Bangkok – the capital of Thailand and one of the most electrifying cities of Southeast Asia. You either love it or hate it. Or like in my case, first hate it then love it.
Nestled along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok blends tradition and modernity. Rich cultural heritage, vibrant markets, ornate temples, and a lively urban atmosphere – Bangkok has it all. With a population that embraces both traditional Thai values and cosmopolitan ideals, Bangkok provides a variety of sights and experiences. And let’s not forget about the food scene! Bustling street markets and Thai cuisine smells are the calling card of this city.
Whether you’re an intrepid traveler looking to immerse yourself in Thai culture or a foodie on the hunt for tantalizing flavours, Bangkok has something special in store for everyone.
Yes, there is a but and it’s a big but.
The infamous Bangkok traffic.
If you’re not a fan of gridlocked roads and seemingly endless queues of vehicles, Bangkok traffic might test your patience. It definitely tests mine. Getting around this city can be an epic battle where time seems to stretch indefinitely and getting from A to B becomes an adventure on its own.
But lucky for you, you found this blog post. I’ll help you navigate Bangkok’s thrilling public transport system, so you can reach all the cool spots this city has to offer. After reading pros and cons of every possible option, you’ll be able to choose the best one for you.
Spoiler alert: it’s BTS or MRT. What are they? Read to find out!
How to get around Bangkok?
Let’s start by dividing Bangkok’s public transport: by road, by rail and by boat. Unfortunately there’s no option: by air – which would solve a lot of problems.
Well, you have taxis, you have motorbikes and your own feet. And of course the famous tuk tuks. But I can already tell you that getting around Bangkok by road is always my last choice. But let’s dig into that.
Ah, the colourful world of Bangkok taxis! These vibrant vehicles are an essential part of the city’s transportation landscape and probably your first encounter with Bangkok’s public transport.
- majority of taxis are new, comfortable and have AirCon;
- since there’s so many of them, they’re super easy to hail. Just stick your hand out when you see a taxi with a green light on passing by;
- compared to western cities, Bangkok’s taxis are very affordable. The meter starts at 35 baht and fares to most places within central Bangkok cost 60 to 100 baht;
Super important info
Make sure that the driver turns on the meter at the beginning of the ride. They’re obligated by law to do it, but some drivers might want to trick you and you can end up paying highly exaggerated fares. If you’re planning on travelling somewhere further and you’d prefer to avoid the meter, just discuss the price with the driver in advance.
- traffic, traffic and again traffic! If you get stuck in a traffic jam, even a few kilometres journey can last forever. And that can happen anytime, not only during rush hours…which in Bangkok are all day long;
- since cash still rules in Thailand, you’ll most likely be required to pay by cash. Make sure you have some change;
- taxi drivers are usually friendly, but the majority of them don’t speak English well. Make sure to have your destination written in Thai;
- if you get stuck in traffic, and you most probably will, you’ll still be paying, but it will be a lower amount;
- the driver will charge for toll roads as well. It’s not that much of a con, it’s just common sense, but pay attention to how much toll roads costs. They usually should ask you if you want to use the toll road. You can always say no, but in my experience that’s an even slower journey.
Ride sharing apps – Car
If you’re wondering if there’s Uber in Thailand the answer is no. There’s something even better.
Ride-sharing apps have revolutionized transportation in Bangkok, providing a convenient and hassle-free way to get around the city. The most popular one is Grab. It’s not only for transportation, but also for ordering food, doing your shopping and even sending your packages. It’s a must-have app when travelling in South East Asia – it doesn’t only operate in Thailand.
I personally use only Grab, but there are also other ride sharing apps, like Bolt – it’s meant to be a bit cheaper than Grab, NaviGo – Thai ride sharing app and InDrive – where you can negotiate fares with the driver. But honestly, Grab fares are usually so affordable that haggling for a few baht seems like a waste of time for me.
Anyway, pros and cons of using ride sharing apps are very similar to using taxis. Maybe there are a few additional pros, so ok, let’s list them.
- transparent prices. Well, since it’s an app, it’s kinda obvious that you get to see the price for the distance you want to travel. Grab app can be also used for checking and comparing the prices when you want to get a taxi or use other forms of transportation;
- cashless transaction. Again, since it’s an app, you pay via it. No need to spend cash. You can even tip the driver via Grab app;
- since you can can track your ride in real time, I’d say it’s safer;
- it’s also more time efficient. You can obviously see where your driver is and how long it will take him to come and get you. No need to stand on the curb waving at the taxis, hoping one would stop;
- since your driver knows your destination, it doesn’t matter if he speaks English or not. No need to make small talk (although some drivers are very eager) or engage in other any way. Although “hello” and “thank you” are of course a must;
- according to Grab requirements, the vehicles shouldn’t be more than 3 years old. So the chance for comfort and working Air-con is bigger than with taxis;
- you can also choose the size of your car. If you, for example, have a lot of luggage you can pick GrabCarPlus and have a comfy ride in a SUV.
- obviously traffic! No way to avoid it;
- and again, not really “a con”, but you’ll be charged for toll roads. Luckily, the payment will be taken off your card though Grab app.
I purposely didn’t mention the price in pros. Because it’s hard to tell if ride sharing apps are more or less expansive than the normal taxis. They should be cheaper, but honestly it all depends on the location, on the destination, on the distance and the time. It’s the convenience that’s the biggest advantage of ride sharing apps.
Ohh Bangkok buses – weaving through the city’s bustling streets day and night.
Hoping on a bus in Bangkok can be an exciting experience and I’d even add it to the “must-do” list when in Bangkok – if you’re striving for an authentic adventure. You can find 2 types of buses in Bangkok: old-er ones with no Air-con and new ones with Air-con. While new ones provide more comfort – they’re just like normal buses in any other city – it’s the old ones, that will give you this thrill. They’re loud, they’re colourful and surprisingly fast for this type of transportation.
- they’re super cheap! Taking a bus is definitely the cheapest thing you can do in Bangkok. The old buses fares are 8 or 10 baht (depending on the colour of the bus). That is around 0.3 USD for the whole journey – no matter how far you go. The air-con buses cost a bit more. And by more I mean 12-32 baht (0.35 – 0.95 USD) depending on the route. The fare will be collected on the bus by a bus conductor;
- I’d say that they’re fast. Faster than cars (taxis, Grabs), because they use bus dedicated bus lanes. Plus, because of their size they kind of “rule the roads” and the drivers can squeeze through every gap imaginable;
- as previously mentioned, taking a Bangkok bus is an experience on its own and a great way to explore the city.
- like with every “road based” public transport – traffic! Sometimes even highly skilled and experienced Bangkok bus drivers can’t do anything about it. And if you get stuck in a traffic jam in an old bus with no Air-con in the middle of the day…well, good luck to you! You’ll look like you jumped out of the pool. The heat is real;
- bus fares can be paid only with cash. You have to make sure to have some change with you before getting on;
- navigating the bus network system can be a bit confusing. It happened to me a lot, that despite what Google maps said, the bus didn’t show up at all, didn’t stop when I was waving at it, or the bus conductor said it didn’t go the way I wanted to. So it’s not the most reliable means of public transport, especially when you’re in a rush;
- bus conductors don’t speak much English, so if you’re taking an Air-con bus, where the fare depends on the destination, you’d better have a name of the bus stop written in Thai. But if they already know where you’re going, the conductors will usually keep an eye on you (the foreigner) so you don’t miss your bus stop. That’s very sweet.
A few bus riding tips
Hail the bus by waving at it from a bus stop.
Alert the driver that you want to get off by pressing a buzzer before the bus reaches your stop.
Always sit or hold the handle – some drivers are a bit…rough.
Motorbike taxis? Only in South East Asia. Ok, I don’t know if only in Asia – haven’t been everywhere. But motorbike taxis are very popular there.
When I first arrived in Bangkok I was a bit confused who are those man in high-visibility vests hanging around in different locations. Well, now I know. They’re guys who can take you for a ride – a motorbike ride. Haha!
While this form of public transport is not for the faint of heart, hopping on a motorbike taxi can be an exhilarating experience and an efficient way to beat the jams.
How does it work? Well, you find a guy in a bright vest, show him you destination and negotiate the price. Don’t forget to wear a helmet. They’ll have a spare one.
- getting a motorbike taxi is cheaper than using a regular car taxi;
- since the motorbike can squeeze in everywhere (and they really do squeeze in), it’s a great way to beat traffic jams. The drivers are usually skilled at navigating the city and are bold enough to avoid Bangkok’s congested roads;
- well, again, it’s an experience on its own. If you feel like trying new things and are a bit brave, taking a motorbike taxi will be an unforgettable experience.
- well, firstly: it’s not for everyone. Some of you might consider riding a motorbike with a complete stranger a bit.. weird. Especially that it requires “body proximity”. It actually took me a few months in South East Asia to hop on a motorbike taxi. And firstly, you actually don’t touch with the driver – you can hold onto the back handles. And secondly – you can sit with your legs on one side – so you don’t sit astride. Now I have zero problems with using motorbike taxis, especially since they’re faster than cars;
- it might seem a bit unsafe. While drivers are very experienced, in both riding and navigating the city, they do ride kind of fast. Especially if you don’t normally ride scooters or motorbikes. But you can always tell the driver that you’re new at this and ask him to go slower. Plus remember to:
Always wear a helmet!
- you have to pay cash…I think. I actually never took a bike “from the street”, I always use…we’ll get to that. But I imagine you have to haggle for the price and pay only in cash;
- there might be slight communication issues. The same as with taxi drivers, motorbike drivers might not speak much English, so it’d be good to have your destination written in Thai;
- I’d say that using motorbike taxis is good for shorter distances. Well, that naturally depends on you, but for me 20 min is maximum I can spend riding a motorbike, especially with someone else;
- heat and fumes would be my last con. Obviously there’s no Air-con on a bike. Maybe a natural one – wind. But when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you’ll definitely get hot. Not to mention the pollution is real, so it’s good to put on a face mask to breathe more easily.
RIDE SHARING APPS – Motorbike
Naturally you can grab a motorbike ride on Grab or Bolt. That’s always my first choice for getting a motorbike taxi. Grab I mean, because it couldn’t get any easier. 3 clicks and a few minutes of waiting and you’re on the way.
Since I already presented pros and cons of motorbikes taxis and of ride sharing apps, I won’t do that again – you can mix and match them.
Well, the obvious pros of ordering a motorbike on Grab is convenience. No cash needed, no haggling needed, no walking around looking for a bike needed.
Cons: it’s not for everyone, might be a bit unsafe and heat and fumes.
Famous Bangkok tuk tuks – the iconic three-wheeled wonders that add a splash of colour to the city’s streets. While they look cute and quirky and offer a unique way to explore Bangkok’s bustling neighbourhoods, they’re not very practical as a form of public transportation. I personally (despite the smiling photo below) dislike tuk tuks very much – for some unknown reason – and never use them. Unless I have no other choice. So their only…
- would be, that it’s definitely a must-do experience when in Bangkok. Speeding through Bangkok streets in this vibrant vehicle is kind of fun and no-one should leave without trying it.
- tuk tuk rides are way overpriced. Since it’s more of a tourist attraction rather than a way to commute, tuk tuk drivers always ask for excessively high fees. It’s your task to haggle as much as you can. It might be helpful to check the price for the particular route on Grab app, and try to negotiate;
- I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m always super hot when I’m in a tuk tuk. They’re not as “open” as motorbikes, the drivers often shut the drapes to protect people from the sun, so you don’t get that much breeze. And being stuck in traffic with no breeze and no Air-con might be a bit uncomfortable. Of course if you’re going in the morning or evening that’s a different story;
- they’re not very spacious. Well, I actually fit in my 2 suitcases with me in a tuk tuk, but it wasn’t the most comfortable journey. And yes, you probably wouldn’t use tuk tuk to transport your luggage, but still, for me tuk tuk are always a bit uncomfortable – you can’t sit straight, you slide off the seat, one of your legs is being burnt by the sun…Ok, I think my tuk tuk hatred is trying to ruin your experience;
- and last but not least – traffic! Tuk tuks are not as small as motorbikes, they can’t squeeze in everywhere, so obviously you might get stuck in traffic jams.
If you’re from “the West” you probably love exploring cities on foot. Wandering aimlessly, getting lost in cute alleys – no better way to spend a day in a new city. It might not be such a good idea in Bangkok though. I’d say that in general, people in South East Asia don’t walk much – there are obvious environmental reasons for that (aka heat), so the cities are not “designed” for long strolls. Even though Bangkok is a modern metropolis, I’d still say that pavements and walking routes are the lowest priority. But ok, let’s get into pros and cons.
- walking is free! Well, that’s the obvious pro, that needs so explanation;
- you obviously explore the city as you go and you’d probably explore more of it than while taking any other public transportation;
- even if you plan your route very well, you sill might discover something unexpected – a hidden gem, a new favourite coffee shop, a quirky store;
- walking is exercising;
- and last but not least – walking is eco-friendly!
- it gets super hot super fast. Obviously that depends on the time of the year you’re visiting Bangkok, but in general I’d say that Bangkok weather isn’t conducive to walking. Or at least not for a long time. Usually a 20 min walk is enough for me. If you want to sightsee this way though, I’d recommend mornings or evenings – it’s way cooler then;
- Bangkok is huge! Duh! And all the famous tourist attractions aren’t that close to each other. So naturally walking everywhere would require a lot of time and effort;
- infrastructure is…not perfect. Even though Bangkok has probably the most pavements in all of Thailand – pavements that are walkable, not dedicated for parking scooters or selling food – I’d still say that the pedestrian infrastructure is the least maintained and developed. Crossing the road is usually the biggest problem. If you’re lucky, there will be a foot bridge that you have to climb. And if you’re really lucky, there will be traffic lights. But be prepared to wait for ages for the green light – like I said pedestrians and their rights are the lowest priority. Sometimes getting from A to B on foot might be simply very annoying.
Finally, the fastest and my favourite way to travelling in Bangkok – BTS and MRT! The metro, subway, underground and overground – the saviours!
The BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) are the heartbeat of Bangkok’s public transportation system. The BTS is an elevated train network, that glides above the city’s streets, providing a fast and efficient way to travel between key areas. The MRT is an underground subway system, offering additional routes that connect various parts of the city. Together, these two modern and well-maintained systems make getting around Bangkok easy for both locals and visitors.
For me personally it’d be always the first choice of getting around Bangkok, even if I have to go out of the way.
- I can finally say it: no traffic! That’s definitely the biggest advantage of this means of transport. Using BTS or MRT is the only efficient way of avoiding traffic jams in Bangkok and getting to places fast;
- both types of trains are air conditioned, so they provide an escape from the heat;
- MRT ticket purchase can be done cashless. You just need to tap your debit or credit card at the entrance to the station. For BTS you still need cash though. The easiest way is to buy the tickets at the ticket counter. They’re located at every station. Or you get a Rabbit Card (similar to Oyster Cards in London), that you top up and use throughout your stay. Then you just tap it at the entrance to the station and that’s it. Rabbit Cards can be used only for BTS though. More info: here.
- unfortunately BTS and MRT won’t get you everywhere. For now, there are only 2 lines of MRT and 2 lines of BTS and 1 proper line of monorail. Even though they’re quite long, they don’t cover the whole of the city. Good news is that they’re working on more monorail lines that should be open in the near future;
It doesn’t matter that much if you’re staying in Bangkok for a few days, but if you’re planning a longer stay, I’d strongly recommend you to find accommodation that is close to either BTS or MRT. I promise you that it will make your life easier.
- Air-con gets super cold. Yes, it’s amazing that there’s Air-con, but if you don’t bring a long sleeve top, you’ll be cold. I don’t know if there’s a purpose of putting Air-con on such low temperatures, but it’s usually freaking freezing, especially in BTS;
- the trains get super busy. Again, especially BTS. And it’s not even during rush hours. Lately, no matter what time I took BTS, the train was always full.;
- it’s the most expensive means of public transportation in Bangkok. Ok, maybe except tuk tuks, but BTS and MRT are definitely more expensive than bus, sometimes even more than a taxi – depending on the distance. But you get what you pay for – no traffic.
Ok, I wouldn’t necessarily call “a boat” a means of public transportation. It’s more of a tourist attraction for me. Although the Chao Phraya River and its intricate network of canals offer a unique twist to Bangkok public transportation and it’s definitely a good way of getting from shore to shore to some of the main tourist attractions, like Wat Arun for example. And I suppose locals do use boats on a daily basis. But since this blog post is already way too long, let’s do it quickly.
- jumping onto traditional long-tail boats and more modern ferries is definitely a memorable experience;
- it allows you to admire Bangkok from a different perspective. You can just chill and enjoy the views;
- using a boat is relatively cheap;
- and last but not least, you can avoid the traffic!
- boats obviously won’t get you everywhere. They’re restricted to where the water flows. Duh!;
- from my experience they’re not very reliable in terms of sticking to the timetable;
- again, only from my experience getting a boat was always a bit of a hassle – you have to find your way to the pier, wait for the boat to come and make sure that it’s definitely the boat you want to take… I’m sure if you do the same route a few times, you’ll be a Bangkok boat pro (like locals), but the first experience might be a bit stressful.
Phew! That’s it!
When I started writing this blog post I didn’t realize that the topic of getting around Bangkok required so much complexity. It was supposed to be a short and simple one. But here we are.
Did I miss anything? I freaking hope not!
Well, if anything, I didn’t mention renting your own scooter or a car, but my advice is: don’t do it, so I won’t write about it. With Thailand having one of the highest death by traffic accident rates in the world, driving on your own in Bangkok is not worth the stress. Especially as a tourist.
Hope you picked your favourite way of getting around Bangkok and you’ll enjoy your stay in this epic city.
If you have any questions or you want to share your Bangkok experience, leave a comment or hit me up on Instagram.
Hi, it’s Aga, the author of this blog. If you found this blog post interesting, entertaining or useful, please think of buying me a virtual coffee to support the site’s running costs. But if you know me, I might actually spend it on coffee 🙂 Thanks!
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