Getting around Bangkok is certainly not an easy task for those who, having just arrived in the City of Angels, intend to extricate on their own through the streets, alleys or channels of this endless metropolis. Reaching a temple, the Royal Palace or a market can be a waste of time and money in transportation for those who, in their travel itinerary, have decided to devote only a few days to visit the capital of Thailand.
Added to this is often the frustration of sometimes feeling cheated by some unscrupulous taxi driver who, in order to take a hapless tourist to places where they get a modest commission, do not hesitate to invent ‘white lies’ to get their unfair profit.
Yet, getting around Bangkok is not so hard if you have a general idea of how to move and if you follow some small but useful tips: first, the city is well served by a modern and efficient railway network, both underground and elevated, that is constantly growing, linking together the commercial areas. Furthermore an unknown number of taxi (mostly legal) patrol the streets of Bangkok day and night in search for passengers. Motorcycle taxis, boats and the famous tuk tuk complete the panorama of the city transportation, making Bangkok a city almost easy to get around in.
Over the course of a month spent in Bangkok, Asianitinerary.com has experienced the various means of transport and has learned a few tricks in order to extricate between the twists and turns of public transportation. Here we willingly share this with our readers:
Getting around Bangkok with mototaxi: Motorcycle taxis are the most used means of transportation by the Thais for short trips. They are normally used to reach main arterial roads, urban rail lines stops and not too far away places, though not infrequently they also venture further afield. In each area of the city, you can find groups of scooters waiting in strategic corners whose drivers, duly licensed, wear colored and labeled coats with a number written in Western characters on the front and in Thai characters on the back. The fare starts from a minimum of 20 baht (about half a Euro) for closer destinations and increases based on the distance.
Without doubt they are the best way to get around during rush hours thanks to their ability to take advantage of every little space available. The compliance of the rules does not seem to be one of their best qualities though: they rarely have a helmet for the passenger, do not hesitate to go against the traffic or to circulate on the sidewalks, and some of them negotiate the spaces that come their way with a little too much ease. They seem to enjoy a certain tolerance from the traffic police and a certain amount of attention from car drivers. Although they sometimes tend to charge foreigners a higher rate than Thais, in general they are honest, especially since prices are shown on a billboard ‘clearly’ exposed in the Thai language in their service areas.
Getting around Bangkok with taxis: one square meter of space in which to sit comfortably, the heat outside that seems not to exist thanks to the air conditioning while outside the city traffic is rampant in its orderly disorder, make the taxi-meter the most comfortable means of transport in Bangkok as well as one of the cheapest. This if the driver is worthy to operate the meter, since the starting fee is 35 baht (less than a euro) and it increases gradually of a few baht on a basis of kilometers and time. Despite this, it is precisely the taxi that usually creates some problems for the passenger who does not know the rules. Getting around Bangkok, I noticed two kinds of taxis, two philosophies working opposite ways and in stark contrast to each other.
On the one hand there are the taxi drivers who wait for customers outside tourist centers of importance – hotels, night bazaars, monuments. These, relying on the fact that tourists may not be aware of the rules, instead of using the mandatory meter, offer a fixed rate that is generally at least double the real fare. Those who politely asks the use of the meter are equally politely refused the ride with unlikely excuses that the unsuspecting customer accepts as true.
The other downside of this category of taxi drivers is represented by the tendency to want to take customers to places of their choice, trying not to comply with your request justifying their alternative proposals arguing, for example, that “your destination is closed, but I can take you to another place that is worth visiting”. Nothing alarming, mind you, but if you accept their proposal you might find yourself in a jewelry store, not necessarily of good quality, where the driver will be rewarded with a commission while you will be punished with a useless waste of time.
The best behavior to be adopted is a polite rejection of the taxi driver offer, walk a few tens of meters away and wait on the roadside one of the many passing taxi that normally are much more fair: these are noted for a red light on the left side of the windscreen showing them as ‘free’. These usually activate the meter without much hesitation at the time of departure, taking you to your destination without complications or alternative proposals.
A tip: their level of English is very low, so the chances of misunderstandings are actually plausible. To eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding, it might be helpful to have someone to write the name and address of your destination in Thai language. If you want to return to your hotel, it is advisable to bring with you a business card of the hotel where you are staying, where name and address are usually also written in the Thai language.
Getting around Bangkok with tuk tuk: The tuk tuk is certainly Bangkok’s most characteristic means of transport, a kind of motorized tricycle reminiscent of Ape Piaggio. Open on all sides, it provide a pleasant feeling of ventilation along the way; however, with the increase of city traffic, the feeling of ventilation has become a little less enjoyable due to the fumes of the exhausts around you.
Tuk tuks are not metered, so the price needs bargaining; the fares will usually be greater than those of taxi-meter. If we add to this the smog and the often unorthodox driving style, the tuk tuk is not suitable for long journeys. At the same time, tuk tuks are one of the characteristic elements of the city and should be tried at least once. The advice is to try the experience with a very short ride, perhaps in an area in the heart of Bangkok not yet served by the most modern urban railway lines, for the pleasure of tasting this aspect of Bangkok that seems destined to disappear over the time. The tuk tuk are in fact, in my opinion (unless there is a change of trend) more and more destined to lose the confrontation with taxis, both for the behavior of their drivers who often look for extra profits (commissions and inflated fares), and for their much lower comfort.