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

bangkok travel

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

bangkok travel

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

bangkok travel

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. 

bangkok travel

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!


Why We Love Airports (and Why You Should Too!)

One of my favourite aspects about traveling is discovering the vast differences and similarities among every human. But while each of them may have a different set of opinions on what they like or don’t, the more you converse with them, the more you come to recognize patterns with specific topics. 

Some of these topics are so clear in their divisiveness: olives, cilantro, pineapple on pizza… people either love them or they hate them!

Airports are certainly one of those topics. There is rarely any grey area here. In fact, you’d struggle to find a place more ripe with whiney people than in an airport. 

The long lines; the complacency and blank faces among airport employees; the bewildering navigation to your gate; and UGH… all that walking! Can you really blame them for being grumpy?

Well, yeah! 

Hong Kong Airport

Trust me, I understand there are very strong arguments for hating the often haphazard process of boarding a plane but if you can look past the things that can get overwhelming, the airport can become an enjoyable extension of your trip rather than an necessary evil standing between you and your beachside Pina Colada. 

There is so much to fall in love with at an airport and if you’re not on the ‘love’ side then you’re looking at this all wrong! 

Accept the Challenges

First and foremost, you've got to stop thinking of the airport process as a ridiculous and inconvenient set of confusing steps. Instead, look at it like it’s a game! You’ve got challenges, rules, checkpoints, a budget, and an ultimate objective. 

Your mission begins from the moment you start packing your bags: you must do so within a strict guideline of specific weights, dimensions and allowable items. In order to move to the next level, you must first complete this task! Bonus points: reduce your luggage to a minimum and ditch the checked baggage!

Now challenge yourself to complete your objective in the shortest amount of time possible: figure out the quickest route from your drop off point to your gate and be prepared for all obstacles.

Get to know what each interaction will require at each checkpoint and be prepared. 

Are you able to check in online? Skip the check in desk altogether (since you also decided to forego the extra luggage)!
Does security require you to remove your shoes? Wear slip ons. 
Are your liquids and laptop in an easily accessible area for quick removal and repack at security? These employees are going to love you — maybe even crack a smile or a joke!
Boarding pass and passport ready to be scanned? You’ll be sitting in your seat in no time, with way more time than you’d expected. 

Positive messages in Hong Kong Airport.

Positive messages in Hong Kong Airport.

Might as well grab some snacks! Challenge accepted. 

Healthy smoothie for $4 or a can of pop for the same price? 

Healthy smoothie for $4 or a can of pop for the same price? 

Airport food is crazy expensive and usually unhealthy but if you’re crafty and budget-savvy, you can piece together an affordable, healthy and satisfying meal. Accepting the price of a combo at your usual fast food joint isn’t always the best strategy. Check out the cost of individual items at various eateries throughout the airport and seek out the items that offer the best value.  

Now, when I say seek out the ‘best value’, I don’t necessarily mean find the cheapest thing in the place. You won’t be fooling anyone as you pridefully nibble on your two-bite lettuce wrap. The real challenge is in getting the most bang for your buck. 

For example, maybe that means enjoying that $8 venti Starbucks drink because the 100ml orange juice was $6. Dollar for dollar, you’re getting way more value from that coffee. 

As you travel more frequently, it gets increasingly easier to navigate and prepare yourself for a successful journey through the airport and eventually you’ll be so good at it, others will look to you for direction. 

I dare you to embrace the challenge! 

A Sense of Exploration and Discovery

Now that you’re through the gates, you are officially on vacation. All that hard work you’ve put into planning this trip has paid off and you can finally relax. 

You’ve got an hour or two until your flight begins boarding. So what now? Time to foster your sense of discovery. You’ve got this giant building just begging to be explored and plenty of time to kill. Now it's just you and a carry on so get on your feet and check some things out! 

Hong Kong Airport

I love to explore. Venturing down unfamiliar paths makes me feel like a child in a giant world, even if it leads to a bunch of nothing in the end. So you can imagine the fun I have in an airport. The bigger the airport, the more places there are to discover; the happier I am.

And the best part is that even if you’re not directionally-gifted, there is always someone available that can guide you back if you get lost. 

Jump on the opportunity to find the unfamiliarities in the things that may seem familiar. Channel your inner child.

Orlando Airport

Prime People Watching Opportunities

Not only that, but think about how many strangers are around you. I often forget that once you’re past security, every single person is doing the same thing you are. They’re en route to somewhere else. They’re ready to discover. Some are headed home after completing their journey — some were gone a day, some over a year! 

Each of these strangers has a story to tell. If you strike up a conversation with any of them, you’re bound to discover something new. Where are they coming from or where are they going? 

Even if you’re not eager to chat with someone, there aren’t many places that offer a better opportunity for people watching. Rather than learn their real story, you can use your imagination and make up a story for each one. The businessmen, the moms with kids, the couples, the men in the Hawaiian shirts, the complainers! You could spend an afternoon just observing the way that people move through an airport.

Quit looking at the crowds as an overwhelming hoard of bodies! Consider instead the depth and value in the untold stories that surround you.

Every Airport is Different

Above all else, the coolest thing about airports is that they’re all different. Each country has their own version of what they believe an airport should be. Different architecture, different amenities, different restaurants and shops. 

If you’re the type to write off airports then perhaps you’re racing through to your gate so quickly that you never look around long enough to appreciate the thought and effort that has been put into (most) airports. It’s as if each one is a city in and of itself. 

To truly enjoy your short time in these magnificent buildings, you’ve got to take a leisurely stroll and read the plaques and observe the structures. Take it all in! 

I’ve seen airports with 'wow' factors like ceilings to the heavens; others focused around nature. Some simply have stunningly beautiful decor to inspire you. 

But the best versions show off a little bit of their respective country’s culture and traditions. For example, in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), you’re greeted by 12 giant Yaksha guardian statues upon check-in. Not only do they keep you curious while you wait in line, they offer a glimpse into the mythology and history of Thailand. Throughout your journey through BKK, you’ll find a handful of other similar exhibits that will provide you with some additional background information.

Bangkok Airport

In Toronto, there is no shortage of references to Canadian life around the entirety of the airport.
In Vancouver and Hong Kong, it’s all about those mountain views. 
In Iceland, they’ve paired fantastic sculptures with lovely wooden accents. 
In Bangladesh, the aged decor juxtaposed with the clean-cut uniformed officers make for a charming experience. If you can ignore the mosquitos, anyway.
In Chicago… well, okay, some airports are just bogus. No free wifi in one the biggest travel hubs in the USA? Puh-lease!

Orlando Airport going big with the wow factor!

Orlando Airport going big with the wow factor!

Learn to Love Airports.

I’m telling you — once you embrace the airport-love, your trips are going to be so much more fulfilling! Anything you approach with a positive mentality is bound to have positive results. 

In this case, as soon as you go positive, you’ll start to recognize how uncomplicated the process really is. You’ll reminisce about the old days when you were a flustered traveler and wonder why you troubled yourself with such thoughts.

Push yourself to see past the hurdles and learn to get the most out of your airport experience.

 

Now, how about that Pina Colada?