(For calculation purposes, today 1Bhat = $0.03 USD or $1.00 USD = 32 Thai Bhat)
As novices but no longer beginners at Bangkok public transport, I’ll share what we have learned to help you avoid the same mistakes. This handy guide will evaluate motorcycle taxis, tuk tuks, car taxis, the MRT (subway), the BTS (skytrain), and the Thailand railroad intercity train by speed, comfort, cost and fun. The modes of transport are arranged smallest to largest.
Motorcycle Taxis – These “taxis” can be spotted because the drivers are wearing a bright colored vest either orange or purple. They are fast but not cheap…at least for tourists like Eric and me with a big sticker on our forehead that reads “sucker.” We used two of these taxis to get from Victory Monument to the US Embassy, a distance of perhaps 5 km. For an exorbitant 200 bhat ($6 USD) which was more than we paid for any other kind of transport including the 20 km ride to the Bureau of Immigration, we had more thrill than a roller coaster ride at 6 Flags AND we were able to pick up a new passport before the embassy closed for lunch. That is, the motorcycle taxis are fast…..and scary.
Tuk Tuks – These look-like-a-motorcycle-with-the-bed-of-a-tiny-pickup-truck welded to the back are a tourist trap. (Actually, the locals use them, too, but I’m sure get a much cheaper rate.) Tuk tuks are not metered so if the driver quotes you a nice, reasonable price of 40 bhat (about $1.50) he will then make lots of unwanted stops at jewelry and handicraft stores and beg you to go inside with the gut wrenching sob story, “You don’t have to buy anything, but if you just go inside, I’ll just get a stamp for some free gas.” Then, because you forgot to remove your “sucker” sticker, you go inside and buy a sapphire ring. Actually, we didn’t buy a ring. We just replaced the two tiny missing diamonds from the last ring we bought in Bangkok when we fell for the same story. It would be cheaper to just buy the whole tuk tuk.
Car Taxis – These appear to be the least expensive mode of transportation in Bangkok for two people. Most of our rides seemed to be between 50 -75 bhat (about $1.50). These taxis are often new, comfortable Toyotas with superior air-conditioning. And, at first glance, they seem like the way to go. But, there are two problems:
1) the Bangkok traffic which is always a “jam” (their word, not mine)
2)our drivers couldn’t read a map or speak English. (our solution was to open Google Maps with the Thai translation)
Although the taxis are slow, they do make great place to cool off and rest your tired walking legs.
The MRT and the BTS – Don’t worry if you can’t remember the acronyms. Just remember that one is a subway and takes plastic tokens, and the other is a sky train and takes a ticket. And, you can’t transfer from one to the other without paying again. They are fast, convenient, and comfortable (except at rush hour which is from about 11:30 am until 12 midnight). They work well for most of the touristy places but they are not close to bicycle shops, one reason we needed other options. A ride on the Sky train for two people is about the same cost at a taxi ride, but with more reliability, comfort, speed, and efficiency. It also gives you a good view of all the glitzy shopping malls.
The train – If nostalgia for the 1930s is your thing, then the train is your “go to”. It’s not fast or comfortable or efficient, but it’s very cheap and, to those who enjoy hanging their head out the window for “fresh” air, watching water slosh in squatty potties, and having their bare arms touch the unbathed sweaty guy next to you, fun.
For the sheer fun/thrill factor and when money is no object, then the motorcycle taxis are the way to go. But, if you value your life and want to save a buck or two, then use the MRT or BTS.
For me, however, the experience of riding through Bangkok on my bicycle is still priceless.