As a major Asian travel hub, Bangkok is easily reached by an extensive network of road, rail and air transportation. The majority of tourists arrive in Bangkok at brand new Suvarnabhumi International Airport, but the city also has very good overland routes linking to the south, north or islands of Thailand. There are also rail linesand ferries for those that prefer these more romantic forms of travel.
Once in Bangkok you’ll be pleased to note that great strides have been made in the last decade towards easing traffic congestion with a modern Metro and Skytrain network which is expanding all the time. Taxis are plentiful and cheap but get snarled up in jams during rush hour, while many locals rely on an improving bus system that is introducing dedicated rapid movement lanes. Ultimately the BTS Skytrain and shiny new MRT Metro is the best way to get around, even if it doesn’t yet reach all areas or the touristy Rattanakosin district quite yet.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) serves as a major regional hub and welcomes many international flights per day. This modernistic and spacious single terminal building is easy to navigate and offers good value transport options into the city.
Journey times are roughly 40 minutes (depending on traffic congestion), and the easiest option is to catch a train from the terminal towards Silom. There are also metered taxi from the basement (around 500 baht) but ignore the overpriced and heavily touted airport limousine services. Buses are also available but gernerally very slow. Although car hire is offered here, first timers in the city are not advised to drive into central Bangkok. More on Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport
Don Mueang Airport is the city’s original airport and was recently re-opened for limited domestic flights. It’s a 40-minute drive north of the city by taxi and less crowded. However, be careful not to fly here on a cheap domestic service (with Nok Air for example) if you have to take an international transfer which will undoubtedly depart from Suvarnabhumi.
Taxis are the best means of getting to and from the airport. Trains and buses going from the airport to the city are not recommended as they are slow and do not have fixed schedules.
Bangkok buses and trains
If you want to come back to Bangkok after travelling elsewhere, there are many bus and train services operating into and out of the capital. Typically, buses leave almost hourly to the main centres, but generally foreigners rely on budget airlines for the longer journeys to Phuket, Krabi, Samui or Chiang Mai.
However, for closer destinations like Kanchanaburi, Ayuthaya or Pattaya, buses are the most practical options. Long distance buses to northern destinations depart from Mo Chit terminal, Ekkamai Bus Station for eastern destinations and the west or south from the Southern Bus Station in Thon Buri, across the Chao Phraya River. Minibuses from travel agencies are available for a more convenient and private experience and these can be arranged through your hotel concierge or a travel agent. They either pick up from your hotel or depart fairly regularly from the Victory Monument (food court area) or Khao San Road.
Travelling by train
Many trains run between Chiang Mai and Bangkok and take around 12 hours. There are a number of regular trains leaving Hua Lampong train station for other main provinces, including Surat Thani in the south (Phun Phin station is about 30 minutes transfer away) from where there are links to Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, Krabi and Phuket, and trains go as far as Singapore. The overnight sleepers are the most comfortable and, although you don’t get individual compartments, the berths are roomy, curtained off, private and safe. But the advent of budget airlines have made trains less popular.
Getting stuck in traffic in Bangkok is inevitable, especially during rush hour in the morning until 09.30 or from 15.30 onwards when schools empty out. Fortunately, there have been many changes in Bangkok’s transport systems which have helped decrease the traffic in and around Bangkok. More on getting around Bangkok
Bangkok BTS Skytrain
Fast, efficient and affordable, the BTS offers many routes around downtown areas in Bangkok, running everyday from 06.00 to midnight. The Sukhumvit Line operates along Sukhumvit road, with On Nut Station at the southeast and Mo Chit station at the north end, where you can find the weekend Chatuchak Market. Siam Station, adjacent to huge shopping malls: Siam Centre, Siam Discovery Centre and Siam Paragon, is the central station with a link to National Stadium Station where MBK and Tokyo department stores are located. The other link connects Sukhumvit Line to the Silom Line and goes to Saphan Taksin Station and boat pier.
Fares range between 15 and 40 baht. A 120-baht unlimited day pass is also a good investment. More on the Bangkok BTS Skytrain.
Bangkok MRT metro
With 18 stations covering main roads in Bangkok including Rama IV, Sukhumvit, Lad Prao and Pahonyothin, MRT is a new transport service that opened in 2004 and now operates everyday from 06.00 to midnight. Connecting to the BTS Skytrain at Sukhumvit Station (Asoke BTS Station), Lumping Station (Silom BTS Station) and Chatuchak Station (Mo Chit BTS Station) with a link to Hua Lampong train station, the MRT is a very effective way to travel around in Bangkok. The newly adjusted fares are between 15 and 40 baht. More on the Bangkok Metro.
Taxis and tuk tuks in Bangkok
Taxis are very easy to find everywhere in Bangkok, with the meter starting from 35 baht. Taking a taxi is a convenient way to get around when the traffic is flowing. However, always make sure taxi drivers activate the meter and do not overcharge you. Then there is the ubiquitous tuk tuks which loiter in tourist areas, touting for business. They’re a fun ‘must-do’ experience in Thailand but, quite frankly, these open vehicles in the congestion-induced fumes of Bangkok streets are a recipe for future health problems and are always pricier than the meter taxis!
Taxis are the most practical means to get to and from the airport (500 baht on average) when the train is not running past midnight, but are a bad idea during rush hour. Ultimately a combination of MRT/BTS and local taxi works best, but bring a book to kill the time if you get stuck in traffic. Some drivers won’t want to take you to far off places in rush hour.
Bangkok local bus transportation
Taking a bus around Bangkok is very cheap, but can be confusing. But if you want to give it a try, a map of all the routes can be purchased in most bookstores and tourist spots. There are also bus lanes around Bangkok so your journey can be much quicker than taking a taxi. An air-conditioned bus is recommended and is very cost-effective with the fares ranging between seven and 22 baht depending on the distance and type. More on buses in Bangkok.
Bangkok boat transportation
The Chao Phraya Express Boat running from Wat Rajsingkorn to Nonthaburi (six to 10 baht) can take you to many exquisite sites including the Grand Palace. Tourist boats are also available with an English commentary on important places passed en route.
To use boat services, take a BTS to Saphan Taksin Station before transferring to a boat to visit the Grand Palace, Wat Po and Wat Arun. There are many stops along the river including at the harbours right in front of the Oriental, Marriot and many restaurants on the banks of the river. The boats also go to the Banglamphu pier which is only a short walk from the Khao San road. This is a highly recommended transportation mode in Bangkok.
Canal boat transportation in Bangkok
Canal (‘klong’ in Thai) boats are popular among the residents as they are very cheap, fast, and go to many areas in Bangkok. However, getting on and off the boat can be tricky and the piers are often crowded. The water can also be smelly if you are not used to it.
Motorcycle taxis in Bangkok
This is a favourite travelling means among residents, but not recommended for tourists. Motorcycle taxis take over every road, street and lane (‘soi’ in Thai) in Bangkok. The drivers wear an orange or green waistcoat with numbers and the name of their locations. Motorcycle taxis can come in handy when the traffic is jam-packed, but the ride can be heart-stopping. The fare depends on the distance, with the cheapest fare being 20 baht. They’re useful for covering the last part of your journey from a metro or BTS station if you don’t wish to walk in the tropical humidity, and congregate at authorised points along main avenues or near BTS/MRT stations.
Trains in Bangkok
Although some residents use trains for commuter purposes, tourists will only ever find themselves using them for long-distance journeys. Routes mostly start from Hua Lampong station in the Rattanakosin district, reachable by MRT.