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