Getting there & around
Bangkok’s thousands of brightly coloured taxis are some of the best value cabs on earth. Most are new, air-conditioned and have working seatbelts in the front seat, though less often in the back. You can flag them down almost anywhere in central Bangkok. The meter charge is 35B for the first 2km, then 4.50B for each of the next 10km, 5B for each kilometre from 13km to 20km and 5.50B per kilometre for any distance greater than 20km, plus a small standing charge in slow traffic. Freeway tolls – 25B to 70B depending on where you start – must be paid by the passenger. Because of high fuel prices, there is talk of raising taxi rates.
Taxi Radio (1681; www.taxiradio.co.th) and other 24-hour ‘phone-a-cab’ services are available for 20B above the metered fare.
During the morning and afternoon rush hours taxis might refuse to go to certain destinations; if this happens, just try another cab. Around Th Khao San and other tourist areas, some cabbies might refuse to use the meter and try to charge a flat fee; if this happens just walk away and find another cab.
You can hire a taxi all day for 1500B to 2000B, depending on how much driving is involved. Taxis can also be hired for trips to Pattaya (1500B), Hua Hin (2300B) and Phetchaburi (1700B), among others; see www.taxiradio.co.th for fares.
Motorcycle taxis serve two purposes in Bangkok. Most commonly and popularly they form an integral part of the public transport network, running from the corner of a main thoroughfare, such as Th Sukhumvit, to the far ends of soi (lanes) that run off that thoroughfare. Riders wear coloured, numbered vests and gather at either end of their soi, usually charging about 10B for the trip (without a helmet unless you ask).
Their other purpose is as a means of beating the traffic. You tell your rider where you want to go, negotiate a price (from 20B for a short trip up to about 100B going across town), strap on the helmet (they will insist for longer trips) and say a prayer to whichever god you’re into. Drivers range from responsible to kamikaze, but the average trip involves some time on the wrong side of the road and several near-death experiences. It’s the sort of white-knuckle ride you’d pay good money for at Disneyland, but is all in a day’s work for these riders. Comfort yourself in the knowledge that there are good hospitals nearby.
Bangkok’s public buses are a cheap if not always comfortable way to get around the city. They are run by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (0 2246 4262; www.bmta.co.th), which has a website with detailed information on bus routes. Air-con fares typically start at 10B or 12B and increase depending on distance. Fares for ordinary (fan-con) buses start at 7B or 8B. Most of the bus lines run between 5am and 10pm or 11pm, except for the ‘all-night’ buses, which run from 3am or 4am to midmorning.
Bangkok Bus Map by Roadway, available at Asia Books and some 7-Eleven stores, is the most up-to-date route map available.
Bangkok is a major Southeast Asian air hub, and dozens of airlines fly regularly between the Thai capital and Europe, Asia, the USA and Australia. Thailand’s national carrier is Thai Airways International (THAI; www.thaiair.com), which also operates a number of domestic air routes.
Thailand has several airlines – both full service and low cost – competing on a large network of domestic routes. All of those listed here also fly regional international routes. Nok Air, Orient Thai, PB Air and Thai Air Asia are budget airlines, Thai Airways is full service and Bangkok Airways is somewhere in between. Big discounts are often available online, and most deal only in e-tickets, so there’s no reason to schlep out to their distant offices to book a fare; use a travel agent, the internet or the phone. For last-minute fares, buy at the departures level in the relevant airport.
Bangkok Airways (PG;1771 or 0 2265 5555; www.bangkokair.com)
Nok Air (OX; 1318; www.nokair.com)
PB Air (9Q; 0 2261 0222; www.pbair.com)
Thai Air Asia (AK; 0 2515 9999; www.airasia.com)
Thai Airways International (TG; 0 2232 8000; www.thaiair.com)
Some of the airlines flying to Thailand, with offices where they exist.
Air Asia (AK; 0 2515 9999; www.airasia.com)
Air Canada (AC; 0 2670 0400; www.aircanada.ca; Suite 1708, Empire Tower, River Wing West, Th Sathon Tai, Yannawa, Sathon)
Air France (AF; 0 2635 1191; www.airfrance.com; 20th fl, Vorawat Bldg, 849 Th Silom)
Air India (AI; 0 2653 2288; www.airindia.com; 18th fl, One Pacific Pl, 140 Th Sukhumvit)
Cathay Pacific Airways (CX; 0 2263 0606; www.cathaypacific.com; 11th fl, Ploenchit Tower, 898 Th Ploenchit)
China Airlines (CI; 0 2250 9898; www.china-airlines.com; 4th fl, Peninsula Plaza, 153 Th Ratchadamri)
Garuda Indonesia (GA; 0 2679 7371-2; www.garuda-indonesia.com; 27th fl, Lumphini Tower, 1168/77 Th Phra Ram IV)
Japan Airlines (JL; 0 2649 9500; www.jal.co.jp/en/; 12th fl, Nantawan Bldg, 161 Th Ratchadamri, Lumphini)
Jetstar (0 2267 5125; www.jetstar.com)
Lao Airlines (QV; 0 2664 0661; 10th fl, 253 Tower, 253 Soi Asoke, Th Sukhumvit)
Lufthansa Airlines (LH; 0 2264 2400; www.lufthansa.com; 18th fl, Q House Asoke Bldg, 66 Soi 21, Th Sukhumvit)
Malaysia Airlines (MH; 0 2263 0565; www.malaysiaairlines.com; 20th fl, Ploenchit Tower, 898 Th Ploenchit)
Qantas Airways (QF; 0 2627 1701; www.qantas.com.au)
Singapore Airlines (SQ; 0 2353 6000; www.singaporeair.com; 12th fl, Silom Center Bldg, 2 Th Silom)
Swiss (LX; 0 2204 7744; www.swiss.com; 18th fl, Q House Asoke Bldg, 66 Soi 21, Th Sukhumvit)
United Airlines (UA; 0 2253 0558; www.unitedairlines.co.th; 14th fl, Sindhorn Bldg, 130-132 Th Withayu)
Bangkok has two main airports. Opened in late 2006, Suvarnabhumi International Airport (0 2132 1888; www2.airportthai.co.th) is the vast glass-and-concrete construction 30km east of central Bangkok that acts as the main international airport. After rather a lot of teething problems, at most times Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-a-poom) works fairly efficiently. The unofficial www.bangkokairportonline.com site has up-to-date transport information and real-time details of airport arrivals and departures. Left-luggage facilities (24 hr) are available on Level 2, beside the helpful TAT office .(0 2134 4077; 24 hr).
Don Muang Airport (0 2535 1111; www2.airportthai.co.th) is 25km north of the city centre and, after being temporarily retired, it now serves some, but not all, domestic routes.
Getting to/from Don Muang you can take a taxi or bus. Taking a taxi is the fastest and most comfortable option, and fares at most times will be a very reasonable 200B to 350B depending on the traffic and how far you’re going. Taxis depart from outside the arrivals hall, and there is a 50B airport charge added to the meter fare, plus expressway tolls.
Slow, crowded public bus 59 stops on the highway in front of the airport and carries on to Banglamphu, passing Th Khao San and the Democracy Monument; luggage is not allowed. Air-con buses are faster, and you might actually get a seat. Useful air-con routes include:
Bus 29 Northern Bus Terminal, Victory Monument, Siam Sq and Hualamphong train station
Bus 510 Victory Monument, Southern Bus Terminal
Bus 513 Th Sukhumvit, Eastern Bus Terminal
Renting a car just to drive around Bangkok is not a good idea. Parking is impossible, traffic is frustrating, road rules can be mysterious and the alternative – taxis – are cheap and ubiquitous. But if you still want to give it a go, all the big car-hire companies have offices in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi airport. Rates start at around 1500B per day for a small car. An International Driving Permit and passport are required for all rentals. Most can also provide drivers (600B per day, 8am to 6pm), which gives local drivers a job and means you don’t have to navigate, park or deal with overzealous police.
Reliable car-rental companies include:
Avis (0 2255 5300; www.avisthailand.com; 2/12 Th Withayu), also a branch at Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel.
Budget (0 2203 9200; www.budget.co.th; 19/23 Bldg A, Royal City Ave, Th Phetburi Tat Mai)
Hertz (0 2654 1105; www.hertz.com; M Thai Tower, All Seasons Pl, 87 Th Withayu)
Although many of Bangkok’s khlong have been paved over, there is still plenty of transport along and across the Chao Phraya and up adjoining canals.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat Co (0 2623 6001; www.chaophrayaboat.co.th) operates the main ferry service along the Chao Phraya. The central pier is known as Sathorn, Saphan Taksin or sometimes Central Pier, and connects to the Skytrain’s Saphan Taksin station. Each pier is numbered from Sathorn, and ferries run four stops south to Wat Ratchasingkhon (S4), though tourists rarely use these. Much more useful are the services running to and from Nonthaburi (N30) in northern Bangkok; the maps in this book show the piers and their numbers. Fares are cheap and differ by distance from 10B to 34B. There are four different services, differentiated by the colour of the flags on their roofs. To avoid an unwanted trip halfway to Nonthaburi be sure to keep an eye on those flags.
Local Line (no flag) The all-stops service, operating every 15 to 20 minutes mornings and evenings.
Orange Express Stops at N1, N3, N4, N5, N6, N8, N9, N10, N12, N13, N15, N18, N21, N22, N24, N30. The most common service, departing every five to 20 minutes depending on the time of day.
Yellow Express Stops at N3, N5, N10, N12, N15, N22, N24, N30. Departing every five to 20 minutes depending on the time of day.
Blue Express Nonthaburi express, stopping N10 and N30 only. Just a couple of services in the morning 7am to 7.30am and evening at 5.35pm and 6.05pm.
A special tourist boat runs between Phra Athit and Sathorn every 30 minutes between 9.30am and 3pm. A one-day pass for unlimited travel costs 120B. There is also a boat that connects Tha Phra Athit with the Royal Barges Museum in Thonburi every hour from 10am to 3.35pm for 50B.
All this is best illustrated in the small, folding maps that detail routes, prices and times and are sometimes available at ferry piers – ask for one – or on boards at the piers.
There are also dozens of cross-river ferries, which charge 3.50B and run every few minutes until late at night.
Canal taxi boats run along Khlong Saen Saep (Banglamphu to Ramkhamhaeng) and are an easy way to get from Banglamphu to Jim Thompson’s House, the Siam Sq shopping centres (get off at Th Hua Chang for both), and other points further east along Sukhumvit – after a mandatory change of boat at Tha Pratunam. These boats are mostly used by daily commuters and pull into the piers for just a few seconds – jump straight on or you’ll be left behind. Fares range from 7B to 20B.