Getting around Bangkok and where to stay
Bangkok is Thailand’s heaving capital and a mecca for travellers. In this city of over eight million people, golden temples sparkle in the tropical sun next to megamalls, teeming local markets and food stalls selling Pad Thai. Bangkok can be a daunting city to tackle as it covers over 1,500 square kilometres and the streets are often heaving with traffic. So, make the most of your Thailand holiday with our guide to getting around Bangkok and its top attractions.
What’s in this guide?
• Getting from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangkok
• The Bangkok BTS and MRT
• Bangkok taxis
• Bangkok tuk tuks
• Bangkok boats
• Getting to Bangkok’s top attractions
• Finding top Bangkok bars, restaurants and malls
• Where to stay in Bangkok
Getting from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangkok
Most international flights arrive into Suvarnabhumi Airport, which lies 30 kilometres from the centre of Bangkok. The easiest way to get into the city is to take a taxi from the licensed rank on level one of the airport, the journey will take between 30 and 50 minutes depending on traffic. Make sure your driver uses the meter and be ready to pay the 50 Baht airport tax and 70 Baht freeway toll.
You can also travel into Bangkok on the Airport Rail Link City Line, which goes straight from the airport. The train stops at six stations in Bangkok, connecting with the public MRT and BTS train systems, and takes up to 40 minutes. Trains leave every 15 minutes from the airport between 6am and midnight and journeys cost a maximum of just 45 Baht.
Ways to get around Bangkok
There are plenty of different modes of transport in Bangkok, here are the main options:
The Bangkok BTS and MRT
Bangkok’s mass transit systems provide a quick, cheap way to get to some of the main shopping, entertainment and business areas of the city. The Bangkok Mass Transit System (also known as the BTS Skytrain) is an elevated train system with 35 stations that operates from 6am till midnight. There are two lines, Sukhumvit runs north to south east, while and the Silom Line runs from the centre to the west.
Tickets for the BTS cost just 15 Baht for one stop, but you can also buy one-day passes for 130 Baht or get a Rabbit Card, which you’ll need to pay a 100 Baht issuing fee for. Rabbit cards give discounts when you top up in bulk.
The Metropolitan Rapid Transport System (MRT) is an underground train network with 18 stations stretching from Bang Sue in the north down to Chinatown in the south. Trains run from 6am until midnight and tickets cost between 16 and 42 Baht depending on how far you’re travelling.
There are thousands of taxis in Bangkok, making it one of the most convenient ways to travel. Typically, taxis are clean, air conditioned and easy to hail, just look for one with an available red light on. Drivers tend to speak some English and know their way to the main tourist sites, but it’s always a good idea to carry a map and a card with your hotel address written on in Thai.
While all drivers are required to use the meter, some will try to charge you an inflated fixed fee instead, if that happens refuse and hail another cab. All taxis charge a 35 Baht fee for the first kilometre and then from 5.50 Baht for each further kilometre you travel. If you get stuck in traffic, which is likely during rush hour, there’s a two Baht per minute charge when moving under 6km per hour.
Bangkok tuk tuks
Nearly all tourists end up taking a tuk tuk ride at least once in Bangkok. These iconic, colourful three-wheeled vehicles make for a fun, if occasionally hair-raising, method of transport and can artfully weave through traffic. While locals use tuk tuks for short journeys to avoid the 35 Baht taxi surcharge, tuk tuk drivers usually charge tourists far more than a metered taxi, with prices starting at 100 Baht for even the shortest journey.
If you want to take a tuk tuk, try bartering the price down and tell the driver you want to go straight to your destination. Often, they’ll try to take you to a gem store or tailor shop because they get commission or fuel vouchers for bringing in visitors, so watch out for this scam. Ask your hotel to arrange a tuk tuk for you, as they’ll likely have their own reputable drivers.
Some of Bangkok’s top sites are located along the Chao Phraya River, but the city also has a network of canals (khlongs) located on the western Thonburi side of the river. Travelling by public river boat is an extremely cheap way to explore Bangkok and you get to ride alongside locals and get a taste of real Bangkok life, you’ll also avoid the notorious city traffic jams.
The Chao Phraya River Express Company runs five different boat lines which you can identify by the colour of their flags:
• White line – these boats run between 6-9am and 3-6pm every 15-20 minutes daily
• Orange line – runs daily between 6am and 9pm every 5-20 minutes and stops at all the main piers
• Blue line – the dedicated tourist line that stops on demand at any pier, running between 9am and 7pm daily. Stops are read out in English and there are comfortable seats
• Yellow line – operates from 6-9am and 4-6pm for commuters between Monday and Friday, boats come every 5-20 minutes
• Green line – another express line for commuters that runs Monday to Friday every 15-20 minutes between 6-8am and 4-6pm
Tickets for the blue tourist line cost 150 Baht for an unlimited day pass on all lines or 40 Baht for a single journey. Single trips on all the other lines cost between 11 and 25 Baht depending on the distance. To hop across the river rather than along it, ferries operate in 32 spots and cost just three Baht per journey.
You can also hire a longtail boat for a private tour along the river and canals. Many drivers hang around Sathorn Central Pier and prices can be steep, so make sure you haggle and agree a price before setting off.
Getting to Bangkok’s top attractions
You can use these transport methods to get to and from Bangkok’s most popular attractions:
The Grand Palace
Bangkok’s top tourist attraction is a complex of ornate temples and palaces decorated with sparkling mosaics. Built in 1782, the Grand Palace was home to Thai royalty for 150 years and is still used for important royal occasions. The most prestigious temple in the complex is Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha, one of the most sacred Buddhist statues.
How to get there: take the BTS to Saphan Taksin Station on the Silom Line and then catch a river boat to Ta Chang Pier. Taxi and tuk tuk drivers will know the way to the palace and if your hotel is on the riverbank, they may have their own shuttle service to Ta Chang Pier.
Located just south of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho temple complex is well known for its giant reclining Buddha statue which is 46 metres long and 15 metres tall. When you’ve finished marvelling at the Buddha, stroll around the rest of the grounds, which are full of impressive murals, sculptures and courtyards. Wat Pho is also a well-known centre for traditional Thai medicine and is a brilliant place to have a massage.
How to get there: take a river boat to Tha Thien Pier, or if you’re coming from the Grand Palace, walk half a mile south to Maharat Road. You can also travel by taxi, tuk tuk or hotel shuttle boat.
Wat Arun, or Temple of the Dawn, sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and is one of the most stunning and unique temples in Bangkok, particularly when lit up at night. Built in the early 19th century, its majestic spire is over 70 metres tall and covered in coloured glass and porcelain. Climb to the top for views over the River, Wat Pho and the Palace. The main spire is surrounded by four smaller ones and there’s an ordination hall with murals and Buddha statues to see.
How to get there: take a river boat to Tha Thien Pier and then hop on a cross-river ferry, Wat Arun is on the opposite side of the river to Wat Pho.
Lumphini Park is Bangkok’s largest green space, a 142-acre oasis of plants, flowers and a lake. The park is popular with locals who gather to run and workout in the evenings or early mornings, as well as tourists looking for a break from city sightseeing. Wander around the forest park, look out for huge resident monitor lizards or take a leisurely pedalo ride across the lake.
How to get there: take the MRT to Lumphini or Silom Station which are both opposite the park. The nearest BTS stop is Sala Daeng, you can also take a taxi or tuk tuk.
If you love shopping, don’t miss Chatuchak, Bangkok’s sprawling weekend market. There are over 8,000 stalls selling everything from clothing and handicrafts to furniture and food, plants and art, books and antiques and even pets. Be prepared to barter for goods and spend hours trawling through the huge market, which is laid out in numbered alleyways bursting with stalls.
How to get there: Take the MRT to Chatuchak station and take exit one, which will lead you into the clothing section of the market. Exit one at Mo Chit BTS station will also take you to that entrance. You can also hop in a taxi or tuk tuk.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is one of the largest in the world, filled with temples, eateries, historical buildings and markets. Getting lost in the tiny alleyways is the best way to get a feel for the area but don’t miss the decorative Chinatown Gate or Wat Traimit where you’ll find the biggest seated gold Buddha in the world. It’s also worth visiting the city’s largest Chinese-Buddhist temple Wat Mangkon Kamalawat and doing some shopping along Sampeng Lane.
How to get there: take a river express boat to Ratchawong Pier and walk up Ratchawong Road until you reach Sampeng Lane. You can also take a taxi or tuk tuk from Hua Lamphong MRT station.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is perhaps the most well-known backpacker street in the world. The street now caters for all types of tourists and is filled with guesthouses and street-front bars, massage parlours, market stalls, live music and street food. Browse for cheap clothes and souvenirs, try some fried insects or sit back with a Chang beer and watch Bangkok life swirl around you.
How to get there: take a river boat to Phra Arthit Pier, from there it’s a ten-minute walk to Khao San Road. There aren’t any BTS or MRT stations nearby, but you can take a taxi or tuk tuk.
Finding top Bangkok bars, restaurants and malls
Looking for somewhere to refuel after a long day of sightseeing? Whether you’re after Thai or international cuisine, here are some of the best restaurants in Bangkok and where to find them:
• Blue Elephant – serves classical Thai food with a contemporary edge in a beautiful 100-year-old building. The restaurant is located on 233 South Sathorn Road close to Surasak BTS station
• Seven Spoons – is located at the cross section between Chakkrapatipong and Lan Luang streets. The restaurant serves delicious Mediterranean dishes and creative vegetarian food
• Issaya Siamese Club - near Rama IV Road is known for its traditional Thai dishes and high-class chefs
• Eat Me - is a top-end restaurant that specialises in international food, located on Soi Convent Road between Sathorn and Silom
Bangkok is famous for its swanky rooftop bars with stunning views of the city skyline. These are some of the top spots to sip a sunset cocktail or party the night away:
• Red Sky - at the Centara Grand Hotel in Siam has a jazz lounge and spectacular 360 degree views. It’s the perfect place for sundowners, western dishes are also available
• Skybar at Lebua State Tower – is set on the 63rd floor up and has views of the city and river along with a wide selection of wines, cocktails, beers and spirits. Lebua is located on Silom Road
• Octave Rooftop lounge and Bar - is located at the Bangkok Marriott Hotel in Sukhumvit and offers panoramic skyline views from the 45th floor
• Vertigo restaurant and Moon Bar – can be found at The Banyan Tree Bangkok on South Sathorn Road. Set on the 61st floor, you can spend a lavish evening here enjoying high-end drinks and food
Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise and has some of the best megamalls in Asia, here are the top picks in Bangkok and where to find them:
• MBK – is one of Bangkok’s older malls and a great place to find a bargain with over 2,000 shops selling everything from clothing to electronics, furniture and luggage. There’s a walkway connecting MBK to the National Stadium BTS station
• CentralWorld Bangkok – is the largest mall in Thailand and has over 500 shops as well as supermarkets, restaurants, banks, cinemas and even an ice skating rink. The nearest BTS stations are Siam and Chilom
• Siam Paragon – specialises in up-market fashion brands and international restaurants. The chic mall also has a Cineplex and aquarium, the nearest BTS station is Siam
• Terminal 21 Bangkok – a quirky mall styled like an airport with themed shopping streets from around the world, such as an Istanbul market and London’s Carnaby Street. To get to the mall, take the MRT to Sukhumvit station
Where to stay in Bangkok
To make the most of your trip to Bangkok, stay somewhere central with decent transport links to the city’s top attractions. Here are some of the best-located, quality hotels in Bangkok:
• Rembrandt Hotel – is located in the central Sukhumvit area and has a pool, bar, restaurants, fitness centre and spa. A range of rooms and grand suites are available
• Lebua Hotel – is located on Silom Road and offers five-star service. Lebua has a swimming pool with bar, spa and 220 suites with private balconies and kitchenettes. You can also enjoy their rooftop bar and fine dining
• Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort – is located on the banks of the river close to some of Bangkok’s major sites, including the Grand Palace. The resort has a spa, tennis court, pool and Jacuzzi as well as fitness centre, bars and restaurants
• Ariyasom Villas – a family-owned boutique hotel with Thai design and art work. The original 1940's house has a garden, pool, spa and 24 rooms all located next to the canal in Sukhumvit
• Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok – has a classic 1870's style with butler service, a world-class spa, two pools and gourmet food in its nine restaurants. The hotel is set on the banks of the river, just a short boat ride to the Grand Palace
• Akyra Thonglor Bangkok – a modern, classy boutique hotel in the hip Thonglor neighbourhood. The hotel offers studios and suites with skyline views as well as infinity pool, fitness centre, library and chic bar and lounge
Once you’ve finished exploring Bangkok, why not head out of the hectic capital and discover more of Thailand’s treasures? Travel north for jungle and elephant adventures around Chiang Mai, or south for an idyllic beach break, some island hopping or a cruise.