In a fast-paced city that rarely ever seems to sleep, congestion is always going to pose somewhat of an issue if you have travel plans. Bangkok has come a long way since the backpacking days of the 90′s when sweltering in the heat of the day in traffic queues was part and parcel of the Bangkok adventure. Changes to the subway system, coupled with the unveiling of the BTS Skytrain in 1999 has significantly improved the time it’ll take you to get across town during peak periods – albeit at considerably greater cost than either taxis or Tuk Tuks.
Some say the best tactic is to use multiple types of public transport for getting across the city; the theory being that by incorporating different modes of transport for various legs of the route, you’ll dodge much of the congestion that can easily add an hour or two to your overall journey. Don’t be afraid to haggle if you think you’re being overcharged either. Taxi drivers are particularly sly, and often see naïve tourists as a great way to make an extra 100 Baht for a ten minute journey. Ultimately, if you want to navigate Bangkok like a native, you’ll have to get creative with the various modes of transport available, and be prepared to barter to get the best possible price.
Unveiled in 1999, the two-line BTS Skytrain has played a significant part in reducing the journey times for travel between major tourist hotspots, and the Chao Phraya Express Boats terminal. The Sukhumvit (main) Line runs from Mo Chit to On Nut – home to the tallest chedi in Thailand. The Silom line bridges the distance between the National Stadium and Wongwian Wai, the heart of historic Thonburi district.
With services running every six minutes from 6:30 am until midnight, the Skytrain is a handy mode of transport if you’re wanting to flit across the city to see the main sights. But be warned, a one-stop ticket will set you back around 15 Baht, and there are no discounts on offer for return journeys. Be sure to avoid the Skytrain during peak periods, as the stations are literally crammed with hoards of office workers trying to get home.
Bangkok MRT (Underground Metro)
Bangkok MRT was the first underground metro of its kind in Thailand, and while it doesn’t serve many of the capital’s touristic hotspots, it’s a viable (and cheap) mode of transportation if you want to explore the Metropolitan area. The MRT serves 18 stations in all from Hua Lamphong to Bang Sue 06.00 am to midnight everyday, and because it cuts beneath the congested Ratchadapisek and Rama IV Roads, significantly reduces journey time if you’re planning to do some attraction hopping. The Blue Line (currently the only MRT line in operation) encompasses numerous popular areas for shopping including Chinatown and Kampaengphet, home to both the Tor Kor and Chatuchak Weekend Markets. Services are generally reliable with trains running every five minutes during peak hours, and every seven minutes after 7 pm.
BMTA Bus Services
If you want to save your Baht and cut down on unnecessary change-overs, the city’s bus services are probably your best bet. On the plus side, most providers run services that cover both the central and suburban areas of the city, however, the majority are slow and congested, and the routes can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the city layout. Nearly all services are provided by the BMTA (Bangkok Mass Transit Authority), so you’ll find that every district has a central hub from which all major routes depart. Fares tend to vary depending upon the colour of the bus, and whether or not it is air-conditioned. Expect to pay in the region of 8-12 Baht for cross-city journeys.
Songthaews and Tuk Tuks
Tuk Tuks are the second most popular mode of travel for sightseeing in Bangkok, but while they’re generally convenient, you can pretty much guarantee your journey will take twice as long compared to a bus or the Skytrain. Much like taxi drivers, Tuk Tuk owners view tourists as fair game when it comes to fare fixing. If you’re exploring the suburbs, you may find travelling via Songthaew a little cheaper. Essentially a large truck with rows of benches and an overhead canopy, Songthaews aren’t the most comfortable of transport options, but more often than not, are usually far better value for money!
Bangkok Airport Rail Link
Finished in 2010, the sleek new Airport Rail Link is perhaps the best example of Bangkok’s efforts to overcome the problems of congestion and unnecessarily long journeys over short distances. With just six stops (Lad Krabang Station, Thab Chang Station, Huamak station, Ramkamheang Station, Makkason Station and Rajprarop Station) between Suvarnabhumi International Airport and PhayaThai at the very heart of Bangkok, the 3 City Line is the more affordable of the two routes at 15 – 45 Baht, and takes just under 30 minutes. If you’re in a hurry, the straight line Express Line might be a better option, since it has no stops and takes just 17 minutes to reach Makkasan Station from the airport for 150 Baht. Primarily designed for business commuters, the Airport Link Skytrain does suffer somewhat from a lack of general luggage space. If you’re travelling with more than one suitcase in tow, or returning to the airport with bags of souvenirs, you’d probably find it more comfortable to hire a taxi instead.
Taxis in Bangkok
If convenience is your foremost consideration when choosing how to get from A to B, Bangkok’s car and motorcycle taxis will win hands down every time. In Bangkok, there are no taxi ranks to speak of, and you’ll rarely ever have to flag one down since they congregate at every street corner. The only real negative is that, like Tuk Tuk operators, many of Bangkok’s taxi drivers are independents, meaning they set their own rates and often overcharge on fares. Don’t be afraid to ask your driver to switch on the meter before the journey – it’ll generally save a lot of confusion and haggling later on!