How to Use the Trains in Bangkok

Keeping a city of 8.5 million people moving day to day is no small feat but Bangkok’s mass transit system is robust and efficient, and gets the job done well. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you ever considered taking a taxi but as a first-time user, understanding Bangkok’s train system can be a little daunting.

Here’s what you need to know to connect your A to B’s like a local!

There are three main commuter train systems, each beneficial in their own way.

BTS: Bangkok Transit System

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The BTS, also known as the Skytrain, is just as it sounds: above your head. Built in 1999, it consists of two lines. One follows along the sprawling Sukhumvit Road, creating a chunky concrete ceiling over much of the road, eventually making a turn north towards Chatuchak Market; while the other turns south towards Si Lom.

You can access the BTS at many major intersections (35 stops in total) between the hours of 6:00am and midnight. The trains are air-conditioned and offer an inexpensive break from the Thailand heat.

Train intervals range between 3-7 minutes.

MRT: Mass Rapid Transit

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The MRT differs from the BTS in that it runs primarily underground. This line services different areas of Bangkok and caters to a commuter crowd. For this reason, as a tourist you’ll likely use this transit system less frequently than the BTS.

This one opened in 2004, currently offering 35 stops along 43 kilometres of track. And while it is run by a different operator, you can still transfer to certain BTS stations wherever there is a crossover in their respective transit lines (although you will have to pay a separate fare). The hours of operation for this line are 5:30am until midnight.

Train intervals range between 3-7 minutes.

Airport Rail Link

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This marvellous system was opened in 2010 to get commuters from the inner city out to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in under an hour. There are just eight stops along the route which help speed up the transit time and makes it hands down the most efficient way to get to and from the airport.

The trains are accessible from the lowest floor of the airport so theres honestly no reason to put yourself through the troubles of locating and paying so much more for a taxi. 

Train intervals range between 10-15 minutes and it can get pretty packed during peak periods.

How to Access the Trains

Each of these trains run on a similar concept: pay for a token/ticket that will grant you access through the turnstiles. Here’s the step by step.

First of all, watch for the logos pictured above. They'll direct you very clearly as to which direction you need to go and how to get to the station.

For the BTS and ARL, you can't miss it -- giant concrete structures overhead with escalators or stairs leading up. 
For the MRT, you'll need to locate the above-ground entrances leading underground. They're easily distinguishable with their blue accented entrances and gold/white writing.

Once inside, they operate almost identically. For simplicity sake, most of the examples below are for the BTS but the concept can be interchangeable with the other two.

You can either purchase your entry directly from the vending machines if you have change or you can do so from the agents behind the desk. 

For the vending machine, you must identify your desired stop on the map. Each stop will have a corresponding number (which is conveniently also the cost of the trip). Press the button for that number into the vending machine and it will light up and request the fare. Simply insert your coins and take your card or token and be on your way. These machines will only take coins, unless you're using the ARL, which accepts bills.

Alternatively, if you aren't confident in using the machines, you can speak to a real human at the desk. They speak English well. All you need to do is tell them which stop you'd like to go to and they'll exchange your money for a token or card. 

Just note that sometimes they'll run out of tokens/cards at the desk and will just give you change to use in the vending machines. 

The BTS uses a ticket/card system.

While the other two use a black token system.

Once you have your token/card, head over to the turnstiles. On the right hand side you'll use your token/card.

For the BTS, insert your card as pictured below. Upon entry, your card will pop back up at the top of the turnstile for you to remove and keep with you. When you exit at your destination, you'll insert the card once again but this time you won't get it back. This completes the trip.

For the MRT and ARL, you will just tap your token when you enter, as pictured below. When you've reached your destination and exit the system, you will insert your token into a coin slot to complete the trip. 

Unfortunately for the scrapbookers out there, you cannot keep any of these tokens or cards for memories sake. But it does keep the system fair and avoids any opportunities for dishonesty.  

Additional Tips!

1. At every transit stop, you’ll have to pass through a security checkpoint. In most cases, you just walk through a metal detector that will make a noise and the security officer will just wave you through regardless. Other times, they may request to see inside your bags. It’s all completely normal and I find it just depends on how seriously the individual guard takes their job. 

The BTS security guards are a little more diligent with bag checks than the MRT ones and more likely to request bag checks. Before you enter, there is a clear list of items you can’t bring on the trains if you’re concerned. This also includes wearing sunglasses or hats, but again, it's loosely governed. 

2. Another one of those things being food and drink. After some trial and error, we’ve determined that they don’t mind if you bring sealed drinks or takeout in a bag onto the train but if it’s open they will make you turn around or toss it. 

And they really test you on this, too. Every stop seems to be offering bubble tea or some kind of delicious snack but you must refrain! Wait until you exit the train on the other end to indulge in these glorious Thai snacks.

While this may seem silly, it is part of what makes the Bangkok trains so enjoyable. They’re so clean! Please do your part to keep it that way.

3. At the end of each line, you might notice that the train crew will yell something in Thai as the passenger exit. They're simply asking that you don’t enter the train until they’ve cleared the train of any garbage or sleepy passengers in preparation for the next commute.

4. Offer your seat to anyone elderly, pregnant, or with children. Additionally, as a respectful gesture, any monks. There are signs on the trains that will remind you but it’s a good practice no matter where you go.

5. Unlike many of the transit system passengers in North America that I’ve come in contact with, the Thais practice respect when they commute. Everyone waits for passengers to exit the trains, everyone lines up single-file in order of when they arrived, and most importantly, no one rushes the doors from the back of the line.

When I think of Thailand, one of the first words that come to mind is respect. Thailand seems to built around a culture of respect and it’s important that you do your part to reciprocate it. Not only by being a respectful commuter but in everything you do and everywhere you visit while you’re there. 

6. If you plan on spending a lot of time on these trains, you can opt for the Rabbit Card that you can preload for quicker access to the trains. 

7. The MRT offers an app to help you in your travels. 

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So why use the trains in Bangkok?

Truly, there is no better way to get across town, in our opinion.

Are there cheaper options? Sure. But it comes at the cost of hot exhaust in your face.
Are there quicker options? Sometimes. But it depends on the time of day and how good your driver is.

But what you get with these trains is traffic-free reliability, air-conditioning, and a clean environment for both you and the Earth -- at a very reasonable price (starting as low as 16 baht). Maybe on a rare occasion during rush hour, you'll need to squish in with other commuters, but it's a small price to pay for such convenience. 

Any other questions about riding the Bangkok transit systems? Leave a comment below or email us!


11 Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to Bangkok

While it’s unquestionably simple to fall in love with Bangkok, there are still a few things you need to know about travelling to Bangkok that, if you’re not prepared, could turn your fantasy food trip into a sweaty concern. 

1. Dress appropriately for the hot and humid weather. 

Depending on where you’re coming from, the weather in Thailand could take some time to acclimate to. Even just walking to the 7-Eleven down the street could you have drenched in sweat. You know your body better than anyone — dress appropriately to your needs. 

Plan your outfits ahead of time, whether that means covering yourself up more or less. Remember that loose-fitting clothing is always better for air circulation and drying off, even compared to more revealing tight clothing. Additionally, cotton items will always create and hold more moisture so it would be a smart move to avoid this material if you sweat a lot.

Just think of the hottest and heaviest days of summer wherever you’re coming from and it will likely be similar to that. 

2. Plan your days in chunks with afternoon rest periods.

The afternoon hours are the hottest ones of the day so try to plan your days around them. If you break up your days into smaller portions, you can ensure that the afternoons are spent either somewhere air-conditioned like a mall or back at your hotel in the pool. 

When in doubt, just do as the locals do! They say that Thailand comes alive when the sun goes down, and they aren’t kidding. During the day you won’t see many people on the streets unless they need to be, and for that reason, there really isn’t a whole lot to do at that time of day. This country really makes it easy to embrace a sleep in late, stay up late kinda lifestyle. 

Grab an early lunch, head back to the hotel to relax and snack, then make your way out again around 5pm when the street vendors begin to set up shop, and the bars/restaurants start beckoning you in. 

3. 7-Eleven is your new best friend.

It’s best you get acquainted early in your trip. You can find these stores literally everywhere… sometimes within 20 feet of each other. They seriously put the ‘convenience’ back in convenience store. 

And they sell pretty much all the essential items you could ever need. Drinks (alcoholic and otherwise), snacks (spicy, sweet, crispy, sour, cold, hot… you name it), toiletries, pet food, lunch foods —you get the idea! 

But best of all? They’ve got the air-conditioning cranked up so when you’re out walking the streets and need a break from the heat, just pop your head into a 7-Eleven and hang out for a few minutes. 

Also, since it’s recommended that you avoid drinking tap water, you can opt instead for the bottles at 7-Eleven: nearly 2 litres for as little as 40 cents!

Life saver.

4. Eat and drink in smaller portions all day long.

As you’ve surely heard by now, Bangkok is basically the food capitol of the world. The biggest mistake you can make here is to waste all your stomach space on just three meals per day! Instead try to eat smaller portions throughout the day. 

There’s two reasons for this. First of all, it’s really easy to forget to eat when you’re exploring a city or have a tight itinerary on vacation. This causes all kinds of trouble overtime including dehydration, fatigue, and hunger striking at inopportune moments. The other reason is so you can enjoy a greater variety of foods rather than limiting yourself to just a couple of large meals. 

Anytime you see something that interests you, just grab it! Between restaurant stops, you can pick up a skewer here, a bubble tea there, etc. This will keep your body, and that metabolism, moving. 

Additionally, if you really want to eat as much food as possible, the best way is to share meals. Order as a group and sample from each other, or if you’re real committed, share single dishes and restaurant hop. You’ll never get stuck filling up on just one dish — rather, a full spectrum of flavours and diverse dishes. 

5. Get your clothes washed rather than overpacking.

With all this heat, you don’t want to be lugging around more baggage than you absolutely need to. It’s absolutely possible to get by with just a carry on backpack. 

Plenty of AirBNBs come equipped with washing machines or there are lots of options throughout the city to launder your clothes for next to nothing. By doing so, you’ve cut your packing needs in half and you’ll have fresh clothing all the time. 

There’s nothing worse than packing away your sweaty, stinky clothes and keeping them there for two weeks until you get home to wash them. Imagine getting home and just putting your clothes in your closet. No post-vacation laundry!

6. The height of the curbs in Bangkok are ridiculous.

If that last point didn’t convince you to backpack it, then this certainly should. The first time we came to Bangkok, Linda and I brought three roller-style luggage bags. What we didn’t know was that the sidewalks and curbs are not friendly to this type of bag. 

As we traversed across town with our excess baggage, sweating in the heat, we had to lift our maxed out 55kg bags anywhere from 9-15 inches every time we crossed an intersection or driveway. But then in between those curbs the sidewalks are uneven, full of holes, or just wide enough for one person to squeeze by sideways. 

It is not the kind of terrain on which you want to be dragging around a bunch of heavy luggage. Not only that, but I find the more luggage you give yourself, the more you tend to overpack “since you have the space”. Challenge yourself to reduce your packing needs down to a single backpack — I bet you’ll never go back to bulky luggage again. 

7. You’re going to witness a lot of poverty and stray animals.

While Thailand has seen plenty of incredibly progressive development, they’ve still got a long way to go. It won’t take long before you cross paths with this realization during your time in Bangkok.

But it's a unique place because it's all extremes here. You'll see severe poverty sitting right next to a 9-floor luxury mall with all the technology you could ever imagine. You'll see rats, bugs, dogs, and cats casually roaming the same streets you'll find Michelin rated restaurants.

You're going to come across some difficult things to see and you should be prepared. The most important thing you can do is be respectful: don’t ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist, and if you have the means to help, do what you can. Beyond that is up to you but I encourage you to do your research to find out how you can give back, if that’s something you’re interested in. 

8. Haggle respectfully and only where appropriate.

The only time negotiating is really appropriate is at the markets or with taxis/tuk tuks. Pretty much everywhere else, you’ll pay the posted price. 

When it comes to tuk tuks, be ruthless! Particularly with foreigners, these drivers will jack up their initial offer as high as possible so it’s up to you to bring that number back down. With taxis, don’t open that door until they agree to use the meter, even if they try to set a fixed price (it’s usually grossly inflated). 

But at the markets, be respectful. Don’t forget that in most cases, knocking off a few baht from the total price means more to them than it does to you. Have fun and play the game — the prices are set higher for a reason — but don’t be disrespectful.

9. Restaurant tips and taxes.

When you dine in at restaurants, you will usually find a 7% VAT (tax) and a service charge of 10% included at the bottom of your bill. But sometimes they won’t mention this so it’s important to check your bill before paying to determine whether or not you need to add an additional tip.

If it’s not included, it’s customary to leave the 10%. This only applies to dining in. Elsewhere, it’s your call. 

10. WIFI isn’t easy to find.

Aside from the airport and select higher end shopping centres, free WIFI is a rare luxury. Either you’ll need to do thorough research before you leave your hotel or you’ll need some data for your phone. 

Tourist SIM cards solve this problem. Before you leave, make sure your phone is unlocked so you can purchase a Thai SIM card at the airport or at a shopping mall. The two main phone carriers are AIS and True (I found the latter to have better coverage and faster internet). 

299 baht gets you between 3-5 GB of data over 7-8 days. I found True offered a better deal at Suvarnabhumi Airport (5gb plus some call time for 8 days) versus what AIS offered at the mall (3gb with no call time over 7 days).

11. Beware of Scams

Yes, the rumours are true: there are crooked folks out there who want to make a fool of you and you, the "naive tourist". 

But you're wiser than that! Avoiding scams is a simple art. Honestly, here's the two golden rules:

1. Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
2. Be aware of your surroundings and try your best to blend in (ie, don't flaunt the fact that you're a fresh tourist). Bonus points if you can avoid spending too much time in the main tourist areas -- that's mainly where these guys do their dirty business.

Most of the usual Thailand scams can be avoided by doing your research. Just google a few examples and you'll start to see a trend of naivety amongst those that have been scammed. 

But you can find these crooks no matter where you go in the world. Don't let it hold you back! For the record, we've been to Thailand three times now and have yet to be caught in such a situation.

For additional tips on getting around in Bangkok, click here!

Do you have any other tips for travelling in Bangkok, leave them in the comments below!


Getting Around in Bangkok

Bangkok is a huge, bustling city. As a fresh-off-the-plane tourist, it can easily seem like a daunting place to navigate. But if you can look past the chaotic roads and the constantly moving environment surrounding you, you’ll find a simple yet efficient transit system, alongside a handful of solid transportation alternatives to solve your Point A to Point B needs. 

Arrival and Departure from Bangkok

There are two airports in Bangkok: Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi — the latter being the larger,  more popular one. 

Don Muang International (DMK)

While this airport is much smaller in comparison to it’s counterpart, it comes with a lot of history. As one of the oldest international airports in the world, and currently the world’s largest low-cost carrier airport, Don Muang has established itself as a more localized commuter airport, servicing most adjacent countries via smaller discount flight operators like Nok Air. Chances are, if you’re heading to the beaches of Thailand, you’ll be flying through this airport. 

Located just north of the city, it will take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour from downtown, depending on traffic, and will cost on average about 350 baht plus highway tolls (25b and 40b respectively) via taxi. There are unfortunately no trains that connect to the airport but you can catch a local bus from Mo Chit station on the BTS. But I would suggest taking the taxi.

TIP! Always make sure your taxi driver is using the meter to calculate the cost as some scammers have been known to offer fixed prices that end up costing you twice as much. Additionally, local advice is to produce the cash for the highway tolls up front so the driver knows you know what’s going on and they’ll be less likely to try to pull a fast one on you.

Once inside, this airport is very straight forward and not very large in size.

Suvarnabhumi International (BKK)

This airport, whose name derives from the Sanskrit term for "Land of Gold,” is the 20th busiest airport in the world and you definitely get a sense of this when you arrive. There are humans everywhere and the lines can be exhaustive but much like the city of Bangkok itself, the chaos is managed pretty well. 

Perhaps credit goes to the beautiful Yaksha guardian statues, whose watchful eyes oversee the departures area to chase away any bad spirits. But I find this airport to be a breeze to navigate: directions are well-signed, staff are eager to help, and the layout is simple (and pretty).

The process gets even better when you consider how easy it is to get to and from the airport. Many people seem to suggest taking a taxi to/from the airport but you’d be crazy to use this option when the city has provided a train link that goes directly inside the airport for a tiny price. 

Finding this train is easy. Once through customs, you’ll find yourself amongst a plethora of travellers trying to find a taxi, get SIM cards, or locate their friends and family. You can skip all of this madness and simply make your way to the lowest floor via the elevator. Here you’ll find the clean, quiet, and air conditioned Airport Rail Link. 

For just 42 baht (just over $1.00 US) you can use this train line to get from the airport to Phaya Thai station. From here, you can connect to the BTS train line which will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go for a similar cost. If you’re aiming for downtown, you might also consider Makkasan station for a similar interchange, depending on where you’re headed. 

Your total cost will be somewhere around 60-90 baht ($2-3 US). Compare this cost to the minimum 400 baht taxi ride (with a similar or longer commute time) and you’re starting your adventure off with 5x the savings!

My only other suggestion regarding both Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi would be to give yourself the buffer time to account for potential long lines at check in, security, and customs. I’ve had an equal number of experiences with both quick lines (whole process under an hour) and extremely backed up lines (over 1.5 hours). I’m not sure what factors contribute to it, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for it. 

Important Note! When you arrive, you will be handed a tourist card. It's essentially the usual customs form that you fill out when you enter any country but once you get through customs, you'll be given back a portion of the form to keep. What they don't tell you is that you have to bring this portion back with you when you depart out of the country. Don't lose this piece of paper! Keep it tucked in your passport for safe keeping. 

Speaking of passports, it's Thai law that all tourists keep their passports on their person at all times. We've been stopped by Thai police who checked for this so don't leave it in your hotel (I mean, you really shouldn't do that anyway but just throwing that out there). 

Getting Around Bangkok

Like I said, Bangkok has no shortage of transportation options! Some, like motorcycle taxis, are not for the faint of heart while others are leisurely and safe. But it’s important to know what you’re getting in to with each one and how they can benefit you. 

Taxi

They’re no different than taxis anywhere else in the world except that, as I mentioned earlier, you need to watch out for scams. The more you look and act like a tourist, the more likely this will happen to you. But if you make it a habit to always request the meter be turned on before entering the vehicle, you will avoid most of the taxi scams here. Don’t try to negotiate fixed prices, etc. because you probably won’t win this game unless you’re a seasoned local. 

Otherwise, this is a quick and effective way to get across town. The prices are still incredibly inexpensive, if you’re coming from a western culture, but remember to always consider value. Just because it’s cheaper than you’re used to, doesn’t mean it’s the best option. 

Motorcycle Taxi

If you’re feeling adventurous, you will find these guys hanging out on the side of the street. You will have to negotiate a price before hopping on but with the ability to maneuver in and out of traffic, they will get you where you need to go fast. 

Tuk Tuk

Much like a taxi, but without the meter and best for short trips. You’ll need to do some negotiating with price before getting on board. An average short trip is about 50 baht but they will start high in their initial offers. Prices will increase with more passengers.

These little things are a ton of fun though! Even if you end up paying a little bit more than you should, it's completely worth every baht. Just be careful and do your research on potential scams before you jump in — these rides and infamous for trying to give you more than you bargained for. They aren’t all scammers though and it’s well worth the effort for the joy of riding through town on a noisy, decorated go-kart tricycle.

Riverboat

If you’re travelling to places near the river, one of my favourite ways to get there is by riverboat. For as low as 8 baht, you can hop on these lovely old wooden boats and zoom down the canals, amongst local commuters. If you’re visiting the Khao San Road area from downtown, this is a great way to go.

Public Transit

Outside of walking, this is by far the best option. There are stations everywhere, it is SO inexpensive, it’s clean, AND it’s air-conditioned to give you a break from the heat. Just remember you can’t take any food or drinks through the gates so avoid picking up that tempting bubble tea until you’re on your way out. 

BTS: Bangkok Transit System, typically runs through the heart of the city along major streets.
MRT: Mass Rapid Transit, services the middle of the city in mostly a north-south route.
ARL: Airport Rail Link, connects the main airport with the rest of the city, direct connections to the other two systems.

For more information on how to access and use the trains in Bangkok, read more here!

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On Foot

Skip the taxi! There are so many hidden gems and fun little alleyways in Bangkok that you will absolutely miss if you aren’t exploring on foot. Yes, it’s hot. Yes, it will take longer. Yes, you’ll need to eat and drink far more (this is not a concern, for the record). And YES, it is worth every step! I really encourage you to consider walking as much as you possibly can. And if you’re not convinced, keep reading here!

Get Out There and See Bangkok!

You’ll be fine. As you can see, Bangkok has been built into a user-friendly exploration environment and it’s ready for you! If you’re not the best with directions, Google Maps works well offline so you can always cross-reference with that.

Many of the locals either speak English, or have a friend nearby who can. If not, they’re well-versed in language-barrier charades so don’t be afraid to ask questions to find what you need. They don’t call Thailand the Land of Smiles for nothing — the people here are super friendly, accommodating, and respectful. Truly some of the most endearing I have ever encountered.