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How To Navigate Transport in Bangkok, Thailand
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How To Navigate Transport in Bangkok, Thailand

Picture of Sarah Williams
Updated: 30 April 2018
Although finding your way around the Thai capital may seem daunting at first, navigating transport in Bangkok is actually pretty easy once you know how. The efficient public transport system includes a sky train, underground, and buses, and there are plentiful taxis and tuk tuks. Here’s how to explore Bangkok like a pro.

BTS Skytrain

Officially known as the Bangkok Mass Transit System but commonly referred to as the BTS or the Skytrain, there are two elevated lines that run through the newer parts of Bangkok. Connecting many popular attractions, restaurants, shopping areas, nightlife spots, and accommodations, the BTS soars across the congested streets below, helping you to beat the traffic and move around the city in air-conditioned comfort. The Silom Line runs between the National Stadium and Bang Wa, and the Sukhumvit Line operates between Mo Chit, home to the famous weekend market, and Bearing. The two lines connect at Siam. There are interchange stations with the MRT at Asok/Sukhumvit, Mo Chit, and Sala Daeng/Silom. Phaya Thai connects with the Airport Rail Link.

You need to buy a ticket before riding the BTS, available from machines in each station. You need coins to pay at the ticket machines (change is given), but there are service desks in all stations that can give change if you only have notes. Don’t lose your ticket as you need it to exit through the barriers at your end station. Do check the signs for the various exits, as leaving though the wrong one can result in a long walk and/or trying to find a way across busy roads to get to where you want to be. The Skytrain runs between 6am and midnight.

Local tip: If you’re staying in Bangkok for a longer period of time, you could save money with a 30-day Rabbit card.

BTS Skytrain in Bangkok
BTS Skytrain in Bangkok | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr</a>

MRT

The MRT, full name Metropolitan Rapid Transit, is Bangkok’s subway/metro system. Open between 6am and midnight, it is known in Thai as rotfai taidin (“underground train”), although many Bangkokians also refer to it as the MRT. There are two lines: the Blue Line and the Purple Line. The Blue Line runs between Tao Poon and Hua Lamphong, connecting with Bangkok’s main train station. The Purple Line runs from Tao Poon to Khlong Bang Phai in the neighbouring province of Nonthaburi. Although mainly used by commuters, the Blue Line in particular can be great for visitors wishing to get to places like Lumphini Park, Khlong Toei, Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, and the Thailand Cultural Centre. There’s an interchange station with the Airport Rail Link at Phetchaburi/Makkasan.

Do note that while there are several interchange stations, there is not an integrated ticketing system with the BTS. The MRT uses contactless tokens for single journeys, available from machines or booths within the stations.

Local tip: Frequent users may find the MRT Plus card convenient. It doesn’t save you any money, but you have the convenience of pre-loading your card with journey credit, which is great for bypassing queues at ticket machines and counters.

In an MRT station
In an MRT station | © Paul Sullivan / Flickr</a>

Local buses

Numerous local bus services operate in Bangkok, connecting almost all parts of the city. While buses can be held up in traffic jams, and the routes can be rather circuitous, they are ideal for budget travellers who want to pay as little as possible for transportation. Buses definitely aren’t fancy, with ceiling fans (sometimes broken) and open windows often the only ways to ease the stuffiness in the high temperatures. Many services have a conductor to take payment, so just hop on, take a seat, and wait for them to come to you for payment. If there’s no conductor the driver will take payment. Try to avoid paying in large notes as buses often won’t have enough change.

Check routes online with Transit Bangkok to use the buses like a pro; figuring out times, prices, and service numbers can otherwise be really tricky! Many drivers and conductors speak limited English and destinations are often written in the Thai script. It helps to recognise where you want to disembark too, as you will often need to indicate where you want to alight by either pressing a buzzer or simply standing up. Buses generally run between 5am and 11pm, though some night services are also available.

Waiting for a bus
Waiting for a bus | © Ryosuke Yagi / Flickr</a>

The BRT bus line is handy for people in the city on business, operating between Sathon and Ratchaphruek. Service A1 connects Don Mueang Airport with Mochit Bus Station, from there you can easily reach the BTS and MRT stations. The S1 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport with Khao San Road and the old city. Bus number 551 runs from the airport to Victory Monument, 556 operates to the Southern Bus Station, 558 connects the main airport with Central Rama 2, and 554 operates between Bangkok’s two airports.

Local tip: Look for yellow or blue signs in the windows of buses. Those with yellow signs are often faster as they use the expressway. This also means they have fewer stops. Those with blue signs are slower with more stops, thus better for travellers who want to get off somewhere along the route.

Local minivans and songthaews

As with buses, there are many minivans and songthaews that operate around Bangkok. Typically operating on set routes, fares are fixed regardless of the distance covered. Songthaews are converted pickup trucks with two benches in the back. They often have the destination written on the side, but it’s normally in Thai. Minivans may also only have place names written in Thai. Simply wait at the side of the road and, when you see a vehicle approaching, put your hand out to stop it. Do double check it is actually going to where you want before boarding! It’s common to pay when you leave the vehicle. Tell a minivan driver when you want to stop and alert a songthaew driver by pressing a buzzer. If the buzzers aren’t working, do it the Thai way and bang on the window that separates the seating area and the driver’s cab.

Local tip: Unlike buses, which usually only pickup passengers at designated stops, minivans and songthaews can be flagged down anywhere along their route, as long as they have space. They will also drop off wherever a passenger wants along their route. They’re the closest you’ll get to a door-to-door service without paying a premium.

Taxis

There are many taxis in Bangkok, coming in a range of colours. Although taxis are the most expensive means of city transportation, and journeys can be long thanks to the traffic, sometimes the convenience of a door-to-door service with air-conditioning is the most comfortable and appealing way of travelling from A to B. By law, Bangkok taxis should use a meter. If they refuse, walk away and find another taxi. If they begin a journey and don’t turn on the meter, stop the ride and get out. The only time it is appropriate to negotiate a fare is for longer, inter-city, journeys or if you wish to charter a taxi for a day (or longer). Shorter local journeys should always be charged by the meter. Tipping is not necessary, though rounding up the fare to the nearest ten baht is common. One scam to watch out for is drivers taking longer routes than necessary; having a map or GPS is the best way to know if you’re heading in the right direction. Do keep your cool if challenging a driver, though; it may be that they know a particular road is heavily congested or are taking what will ultimately be a quicker route.

Local tip: Taxi drivers might sometimes suggest using a toll road. This is often in everyone’s best interests if you don’t want to sit in traffic with the meter ticking. You will be responsible for the added costs of the toll if you choose this option; some drivers will ask for the money to pay at the booths and some will add it to the final fare.

Multi-coloured cabs
Multi-coloured cabs | © Syeefa aka Ruzi95 / Flickr</a>

Motorbike taxis

Motorbike taxis can be a convenient and exciting way for solo travellers to move around the city. You can spot motorbike taxis as the drivers wear coloured vests. It’s also common for groups of motorbike taxis, known in Thai as motorsai taxi, to hang around outside of major attractions, BTS and MRT stations, and at major junctions. You should agree on a suitable price beforehand. Motorbike taxis have the advantage of being able to weave between larger stationary vehicles, meaning that your journey is often quicker than in a regular taxi. Keep your feet up at all times—your driver knows what they are doing—and hold on to the bar behind your seat.

Local tip: Bangkok’s traffic can be hectic and motorbike taxis can often feel as though they’re flying along without a care in the world. Always wear a helmet. If a driver doesn’t offer you a helmet find a bike that puts safety first.

Tuk tuks

An iconic form of transportation in Bangkok and Thailand in general, taking a ride in a tuk tuk is often one of those must-do experiences for travellers. Tuk tuk fares aren’t cheap and, unlike taxis, they do not have meters. Always arrange the price before starting a journey to avoid any nasty surprises on arrival. Make sure your bags aren’t likely to fall out of the back too, as they can whizz along straight runs and take corners pretty sharply!

Local tip: If you want to negotiate the price of a tuk tuk, choose a driver that is sitting alone and away from a group. The drivers who are ganged together and are pestering for business are less likely to lower their starting price.

Row of tuk tuks in Bangkok
Row of tuk tuks in Bangkok | © BriYYZ / Flickr</a>

River and canal boats

Various ferry and boat services operate along the Chao Phraya River, with some travelling along the river and others simply shuttling people back and forward across the water. Services are colour coded and on-board announcements give you plenty of notice for each stop. Most river ferries operate from 6am to 10pm on weekdays, and the orange service also operates at weekends. Tickets can be purchased at the piers.

Boat services also operate along Bangkok’s historic khlongs or canals. Prices are reasonable and members of staff at the piers can generally provide assistance.

Local tip: There’s a sightseeing tourist boat, the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat, that operates hop-on, hop-off services with unlimited boat transportation for a day. While this can be a great way to hit a variety of major sights, it’s not worth the 150-THB fare if you just want to do one trip. Vendors at the piers often try to sell these tickets first, so clarify that you want to ride on the regular ferry to avoid paying an unreasonably high price for a short hop.

River traffic in Bangkok
River traffic in Bangkok | © Bernard Spragg. NZ / Flickr</a>

Inter-city road transportation

Short- and long-distance buses connect Bangkok with almost all major cities and towns around Thailand. The city has three bus stations and you’ll need to make sure you go to the appropriate one to find the bus service that you want. Mo Chit Bus Station, also known as the Northern Bus Station, serves all destinations north of Bangkok. Go here for services to places like Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Chiang Mai. It also has the most services to Northeast Thailand, or Isan. Sai Tai Mai, or the Southern Bus Station, is the place to go for buses to Phetchaburi, Hua Hin, Cha Am, Chumphon, Phuket, Krabi, and Hat Yai. The Eastern Bus Station, in Ekkamai, serves destinations like Chanthaburi, Pattaya, Trat (for Koh Chang), and Rayong (for Koh Samet).

Minivans also operate from the bus stations, often providing a quicker service for a similar price. Some operate to a schedule while other services wait until they are almost full before departing.

Local tip: The blue and white government buses offer the cheapest fares, while privately operated VIP services are generally more comfortable. Night buses can be an affordable way of covering long distances, with VIP buses usually providing blankets, snacks, and drinks.

Waiting at a Bangkok bus station
Waiting at a Bangkok bus station | © GuiGui Les Bons Skeudis / Flickr</a>

Inter-city rail transportation

The large and bustling Hualamphong Train Station is Bangkok’s main railway station. Almost all rail services begin and end here, with trains going north, south, east, and west. Previously, passengers had to visit a train station or use a travel agent to reserve tickets in advance. There is a now a relatively new online booking service to make life more convenient; it is strongly recommended to book long-distance services at least a couple of days in advance. You can also check service times online, but do keep in mind that rail services are quite frequently subject to delays.

Local tip: Third class carriages, with hard wooden benches and open windows and doors for a cool breeze, can be a really cost-effective way to travel short distances by rail. Seating isn’t allocated, so you may find yourself standing. Advance bookings are recommended for first- and second-class seats, especially on sleeper trains. The lower bunks on sleeper trains are a lot more spacious than the top bunks.

Inside Bangkok’s train station
Inside Bangkok’s train station | © sluj78 / Flickr</a>

Domestic flights

Most domestic flights from Bangkok use the older Don Mueang Airport in Pathum Thani. Common destinations include Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Udon Thani, and Khon Kaen. Carriers operating from Don Mueang include the budget airlines of AirAsia, Thai Lion Air, and Nok Air. Thai Smile operates domestic flights from both Don Mueang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airport, so do double check before making your way to catch your flight. Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways are full-service airlines and operate their domestic routes out of Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Local tip: Don’t discount flying if your chosen destination doesn’t have an airport; some operators offer combination fly-and-ride (or fly-and-ferry) services, making it quicker to reach places like Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao, Sukhothai, and Surin.

The gleaming interiors of Suvarnabhumi Airport
The gleaming interiors of Suvarnabhumi Airport | © Paul Sullivan / Flickr</a>

Transportation apps

The ride-sharing services of Uber and Grab both operate in Bangkok, letting you order a ride with ease. Prices are generally cheaper than taxis too. If you want to summon a regular taxi, All Thai Taxi and Easy Taxi will help you out. There’s also an official booking app for motorbike taxis — GoBike.

The MRT app is handy for exploring Bangkok by rail. It has a fare calculator, provides estimated travel times, shows you what’s near each station, and more. For general navigation, Google Maps, Moovit, and Next Station Bangkok are recommended.

Local tip: Translation apps can be invaluable when communicating with people that don’t speak much English, and being able to show an address in Thai to a taxi driver can save much confusion.

There are even apps for ordering motorbike taxis in Bangkok
There are even apps for ordering motorbike taxis in Bangkok | © Twentyfour Students / Flickr</a>