Friday, March 14, 2014

Getting Around Thailand: Public Transport and More

Transport in any country even your own can be daunting to figure out, but once you have the basic idea, life becomes a lot easier and cheaper than flying or taking a taxi everywhere.

Ok taking a taxi and a plane are necessary on many occasions, but for now I'm leaving the airplane out of this conversation. You have just arrived in Bangkok, so now what? If you arrived in the middle of the night like me, taxi is probably one of your only options unless your hotel is swanky enough to provide a shuttle or you have friends there. I had neither, so taxi it was. One major tip with Bangkok taxis is to make sure that not only is the meter on but that it is working. My taxi meter was "broken" for about a third of my trip. I didn't argue because I had been on a plane for the past 24 hours, but for the rest of you savvy adventurers, check the meter.

Taxis on the islands are much different. They don't use meters, and prices can vary greatly depending on the color of your skin and how much you are willing to haggle. Even if the price is printed on a fancy laminated sign, haggle, haggle, haggle. The more people you have with you, the better the price too, so if you are by yourself, make friends with the people standing next to you at least for the length of the cab ride.

Now for the good stuff. Getting around Bangkok is actually a lot easier than it sounds or may look. There are only a couple of metro lines. One is above ground and the other is below. You can use either or both, and they easily connect to each other depending on where you need to go. Everything is clearly marked in English and color coded, so you can go wrong. There are ticket machines for both, but for the above ground train, you need change. Don't worry, there are plenty of booths open, but they won't sell you tickets, they will only give you change and help with information. The machines have English options as well. There is something very unique about taking the underground in Bangkok though. The ticket is a little black chip. Don't lose it or shove it in a bag though, you have to check in and out of all metro stops. There is also an airport connection line that runs the same hours as the metro system: 6 am- midnight.

A couple other options for getting around the city are the water taxi and a tuk tuk. Since many of the city attractions are located along the Chao Phraya River, it would make sense to hop on a water taxi and get a day pass. Beware of really crowded rides and having to stand squished to many other tourists. It is an easy way to get around. For sightseeing purposes take a long tail boat instead (see my prior post about khlong boats).  If you don't want to spend the day near the river or you just happen to be somewhere else in the city and don't have a long way to go, try a tuk tuk. Some of you may know these little vehicles as rickshaws. Either way, expect an adventure of weaving in and out of traffic, driving in lanes of oncoming traffic and speeding through the city surprisingly fast for its size. Always make sure you negotiate the price before you get in, and be prepared to negotiate a bit. Never take the first price offered.

I was anxious to get out of the city and out to the islands, and there are a couple of ways to do this: bus or train to Surat Thani. I did both, and I'll be writing about my experiences in an upcoming post. From Surat Thani there are buses that take you about an hour to the port where ferries take you to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. Depending on how much you are willing to pay or what sort of package deal you got at the station will determine the type of boat you will ride.  To get to Koh Samui initially, I took a catamaran type boat that got me speedily to my destination within an hour with minimal rocking. The ferry I took to Koh Phangan on the other hand was very old (see photo below) and very slow and very very bumpy. Thank goodness for dramamine.

One thing to keep in mind not just in Thailand, but anywhere. There's always more than one way to get somewhere when you are in a major tourist location. There will also be plenty of tour offices who can easily schedule ferries and ways to get to ferries. Booking ahead of time may give you piece of mind, but it can be confusing and often much more expensive than waiting until you arrive.