Getting around any new country can be half the adventure. Planning for the unexpected is something worth considering, but more so considering never getting anywhere in much of a hurry is sometimes the better approach.
Thailand is a vast urban sprawl, and getting about can be done on some many forms of transport. Depending where you want to go, you can use a motorcycle taxi, car taxi, songthaew pickup, Tuk Tuks, bar bus, van or bus.
Songthaew pickup: Whether your in Chaing Mai, Bangkok or Phuket, you will see thousands of red open-sided pick up trucks driving around city streets. These small burgundy-red pick up trucks are called ‘songtaews’ or ‘bar buses’ by the Thais and are the vehicle of choice locals use to get around. Catching a songtaews is very easy, you’ll see one passing you on the street every few seconds.
Just stick out your hand and wave one down. Songtaews will most likely have other passengers in them too, which is because they are a shared ride system, so whether there’s nobody in one or it already has five passengers, the songtaew driver will stop when you wave him/her down. You can tell the driver when he stops where your going, and if it is on his way he will take you, you then need to negotiate the price. The stop at your destination, simple ring the bell. They are a cheap form of transport because of the share ride system.
Taxis: Bangkok Taxis are a safe form of transport, and do operate 24hrs a day. Bear in mind though unlike western taxi services where you can phone and book, Thai taxis do not accommodate this process. This isn’t normally an issue do to the shear amount of taxis on the road making it very easy to find one when you need it in the capital.
Always insist on using the meter in a taxi or you could well end up paying way to much for your trip. Some taxi drivers will tell you their meter is broken and that you can pay a flat fare. This is normally bullshit and a way for them to pressure you into paying more. If they refuse to use the meter, simply get another taxi. Also try to avoid taking a taxi that’s parked in front of a hotel or tourist attraction, these guys will normally be the ones that want to take you to your destination for a flat fare. Simply walk into the street and look for a take with the light on.
When leaving your taxi, always check before opening your door as motorcycle taxis can appear out of nowhere and you could ruin the day of another tourist pretty quickly.
Tuk-Tuk: Your in Thailand, so you will probably want to take a Tuk-Tuk at least once to savor the experience. A Tuk-Tuk is normally cheaper than a Taxi but they do not use meters. You negotiate a price before leaving. Note the word negotiate!! Also be very mindful of pick pockets on Tuk Tuk’s. Most have a mesh screen around the right-hand side to protect you from potential bag snatchers, but always be mindful of these creative thieves, especially when stopped in traffic.
Motorcycle Taxi: These can be a great alternative for a quick jaunt up a Soi or around the corner. Taxi operators typically wear a bright vest showing what area they are permitted to operate within. Again they are not metered, simply negotiate the price and hold on for dear life. A motorcycle taxi can be the best alternative for time when you are dealing with peakhour traffic. Be careful with your knees and feet when riding a motorcycle taxi. Nothing worse than a taxi operator riding to closely between cars and smashing you knee on a car door. It will hurt!
Trains: If your in Bangkok, the BTS system is extremely useful. When organising your accommodation, I recommend finding somewhere close to a BTS station as this will make your travel around peaceful. Being able to buy a ticket easily at the vending machines on the platform, to be able to travel in an air-con train carriage is a great appeal to this form of transport. Watch for peak hour though as you mind find yourself left on the platform a few times over as trains can but full to the point of bursting out the doors.
You might end up paying slightly more but you will get there quicker. These mini-buses tend to operate out of the area around Victory Monument (BTS Station) and you can catch one of these from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, Hua Hin, Pattaya and Maeklong to name a few. Most of these trips will run around 200THB. Walk around the skywalk from the BTS station to find the various operators below.
Most of the signs are in Thai, but they ones that are catering for you as a tourist will normally just have the name of the destination in English.
Keep in mind however that traffic around the monument can grind to a crawl during rush hours (around 8:AM and 6PM).
Minibuses to virtually all these destinations depart every 30 minutes to an hour between 6AM and 9PM every day, with several running to major destinations up until 10PM.