This article continues from Getting in and around Bangkok – Part 1 as we go on to explore the many ways of transportation in Bangkok.
Notwithstanding the rail options, the most convenient and quickest way to negotiate your way around the city of Bangkok is by taxi. Modern, roomy and brightly-coloured – from the traditional green-yellow and red-blue to modern trendy colours like bright orange, red and even pink! Close to tourist attractions, shopping malls and hotels it is particularly easy to find taxis, they are generally readily available.
During rush hours, and if it is raining, you can be in for a really long wait though. Fares start at around 35 baht for the first 2km; increasing 2 baht per approximate kilometer. There is a traffic jam surcharge of 1.25 baht per meter when traveling less than 6km per hour. Few of the drivers speak much English, so be prepared for communication to be an issue – improvise and smile!
In summary taxis are likely to be available at all hours of the day and will not cost too much. Most taxis do have a meter but be aware that you may have to politely ask the driver to switch it on to save a debate later on. As the taxi fare is so very reasonable and the drivers work all hours in that Bangkok traffic, a gratuity is received with thanks.
Soi motorbikes (Motorbike Taxi)
If you are traveling alone and would like to dodge the traffic jams and bottlenecks, you might like to try a motorbike taxi. Given Bangkok’s horrendous traffic conditions, this is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a method used by many brave people to go all over the town particularly during rush hour.
The motorbike riders will do almost anything to get you to your destination quickly, even driving on the pavements or down the wrong side of the road.
The motorbike taxi drivers can easily be spotted as they wear numbered orange vests. They can be found in groups near corners of busy roads, smaller ‘sois’ (streets), Skytrain and underground stations and near shopping malls and office blocks. Fares will start at around 10 baht and will increase dependent on how far you are going. Some routes will have a fixed price and sometimes there will be a board with prices on it. Ensure you have agreed a price before you travel or you may find yourself paying more than the going rate. Make certain, too, that you always wear a safety helmet; not only will it keep you safe in traffic but it will help you avoid spot fines of up 1000 baht, depending on the mood of the traffic officer; foreigners are easy targets for these.
Tuk-tuks originated with the old-fashioned rickshaw. In the Second World War they began to be fitted with small engines and the tuk-tuk was born. Also known as ‘sam lor’ which means ‘three-wheeled’ they used to be the most popular mode of transportation for getting around Bangkok until the advent of the BTS, MRT and brightly coloured taxis.
Tuk-tuks are one of the most recognizable transport features and are now more of a tourist attraction than practical form of getting around the city. If it is your first visit to the ‘Big Mango’ it is an experience to be enjoyed; however here are some tips to bear in mind:
– It is necessary to haggle or negotiate the fare; the price named by the driver will always be inflated; particularly if you are a tourist. Take 5 to 15 baht off the proposed fare and work it from there.
– Beware the ‘mafia’ tuk-tuks who frequent touristy areas and often offer to take the unwary to ‘special’ or ‘secret’ shopping places. They may also offer sightseeing tours or other unsolicited help to visit places. A firm ‘No thank you’ will serve to protect you from unsavoury scams – and this tip applies to the taxis too.
– Rush hour is definitely a time to avoid the tuk-tuks; it would not be a pleasant experience to be stuck in traffic, in the Bangkok heat with exhaust fumes surrounding you and no end in sight!
– Short trips are what tuk-tuks are best suited to, although you can find it cheaper or the same price to catch a taxi to the same destination.
For travelling cheaply from one side of Bangkok to the other, buses are hard to beat. They also offer a fantastic opportunity to see an authentic Bangkok not seen when traveling by other forms of transport. This intimate view of the city and its inhabitants does have its downside though; obstreperous drivers, grumpy conductors, pollution, uncomfortable proximity to perspiring fellow-passengers and the never-ending traffic congestion make bus travel not quite as popular as it could otherwise be. But it is REAL Bangkok that you will see.
The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) oversees the bus services for those who live and work in Bangkok and the nearby provinces, namely Nakhon Pathom, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Nonthaburi and Pathum Thani. The BMTA falls under the remit of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. It operates more than 3000 buses (both with and without air conditioning) over 100 routes. Minibuses, both privately owned & those run by the BMTA also can be found, as can privately owned regular buses.
The main terminal to much of Thailand, namely northern, eastern, northeastern and southern Thailand; Hua Lamphong – also called Bangkok Train Station – connects with the MRT underground system. Designed by Mario Tamagno – an Italian architect who used an Italian neo-renasissance style – it features a distinctive half-dome structure.
The elegantly designed Hua Lamphong was opened in 1916 and is similar in feel to several government buildings and public monuments; built in the same period and all designed by the same artchitect; including the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, the Bank of Thailand Museum and Parliament building. Hua Lamphong has been compared to the Frankfurt Train Station, which has open-air passenger galleries, a front gable featuring a giant clock and the previously mentioned half-dome façade.
River Boats & Ferries
Many different types of boats ply their trade up and down the Chao Phraya River, connecting the east and west banks at various different points. Ferries run at set locations; while river taxis, express baots and tail boats are also available to explore the ‘klongs’ or canals, the historic waterside attractions or simply to travel from one point to another.
Different boats offer different services and some of the express boats only stop at the main piers. For a basic river crossing ferries cost around 2.5 baht and are available at some of the landings. Taxis run up and down river and costs start at 6 baht, depending on the length of the journey. A day pass from the Chao Phraya Express Boat Company costs 75 baht; boats depart every 30 minutes and it covers ten major piers. With boats departing every 30minutes from Sathorn Pier it is a pleasant way to access attractions like Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn), the Grand palace, Wat Po and the Royal Barge Museum – and not a bad price either, including as it does, a guide and drinking water. An easy way to access the Sathorn Pier is to use the Skytrain to get to Saphan Taksin Station.