While most travelers may prefer to take the clean and efficient BTS Skytrain or MRT Subway to get around Bangkok, these systems obviously don’t reach many parts of the city. The BRT bus which started running in 2010 is also a limited section of the city. General public buses, however, are abundant and cover a lot of ground. They may seem intimidating at first as most have no indication whatsoever of where they are going — not in English anyway. You will see only a number. Here’s what you need to know.
Bus stops are clearly marked and you need only wave your ride down, assuming it isn’t already stopping at your stop. Just hop on board and find a seat if one is available. Otherwise it’s standing room only. The usual warning of keeping track of wallets, pocket contents and other belongings applies. As you approach your stop, pull the yellow cord or find the stop button along the windows or hand rail; drivers won’t stop unless they are instructed to or they see someone waiting at an approaching bus stop.
Fares depend on distance traveled, and an attendant with a metal tube-shaped case full of coins and bills will come around and collect, giving you a ripped ticket as a receipt. Fares can be as low as about 7 or 8 baht and go up to about 20. Air-conditioned buses charge more than those without. You’ll recognize those pretty easily — they have their windows closed. The rest of the buses keep ‘em wide open unless it’s raining. On really bad pollution days, this can be rather unpleasant to some.
Be aware that there are also free buses in Bangkok.
The most difficult thing about public bus travel in Bangkok is finding the right bus. Some tourist sites list passing bus routes on their websites. But if you can find your destination on a map, you can easily look up the route number — and even the availability of air-conditioned buses — on some online Bangkok bus maps from Thaiways Magazine.
Warning: some buses, even buses you “know” are the right route number, may be express versions of that particular route. Those buses will leave the mapped route to use one of the city’s expressways to skip to the far end of the route. This is tricky for those who can’t read Thai. Look for a yellow sign in the bottom corner of the windshield opposite the driver – it reads ทางด่วน. Also you can ask a passenger or the attendant on the bus: “Kuhn tahng-duon my?” Is this bus going up on the expressway? (“Chai” = yes; “mai” = no) And if you screw up, remember this is an adventure when you get off at the next stop and look for the same bus going back the other direction.
Learn about the Skytrain, Subway and special BRT bus
All photos by Kevin Revolinski