Boats, Trains and Automobiles: Bangkok’s Public Transportation

Around Bangkok there were many modes of public transportation, making exploring the city a lot of fun. Simply making my way around was an adventure unto itself. Since many of the buildings and attractions I wanted to see were free to the public, but getting to each of them was a little spread-out, travelling around the city became part of the attraction.

A walkway to one of the larger pier stops.

The main river that runs around the city is called the Chao Phraya. There are several boats that run different routes up and down the river taking visitors and residents wherever they need to go. There are many stops spaced apart much like a metro train. Heading towards these boats are different forms of “stations”. Many are clean and well-marked with signs that can be read in both Thai and English, but a few smaller port stations are darker and less cared for, and may seem intimidating at night for solo travelers.

A larger of the piers along the river.

Tickets can be purchased from an attendant at most stations, or just hop on the correct boat and pay the attendant on the boat. Signs help with navigating the water ways and with the color-coded boats. I had a tourist map with all the information to carry around with me, so I was set to look like I knew what I was doing.

I was amazed at how many people could be packed on these boats. There were rows of seats up towards the front, but I only ever stood in the back near the entrance/exit. The attendant who took our money and checked tickets also was in charge of helping dock the boat at each stop. While the drivers were very skilled at easing the boat up to each dock “station”, the attendant would hop off when we got close and rope us to the pier. All the while, he was blowing a whistle to communicate to the driver over the noise of the boat and people. It was nice being out on the water. The breeze felt cool compared to the hot stuffy days, and many sights could be seen from the river. It was a great way to get around.


There we several smaller channels through the city that operated in a very similar manner, but with much smaller “stations”. Most were just little docks under a road overpass (I know Granny: it didn’t seem very safe, but it was daylight and I made it look like I knew what I was doing.) These smaller boats sat lower in the canal and we often had to pull a tarp up so we didn’t get splashed by a passing boat. I found this amusing.

The smaller channel boat. You can see the tarp along the edge.

Making my way around the rest of the city involved many of the same modes as any other city: buses, cabs, subway. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and well-marked the subway was. All signs included English, which was helpful for me, and stations were both marked and announced as we approached. The people here were very patient too, with alighting and boarding the trains. That was certainly a new idea for a public train system!: waiting patiently?!

You know how stations always ask you to let exiting passengers out first? They actually did this here!

Another thing I really liked about this system opposed to BART: their ticketing system. Instead of wasting through paper tickets repeatedly, single-riders were issued tokens with the ride value programmed into it from the ticketing machines. Similar to the BART gate, we drop it in a slot upon exiting. But the token here could be reused for another rider another day!

My reusable metro token.

The bus system operated much like any public bus in the states does, so there is not too much to share here about it. It did, however, like to open the doors for passengers before it fully stopped. This was truly frightening to me, but didn’t seem to phase any locals as the road rushed by just inches from them. I really expected to see a tuck-n-roll out of this old man, but was glad when he was able to step off in a civilized manner. Hooray for no road rash!

It may not look like it here, but he was hanging on for dear life as the asphalt wizzed by.

I need to think of a good sign-off,
Sarah-Rose 🙂




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