Getting around in Bangkok
Alternatively, to take control of your own destiny during peak traffic congestion, expats can opt to buy a car, or motorbike; but before you can legally start cruising around Bangkok, you must obtain your local Thai license.
Do keep in mind that cars in Bangkok used to be an anomaly; now, they are 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 repeatedly going back on yourself is exactly how it feels to be stuck in Bangkok traffic.
Thais, unlike expats, don’t really do walking, which may explain why the sidewalks are used for shopping rather than strolling.
Also, you’ll find most people tend to walk in the road, as this is generally safer and quicker than navigating yourself through a mini obstacle course of people, market stalls and dodgy pavement.
Public transport in Bangkok
Round the clock, taxis provide the most reliable, convenient, cost-effective and efficient way of getting around Bangkok. These vehicles are never in short supply; simply flag one down, hop in, and prepare to pay the fare.
All taxis are fitted with a meter which charges per kilometre. However, be warned, there are a few cowboys out there who refuse to use the meter. Likewise, refuse to take the taxi and promptly exit.
Beyond that, it’s important to remember that most taxi drivers have very limited English skills. Expats living in Bangkok will quickly learn that it's best to have the street name and soi (street) number of your destination written down, otherwise you may experience a ‘Bangkok City Tour’.
Regarding safety, for those expats fresh off the boat, your first taxi ride may seem closer to a near death experience than a method of getting from point A to point B. However, the wacky race-madness that usually makes-up a journey will be a normalised part of day-to-day life before you know it.
These 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. Always agree on a price beforehand, or else you’ll be overcharged. Also, if you want to, you can haggle for a better price, but, remember; the worse the traffic is the higher the price is going be.
The Sky Train (BTS) and the Underground (MRT)
Second to the taxi, the next preferred transport option among expats in Bangkok is the Sky Train (BTS). This elevated train system navigates the southern, northern and eastern areas of Bangkok; specifically the main business, entertainment and hospitality districts of Silom and Sukumwit. While not the quickest mode of transit, it's a very reliable, clean and safe way to travel.
The service 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, this train generally services the suburban workforce commuting to main points in the city centre; so unless you’re from one of these specific suburbs, it’s a service rarely used.
An expansive bus system does exist (with air-con and fan buses), but it's not an option chosen by most expats.