Thailand isn’t for everyone. When I arrived in Bangkok the amount of pollution, trash, and traffic congestion that filled the streets shocked me so I finally understood why people wear face masks.
It is hard to breathe. The city is unique, AND THERE ARE Different Ways to Explore Thailand. There’s a magnified class difference in Bangkok let alone the entire country of Thailand.
I walked through rubbish on one street then, however, a few blocks away there are pristine well-manicured lawns and high-end luxury shopping. Bangkok is a city that has a lot to offer everyone. You can sneak away to the quietest sections of the city or follow the flagrant sounds of debauchery as the day turns into night.
There’s a lot to explore and do in Bangkok. I plan on re-visiting the city of course, but first things first how do you get around in Bangkok? There are quite a few options as the city (and Thailand) is made for tourists, therefore there are different ways to explore Thailand.
Different Ways to Explore Thailand
I discuss motor taxis in my other blog post that discussed fear. You can check it out here. I have never ridden a motor taxi, therefore, I’m not sure how much they cost.
With everything else in Thailand, the prices are doable and negotiable. If you are feeling brave, you can ride on the back of these motorbikes and whiz through the city pretty quickly. There are motorbike taxies everywhere in the city, as a result, it’s not difficult to catch one.
There is a surplus of taxi cabs in the city. I didn’t realize that you can ask them to turn the meter on. Most of them don’t, they will try to negotiate a flat rate with you, and if you are not familiar with the area, I would suggest sticking to the meter.
Grabbing a taxi cab from Suvarnabhumi Airport or Dong Muang Airport can range between 400-600 Thai Baht. It depends on where in Bangkok you are traveling to and the amount of traffic. The cost will vary.
The taxi system at the Suvarnabhumi airport is efficient. People stand in line waiting to print a queued ticket number from the kiosk system. Grab the ticket and walk towards taxi lane.
Match your number with the ticket. At Don Muang airport there is a 50 Thai Baht surcharge added to the fare. There are some interesting things about the taxi cabs. In fact, when you flag one down, don’t be surprised if they say no.
I’ve had quite a few taxi cabs refuse to take me to my destination with no clear explanation why (language barrier) or they just wave you off, and put up their windows.
I assume that they don’t want to drive too far moreover, I hate to say it, but I’ve noticed many of the taxi cab drivers are lazy. I remember splitting a cab with some friends.
We explicitly provided two locations before entering the vehicle. Once the taxi cab realized he had further to go, meanwhile, he sucked his teeth several times, mumbled, and complained all the way there (it was a 2-minute ride from the initial drop off). I gave him his fare and said, “Kob khun ka.” This means thank you in Thai, but he completely ignored me.
If you are going through tolls, the expectation is that you front this bill in advance (ranges from 20-70B). I didn’t realize this. Only one taxis that I rode with asked for the toll money, the rest didn’t.
While heading from Mega Bang Na, I had a taxi driver reach back and gestured for the toll fare. Often the toll routes are the fastest, then other times it’s the same distance.
Don’t be surprised if there aren’t any seatbelts in the backseat. Only the front seats require them by law. And don’t be surprised if your taxi cab is in shambles.
I don’t believe there are standards for a vehicle condition in Thailand, often there is terrible exhaust, the drivers run the cars into the ground, and the inside of the car has rips, tears, and holes. One time we were in a taxi that didn’t have fabric on the floor, it was all metal.
Granted, not all of the taxi cabs are like this but nonetheless, don’t be surprised. Some of the taxi drivers will chat with you if they know a bit of English, other’s won’t.
Don’t take offense, ultimately the Thai people would like to communicate although more often than not they won’t because they are too embarrassed because of their lack of knowledge of the English language. The taxi drivers may get lost dropping you off therefore, just roll with the punches.
Yes, there is Uber in Bangkok. There are pros and cons with catching an Uber:
Pros: You know what you are paying for upfront. The drivers are (hopefully) vetted and safe. It’s super easy and quick to find several Uber drivers on the road even as late as 3 a.m. Often, their vehicles are clean and upgraded.
Cons: The language barrier makes it tough to explain your location. Many of the Uber drivers have no idea how to get to your location.
Be ready for them to get lost finding you (one Uber drive took 20 minutes to find us, and he was literally around the corner). They will cancel the ride after accepting it.
I have a terrible Uber story. S and I decided to take an Uber to my TEFL meeting point on the other side of town with a lot of luggage.
We were beyond elated to see that an Uber van came to pick us up. After packing everything in the driver hit the start trip button on his phone.
When the driver realized where our destination was, he refused to drive us. He got out of the car and told us to find another taxi.
We said that he was an Uber driver and that he had to take us to our destination and to top it off we were already running late.
We refused to get out of the car. The tension in the car was thick. The driver eventually began to drive. He turned left at the end of the street, another left, and pulled over on the side of the road.
He got out of the car and popped the trunk open. Our luggage fell to the ground. He got back in the car. What happened next was a three-way yelling match between me, S, and the Uber driver.
One thing to note is that the Thai people don’t like confrontation. Superlatives swung through the air like a Japanese sword fight.
By the end of the shouting match, I am sure that Uber driver hated Americans moving forward. We threatened him with a report to Uber, grabbed the rest of our belongings, and stood on the side of the road.
The last few days in Bangkok was rough (another story for another time). Everything that came with navigating a new country, new laws, new norms, new foods and smells took a toll on the both of us.
We called another Uber to pick us up, he couldn’t find us, and in the twenty minutes that we waited for him, we simply caught a taxi.
Two words: stay clear. Tuk Tuk’s are perfect for a one time only experience. If they sense that you are a tourist they hunt you down like bloodhounds.
Every two seconds they call out, “Tuk Tuk!” After some time I began ignoring them, but S continued to say no. It was so bad that I craved a shirt that said, “NO! Tuk ukT’s!” Here is how Tuk Tuk’s go:
They are an excellent way to explore the city and sight see. They will charge you a ridiculous amount of money if they know that they can.
Thankfully, when we took our first Tuk Tuk, it was with the help of a native Thai person (in retrospect we wondered if she was helpful). She helped us with our map and suggested places for us to see.
She then arranged our Tuk Tuk so that we didn’t get scammed. We thought this lady was magical (she still is). She told us, “You grab a Tuk Tuk; then you go see the tailor.” She convinced us that the tailor had fantastic material for a good price. Then she suggested a jeweler.
Another great thing about a Tuk Tuk is that you can “rent” them for a few hours. We hopped in our Tuk Tuk, enjoyed the breeze and the sight-seeing. He waited for us to get our food, afterward, he took us to the tailor.
I ended up purchasing three skirts for my teaching position. In retrospect I probably overpaid. Next, he took us to our destination, which was the boat tour (not worth the Thai Baht that we paid but that’s another story).
The boat tour was 45 minutes long. Our Tuk Tuk driver took us to the jeweler, afterward, he dropped us off at this mini-mall. He then said that he had to go home to his daughter (I’m wondering still if that was the truth).
We paid him and moved on. He dropped us off at the MBK Shopping Center. We spent less than 10 minutes at this lackluster establishment. There wasn’t much to see or buy.
Seeing that the first Tuk Tuk experience wasn’t too bad, we hailed another Tuk Tuk to take us to a day market that we had passed by earlier on our way to MBK. I remember, we specifically told the Tuk Tuk driver that we were not making any pit stops to jeweler’s or tailors furthermore we wanted to travel directly to our destination. He shook his head in agreement.
The Tuk Tuk driver was chatting us up, moreover, everything seemed kosher. Suddenly it started again; he attempted to persuade us to see the jeweler, however, we still said no.
He became very upset conversely he kicked us out of the Tuk Tuk. We weren’t sure where we were but noticed that we were further away than we were previously. As a result, we continued to walk the hot streets of Bangkok.
The following day we further explored Bangkok. We heard about the giant swing. That’s where we met another native Thai. Something was a bit strange.
He looked at our map, in addition, he gave us suggestions (flirted a little) and hailed our Tuk Tuk for us. Next, he negotiated the price for us, then he did something quite familiar. He actually suggested that we see the tailor and the jeweler. It felt like deja vu. That’s when we realized everyone in the city was in on it. It was the same experience just a different character.
Furthermore, we immediately explained to the Tuk Tuk driver that we were not going to any jeweler or tailor and that he must take us straight to our destination. At first, that’s what he did, but then we ended up in front of a tailor.
The Tuk tuk driver begged for us to go in there so that he can receive his commission. It was extremely annoying by this; we told him that we were not purchasing anything.
My final word on Tuk Tuk’s, don’t bother. Many of them are scams. Don’t pay more than 30-40B for a ride. Anything more is a rip-off.
They will harass you on the streets regularly if you look like tourists. We left our backpacks at the hostel to avoid looking like tourists.
For longer trips, use vans. We took a van from Bangkok to Koh Phangan (you need to get on a ferry to get to the islands). Some vans are clean and comfortable for the most part.
In some cases, it might be harder to negotiate a rate as many of these rates are preset for certain destinations. We found out after a month of living in Bang Bo that a van would take us to Bangkok for 100B one way. Huge savings as a taxi there can cost you 400-600B.
Drivers in Thailand
Pray before you ride with a Thai driver. Our van ride was terrifying. There aren’t any speed limits or traffic laws (none that I’m aware of).
Drivers in Thailand drive extremely fast and will risk your life with close deathly encounters with other vehicles. They take a lot of risks. Our van hit the van in front of him because he wasn’t paying attention.
The drivers inhale shots of the deadliest red bull we have ever seen. We were on a 10-12 hour ride, and not one person took a nap. My second van ride was from Bangkok to Lao for a visa run.
Again terrifying. It was raining, and every time that I woke up from my nap, I saw us hurtling through torrential downpour sometimes hydroplaning from ungodly speeds. The only way to get through these van rides is to knock yourself out.
Drivers drive the same way
The taxis drivers drive the same way. They cut people off and just “try to make it” across roads and streets that they should not even attempt, skimming in between vehicles evading a crash.
I often close my eyes and pray for the best. I deep breathe a lot. Also, don’t think for one minute that a driver in Thailand will slow down to allow you to cross the street, they won’t, I can count on one hand when a driver in Thailand allowed me to walk across the street.
It’s entirely acceptable and part of the culture to just wait…and wait…and wait for as long as it takes to cross the street.
I took the bus to Bangkok to get to Khao Sahn Raod the other day. Bus number 15. This bus didn’t require any baht. I’ve seen some buses charge at least 10 baht to get on the bus.
The buses haven’t been updated in years, therefore many of them look at least 10-20 years old. In a terribly congested city like Bangkok, taking the bus means a longer ride.
Although very inexpensive to travel, one can’t whiz in an out of traffic on a motor taxi or speed through the streets like a cab.
Bangkok has the BTS Skytrain and the MRT. I have only taken the BTS. I have yet to take the MRT.
The MRT needs an upgrade. The BTS is immaculate and efficient. It may cost 40+ baht to use it. It only takes coins, therefore make sure you have plenty.
If not you can change bills into coins while there. It isn’t too difficult to navigate once you understand the map.
What I thought was interesting is there are distinct sections for everyone to stand.
You follow the arrows which prevent blocking the passengers who need to get off. Everyone stands on either side of the doors therefore when the doors open the passengers can easily enter and exit.
It’s efficient and cheap. But if you are with a group, depending on the number of people, it is cheaper to split a taxi.
To get to the islands and many of the beaches in Thailand, you can get on a ferry.
They have different size ferries for different prices. Some ferries are faster than others and for a quicker ride, as a result the price increases.
Thailand also has speed boats and ferries can cost 100+ baht. We purchased a ferry to Koh Phangnan for 150 baht one way. The ride lasted one hour and a half.
This is one of the different ways to explore Thailand.
Just a quick recap: only ride in taxi’s that are clearly marked (I’ve heard horror stories). For this reason, request the taxi driver to use the meter unless you know that you are getting a great deal.
There are a lack of seatbelts in the taxis and only ride in a Tuk Tuk for the experience.
Ubering throughout the city is efficient, however, know that it may take them forever to find you. The Uber drivers cancel rides often.
A van ride is a death trap, but it’s an excellent way to explore and travel on a dime throughout Thailand. Similarly, this allows one to split the costs with friends or strangers.
What have you learned in your travels using transportation in other countries?
Lessons I’ve learned:
1. People from different cultures live differently. Be open to those differences and keep calm.
2. I learned to judge less. There are nuances that I wouldn’t tolerate in a Westernized society however, I had to let go of many things to make my experience in another country more enjoyable.
3. Be flexible. In the States, we are sometimes very rigid. In any case, living in another country has taught me to embrace flexibility.
4. Be alert and vigilant of your surroundings, question everything, and don’t be afraid to say no.
5. Always bargain!