You are planning a trip to Thailand and Bangkok is your first stop. After reading about Bangkok, the City of Angels, you want to spend a little time in the city? It’s time to figure out how to get there and around, without breaking the bank! Check out my tips below or read more about Things to See & Do or Where to Stay? in Bangkok!
Getting There: Bangkok is home to Thai Airways with flights to more than 70 destinations in 35 countries. It’s also home to Air Asia Thailand ( a subsidiary of Air Asia in Malaysia), Bangkok Airways (Asia’s boutique airline, according to their own advertising) and Nok Air (budget airline subsidiary of Thai Airways), giving you plenty of choices to get to Bangkok and onwards. Most major airlines offer flights from Europe, the Middle-East and all over Asia. From America, you will have at least one stop, usually somewhere in Asia, to get you to the Land of Smiles.
There are two major airports in Bangkok: Suvarnabhumi (BKK) is the main airport for international arrivals and your most likely port of entry. It’s huge, so bring your walking shoes, it’s modern and it has more stores than many malls, so you have your first or last chance to spend your money… Don Muang (DMK) is the old international airport, now mostly used by budget airlines, offering both domestic and regional flights. With so many choices, Bangkok is a great hub for travel across South East Asia, so even if Thailand is not your final destination, Bangkok makes a great stop over on your way.
Getting Around: From BKK, you have access to the airport train, which connects to the BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway, getting you to most places you want to stay in Bangkok. It’s the easiest, often fastest and cheapest way for solo travelers to get to their hotel.
Late at night, with lots of luggage, for groups or some extra comfort, taxis are the way to go. Avoid the touts in the arrival area – they are a rip-off! There is a public taxi stand at level 1 for metered taxis. You get a receipt for the taxi, so you are safe. Most will turn on their meter without question – if they ask for a fixed fee, just smile and say “meter, please” or ask them to stop, so you can get out, and I have never been refused. Recently, the demands for fixed fees have increased, so you might have to get out of the taxi and try another one. You are responsible for the tollway fares, which you can either pay at each stop or at the end, depending on the driver. Transportation arranged by the hotel seems like a good idea for the first-time traveler, but are not really necessary and cost multiple times the rate of a regular taxi.
From DMK, you can take the bus (A1) to the Mo Chit BTS Skytrain station, leaving curbside right outside the terminal, easy to find with clear signs in the terminal and on the bus. Or you have the same taxi options as above.
Your best way to get around Bangkok are BTS and MRT – they are safe, air conditioned and faster than a taxi most times of the day! I recommend a hotel near one of the stations – you are likely to make that walk a few times – or wish you had after being stuck in traffic in the back of a taxi a few times. You can buy one-way tickets or, much more convenient a “Rabbit” card (stored value, don’t ask who came up with that name…) for BTS, to avoid the lines at the machines during rush hour.
Taxis are also available anywhere you go and should be metered. They come in all kind of bright colors and are easy to spot! At night or in touristy areas, they might demand fixed fees, usually multiple times the metered rate. You can ask them to turn on the meter – or just walk to the next one of what must be thousands of taxis roaming the streets of Bangkok. The basic rule is to avoid any transportation by/from somebody coming up to you – chances are you will overpay. Wave done a taxi driving on the streets or standing in a taxi line, and you are in good hands most of the time…
One of my favorite modes of transportation in Bangkok in combination with BTS/MRT, probably due to my lack of patience with the horrendous traffic, are motorcycle taxis. They hang out at BTS/MRT train stations, at major intersections or near hotels and you can identify them by their colorful vests. For 20-40THB, you get to ride on the back of a motorcycle, hopefully with a helmet, within 1-2kms of the train station. Because they can squeeze through traffic, they are a lot quicker than a taxi. Because they can squeeze through traffic you need to watch your knees or just close your eyes! If you do keep your eyes open, you get a free thrill-ride in addition to swift transportation to your destination. While there are lots of statistics about traffic accidents involving motorcycles, with car traffic usually at a standstill in Bangkok, the safety is not as bad as it sounds. And if the car traffic is moving, you might as well take a taxi.
I generally avoid Tuk-Tuks – they combine the inconvenience and limited safety of a motorcycle with the slow speed of a taxi, all of that at a higher price than either. That leaves them as a “one-time” experience for the first time visitor to Bangkok – or anybody who wants to be taking for a ride in more than one way… I also avoid buses within Bangkok – while they are great (ok, that might be an exaggeration) to go across Thailand for short/medium distances, there is not really a good reason to use them for most places in Bangkok that visitors might want to go to. They are uncomfortable, slow and not as safe as the train, but at least they are cheap if you must add that mode of transportation to your list of things to check off.
Renting a car in Bangkok is another bad idea – subjecting yourself to the traffic and general mayhem on Bangkok’s streets voluntarily, while on vacation, is punishment few will inflict on themselves. If you want to tour the countryside, I’d recommend to rent a car at the airport, at least you are halfway outside the city. If you do need transportation at your beck-and-call, hire a driver with that car and you have a better chance at maintaining your sanity.
I hope you are now more comfortable to make your way to Bangkok and around the city! It’s one of the safest mega-cities, people are very friendly and it’ll be much easier than it might sound! Have fun in the City of Angels!
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