Tuk Tuks are tourist traps: a traveler’s guide to transport in Thailand

An important thing to know before touching down in Thailand are what the transportation options are, specifically which to use when and how not to get ripped off. In Thailand there are twenty different ways to get anywhere.

Dual pricing for tourists and locals is rampant and don’t be afraid to start bartering at half the price they first offer. Tuk Tuks, motorcycle taxis, and cabs (if you aren’t using the meter) should be negotiable, but don’t try with busses, vans, songtaews or the BTS skytrain.

Every tourist wants to ride a Tuk Tuk, and rightfully so, but once is enough and make it a short journey. Tuk Tuks do not have meters, and seeing as only tourists use them, drivers overcharge. Many drivers will also try to convince you that they will take you on a tour to temples, jewellery shops etc, and you might find yourself with a wasted day and an empty pocket. I have heard tourists say that they have had good experiences with Tuk Tuk drivers who make special arrangements for a day of activities, but most of the stories are about Tuk Tuks were about people who felt ripped off.

Another option is motorcycle taxis. These are probably the fastest way to travel, as bikes can easily navigate the often gridlocked traffic. The downside of weaving through traffic is compromised safety. Make sure to choose one with a spare helmet. There are also many places where you can rent or even purchase a moped or motorcycle of your own if you feel confident enough to brave the seemingly lawless streets.

Cabs are the best way to get around. Before getting in the cab, make sure that the cab has a meter and the driver knows where you’re going. If you’re in Bangkok, try for either pink cabs or green cabs with yellow accents. With these cab companies the drivers also own the cars, so they are more likely to drive safer.

Cabbies are not required to have any knowledge of city geography, English language skills, or GPS systems, so make sure before you go that your driver understands fully your destination. It is common for taxi drivers to refuse to take you somewhere they don’t want to go.

If you look like a tourist, this is less likely, but there still might be times when you have to hail multiple cabs before finding a willing driver. Nevertheless, cabs are the most convenient and comfortable option, and can also be the cheapest if splitting the fare amongst friends. Fare for any trip starts at 35 baht, or $1.25 CAD.

Songtaews are trucks with benches in the back that act like more flexible busses. They often cost only a few baht ($0.10 CAD), and travel fixed routes, but you can board or disembark pretty much anywhere along the route. You won’t find any marked stops or maps, so it’s best to take these with someone who is familiar with the system until you get the hang of it.

At hubs like Victory Monument, where you can easily find every form of transport on this list, there are also vans that seat 15, which you can take for longer journeys. An hour and a half journey could cost just 32 baht ($1.15 CAD) and you don’t have to worry about tolls on the highway. These are used a lot by students. Just look for a crowd of white vans with Thai writing on them, and ask around until someone points you to the right one. Again, you won’t find a schedule or map so consult a local first. Vans run during business hours so make sure you know what time the last one to your destination runs so you aren’t stuck waiting for one that isn’t coming at 10 p.m.

Bangkok has two relatively new skytrain lines and another (much needed) is in construction. The “BTS” is fast and super easy to navigate. Fare can be from 15 to around 40 baht.

Bangkok busses are another story. Having ridden the busses several times with a Thai friend, I am no closer to figuring out how they work. Bus numbers seem random (bus numbers 64 and 503 go to the same stop) and there are again no maps or schedules available. If you can figure out how to use them, they are inexpensive and fairly frequent. Unlike bus systems in the West, you get on the bus and take a seat, and someone will come to you to collect your fare and give you a ticket.

Despite the traffic and unpredictable schedules, the sheer numbers of public transportation options available keep the city connected, quite a feat for over 1,500 square kilometres of city.