Getting around Bangkok like a local

What is the best form of transportation for getting around Bangkok like a local?  If you ask my husband and myself we would answer – by bus!!!! 

We lived in Bangkok for 7  years (that sounds like a story for another day).  We lived on a tight budget as we were newly married early 20-year-old’s when we first arrived in Thailand and didn’t want to return to work in Australia too often. 

In order to help us keep our costs down, we rarely took a taxi or skytrain and mostly took a bus or songtaow around the city.

Keep in mind too, we went out from our little apartment most days and travelled all over the city.  It’s not like we stayed home all day everyday and only went out once or twice a week.  We really had to find the most economical way to get around.

Back in those days (yes I sound so old now but it was 2009 when we first came – almost a decade ago!!!) there was a wonderful provision where a lot of the buses were free!! It was fantastic!!!! But sadly nowadays they have phased out the free bus.   

The cheapest city bus you will find now is 6.50 baht.  Still a bargain!

It amazes us that not many other foreigners are seen on the bus.  We had a short visit to Bangkok at the beginning of December and used the buses three days in a row.  We didn’t see a single other falang on the bus at all!
Getting around Bangkok like a local will help you get more out of your visit to this crazy big city.

Our recent trip to Bangkok

The bus system is very easy to figure out and we discovered there is now a fantastic app called Via Bus which helped us work out which bus to take.

For instance, we were staying with friends in Huay Kwang and had to get to DPU (university) in Nonthaburi for a conference Saturday and Sunday.  

The via bus app helped us find which bus to take and there is even a live map to help you see when the bus is coming although it doesn’t appear that all buses are set up for this tracking feature yet.

On the Saturday we took an orange air-conditioned bus for the first leg of the trip which cost us 19 baht per person and took about 20 minutes.   Then we had to get off outside a big shopping centre and wait for the next bus.  We waited for about 20 minutes before it came. 

This one was a red bus so that cost us 6.50 each.   

We reached our destination after 50 minutes.  

To return home we reversed the trip but we did have over 30 minute waits at both bus stops on the way home but we had things to talk about.  People watching also helped us pass the time.

The next day our friend also went with us so we shared a taxi to the same location and it cost a total of 120 baht.  

On the way home we took the bus and were happy with how much we saved.

How to Use the City Bus

To use the bus is quite simple – stand at the bus stop.  This is marked with a blue and white sign, however we saw a bunch of people standing a few metres away, which is possibly the ‘new’ and ‘unofficial’ bus stop.  Or the taxi stand.  

Either way, try to stand near the bus stop sign and if in doubt we sometimes ask at a 7/11 or shop where the bus stop is.

Watch for the bus coming with your number (it could be red, blue, orange or a yellow bus.  The colour of the bus doesn’t matter as long as it is the correct number.)  We took the below image to give you an example of the bus number and colours.

Bus numbers are displayed at the front, side and rear of the bus – 138, 77, 509

As the bus is approaching, wave your hand/arm at the bus.  It is best to keep your palm facing down towards the road and wave it up and down.

The bus will come to a stop at the bus stop.  We have found now is the time to move quickly, go up the stairs while hanging on to the hand rail as most often the bus will start to move off straight away.  

If there is a seat available proceed to sit down.  Keep in mind that the seat right inside the door is normally reserved for a monk, elderly or pregnant woman but if it is not peak time you can sit here but be prepared to give it up.

We also have to be careful not to hit our heads on the roof of the bus as there may be a fan or a light.

How to Pay

The ‘Clacker’ will then come to collect the fare from you.  The Clacker is the bus attendant but they carry a metal cylinder where they keep small change and the bus tickets.  They have a very interesting way of clacking it at you to get your attention.  We find it fascinating to watch.

If it is an orange or yellow air conditioned bus you will have to tell the Clacker where you plan to disembark so that they can work out the applicable fare.

When we are not fully confident about where to get off, the Clacker has advised us when getting close to the stop.  We try to give them a good landmark they would definitely know such as a shop so they can help us.  

If it is a blue or pink fan bus or a red open window bus the fare is set and is maybe 9 baht or 6.50 baht.  We usually see the price marked above the door.  

The bus fare is usually marked above the door on the inside

The Clacker will give you the bus ticket.  Please hold on to this ticket for the remainder of the trip.  Ocassionally an inspector will get on the bus and check that everyone has a ticket.

If you do not have a ticket they require you to purchase a new one.

How to get off the bus

When approaching our stop, we press the doorbell which is at the door and also located sporadically around the bus. 
The bus driver will stop at the next bus stop.

We particularly love the old red buses.  They are full of character and never seem to need renovating!!  We have never thought to ask how old they actually are.

What if you are arriving or departing from the Mo Chit 2 bus station?  The local city buses also have  a parking spot near the station.  You can easily get from your out of town bus to a local bus to get to the suburb you need to go to.

Have you ever used a bus in Bangkok?  Leave a comment and tell us your experience.  Do you love them or hate them?

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Getting around Bangkok like a local
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