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Transport options in Bangkok are endless, so expats won't have any trouble getting around. Most expats tend to favour public transport, particularly the city's BTS Skytrain, and taxis are also popular. Travelling by foot is not ideal in Bangkok, while travelling by car is equal parts dangerous and frustrating. That said, driving may be essential for those living in areas not reached by public transport.
Public transport in Bangkok
A popular mode of transportation among expats in Bangkok is the BTS Skytrain. This elevated train system navigates the main business, entertainment and hospitality districts of Silom and Sukhumvit. It is a reliable, clean and safe way to travel in Bangkok.
Alternatively, expats can opt to take the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT), simply known as the metro, which runs underground from the north to the south of the city. It's based on the Singaporean model and is popular with expats as well as locals.
There is an extensive system of buses in Bangkok, some of which are equipped with air conditioning. Although this is a cheap way to travel, it is often uncomfortable and can be slow due to the amount of traffic in the city. For this reason, it is not generally a popular option with expats, but buses are ideal for long-distance, rural, and intercity travel. A wide variety of private services operate routes to different parts of Thailand.
Taxis in Bangkok
Taxis provide the most reliable, convenient, cost-effective and efficient way of getting around in Bangkok. These vehicles are never in short supply and are available around the clock. Expats can simply flag one down, hop in and prepare to pay the fare.
Taxis are usually fitted with a meter which charges a set rate per kilometre – by law, the meter should be turned on, but some drivers deliberately leave them off in order to charge the passenger a higher price. If the driver refuses to use the meter even after a passenger has requested it, the best response is to promptly exit the taxi and find another one.
It is important to remember that most taxi drivers have limited English skills. Expats living in Bangkok will quickly learn that it is best to have the address of their destination written down in Thai, or they may experience an unsolicited tour of the city.
The language barrier, and the possibility of being overcharged at the last minute, is best circumvented by using ride-hailing apps like Grab.
Expats in Thailand will quickly become familiar with tuk-tuks, open-air three-wheeled carriages attached to motorbikes. The city is served by thousands of them and while they are popular with tourists, they are also useful for expats and locals. Tuk-tuks are a speedy way to get around as their size allows them to weave in and out of traffic.
Also known as ‘red buses' or 'red trucks’, songthaews are another popular choice of transport in Thailand. These passenger vehicles are adapted from pick-up trucks and are used as a share taxi. Songthaews are used both within towns and cities, as well as for longer routes between towns and villages.
Driving in Bangkok
As a result of the city's constant heavy traffic, as well as the high death toll on its roads, many expats prefer to avoid driving in Bangkok. Expats who do intend to drive can buy new cars in Thailand or import their own from home, but both of these options are expensive. Foreign driver's licences are acceptable for up to three months after arriving in Thailand. A local Thai driver’s licence must then be obtained.
It's not uncommon for expats to hire experienced Thai drivers rather than braving the roads themselves. This is an ideal solution and some employers may agree to include this perk as part of the offered relocation package.
Cycling in Bangkok
Compared to many of the world's other major cities, Bangkok is relatively bicycle-friendly. There are a fair few cycle lanes scattered around the city, though getting from one to the other may prove troublesome. Furthermore, these lanes are usually shared with pedestrians and streetside markets, making them tricky to navigate safely. Cycling on the road itself is extremely dangerous and should be avoided wherever possible.
Walking in Bangkok
Thai locals tend to walk less than expats in Bangkok, which may explain why the sidewalks are often used for shopping rather than strolling. The city's high pedestrian fatality rate should be taken seriously. If travelling by foot is unavoidable, it should be done only over short distances.