install 200 of them and the first has already been set up in front of Central Rama 9 on Rama IX Road. The smart bus stop has a screen displaying the arriving buses and even offers WIFI and a battery charger station.
However, if the crowds get too much, you can always flag down one of Bangkok’s ubiquitous airconditioned metered taxis. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can opt for a motorbike taxi or a tuk-tuk – though be prepared to haggle for several minutes to get a good price for the latter. These modes of transport are not advisable for long distances, however.
Most areas also have “win motorcy”, or motorbike taxis that service specific locations such as sois or housing estates.
However, if you’re looking for safety, comfort and convenience – and if you still haven’t mastered the language – an app like GrabTaxi may be the best bet. This service runs 24 hours and offers a choice of metred taxi, which costs 20 baht above the fare, or a private car at a predetermined fare.
This service is a godsend if you have a flight to catch at an ungodly hour or need to get to your hotel safely from a night venue. The GPS usually shows the driver where you’re waiting and where you want to go, though it is not fool proof – the maps are not always accurate and you may have to give the driver directions.
Grab Taxi also has a self-drive option, allowing you to rent a car at an affordable price.
Apart from driving you around the city, some cabbies are also happy to take you to nearby provinces. Private hire options are also plentiful on the net. A car from your Bangkok hotel to the seaside in Hua Hin can cost as little as 1,800 baht and much less if you’re going somewhere closer.
For a cheaper alternative, you can take a local long-distance bus from one of the three main bus terminals in the city. Though these services make plenty of stops, they are airconditioned or at the very least usually have windows you can open.
Another easy, cheap and comfortable way to get around Thailand – or even to Malaysia and Singapore – is to take a train from Hua Lamphong Station. Bangkok’s historic railway hub is housed in an impressive neo-Renaissance façade and offers everything from overnight chuggers to luxury trains like the Eastern and Oriental Express.
However, Hua Lamphong will close its doors next year when the State Railway of Thailand moves to the giant and futuristic Bang Sue Grand Station across town.
Thanks to its geographical location, Bangkok is a regional transport hub boasting two international airports – Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang – with flights linking nearly every major and not so major city in the world.
The sprawling Suvarnabhumi Airport, which opened in 2006, serves most international commercial airlines, while the older Don Mueang Airport services budget and domestic airlines. A railway linking Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang to U-Tapao airport in Rayong on the eastern seaboard will be up and running in the next few years, providing even greater convenience for travellers in Thailand.