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7 Ways to Get Lost on a Bangkok bus

thai bus

Regular (blue & white) city bus

Getting around Bangkok is easy for solo travelers; as far as transportation options go – the city’s got a diverse range. Until now, I had used just about every Bangkok vehicle I could think of:  river boat, motorbike taxis, metros,  even elephants! What was left?

I made it my goal to see the real Bangkok via one of the most common carriages westerners can think of, the public bus! You see, not many tourists appear to use the city buses; I wanted to know why.  I love taking buses! It’s like ringside seats to the action of the city and the daily life of locals. But the title of this article really should be “How to Get Lost on a Bangkok bus”. That how I got the tips I’m sharing with you now…

To sum up my city bus excursions: I got lost, got off at wrong stops, boarded the wrong buses and then proceeded to ride them in circles. On an idiot-proof level, how did it score?  For a gallavanting fumbler like me,  I’d say, you’d need to have a bit of a Thai I.Q. … or tips from a fool (which you’re about to get). It may take a few swings but give it time and you’ll  get the hang of it. In essence, I had a fabulous time getting lost on the Bangkok bus!

7 important things to know about taking a bus in Bangkok:

1. How do you get to …?

After the ease of following Skytrain maps (consisting of only three lines), my brain went limp with all the color-coded squiggles of a bus map. Bangkok has a large street grid and bus types are many!

Tip: Tourist information booths, hotels and guesthouses and locals are great sources for ‘directions’. Asking locals for assistance may surface communication gaps from time to time, however. All part of the adventure. I had gotten directions from three Thai locals, who spoke particles of English; pieced together, it eventually led to a bus stop.

Other alternatives: check out the BMTA website, pick up a BMTA map (available at bus terminals) or buy a bus map at the airport bookstore. There’s also a BMTA hotline number to call for assistance ( ‘184’ ). Here’s a simple map to read here.

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2. Where is the damn bus stop?!

How the Thai know where to wait for their bus, must be a local secret! Not all bus stops have signs and stands marking a stop.

Tip: Ask locals to guide you in the right direction. What are my obvious telltale signs of a bus stop if it’s unmarked? Generally it’s the cluster of people spilling onto the road, waiting.

bus waiting thai

The vague formation of a bus stop and passengers waiting for their bus.

 

3. Waiting for the bus.. and not.

Whoosh! was the sound my bus made as it drove past me.  “Waiting” for the bus? No such thing.

Tip: Catching a bus requires being alert and active. Wave your hand, nod your head or walk out on the street towards the bus,… you’ll need to let the bus driver know you intend to board.

thai bus

Passengers walk and run to catch the regular (red & creme) city bus

4. The wrong words start with English.

Taling Chan Floating Market?” I asked, when the bus doors opened.  The bus driver gruffly nodded, so I boarded. When the attendant came to collect my fare and prompted me for the name of my destination, the name Taling Chan rang no bell. Back & forth, she and the bus driver spoke in Thai, before finally questioning me with a local name to see if it matched.  Bangkok natives have local names, even for places with like Taling Chan.

Tip: Carry a map or a copy of your address/name written in Thai; it’s helpful. Not all drivers or attendants speak English and sometimes, they only know the local names of places vs “tourist-named” ones.

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5. Where does the bus collect your money ?

There’s no fare collection machine upon entering the bus. Does this mean it’s a free ride? No. Fare is collected by an attendant after you board. Tell him/her where you’re going and they’ll quote the cost (price is gauged by distance). After you’ve paid, you’ll get a tiny receipt, the size of a stamp. It’s your proof of payment.

Tip: Always carry small change. Fare collectors won’t have change for larger bills. Fare is generally, anywhere from 7 to 22 baht (approx. .23 to .70 cents).

thai bus ticket taker

Fare collector takes you money and gives you a receipt.

 

6. Right bus number, right bus color.

I was lost but I couldn’t understand where I’d gone wrong. Well, the bus number my hostel had given me was correct, alright; but I was on the wrong colored bus!  What’s with the colors?

Tip: Colors designate the type of bus you’re on: from Regular, Expressway, All-Night and air conditioned to the newest Euro II .

 

bangkok bus

7.   Don’t take things personally.

I was lost on the wrong bus. I didn’t know where to get off. The bus attendant, attempting to bridge the Thai-English gap by speaking only Thai, eventually walked away from me in a huff. I was left to my own demise. No alternative, but ride the route out!

After the bus cleared and reached the end of the line however, the driver pulled over and the ticket girl came back to me with a changed attitude.  Friendly and kind, she now patiently helped me. Okay, so it took me to the end of the route to  finally get help; I was in no rush. I was sightseeing Bangkok…

Tip: Don’t take it personally… Thai folk are usually very helpful, but they’re also a ‘saving face’ culture. During my debacle, we were surrounded by a Thai audience, business had to continue and my ticket girl was embarrassed by her lack of English skills.  Later, she even apologized for her failings, but I assured her the fault was mine.

Needless to say, she figured out my destination and the bus driver took me to a stop where I could board my bus.
(FYI: bus #79 drops you right outside Taling Chan Marketplace).

 

Additional Tips &  Bus Information:

– Avoid peak traffic hours and remember, only air-conditioned buses (creme-blue colored bus) have AC.
– Monks, pregnant women and seniors get priority seats at the front. Anyone can sit in them but if any of those people enter, be courteous and give the seat up.

There are regular, expressway, AC, Euro II and all-night buses, which are designated by color. More on buses here.
Cost: 7 to 22 baht (approx. .23 to .70 cents).
Hours: Most buses run from 5AM to 11Pm.
BMTA website here:http://www.bmta.co.th/en

bus-yellow

EURO II bus (yellow-orange colored)

Any tips you’ve found in using the Bangkok city bus?

 


15 Comments

  1. Henry Tan says:

    “Does this mean it’s a free ride? No.”
    Well, actually yes for many of the red buses such as the one on your third picture. Yes, free of charge.

  2. Frida says:

    Great article Christine!
    I found it while searching for info about the Bangkok busses with a number and a sign similar to “s” or “5”. I was waiting for one of them today but it never came (109s). I can’t find any info about it anywhere. I believe maybe it’s a minibus or one of them big busses without numbers on them. If anybody knows, it would be interesting to hear.

    I have been exploring Bangkok by public transport now for almost two weeks and this “s” bus is the first one that’s gone wrong. My best tip is to get a Thai sim-card with data on it (they are cheap) and then use Google maps with GPS to help you chose and find transport. It is also great to have Google maps with car route tapped in if you take a taxi, so you know the taxi is not going in a crazy direction. This does take some battery life of your phone, but I find it worth it and very comforting to carry a battery pack for longer outings.

    Sadly Google maps does not show the bus colours, so I’ve used Wikipedia for that. Also Google maps sometimes draws diagonal lines instead of following the road so it can be hard to know exactly where the buss goes. To see the exact route I’ve used an app called Bangkok bus map. (this one shows the routes, but not colour, and searches poorly). A combination of these three would be great.

    One problem I have had is that the conductor needs to know where you are going, and often do not know English or bad Thai pronounciation, and can not read maps.

    Something I’ve also searched for but not found is route maps for songthaew (the little pickup truck busses.) That would be a great help when getting around on a smaller scale.

  3. Ernest says:

    The buses are much cheaper than taxis & tuk-tuks, and affords the tourist a close-up view of everyday life in Bangkok. The disadvantage, though, is that buses are irregular and it is not uncommon to see three buses of the same number arrive at the bus stop within a minute of each other.

    The bus stops are denoted with a single signpost. A large number of the stops (especially along Ratchadamnoen Klang road) do not have seats, and usually those that do would also display the bus numbers of the buses that stop there. Nevertheless, the bus attendant that collects fees on the bus are often very friendly and would usually inform you where to get off. The bus drivers and attendants speak very little English, though, and it is unsurprising that sometimes they would not know the name of the bus stop.

    I recently visited Bangkok in late June 2016, and I can provide a list of Bangkok buses (Ratanakosin, Banglamphu, to and from Don Muang airport etc.) if you would require to post on this page. Kindly drop me an email if you require! > [email protected] 🙂

  4. PassportDave says:

    On my way to Thailand very shortly and will very much be taking the local buses (im a stickler for savings). This article is very helpful and I am looking forward to trying out my luck on the insane bus system that is Bangkok public. Besides, getting lost is half the fun.

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Dave: Good luck! It’s actually not too crazy but organized, the more you use it. I’m sure you’ll love it. Just avoid taking the bus during peak traffic! 😉

  5. Juliet Jones says:

    Hilarious article! It reminds me of my own struggle back in June… I had managed all other means of transport when I decided to get on a bus to go back to my hostel…… And it took TIME to do so! I didn’t know which one to get on so I kept asking local people ^_^ Some people were REALLY helpful, especially this old lady who kept asking around about a bus to bring me back home. Her English was broken but she was doing her very best to help me! After a LONG WHILE I jumped in a bus and the money collector was also helpful… But this was so much stress that I cried during the ride. I managed to take a ferry after this bus and eventually arrived home, but what an adventure!!!!
    The buses of Bangkok remain a mystery to me ^_^

  6. I really enough posts like this. Informative, honest and helpful!

    I remember waiting over 2 hours trying to get on Bus 53 near the rail station. I say 2 hours as stubbornness kept me there. I can’t recall exactly how many bus 53’s refused to stop for me. Once even swerved out as I stood in the middle of the road to stop him.

    I wasn’t alone either, there were some Thai’s there equally annoyed at the buses refusing to stop. Maybe it was an off day for the buses.

    Strangely at the other end where it originates from, I never had a problem. But from the train station, I remember the debacle well 🙂

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