Bangkok is a big brash, noisy slut of a city, and getting around it can be intimidating, with manic cab drivers, whose meters often seem to be broken, even more manic tuk tuk drivers intent on taking you somewhere you don’t want to go and the rest. And the traffic periodically jams solid – for example it took the cab taking us to the airport 45 minutes to get from our hotel on Soi 18 the couple of kilometres up Sukhimvit Road to the Expressway onramp.
But don’t let this put you off – if you’re a tourist it’s easy as long as you’re prepared to make some choices and pay a little bit more than you absolutely need to. Make sure that your hotel is close to a Skytrain station – the elevated metro system, as opposed to the underground – and given the number of international hotels off Sukhimvit who will do deal via Expedia and the rest it’s not a big ask.
Using the Skytrain will:
- take you to Mo Chit and the Chatuchak Weekend Market
- take you to the National Stadium (and Jim Thompson’s House)
- take you to Siam Square and Chitlom for shopping
- Lumphini park for spot of calm in the middle of a frenetic city
- take you to the Central Boat pier at Saphan Taksin for the river boat service
the latter being especially useful if you want to visit the Wats along the river and the Grand Palace. Ignore what Lonely Planet says about the tourist boat – basically it runs every hour on the half hour between 0930 and 1630 (by which time you don’t care as all the wats are closed) and for a 150 Baht (say $5) they will sell you a hop on hop off ticket and a guide on to getting to all the main attractions. What’s more you don’t have to wait for the tourist boat, you can board any of the normal boats flying an orange flag to hop between piers.
Let the boat take you up the river to get oriented and then jump off on the way back to visit the sights of your choice. And if you don’t get to see everything you can always come back another day and buy some single hop tickets on the local passenger boats now you’re oriented.
Now the skytrain/riverboat combination doesn’t go everywhere – some parts of Chinatown and Bhalumpong are inconveniently out of reach, for example, but if you have a two or three day stop over it will let you do most of what you realistically are going to manage.
Using the Skytrain is straightforward as well – you can buy single tickets – a hassle, you need a handful of coins for the machine, a rechargeable ticket, or for 350 Baht ($12) a 30 day smart card ticket with 15 trips loaded on it, and at the equivalent of $12 cheap enough to throw or give away when you’ve finished with the seven or eight trips you’re likely to rack up in a three day stop over. To put the ticket costs in perspective, an average tourist cab ride – say from your hotel to the wats – will cost between a 120 and 150 Baht.
The Skytrain is also part of the experience – you get to see into people’s yards, into an overgrown chinese cemetery near Sala Daeng, and also watch the cheesy video ads on the train.
My personal favourite Skytrain moment was listening to the station announcement for Nana station. The announcement would go Na-naah in an incredibly sexy voice seemingly redolent of illict sex on a steamy afternoon (ok, I have a vivid imagination) but nevertheless something that fitted in with the vibe of the place.
As always your mileage may vary, but this certainly worked for us …