Discovering the world on $20 per day ......................

Post 403: Part 2: A Beginner’s Guide to Thailand: Getting Around in Bangkok

So, you’ve arrived safely at your accommodation, the room and hotel aren’t quite what you’d seen in the photographs, but let’s face it, you’re only paying £20 a night and have you seen what £100 a night will buy you in London or New York these days?

The first task, is to get a map of Bangkok and find out where you are in relation to what you want to see. Most maps of the city are free, they’ll give them away in reception, but you’ll have to work your way around the array of misleading adverts in order to pick out any of the details. You’re probably staying somewhere around the Silom or Sukhumvit Road areas, or if younger, then maybe even Khao San Road. Wherever you are, you’ll have lots of transport options available.

1: Taxi Bikes
For short trips, less than a mile, hop onto a Taxi Bike and you’ll get there quickly, and usually still in one piece. They’re actually quite safe, crashing is bad for business, but please, ask for the crash helmet and fasten the damned thing properly. Depending on the length of the journey, most trips will cost 20-40 Baht, or outside of the tourist districts, 10-20 Baht. Just look for a group of guys on a street corner wearing matching jackets, they’ll be more than happy to help you.

2: BTS Sky Train
Bangkok has a Sky Train, or ’BTS’ as they call it here. It’s like the Tube in London, except it’s above the ground and it actually works quite well. Check on your map and find a station close to where you want to visit. The BTS is easy to use and all of the announcements and signs rather helpfully employ both Thai and English. Arriving at your nearest station, change your 100 Baht note into 10 Baht coins at the glass window - just look for the queue of people and that’ll be the window you’re looking for. Then at the ticket machine - look for the other queue of people - identify the price for a ticket to your destination, press that number button, insert your coins and the ticket will magically appear. Then, just follow the signs to the platform, jump on the train and listen for the various announcements: ‘Suparni thor pai Ari - Next station Ari‘. If the BTS station is a mile from your final destination, then let a Taxi Bike take you the rest of the way. Or, be brave and walk there. If you get lost, everybody you pass will be willing to help you, in fact, they’ll see it as an honour to assist. The maximum one-way ticket price on BTS is currently, I think, is 50 Baht ($1.50).

Now, if you’re staying around the Khao San Road area, quite possibly the most ’unThai’ street in Thailand, then the second piece of bad news is that you’re miles away from the nearest BTS Station. However, you’re fairly close the Chao Phraya River. The river cuts through Bangkok and is dotted with ferry stations. To get to the nearest BTS station, just jump on a big ferry, 5 Baht, and jump off at Saphan Thaksin. From there, it’s about 100 yards to the BTS Station, appropriately named, Saphan Thaksin.

3: Meter Taxis

All around Bangkok you’ll see brightly coloured Toyota Corollas; pink, yellow, green etc. These taxis are very reasonably priced. However, make sure the driver uses the meter and understands exactly where you want to go. If a driver refuses to turn on the meter, then make sure that you agree a firm and fixed price before setting off. Taxi drivers will generally know the major destinations and landmarks but they’ll often struggle with small hotels and private addresses in distant districts. Unlike in London, taxi drivers here in Bangkok don’t study the ’knowledge’. So, if you’re going out drinking for the night, and you’re staying in an obscure place, then it’s advisable to carry a card from your hotel or guest house with you. Just hand it to the taxi driver and they’ll get you home safely.

4: River & Canal Boats
I mentioned the big Ferry Boats plying their trade on the Chao Phraya River, but Bangkok also has a million smaller canals, called ‘klongs’. Navigating the main river is relatively easy, and although journeys are slow, they’re cheap and show you parts of the city that you‘ll never see from the streets. On the klongs however, navigation is more difficult and even now, I tend to get horribly lost, usually by jumping on a boat that’s heading in the wrong direction. But, to be honest, getting lost in Bangkok is fun and at these prices, not too expensive.

5: Tuk Tuks

Tuk-Tuk’s, where to begin? I understand, you’re in Bangkok for the first time and the image of a tuk-tuk is so iconic that you simply have to ride in one. Actually, they are fun, but be warned, every tuk-tuk driver who’s willing to carry you anywhere is also looking for a payday. Flag one down, or find one at the side of the street, give the driver your destination and set a firm price. Whatever happens, don’t allow the driver to make a detour to a Gem Store, his brother’s Tailors Shop or any other place that you really don’t want to visit. The price you pay will be more than the price of a taxi, but provided the driver goes only where you’ve initially asked him to take you, the journey will also be more memorable. 

6: Local Buses
I’m assuming that you won’t be trying to drive yourself around Bangkok in a rental car, but if you are, then good luck with that, it ain’t easy. That leaves three other major forms of transport in the city; Baht Buses, Public Buses and Mini Vans. Baht Buses, or Songthaew, are little more than Isuzu pick-up trucks with benches in the back and a canopy above. You’ll probably never see them in the heart of Bangkok, and if you do you’ll have absolutely no idea where they’re going to take you. So for all but the most adventuous of tourists, they‘re probably best avoided. Public Buses, these are the Flintstonesque charabancs with loose wheels, open windows and belching black smoke form their exhausts. They’re cheap, and you'll see them in central areas of the city, but unless you can read and speak Thai, then you‘ll never know where the hell you‘re going. 
That just leaves the Mini Van, the silver or white 15-seat Toyota’s that fly along the road at twice the speed of sound. They’re cheap, and if you know where you’re going then they’re amazingly practical, but, they’re also ever so slightly dangerous. Thai’s use Mini Vans all the time, for both long and short journeys, but most Thai’s are Buddhist and have several future lives to look forward to. You on the other hand, probably only have this one life to enjoy. So, enjoy you’re time in Bangkok and please, avoid the Mini Van.

No comments: