The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Transportation in Bangkok by rail, subway, road, and water

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 02•10

Bangkok's Skytrain

You will soon find your enjoyment of Bangkok to be commensurate with your ability to get around the city quickly, efficiently, and comfortably.  Our preference is the BTS Skytrain for all points possible.  It’s quick, air-conditioned, and has great views.  The new subway is a decent second-best.  Take taxis and motorcycle taxis when necessary, and tuk-tuks when you’re amenable to being charged high fares with unwanted diversions to gem shops.  Inner-city buses are not an option we’d recommend.  Try one, and you’ll see what we mean. 

On the river, your best bet are river taxis, but don’t forget the Khlong Saen Sap canal taxis, which can get you from east to west faster than anything else in the city. 

With all the folding, unfolding, and tom yam goong spilling, you’ll need a sturdy map of Bangkok.  There’s none better than Insight’s plastic “FlexiMap” for Bangkok, available at bookstores everywhere. 

Here is your guide to getting around town: 

BTS Skytrain

Bangkok is best traveled on the Bangkok Transit System Skytrain, clean fast, efficient. BTS is a privately-held company, but rumblings are being heard that the government will eventually take over the Skytrain, as well as the new subway system, and eventually merge them into a single coordinated urban transportation unit. By taking BTS, you avoid the traffic snafus for which Bangkok is famous.  Fares are nominal, and the much-welcome air conditioning is free-of-charge.  For destinations not on the BTS line proper, we like to take BTS to the station nearest our destination, and then, if it’s too far to walk, take a taxi-meter or moto-taxi to our final destination. Skytrain is an elevated system with 25 stops. It runs from 6:00 am to 12:00 pm daily, with trains every three to five minutes.  To get a ticket, go to the automated kiosk on the platform, look at the BTS map, and push the numbered button that corresponds to your destination station.  The readout will tell you how may baht coins to feed into the machine.  Pop them in, and out comes a ticket and your change.  Proceed to the turnstile, insert your ticket arrow first, and collect it again as you pass through the turnstile.  Hang onto it, as you’ll need to insert it in the exit turnstile at your destination.  If a one-way ticket, it will not be returned to you. 

In addition to a single-ride ticket, there are two ticket options available, and you can purchase them, as well as get change,  at the ticket booth at every station.  

  • 1-Day Tourist pass, 100 baht, available at all BTS stations. This pass is for unlimited rides for one whole day until midnight.  
  • 3-Day Tourist pass, 280 baht, available at all BTS stations. With this pass, tourists can travel around Bangkok with unlimited rides for 3 nights,  4 days 

Bangkok’s new MRT subway line connects with the Skytrain at the Asok, Mo Chit, and Sala Daeng stations. 

 MRT Subway

 The Bangkok Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority’s brand new 18-stop underground system opened in July of 2004.  Fast, clean, and efficient, the subway is hands-down the best way to get to the Hualamphong Railway Station. Fares are based on destination, range from 12 to 31 baht, and magnetized plastic tokens are used to enter and depart turnstiles.  Because the underground is a company separate from BTS Skytrain, the three underground stops corresponding to BTS stations have different names, as follows: 

BTS Mo Chit = MRT Chatuchak Park
BTS Asok = MRT Sukhumvit
BTS Sala Daeng = MRT Si Lom 

Because the systems are not part of a unified transit authority, separate tickets are required when passing from MRT to BTS, or vice-versa. 

Special note for business travelers using BTS and MRT:  Escalators at BTS and MRT stations are well-known to business people, as they are equipped with shoeshine buffers approximately one inch above the escalator stairs.  To buff your shoes, simply glide them along the brushes that line each side of the escalator, as you’re traveling up or down.  There is simply no excuse now for arriving as your business meeting without a high-gloss buff to your business shoes! 

Chao Phraya River Taxis: These fast boats ply the many piers along the big river.  Consult your map for their locations.  Fares begin at 6 baht, and you simply get off at your numerically-designated pier (quickly, as the boat touches the pier for mere seconds to take on new passengers).  All piers have maps that list other numbered piers, along with the fare.  Do save your ticket, and you may be asked to produce it at any point.  The river taxi stops at each pier every twenty minutes in both directions, and operates from 6 am – 7:45 pm only. 

The river taxi connects with BTS Skytrain Saphan Taksin station, but it’s tricky getting to the correct pier from the BTS station.  Upon exiting the station to the left, at the bottom of the stairs, you’ll see three piers.  The left one is a hotel shuttle (Peninsula, Marriott, and Oriental), the pier on the right is for a specific ferry that crosses the river.  The river taxi pier (Tha Sathorn pier) is the one in the middle.  See the ThaiOasis detailed explanation of river transportation, for more river options.
GPS for Sathorn river taxi pier: N13°43.132  E100°30.776

 Taxi-Meter:  Metered taxis are almost always reliable in Bangkok, the drivers courteous, and many speak English.  Try to have someone write your destination in Thai, which will help the driver immeasurably.  Second, insure your taxi has a meter “pronounced MEET-air”, and ask him to start it as you roll.  If you meet resistance, demand that the driver start the meter, as it’s the law! Unmetered taxis (usually found at hotels) will always charge more, and we don’t recommend taking them within Bangkok.  Incidentally, when you return from your hotel to the airport, unmetered taxis will charge you roughly double what the metered ones will.  If your hotel has a “taxi mafia” of unmetered taxis, walk out the door, jump into a metered taxi, drive to the lobby, and ask the driver to wait while you load your luggage for the airport.  Have a good flight, and use the money you just saved to help pay the 500 baht exit fee as you enter the departure lounge. 

Tuk-tuk: These charming three wheeled, LP gas-powered vehicles are a Bangkok tradition, and you should ride in them once, just for the experience.  As there are no set fares, you must bargain with the driver, in advance.  As a rule, offer ¼ of what he initially quotes you, so you can settle on ½.  Tuk-tuk drivers are notorious con artists, and are famous for insisting on taking you to gem stores and souvenir shops on the way to your destination, where they receive commissions.  While not dangerous, tuk-tuk drivers can be annoying in their desire to delay your arrival at your destination. 

Motorcycle taxi:  There’s no denying the danger of rocketing along Bangkok streets (and sidewalks!) at 60 mph on the back of a moto-taxi.  There’s also, much of the time, no faster way to get to your destination.  Fares are generally in the 20-50 baht range, and are slightly negotiable.  Moto-taxi stands occupy at least one corner of all major street intersections.  Just look for a group of motorcycles whose drivers are wearing vests of the same color.  

Khlong San Sap / Khlong Mahanak Canal Boats:  There really isn’t a fast way to go east-west in the northern part of the city, but if you’re near the San Sap canal, south of Phetburi Road, you can take the fast, cheap, and picturesque canal boats.  Fare is 10 baht.  As the boat gets underway, plastic tarps are raised to keep the nasty canal water off you.  While many guidebooks bemoan the pollution of Bangkok air and water, we find the carping annoying. “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” so do like the Thais, and smile as you go on your way.  Canal taxis go as far west as Thanon Ratchdamnoen, where most of the Banhlamphoo section of Bangkok is within a ten-minute walk. 

Inner-city local buses:  City buses are difficult for the traveler unaccompanied by a Thai, and the entire system routing is being revamped as of this writing.  If you have respiratory problems, the open-air city bus is sure to aggravate them, and they’re often slow and hot.  By the end of 2005, non air-con buses will be removed from the fleet, and minibus jitneys will be added.  There’s also talk about rerouting all lines to avoid making right-hand turns against traffic.  If this Byzantine system ever becomes useful for the first-time traveler, we’ll write about it here.  

Rental Car for use in Bangkok:  This is such a bad idea, we won’t recommend it, as Bangkok traffic is confusing, even to many locals.  To see the rest of the country by car, rentals are viable, but we suggest renting one at the airport so you don’t have to drive through the city on your way out.

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One Comment

  1. Stock says:

    Thanks for the nice post…

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