Getting Around Using Public Transportation in Bangkok

The city of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand had a notorious reputation for its gridlocked traffic and the time that would be wasted in trying to get across the city during its ‘rush’ hours. In recent years the city has developed some modern syste

The city of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand had a notorious reputation for its gridlocked traffic and the time that would be wasted in trying to get across the city during its ‘rush’ hours. In recent years the city has developed some modern systems to help ease these traffic problems and visitors to the city today have a wide choice of public transportation at their disposal.

The Bangkok Transit System (BTS) also known as the Skytrain is an elevated train that crosses the city and links many of the popular tourist areas to the hotels. It is the fastest way to get around the city, it is cheap, a smooth ride, clean and offers some great views of the city. One line runs west-south while a second one runs north-east and offers new arrivals to the city a safe way to explore and see what the city has to offer the tourist. The first trains run at 6.30am and continue until midnight. The rush hours of 7.00-9.00am and 4.00-7.00pm are best avoided as the trains can then become very crowded. A free map showing routes of the BTS can be found at any station.

The Bangkok Underground system or MRT first opened to the public in 2004 and can accommodate up to 40,000 passengers per hour. During the peak hours as listed above trains operate every five minutes, outside of these times they still run regularly at seven minute intervals. It is a fast and efficient service and along with the Skytrain has reduced the traffic congestion within the city considerably. The air conditioned train is comfortable and receives phone signals below ground so you need never be out of contact. The system only has the one line in operation at this time although others are awaiting government approval to begin construction. The blue line has 18 stations along its 20 km route and has good connections to the Skytrain at two intersecting stations. The service has an efficiency rating of over 99% of its trains running on time. Tickets can be purchased for single journeys or through smart cards for those requiring to use the service regularly. There are car parking facilities at 7 stations and all stations are able to accommodate disabled passengers.

The public transportation of Bangkok includes boats and ferries and these are a great way to see the historic attractions close to the riverside area. The services for hire include express boats, river taxis and tail boats. Ferries cross the river at various points and offer a very cheap route (2.5 Baht) across this waterway. You can use water taxis for journeys of varying lengths starting from 6 Baht (currently 1US$ is equal to around 30 Baht). A day pass on the express boat costs around 75 Baht and stops at ten piers providing easy access to the attractions in this part of the city. The starting point at Sathorn Pier can be reached by the Skytrain. As well as the fast paced water taxis you could take a more leisurely trip along the canals of the city in a tailboat and view some of historic Bangkok where you can see rice and noodles being sold from floating kitchens or the river being used to carry rice barges. A lifestyle mostly unaffected by the development of the modern city.

The buses that criss cross the city are very cheap and provide a great way to see the city from the viewpoint of the local residents. Although they offer a chance to experience this method of transportation with a ringside seat (or more likely standing) they are not everyone’s favourite way to travel and are mostly not to be considered comfortable. The drivers have a reputation for being obnoxious, the bus conductors are classed as being aggressive and together with lots of traffic and the pollution this creates together with overcrowded buses full of sweaty passengers and it is easy to see why this method of transportation is really only for the hardy traveller.

Bangkok’s motorbike taxis are known as one of the fastest ways to get around if you are a solitary traveller, they are also the most dangerous. They will dart in and out of cars and buses and are great at avoiding the gridlock. The drivers are fearless and will do anything to get you to your destination quickly, they think nothing of using the sidewalks or pavement or even using the oncoming traffic lanes. The drivers are easily recognizable wearing orange vests and can usually be found close to the entrances of Skytrain or underground stations as well as hotels and tourist attractions. They are very cheap and some prices are fixed. You should negotiate a price before you begin your journey. Ensure you are given a helmet to wear as foreigners are easy targets for the traffic police and fines of up to 1,000 Baht are not uncommon for failure to wear one.

Taxis are the easiest and most convenient way to get around the city, most taxis are new and spacious and finding one is easy, generally they will find you especially when you do not require one. However, when it is raining and during rush hours you may have a long wait. They begin at 35 Baht for the first two kilometres and goes up by roughly 2 baht for each additional kilometre beyond that distance. When caught up in traffic jams a surcharge is applied and communication can be a problem as very few drivers speak any English. Some drivers may ‘forget’ to turn on the meter and will require a polite reminder to avoid negotiating a price (in their favour) later. If he refuses to use the meter find another cab.

Tuk Tuks were at one time the best way to get around the city and they originated from rickshaws and are essentially a rickshaw with a small engine added. They are still popular with tourists and offer an experience of this mode of transportation rather than being a practical one. The fares can vary and will be determined by the distance, the time of day, how busy the traffic is and the mood of the driver. You should expect to pay around 30 Baht for a short trip. You should negotiate a price with the driver and haggling is an important part of this ritual. Because you are a tourist the driver will offer you an inflated price, the secret is to offer about 10 Baht less than he proposes and see if you can agree to a deal. In tourist areas you should be wary of scams to take you to secret or special places, they may offer to show you a sightseeing tour or similar to part you from your money. It often costs no more for a taxi than a tuk tuk, on occasion the taxi is even cheaper.

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Roberta Baxter
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Posted on Oct 21, 2011