Using Thailand’s Public Transportation System
Thailand’s mass transportation system is quite good. One can get around safely and cheaply to any part of the country, though not always very quickly. Thai style… slow, remember? First top in each city you plan on spending any time in – is the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) office for the latest maps and brochures to help you get around. Schedules for all transportation modes seem to change often. Don’t guess, get the latest information from TAT.
Thai Airways and Asia Air offer trips between all major cities in Thailand. The flights are cheap, comfortable and fast by any standard. Thailand’s in-country air transportation is the easiest way to get across the country and highly recommended.
Yellow, pink, green and other colored metered and unmetered taxis about in Bangkok and most other very large cities.
It’s recommended you use a metered taxi and ask the driver to turn on the meter as you enter. If they won’t turn on the meter, find another taxi. Some taxis have no meter so you’ll need to negotiate a fair before you embark or the taxi driver may charge you an unreasonable fare.
Know that during rush hour a taxi will sometimes turn off the meter or charge you extra to compensate for sitting in traffic. This is generall accepted, but you can bargain with the driver for the fair if he shuts off the meter.
Taxis are much more comfortable than buses, but taxis are sharing the road with buses, sam lors, tuk-tuks and other vehicles. Buses can sometimes be faster by cruising in the bus-only lanes.
To get to Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Tao, and many other popular islands, traveling by boat is necessary. There have been some danger issues with riding boats over the years. Caution is advised against riding boats that are too crowded, or that promise to get you from one place to another very fast. Some tragic accidents have happened over the years with longtail boats that go very fast over shallow areas. There have also been a number of ferry boat accidents in the Andaman sea and Gulf of Thailand in the case of overloaded boats and rough seas (high waves).
In addition to ocean travel, som Thai cities have klongs which are water canals that funnel usually rather polluted water toward the ocean. In Bangkok it is sometimes faster to choose a boat over a taxi for speed because traffic can be horrific in Bangkok during rush hours.
Bangkok is rather confusing to the new traveler. There is an elaborate network of one-way streets and lanes that are for buses only. The new traveler is not advised to drive a car on their own – but to use public transportation. Bus travel is usually quite excellent in town and there are lots of buses to take. Thais use buses perhaps more than any other method of getting across town.
Bangkok has air conditioned buses, rote ae, usually blue in color and those without air, rote tamada, which are typically orange or some variation of orange. Usually those without air are a little more crowded and less comfortable in addition to stopping very often to pick up and drop off new passengers. Blue buses stop less often but really, are no less uncomfortable. Some mini-buses are comfortable, if you can figure out their schedules which are rarely in proper English.
Buses, like boats have a dangerous side. Over the years there have been a number of accidents involving drivers on the overnight buses which drive six to ten hours to get passengers across large expanses of often boring countryside. Bus drivers are known to have rigid schedules and sometimes don’t get enough sleep. Many people avoid late night buses at all costs because of this problem.
The most comfortable buses for long trips are called rote VIP or Super VIP buses. They offer a little more room and are generally comfortable.
There are three public bus stations in Bangkok, depending which direction you’re traveling:
- To go North of Bangkok stop at Mo Chit Station to buy your tickets.
- To go East of Bangkok visit Sataanii Ek-Amai Station.
- To go South of Bangkok buy your ticket at the intersection of Nakhon Chaisi Road and Phra Pinklao Roads in Thonburi.
Tuk-tuks or Sam Lors
Tuk tuks are three or four wheeled vehicles with a loud engine and open-air seating. These are fun to take if you’re not sitting in sweltering heat. Sam Lors are bicycle taxis that are slow though at times can outpace traffic because they’re easily maneuverable.
A songtaew is a pickup truck with two rudimentary benches, one on each side of the truck running the length of the truck bed. These are not comfortable, and yet they’re a favorite with Thai workers and students because they’re convenient and cheap. Ask the driver before you get in what the fare is – it’s usually a flat fee for one loop.
Motorbike taxis are perhaps more voluminous than any other mode of transportation. Look for drivers with the official vest on and negotiate a price before you embark. Motorbike taxis can be quite a rush flying through Bangkok at speed. Not for the nervous.
Train travel in Thailand is probably the best way to travel long distances if you have the time. Train travel with the State Railroad of Thailand (SRT) is easy, safe, fun, and you can even book the sleeper car for an extra couple hundred baht and sleep the whole way to your destination. Beer, snacks, and even meals are served on the trains. The sleeper bunks are very quiet after hours and it’s recommended that you book a bottom bunk when you pay for your ticket as the beds sway less and you’ll have a little more room to sit up in case you want to do some reading before you fall asleep.
There are air conditioned cars and those without air. If you’re traveling overnight you probably don’t need air conditioning because the windows are open and let in quite a lot of air. There are also many ceiling fans in the center of the train that keep you cool.
Traveling by train is getting popular. Book your train tickets in advance at the same station you’re leaving from for best results. They can book both ends of your round-trip ticket if you like.
BTS Sky Train
The BTS sky train is a fun way to get around Bangkok, but it’s not in any other city at the present time. The BTS is an elevated monorail that is well connected to ferries, subway and major shopping centers. It’s cool and spotless; a must-try at just over a dollar each way.
You might choose to rent a car and drive yourself. The roads are opposite here than in the USA – Thais drive on the left side of the road. It does take some getting used to and maybe during your first trip isn’t such a good idea. Car rental agencies have insurance, but you may not be covered very well if you are ruled to be the cause of the accident. Foreigners are usually blamed as the cause in all accidents as you might guess.
Copyright ©2013 Written by Vern Lovic.