Getting around in Bangkok

Bangkok, the buzzing and ever-expanding capital of Thailand, is a feast to discover, but it can be a hassle to get from A to B. If you’ve been to Bangkok before, we’ll bet that at least once you’ve asked yourself the following questions:

  • – Is this really the fastest route?
  • – Are they charging me more than they should?
  • – Is this dangerous?

Odds are the answer to all three of those questions will have been YES at least some of the times.

There is so much to explore in Bangkok: Unique little restaurants off the beaten track, recently opened food markets or even entire neighbourhoods becoming trendy all of a sudden. It would be a shame to feel limited by the confusing transportation options in Bangkok. That’s why we created this website about getting around in Bangkok. We’re a group of expats and frequent visitors who have a love for Bangkok in common and we hope to encourage visitors to go out and see so much more than just Kao San Road, the weekend market and Wat Arun.

Let us know in the comments about your suggestions, tips and preferences. Whether it’s a taxi, limousine or even the crazy Tuk-Tuks or motorcycles. We hope we can turn this website into a one-stop-shop to answer all questions both first time and regular visitors might have about transportation in Bangkok.

Taxis by the meter

Taxis
Speed:     ♥♥♥
Tariff:      ♥♥♥♥
Comfort: ♥♥
Easy:        ♥♥

You’ll have no trouble finding a meter taxi on any street. They’re everywhere! If the red light behind the front window is on, it means the taxi is available. After you haul a taxi, open the front door to ask the driver if he knows your destination and – more importantly – if he wants to go there.

Taxis are obligated by law to turn on the meter, which will always start at 35 baht. However, they know most tourists are willing to negotiate a fixed fee. The driver will tell you that he’ll only accept a fixed fee because the destination is either very far, very busy or that it’s difficult to find a passenger for the way back. Getting angry at the driver won’t help, he’ll just drive away. (We repeatedly use ‘he’ as we are unfortunately yet to encounter the first female taxi driver in Bangkok.)

Of course there are some good guys too, who will turn on the meter without having to ask for it. Then only the language barrier remains a problem. Even popular tourist destinations like the Grand Palace or the Lebua hotel (from the Hangover movie) are often misunderstood.

If you don’t have to be somewhere at a set time, taxis provide an affordable option. Just don’t forget that you have to pay for the highway tolls yourself.

Summary

Perfect for: Getting around at the night time when traffic is low and the drivers have less rides to choose from.
Don’t use: If you need to be somewhere are a certain time (i.e. the airport). In a rush? Prebook!
How to book: They’re everywhere, just haul them until you find one that will take you where you want to go. Get someone who speaks Thai to help to ensure a smooth journey.

Limousines & Minivans

Limousines & Minivans
Speed:     ♥♥♥♥
Tariff:      ♥♥
Comfort: ♥♥♥♥
Easy:        ♥♥♥♥

Limousines and minivans are the comfort choice. Backpackers might want to skip this, but if you’re planning a business trips or family holiday: this could be the perfect fit.

Booking a limo (often upgraded Toyota Camry’s) or a minibus (Toyota Commuter) in advance will spare you all the discomfort of hauling taxi’s and persuading them to use the meter. The driver will be waiting for you wherever you are and his only interest is getting you to your destination in the most comfortable way possible.

Sure, it’s a little bit more expensive than a taxi, but the added comfort is often worth it. For example: Our preferred company (check them out here) comes with complimentary drinking water and many of their vehicles have in-car wifi which you can use free of charge. The minivans (especially recommended for out-of-town travels to Hua Hin or Koh Chang) are equipped with a dvd player, so you can sit back and relax, while cruising to your destination. And all tolls are prepaid, so no need to worry about those.

Especially if you’re new to Thailand and don’t want to lose time over the constant hassle of taxi drivers and Tuk-Tuks, this is your best choice. You’ll pay more than you would in a taxi, but the rates will still be a lot cheaper than what you’re used to at home. An airport -> Bangkok drive is normally around €20 / $22,50 and there’s often round trip discount, if you want to use them again when flying back home.

Summary

Perfect for: Business trips and holiday-goers that don’t mind to pay a little extra for a lot of added comfort. Out-of-Town trips. Having a driver with you for a day while sight-seeing.
Don’t use: If you’re on a backpacker budget.
How to book: There are many companies that offer private limousines/minivans. Our preferred one is Limousine.in.th, with Bangkok.Limo as a more affordable backup.

Tuk-Tuks

Tuk-Tuks
Speed:     ♥♥
Tariff:      ♥
Comfort: ♥♥
Easy:        ♥♥♥♥

Tuk-Tuks, the infamous Thai rickshaw, are a symbol of the nation. So much so that in 2015 Miss Thailand wore a Tuk-Tuk dress (proof!). To the delight of her nation, it won her the best costume award at the Miss Universe competition.

BUT… Despite the international appeal, odds are you won’t see a Thai hauling a Tuk-tuk. And for good reason: Tuk-tuks are expensive, unsafe and most of the time very uncomfortable. Especially during the day when even the Tuk-Tuk is stuck in traffic and you’ll be in the searing heat from the sun combined with the surrounding exhaust gases.

Despite its obvious charm, the Tuk-Tuk is often associated with tourist traps. Sometimes a driver says he will take you for free, if you allow him to make one stop at a jewellery store. NEVER ACCEPT! It’s a scam that unfortunately many tourists have fallen for. In case of doubt: Don’t take a Tuk-Tuk. Already too late? Call the tourist police at 1155.

Any positives? Alright then… When it’s raining and there’s not a cab in sight, cut your loss and just hop in (expect to still get a little bit wet). We realise a Tuk-Tuk ride is on the bucket list of most Thailand goers. If you decide to take one, do it during the nighttime for a short-distance ride. Traffic will be quiet, so it should be a quick and comfortable ride. Enjoy the wind flow through the open cart. Always negotiate the fare before entering the Tuk-Tuk. Odds are you’ll get the initial rate down to 60%.

Summary

Perfect for: Crossing it off your bucket list. Do so during the night, when traffic is smooth. It’ll be refreshing.
Don’t use: If you’re easily scared by crazy driving. During the day, when you’ll be stuck in heat and exhaust gases.
How to book: You’ll have no trouble finding a Tuk-Tuk when you’re near any tourist hotspot (especially Kao San Road, Chatuchak Weekend Market and Patpong).

Uber / GrabTaxi

Uber / GrabTaxi
Speed:     ♥♥♥
Tariff:      ♥♥
Comfort: ♥♥♥♥
Easy:        ♥♥ (Uber) / ♥ (GrabTaxi)

One of Uber’s great benefits is that the process of booking a taxi (Uber) is the same wherever you go in the world. In Thailand that ideally means no needless discussions with your driver about the tariff or the drop-off location. Sounds too good to be true? Unfortunately it often is.

Bangkok Uber drivers are often just regular taxi drivers who already have to pay a daily fee to use the taxi and would prefer to avoid giving Uber a cut from of their profit. That’s why a lot of drivers will leave their ‘free’ sign on even after accepting an Uber ride, expecting you to cancel once you notice the driver isn’t heading in your direction at all. Also, opposite to most other countries, in Thailand Uber rides are often more expensive than regular taxi rides. So it might be best to ask someone from your hotel or company to help you out with booking or hauling a regular taxi.

We hear you thinking: What about this GrabCar? Well, GrabCar is actually a really, really good alternative. In this part of the world it has been around much longer than Uber and it’s widely accepted among drivers and passengers as a vote of confidence to the manners of a driver. There is only one problem: We have never booked a GrabCar ride without the driver calling you right after accepting, to confirm the pickup location. Odds are they don’t speak English and even if they do, don’t forget it’s already difficult to explain something to most drivers when you are face to face with them.

GrabTaxi is a great app, but unfortunately the way it’s being used makes it difficult for foreigners to use it too. Only recommended if you speak enough Thai to explain your location and if you have a Thai phone number (or they won’t call you and won’t show up).

For GrabTaxi, a 30 baht booking fee is added to each ride. Don’t forget that for both Uber and GrabTaxi you have to pay for the highway tolls yourself.

Summary

Perfect for: Honestly, we don’t recommend Uber in Bangkok. GrabTaxi is fine with a basic understanding of Thai and a Thai phone number associated with your account.
Don’t use: If you are looking for reliability (Uber). If there are many taxis near your pickup point anyway (GrabTaxi)
How to book: Both Uber and GrabTaxi have apps in Apple’s App Store (Uber / GrabTaxi) and Googles Play Store (Uber / GrabTaxi).

Private Car Rental

Private Car Rental
Speed:     ♥♥
Tariff:      ♥♥♥♥
Comfort: ♥♥
Easy:        ♥

We’ve included this option because all the big companies are present in Thailand. Hertz, Avis, Budget, Sixt… You name them, they’re here. But before you read on you should be aware of a very important disclaimer: If you get into an accident, as a foreigner you are always responsible. Even if it isn’t your fault in any way, you are responsible. Consequences can vary from paying a large amount of money to the other party or jail time. We are just stating the facts here. Check the travel advisory on Thailand by your local foreign affairs institution and it will confirm this.

A few tips to take note of if you do decide to drive yourself:

  • Have an internationalised drivers license. Otherwise the police won’t accept it and you’ll have to pay an ‘inconvenience fee’ of around 500 – 3,000 Baht;
  • Be prepared to drive on the left side of the road (the steering wheel is also on the other side);
  • Avoid driving on Friday afternoons. That’s when a lot of white collar workers start to celebrate their weekend by drinking with their colleagues before driving off to home;
  • Watch out for the motorcycles, they can pop up out of nowhere, even from the opposite direction;
  • Bring cash for the toll ways;
  • Take a video of the entire car during pickup at the rental company;
  • Never honk to, provoke, or argue with a Thai driver. Criticising someone’s driving style has lead to more than one fatal confrontation in the past. A Thai does not like ‘losing face’, especially in public;
  • Abide to the speed limit and all other rules, even if the other drivers don’t. You don’t want to give the authorities any excuse to stop you;
  • Thailand is the country with the second highest road fatality rate, after war-strikken Libya. That’s because it’s so crowded and simply because many Thai are reckless, impatient drivers. Mentally prepare for this;
  • If you encounter one of the many security checkpoints, just relax and smile and trust that this is one of the many routine checks and you’ll be on your way again in a matter of minutes.

The Thai landscape is stunning, especially in the more rural areas near the likes of Sukhothai, Klaeng and Chiang Mai, so it’s a shame that driving in Thailand comes with so many downsides and risks. Fortunately you can still hit the road to the south or east by hiring a limo or minibus, still at very affordable rates. Check the Limousines and minivans section on this page for more info.

Summary

Perfect for: Anyone who has a extreme passion for driving abroad, wants to see the countryside and is prepared to accept the risks.
Don’t use: Period. Just book a taxi, limo or minivan.
How to book: All major car rental companies are present in Thailand and have offices at the international airports.

Motorcycle taxis

Motorcycle taxis
Speed:     ♥♥♥♥
Tariff:      ♥♥
Comfort: ♥
Easy:        ♥♥

This is one for true daredevils. The expression time is money is something motorcycle drivers live by. All of us from Bangkok.Taxi have encountered near death experiences on the back of a motorcycle at least once. Yet we keep taking them because they’re just so damn convenient.

But don’t worry, you’ll probably won’t need one. Motorcycles, or motorcy as the Thai call them, are good for one thing and for one thing only: Getting from the big street into a neighbourhood. Near most public transport stations, like the BTS and MRT lines, there’ll be motorcycles waiting to take you into the surrounding neighbourhoods to your final destination. They know the neighbourhoods by heart so just give them the name of the hotel / restaurant / building you’re going to and they will know.

It’s fast, very fast, because they won’t shy away from driving against traffic if there’s more space in the opposite lane. The rates are fixed and they won’t try to get a little extra, because time is money and two minutes arguing about a fee could’ve been another customer.

It’s probably best to forget about this one. Better safe than sorry. Just ignore all the motorcycle drivers in their orange vests and get into a taxi.

Summary

Perfect for: Daredevils who made their way using public transport and need a motorcy to get to the exact destination.
Don’t use: If you have any lust for life left.
How to book: Go to a motorcycle ‘station’, easy to spot because of all the drivers in the orange vests. You’ll find several near any BTS/MRT station.