Bangkok can seem like a maze, but getting to know the public transportation options (and carrying a good map) will help you reach any destination. Also, take note: Vehicles in Thailand drive on the left side of the road.
Self-Portrait in a Tuk-Tuk
Tuk-tuks: This is one of the cheapest ways to tour Bangkok, and definitely the most fun, if you don’t mind inhaling exhaust from other cars. Tuk-tuks look like motorcycles with little carts on the back and often have brightly colored seats and tin roofs. They can seat three people pretty comfortably. Be prepared to haggle for fares. It helps to know the distance between places, so if someone wants you to pay 80 baht to go 3 km, you can argue down the price by showing the map. (What worked for our navigator: Point at the map, say “thii nii” (here; sounds like “tee-knee”) and then “thii nan” (there; sounds like “tee-nawn”); state your fare and don’t back down. Don’t fret about getting where you need to go. If you don’t get this tuk-tuk, there will always be another one.)
Taxis: Don’t bargain for the price – just tell them to use the meter. If you worry about having trouble explaining where you want to go, pick up a business card from your hotel or guesthouse, which often will have directions in Thai to show your driver how to get there. To hail a taxi, hold your hand out flat with the palm down and move it up and down. Waving doesn’t necessarily mean that you want them to stop, and, interestingly enough, the “thumbs up” hitchhiking signal means “go” in Thailand.
Motorcycle taxis: If you’re adventurous and don’t have much luggage with you (i.e., not on the trip from the airport), these are good for getting where you want to go quickly. Motorcycles often make their own lanes between lines of cars and tuk-tuks in traffic, so the ride isn’t for the squeamish.
Bus: Buses come with fan or A/C. For long trips, I’d recommend A/C – it costs a little more, but given Bangkok’s humidity, it can make the trip a lot more comfortable. However, even with the best A/C, it can still be difficult to sleep on a bus during long trips. They make frequent stops, and a few we rode on played bland action movies or boisterous Thai game shows at full volume. There are three separate bus stations in Bangkok: Northern (Moh Chit), Eastern (Ekamai) and Southern. Consult a guidebook or the TAT office to find the correct departure site for your trip.
Train: The fare and accommodations for trains leaving from Bangkok’s Hua Lam Phong train station are pleasantly surprising. If you’re traveling long distances, like Bangkok to Chiang Mai or Bangkok to the southern islands (Ko Samui, Phuket and Krabi), splurge and get a second-class sleeper car with A/C. You’ll save time by traveling at night, and it’s much more comfortable to sleep in a bed instead of a seat. Bottom bunks are more expensive than top ones, but if you’re claustrophobic it’s worth it (the top has a curved ceiling and no windows).
Skytrain: Suspended above Bangkok’s sticky traffic jams, this new air-conditioned transit system helps you crisscross the city without hassle. It also makes stops at many tourist sites. Consult TAT for maps or call BTS Skytrain, 0-2617-7141-2.
Boats: Long-tail boats are used as river transport on the Chao Phraya River and allow you to cover long distances for cheap (8-15 baht, depending on your stop). There are also motorized longboats that follow a scheduled route and stop at many popular tourist attractions, such as the Grand Palace and Chinatown.