Bangkok is notorious for its traffic jams, which can make it quite slow to get around the city if you take a bus, a taxi, or a tuk-tuk. Fortunately, there are alternatives to avoid the traffic jams.
If you are not easily scared and you have proper travel insurance, you can take a motorbike taxi. A motorbike taxi can easily avoid the congested traffic; if need be, they will use the lanes for the traffic in the opposite direction. The waterways are less dangerous and nerve-racking, although they are limited to the river and the canals. However, the best option will often be the Metro and the Skytrain, and here, you even have air-condition.
The Metro and the Skytrain offer several lines throughout Bangkok, and they are working to extend the lines and adding new lines. The Metro lines run mostly underground below the traffic jams, while the Skytrain is an elevated line running above the traffic.
Currently, the Metro and the Skytrain and other forms of public transportation in Bangkok use different ticket systems; however, they are working on a common ticket system using a smart card, the Spider Card. The first stage of the implementation was June 2018 for the blue and purple Metro lines. In October, they plan to add the Airport line and some bus lines to the system, and later in 2018 the Chao Phraya river buses and the tollways. According to plan, the card will be valid for all mass transit systems in Bangkok in 2020.
Of course, the trains are not as flexible as the buses and the taxis, as they are dependent on tracks; however, you can do as the locals and take the train for the longer stretches and then switch to a taxi or (oh, the horror!) a motorbike taxi to your final destination.
Taxis are everywhere, and you will find motorbike taxis waiting at most stations, like here at the Sukhumvit Metro station.
Below, I write about the different lines and stations where you can switch to other lines, go shopping, or attend the nightlife. Read more about the shopping malls and the markets in the article Shopping in Bangkok. Read more about the nightlife in the article The Nightlife in Bangkok. Read more about the river and canal buses in the article Venice of the East. I have made a map at Google Maps with the Metro and Skytrain stations, shopping malls, markets, nightlife and more.
The Metro (MRT)
At the time of writing, there are two Metro lines, the blue and the purple. Both run from 6:00 (AM) to midnight. There are less than 19 minutes between the trains; and less than 5 minutes during the rush hours from 6 to 9 (AM) and from 16: 30 to 19:30 (4:30 to 7:30 PM). The prices are reasonable, 15-40 baht (15-40 baht) depending on the number of stations you travel.
The Metro operates with two types of tickets, a one-time ticket in the form of a plastic coin with an RFID chip and a smart card with an RFID chip that you fill up, which is primarily for the locals using the metro every day. As a tourist, you are usually best served with the one-time tickets.
You buy the plastic coins at the stations in vending machines, where you choose your destination and pay with coins or banknotes. The vending machines are bilingual; thus, if your Thai is a little rusty, you can easily choose English at the top right of the screen. You can also buy tickets in the operated ticket boxes at the stations.
When you go through the entrance, hold the coin over the area of the gate marked red on the photo below. Save the coin; you will need it again later to get out.
At your destination, insert the coin into a slot on the gate to get out.
The Blue Metro Line
The blue Metro line opened in 2004. IIt goes from Hua Lamphong Central Station, where you can change to the ordinary trains, and to Tao Poon, where you can change trains to the purple Metro line. Along the way, you can change train to the Skytrain and the channel bus, see below.
They will extend the blue line in the coming years from Hua Lamphong and westward across the Chao Praya river and then circle back onwards to the other end of the blue line. The first stage is expected to open in 2019, passing through Chinatown and up to Sanam Chai near the Grand Palace.
Interesting stops along the blue Metro line:
The Purple Metro Line
The Purple Metro Line is the newest line in Bangkok. At the moment, the line is not very interesting for tourists. They will extend the line south to the Democracy Monument and near Chinatown, where it will cross the extension of the blue Metro Line. They expect the extension to finish in 2024. For now, there is only one interesting stop on the purple line for tourists:
The Skytrain (BTS)
The Skytrain has two lines, the green line and the light green line; both runs from 6:00 (AM) to midnight. There are between 3 and 8 minutes between the trains, depending on the line and the rush hours. The price is between 15 and 59 baht, depending on the distance. You can buy a day pass for 140 baht.
You purchase one-time tickets in the form of a plastic card in vending machines at the stations. Unlike the vending machines in the Metro, these only accept coins. There is a ticket box at the stations where you can buy a day pass; however, they do not sell one-time tickets, although, they will change notes if you need coins for the vending machines.
You open the gate by inserting the plastic card into the slot marked with a green circle on the image below. Then take the card from the slot marked with a red circle when the machine ejects it. At your destination, insert the card in the slot marked with a green circle. This time, the machine does not eject the card.
A small arrow on the card shows which end to insert first in the slot. On the photo, I have marked the arrow with a red circle; it is not always easy to see the arrow because it often matches the other colours on the card.
The Light Green Skytrain Line
The light green line is also known as the Sukhumvit line because most of it runs along Sukhumvit Road. The line opened December 5th in 1999 – the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).
Interesting stops along the light green Skytrain line:
The Dark Green Skytrain Line
The dark green line is also known as the Silom line. As the light green Skytrain line, it opened December 5th in 1999.
Interesting stops along the dark green Skytrain line:
The Airport Line
The airport line offers fast transportation between the airport and central Bangkok; however, if you have a lot of luggage, a taxi may be preferable. The airport line opened in August 2010 and costs between 15 and 45 baht (15-45 baht) depending on how far you are going.
Interesting stops along the airport line:
Map at Google Maps
I have made a map at Google Maps where you will find information about where you can change from the Metro and Skytrain stations to the other lines, and to the Chao Phraya river bus and the San Saeb Canal bus; the map also includes shopping malls and markets as well as the most popular spots for nightlife.