From Bangkok cabbies to intercity buses – David Whitley presents a brief guide to transport in Thailand


Taxis from Bangkok Airport

Many cities in the world are relatively easy and pain-free to get around. Bangkok is not one of them. Jump in a cab from the airport, and you’ll soon discover why. An expressway takes you most of the way into the city, but the first two hurdles come as you’re on it. It’s a tollway, and the passenger is expected to pay the toll – not at the end of the ride when it’s all totted up, but directly as the taxi is going through the toll booth.  There are also two different toll booths. The first is for 25 baht (about 50p) and the second for 45 baht (90p). The two sums seem carefully calculated to be the ones you’re least likely to have the exact change for. This is the first instance of why, in Bangkok, you should forget any quibbles about soulless chain stores and make friends with the 7-Eleven. There are approximately seven billion of them in Bangkok, and they’re one of the few places where you can hand over 1,000 baht notes without all manner of gnashing and wailing. There’s one at arrivals in the airport – buying a bottle of water and breaking down the big note is probably going to save you an awful lot of pain. A taxi into the city will probably cost between 250 and 350 baht, depending on where you’re going. But the problems come once you’re off that expressway. Bangkok’s traffic is horrendous – it’s absolutely essential to have a good book with you before hailing a taxi, you’re probably going to be in there for some time.

Bangkok taxi drivers
It’s a good job they’re cheap – you’ll rarely pay more than 100 baht for any journey between the main areas – as they go incredibly slowly and the people driving them are often hopeless. Having the name and address of your hotel/ guesthouse written down in Thai is a good idea. That doesn’t mean they’ll know how to get you there. Bangkok taxi drivers don’t seem to consider A) buying a map or B) learning how to read one as a part of their task. To be fair, you’d probably struggle to read a Thai language map as well – they struggle to read an English language one in the same way. It’s a fine tradition that the first five minutes of the running meter are spent stationary, trying to work out where you’re going. Oh yes – and always make sure the meter is on.

Public transport in Bangkok
The alternative is public transport. There’s a direct train link from the airport that goes to two stations in town. There are also a Metro and two elevated ‘Skytrain’ lines. The first problem is that they rarely connect. Unless the place you want to go to is on your line, it’s a bit of a ballache – especially if switching from Metro to Skytrain and having to buy another ticket for the second leg of the journey. Fares tend to be about a third of the price of what a taxi would cost on the same journey. The real saving is on time not on money. The other massive problem, however, is that the train lines don’t cover the massive chunks of the city that visitors tend to want to go to. The riverside, Wat Phra Kaew, Dusit Park and the Khao San Road are a big hike away from the nearest Metro and Skytrain stations. So you’re back in the traffic in that taxi again…

Elsewhere in Thailand
If you’re going elsewhere in Thailand, it’s likely to be by bus or train. The trains are hardly Orient Express standard, but they’re decently comfortable and absurdly cheap by British standards. Sleeper services head to the corners of the country. The alternative is buses. Most are surprisingly good and ridiculously cheap – they feel more like coaches. The drawback is that the buses and trains usually depart from stations that are massively inconvenient to get to and from. They’re usually on the outskirts of town – far too far to walk. And, if you’re planning to connect from one to the other, the bus stations and train stations are rarely anywhere near each other. In this case (and for most intra-town transport), you’ll usually need to get a shared taxi that will pick up and drop off passengers en route to where you’re going. In most cases, these are essentially vans with long benches. 50 baht seems to be a suspiciously common fare in these babies.  The rule of thumb with transport in Thailand is it’ll be cheap, but you’ll have to sacrifice some time for the privilege. Nothing goes quickly – but don’t cram you’re schedule too much, and it’ll get you there in the end.