Transportation in Bangkok provides many options be it by car, rail or boat. Bangkok is one of the most interesting cities in the world and is known for it’s amazing scenery. However, it’s vast so it’s beneficial to know how to move around the city. Bangkok, like many developing cities, suffers from paralytic traffic jams periodically throughout the day. During busy hours, it’s worthwhile knowing all the transportation options at your disposal and understanding the city setup for easy navigation.
Rapid Transit Trains
The most popular transportation methods are the aboveground and metro systems that travel throughout Bangkok. There are 3 major rapid transit systems: the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS), the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT), and the Airport Rail Link (ARL). Although they connect to each other at various transfer points, they operate differently and use different ticketing systems. All 3 options are convenient and rival subways and metros found in Washington, DC and London, England; which is why hotels and apartment prices increase significantly when located near a BTS, MRT, or ARL station. View the full SkyMap guides for the BTS, MRT, and ARL systems.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat travels up and down the Chao Phraya river from Wat Rajsingkorn (S4) to Nonthaburi (N30), with stops at most of Rattanakosin’s major attractions including the Grand Palace (at Tha Chang) and Wat Pho (at Tha Tien).
The Saen Saep Express Boat serves the long Saen Saep Canal, one of the remaining canals (khlong) that used to flow through Bangkok. Mostly used by locals to commute to work, the service is cheap and immune to traffic jams.
Metered taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town when traffic is flowing quickly. A red sign on the front window, if lit, means that the taxi is available. All taxis are metered and air-conditioned. A 35 baht hailing charge is added to all fares and most trips within the city center cost less than 100 baht. If the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi and try another. Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or use SkyMap spot translations, as taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps, and most drivers speak limited English.
Local buses are the cheapest but also the most challenging way of getting around. There is a bewildering plethora of routes, usually marked only in Thai. They make for a good adventure if you’re not in a rush and you don’t mind being the centre of attention. Buses stop only when needed, so wave them down (arm out, palm down) when you see one barrelling your way. Pay the roaming collector after you board and keep the ticket, as there can be occasional spot-checks. Press the signal buzzer (usually near the door) when you want to get off.
What would Bangkok be without the much-loathed, much-loved tuk-tuks? These three-wheeled contraptions blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10min jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price. Always agree on a price before entering the tuk-tuk and be crystal clear about your intended destination. Tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for gem scams and misinformation, so beware!
When traffic slows to a crawl and there are no mass-transit alternatives for your destination, motorbike taxis are by far the fastest mode of transport. They typically wear colourful fluorescent yellow-orange or red vests and wait for passengers at busy places. Prices are negotiable before you ride, but short routes up and down long sois (side-streets) generally have fixed 5-20 baht fares. Be aware of the risk before using motorcycle taxis. Many tourists and Thai alike recommend avoiding them except as a last resort. Under no circumstances ride without a helmet.
Roads and side streets
Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which can be confusing. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon, while the side streets branching off from them are called soi. Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other side. Thus, an address like “25 Sukhumvit Soi 3” means house/building number 25 on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Sukhumvit Soi 3 is also known as “Soi Nana Nuea”, so it can be expressed as “25 Soi Nana Nuea”.
While the soi numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides — for example, Soi 55 could be across from Soi 36. The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit’s soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok instead of soi.
To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekkamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases, an address like “Ari Soi 3” means “the 3rd soi off Soi Ari”, and you may even spot addresses like “68/2 Ekkamai Soi 4, Sukhumvit Road”, meaning “2nd house beside house 68, in the 4th soi of Ekkamai, which is the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit”. The road running towards Don Mueang Airport from Victory Monument may be spelled Phahonyothin or Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. And if that’s not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Phloen Chit just before you cross Witthayu Road (aka Wireless Road) going towards the river.
Fortunately, there’s logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn’t make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it’s no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Phloen Chit where it runs though the Phloen Chit area. It’s when you’re able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatuchak are much more than just markets; they’re neighborhoods, each with their own distinct character.
North / South / East / West
Compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That’s probably because they aren’t very useful; the city’s Darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of “Is that west from here?” will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You’re better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. “How do I get to Thong Lo?” will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.