Travel from one place to another can be a drag. We all have our own strategies to cope (headphones, eye mask and Bloody Mary feature heavily in mine). But wouldn’t it be nice if the journey was as much fun as the destination. When it comes to Bangkok, never has a truer word been spoken. As soon as you leave your hotel room, it’s a feast for the senses. No matter what your desire – eating, shopping, drinking, site-seeing or even flirting – opportunities present at every turn, no matter the hour.
However things can rapidly slow to a snail’s pace once you find yourself in Bangkok traffic. One way to avoid this is to forego taxis and utilize some of the great alternative transport options. You’ll save time and often have a fun and unique journey. Here are some of my favorites.
Bangkok’s electric train system is fast, clean and wonderfully cool. Use the BTS Skytrain to take you to Silom LGBT district for fun, Siam for shopping and cinema, Saphan Taksin for the river and Phrom Pong for more shopping and great food. The underground MRT can deliver you to Chinatown. Both BTS and MRT have stops at the famous Chatuchak weekend market. However aside from the interesting faces and city views (BTS and Airport link), there’s little uniquely Thai about the experience (aside from the remarkable courtesy when boarding the trains).
If you’re a train buff like me, ride the old style locomotives on a day trip to the ancient capital of Ayuthaya. It’s an immersive sensory experience of bumps, heat, smells and noise, food vendors and friendly locals flashing warm smiles. Take a couple of beers for the ride and enjoy the views. Every so often a vintage steam train runs – check the TAT website for dates.
For a totally different experience, take a trip on the public klong (canal) boat which runs along Klong Saen Saep. Getting on and off is an experience as the boats only stop for a moment – pause and you’ll be left behind. I love the klong trip – the boats fill with students and ordinary Thais on their way to work as you speed past skyscrapers, crumbling riverside communities, interesting street art and beautiful gardens. The klong boat is the quickest way to get to Wat Saket/Golden Moutain, with Khao San road just a short walk away. There’s also a stop for Jim Thompson’s museum. Choose a seat at the very front of the boat for the best view and to avoid the rare (but horrifying) klong splash.
Another must is the Chao Praya Express ferry boat, used by thousands of Thais each day to ferry them up and down the Chao Praya River. Board at Saphan Taksin BTS stop and the boat will deliver you to iconic tourist sites such as Wat Pho (Tha Tien pier N8), the Grand Palace (Tha Chang/Maharaj pier N9) and the Royal Barges Museum (Phra Pin Klao Bridge pier N12). I’ll often ride the ferry to the end of the line (Nonthaburi pier N30, a jumping point for Koh Kret) as both the river and ferry are always heaving with an interesting array of traffic which makes for a fascinating and scenic trip, great for photographers.
A trip to Thailand isn’t complete without a tuk-tuk ride. These open air motorized rickshaws, often pimped out with disco lights and a sound system, are best enjoyed with a group of friends after a few drinks, as you attempt to enter or escape the rabbit-warren of alleys in the Chinatown/Khao San Road area. Bargain the price before the trip and hold onto your hats!
On many Bangkok corners you’ll see motorcycle taxi drivers dressed in orange or green vests. When you’re running late or for a short trip, these are your guys. They’ll weave in and out of traffic and deliver you to your hot date much faster than a taxi (you’ll pay a slight premium for the time savings, most trips cost between US$1 and US$3). Some motorcycle taxi drivers are also models (according to Thai press). For an exhilarating (and slightly terrifying) experience, wrap your arms around a hottie and take a motorcycle taxi across the entire city (check the price before you leave and ask for a helmet).
More so than anywhere else I’ve travelled, in Thailand the journey is the destination. Go Thai, Be Free.