Getting around in Bangkok
Options for transport in Bangkok are as endless as its different noodle dishes; nevertheless, the most popular mode of transit among expats seems to be the taxi.
Expats can also take control of their own destinies during peak traffic congestion, and have the option of buying a car or motorbike. Before a foreigner can legally start driving in Bangkok, however, they must obtain a local Thai driver’s licence.
It is important to keep in mind that, while cars in Bangkok used to be an anomaly, they are now a plague upon a city that bowed to foreign pressure and turned its waterways into freeways.
One of Thailand’s trademark road manoeuvres is the U-turn, and the feeling of moving backwards is exactly how it feels to be stuck in Bangkok traffic.
Thai people tend to walk less than expats in Bangkok, which may explain why the sidewalks are often used for shopping rather than strolling. Most people tend to walk in the road, as this is generally safer and quicker than navigating through a mini obstacle course of people, market stalls and dubious pavements.
Owing to the difficulties attached to driving in the city, most expats use some form of public transport in Bangkok.
Public transport in Bangkok
Except for taxis, the preferred mode of transportation among expats in Bangkok is the Sky Train (BTS). This elevated train system navigates the southern, northern and eastern areas of the city; specifically the main business, entertainment and hospitality districts of Silom and Sukhumvit.
While not the quickest mode of transit, it is a reliable, clean and safe way to travel in Bangkok, and runs from 6am until midnight.
Alternatively, expats can opt to ride the underground (MRT), which runs from the north to the south of the city. It's based on the Singaporean model, and is very popular with expats as well as locals.
The MRT is modern, safe, and much cheaper and quicker than the Sky Train. However, it is generally used by workers commuting to the city centre; so it is generally only used by expats who are from one of the suburbs serviced by the MRT.
There is an extensive system of buses in Bangkok, some of which are equipped with air conditioning, but it's not an option chosen by most expats. Buses are, however, a popular option for long-distance travel and a wide variety of private services operate routes to different parts of Thailand.
Taxis provide the most reliable, convenient, cost-effective and efficient way of getting around Bangkok. These vehicles are never in short supply and are available around the clock; simply flag one down, hop in and prepare to pay the fare.
All taxis are fitted with a meter which charges per kilometre. Expats should be warned that some drivers may refuse to use the meter. If this happens, the best response is to promptly exit the taxi and find another one.
It is important to remember that most taxi drivers have very limited English skills. Expats living in Bangkok will quickly learn that it is best to have the street name and soi (street) number of their destination written down, otherwise they may experience an unsolicited tour of the city.
With regards to safety, a new arrival’s first taxi ride may seem closer to a near death experience than a method of getting from point A to point B. However, the madness that usually makes up a journey in Bangkok quickly becomes a normalised part of day-to-day life.
Motorcycle taxis (mawtoesai ráp jâang) are an alternative for expats travelling shorter distances, or for those who prefer to avoid peak-time squeezes. Even though many of the drivers live on a daily diet of yadong (alcoholic punch) and energy drinks, they are generally reliable and safe.
Expat residents should always agree on a price beforehand, or they will be overcharged. It is possible to haggle for a better price, but it is important to remember that the worse the traffic is, the higher the price is going be.