How to navigate Bangkok like a pro (even on your first visit)
Check out a good map before you go
There are lots of sites that have Bangkok maps available to download and print. Everything from tourist attractions to hotels to public transport. Find a good one online so you can start planning your trip before you go.
If you are stuck, you can find quite a few on the mapaplan site.
Plan out your “essential” places to visit and then figure out what days you would prefer to do them. Going with a plan is always a good idea, especially if you are on a short trip / tight schedule.
If you can, plan to have a few days where you only have planned activities for part of it (or not at all) where you can just explore. Bangkok is so much more fun that way.
Buy a Thai sim card and use Google Maps when you are there
Thai traveller SIMs are relatively cheap and you can buy them and activate them in a 7-Eleven, Family Mart or Tesco Lotus. They cost 299THB ( less than $9 ) and will give you 7 days unlimited data and 100THB credit. If only using for data, then you get unlimited data for the day after you hit 49THB… so that gives you 9 days in total. If you are there for longer, either top up and buy an add on for more data, or just bin it and buy another.
The 3G / 4G signal in Bangkok (and most of the tourist areas in Thailand) is excellent. I never got truly lost as I could always use Google Maps to take me back. It’s also good to show a Tuk-Tuk or Taxi driver where you want to go.
You could stay old school and carry your big bulky tourist map with you but expect to be approached by very helpful strangers who will show you places to go and recommend that you stop off at a tailors, gem store or tourist office. Most of these are scams and you can expect to pay extra. Avoid the map and you will be approached much less often.
Using a Taxi or Tuk-Tuk
There are 2 types of Taxi and Tuk-Tuk in Bangkok. Public and Private. Public Tuk-Tuks have a yellow licence plate and private have a white licence plate.
It is safer (and cheaper) to only use Taxis and Tuk Tuks with a yellow licence plate. Tuk Tuks with a white licence plate almost always recommend other places to stop off at and are involved in more of the scams. Always use the ones with yellow plates.
You will always have to bargain and agree the price up front when using a Tuk Tuk. Ask at your hotel how much these should cost to get an idea for your trip and then be prepared to bargain. If you don’t like doing this (or can’t bargain hard enough) then taxis may be better.
When using a taxi, always insist that they use the meter. Taxis are really cheap in Bangkok and, if they don’t use the meter, it will always cost you more.
Don’t be afraid to tell the driver to switch it on and, if they refuse, get out and find another.
Also, don’t grab taxis or Tuk Tuks sitting just outside a tourist attraction or hotel… they are waiting for tourists and will no doubt inflate the price by quite a bit. Walk down the street a bit and flag one down instead
Uber and Grab
Uber and Grab Taxi are both available in Bangkok. They will likely be slightly more expensive than a taxi or Tuk Tuk (once you have honed those bargaining skills) but with your Thai SIM card in your phone, you can easily get picked up.
There are a few obvious advantages. You don’t have to carry cash (as both apps accept payment from your registered Credit Card), you know the price before you book and it is particularly helpful if you have gone off the tourist route where there are no taxis or Tuk Tuks around.
Install both before you go, just in case you need them. A quick Google search online should find you a discount code or two as well.
Using the train
This one is a no brainer if you know roughly where you are going. Book a hotel in walking distance of a station if you can. All of the stations have maps of the underground, BST and airport link and it’s pretty easy to hop between them to get to where you want to go. Just buy a ticket at the station from the machine (there are desks to get change or tickets if you need to) and hop on.
If you are going somewhere along the river, just jump on the train to Saphen Taksin and then take the River Boat or Ferry from there.
Using the River Boats and Ferries.
Many of the big tourist attractions are somewhere along the river. You have a few options when it come to the river boats.
Avoid private jetties and only stick to official sites. We did get caught out by a white plated Tuk Tuk driver once before we found out not to use them. He dropped us off at a private jetty and claimed that the area was closed because it was “Buddha” day, We were quoted 2000THB ($60) to take us up to the Grand Palace.
I am Scottish. Those kind of prices just aren’t going to happen! It did feel like the middle of nowhere though and I assume that is how they get you. I pulled out the trusty phone and Google maps and we promptly walked out and up the road a little. We then managed to grab a Tuk Tuk up to where we wanted to go for 50THB ($1.50)
Anyway, the river boats… OK, so when you arrive, you will be directed to buy a ticket for the tourist boat. This allows you to hop on and off all day for 150THB ($4.50). That isn’t too expensive but if you take the Orange line for a one way trip, it costs 14THB ($0.41). Need to go from Wat Arun across the river to Wat Pho? No problem, take the crossing ferry there for 3.5THB ($0.10).
Bangkok is huge, there is no doubt that getting around can be difficult for the unseasoned traveller. Use the tips above though and you will be travelling around like a pro, getting to where you need to go quickly, in no time at all.