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Transport in and around Bangkok

Getting There

Assuming that you, like the majority of people, arrive in Thailand by air, at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport (the airport is actually pronounced SU-WA-NA-POOM and perversely written Suvarnabhumi), the first thing you'll probably want to do is get from the airport into town. There are several options open to you.

Taxi

Airport Taxi (approx. 1000 THB): the lazy way to do it, and highly to be recommended. Just go to the "Airport Taxi" desk by the luggage carousels and tell them where you want to go. You'll get immediate service and maybe a Merc, though it can't be guaranteed that the driver will be wearing white gloves.

Regular Taxi (approx. 350 THB): outside the Arrivals Hall you'll find the regular taxis. Take one of them with confidence. You'll need to pay something like a 50 THB surcharge. Don't go any further and don't take anything that looks like a cowboy taxi, unless you want to end up on the front page of your local newspaper. (On the way into town the driver will [try to] ask you if you want to take the expressway—that's an extra Bt40 or so, and well worth it.)

Bus

Airport Bus: this is a frequent, airconditioned service that stops outside the Arrivals Hall. English-speaking. Inexpensive.

Regular Bus: if you're already penny-pinching you can always try getting a normal bus, air-conditioned or, even cheaper, non-air-conditioned. You'll have to walk a bit, cursing the heat and your luggage, and try to communicate with a non-English-speaking conductor. Not recommended. Very cheap.

Getting Around

If you haven't already done so, arm yourself with a good quality Bangkok streetmap. The better ones show bus and Skytrain routes. Probably the most practical one, though not the most aesthetic, is the large "Bangkok Thailand" map (with a red and mauve frame on the cover), which you can find in many shops or hotels.

It's not difficult to understand Bangkok when you realise that it is essentially composed of major roads ("thanon"), with numbered sidestreets ("soi"). Generally the sois do not have a name but are numbered sequentially, with odd numbers—ie, starting at Soi 1—on the left (as you walk up a major road) and even numbers on the right. Using this sytem, if you tell a taxi-driver that you want "Sukhumvit 22", he will take you to Soi 22 on Sukhumvit Road (either to the entrance to the soi or down the soi itself).

Here (excluding elephant back, which is difficult these days as elephants are illegal in Bangkok—though you do see them) are the options for travelling around Bangkok:

Foot

You can always try walking. It won't necessarily take any longer than motorized transport thanks to the traffic, but you may need a shower when you get to your destination. But if you're suitably dressed, aren't going too far and don't need to hurry, walking can be an instructive way to get around Bangkok.

Bus

Bangkok has an efficient, inexpensive bus network.

City Bus

There are two basic types of City Bus:

Micro Bus:

These are privately run air-conditioned buses. They are smaller than the city buses but more comfortable with wider seats and television. The fare is a flat rate Bt25 per trip.

Tip: if you are on a crowded bus and a monk gets on, don't be surprised to see Thai women shrinking into non-existence. Thai monks are not allowed to have any physical contact with women.

Tuk-tuk

The famous tuk-tuk is an open-air three-wheeler "taxi". It will take you almost anywhere within Bangkok. The price is negotiable and must be agreed before you enter. Reasonable fares range from Bt20 for a very short trip to a maximum of Bt100 for a longer one. When you mention your destination, the driver will go into a trance for a few seconds while he computes the distance, time of day, current traffic conditions, chances of a return passenger and your financial status. After that, he will throw his fingers up into the air. Each finger represents Bt10. So if he throws up eight fingers, he wants eighty baht. You would immediately counter with four fingers (or fewer), until you reach a happy medium. To find a tuk-tuk, just stand at the side of the road and one will magically appear.

Taxi

Gone are the days when you had to haggle with the taxi driver. Today, all taxis have meters. The meter starts at Bt35 and counts around Bt3 per kilometer thereafter (though in traffic jams it works on a time basis). Taxi-drivers do not require a tip, though the gesture is appreciated. Drivers will sometimes claim that their meter is not working and try to haggle a price. In that case, just find another taxi. It won't be difficult, except sometimes at rush hour. To find a taxi, just stand at the side of the road and raise your hand a little. It really isn't done to wave your arm violently and shout "Taxi!" as you might do in London or New York. (Raising your hand a little means that it stays below belt level. Blind taxi drivers are not allowed to operate in Bangkok.)

Kapor

The kapor is a very small, open-air van which operates up and down most of the larger sois. Fares range from Bt5 to Bt15 per trip. Normally, it fits 4 people.

Motorcycle Taxi

You can find motorcycles operating as taxis all over Bangkok. They usually hang around the openings of sois. Motorcycles are convenient because they can cut right through the densest Bangkok traffic. But beware, they can be dangerous. Make sure you wear the crash helmet that the driver should provide you with. Hold on to the grips around/behind the seat, or clasp the driver. Fares have to be negotiated but don't expect them to be cheaper than for a taxi. Also, don't be offended if you are relatively tall and/or heavy and the driver declines to take you. The motorcycles are small and low-powered, designed for smaller Asian builds.

Skytrain

The skytrain is the closest thing Bangkok has to a metro or subway. If it's going your way, it's ideal for rapid transport. There are terminals in most commercial areas such Siam Square, Silom, Ekamai and Chatujak. The limitation is that the network is not very extensive, though there are plans afoot. Prices start from around Bt15 for one or two stops.

Boat

Less common than in the past, you can still take the long-tailed boats along the Chao Phraya River and some canals. Fares depend on distance.

Car Rental

Provided you have a valid (preferably international) driver's licence, you can rent a wide variety of air-conditioned vehicles to drive yourself. Prices are generally modest.

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