Moving the masses

Earlier this month, the cabinet approved a plan for the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority to purchase 3,183 NGV buses. PM Yingluck Shinawatra has also reportedly tasked the bus authority to come up with measures to encourage people to use their buses more in order to ease traffic.

  • Published: 26/04/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Given there are already so many vehicles on the road, we think it's time to remind people on how to use the different modes of transport available in this city if we want to make our travel more efficient.

We present "Bangkok's Transport Guide for Dummies".

Buses come in different sizes and colours


1. Find out beforehand which bus takes you to your destination. Call 1348, go to or, or download one of the nifty new smartphone apps that take the guess work out of the bus system. For iOS it's Bangkok Bus Guide, while the Android version is Bangkok Bus Route.

2. One good thing about travelling on BMTA buses is that you'll get to use satang coins you receive as change from supermarkets to pay for the fare. Four 25-satang coins equal one baht. Two 50-satang coins equal one baht.

3. Have the right amount of change ready. The fare collector/bus conductor may get annoyed if you need to fumble through your pocket for coins. He/she carries a metal canister to keep coins and rolls of tickets inside.

4. Be on the lookout for the bus that you want to get on. When you spot it, wave at it like you're trying to put out a fire with your hands to make sure the driver notices you. There are two main types of buses; open-air ones and air-conditioned ones. Colours and quality vary.

5. When your bus arrives, it will stop far from the sidewalk. Wait for its doors to open before you get on it (because you ain't no Kitty Pryde from X-Men). If there are outgoing passengers, let them get out first. Sit if there's a vacant seat. Or hold onto a rail while you stand to build some arm muscle and not fall down.

6. Open-air buses usually operate on a single fare system. In case you're on an air-con bus, the conductor may ask you what your stop is. This is not because he/she is being snoopy. He/she needs to know your stop to collect your fare according to the distance.

7. Collect bus tickets like stamps or turn them into an art project (if you have plenty of time on your hands). Cover a wall with them, for instance.

8. Be ready to get off before the bus arrives at your stop. Ring the bell to signal the driver to stop.


1. Identify a winmorsai (motorcycle queue). The easiest way to spot one is to look for a group of men gathering at the top of a soi or near a MRT/BTS entrance. If they are in bright orange vests, then they are motorcycle taxis and not a gang of old dek waen.

What a typical winmorsai looks like.

2. Walk towards them and say "pee, morsai nueng kan" (bro, one motorcycle please). These guys take turn receiving passengers so don't be like "Oh, I want to ride on that Yamaha Fino because it matches my outfit."

3. Some queues put up a board showing fare rates. Find your destination on it so you know the damage. If the queue doesn't have a board or your destination isn't listed, tell the driver where you want to go and ask him how much he charges. They are usually open to reasonable bargaining.

4. Summon your courage before you land your bum on the seat. It may be hot after being warmed up by the sun. Think of it as a way to kill bacteria on your pants. Grab onto the driver for extra support while sitting, after you ask him if you can, obviously. This may lead him to think you want to be more than his passenger so you should grab onto the small handrail behind your seat as well.

This is how you fasten a chin strap.

5. When the driver realises a police checkpoint is ahead, he will hand you a spare crash helmet which always stinks and will definitely ruin your hair, but wear it anyway. People with big skulls may not be able to fasten the chin strap but just having the crash helmet on your head should be enough for the police to leave you alone.

6. Have fun while riding by practicing your knowledge of Thai numbers and language. There are usually three lines at the back of each vest a motorcycle taxi driver wears. They are the district's name, the driver's number and the name of the queue he belongs to. Super fun.

7. Set one foot firmly on the pavement before you dismount from the motorcycle. Pay the fare. The transaction is done.

8. Don't hail a passing motorcycle that has no passenger because each queue has its own territory. The guy you hail may come from another queue outside the area. You don't want to accidentally cause a conflict between two motorcycle queues.

Everyone pays the same fare despite different levels of discomfort.


1. Song taew are basically modified pickup trucks with a high roof at the back. They advertise places they pass with letters in white. In Bangkok, they usually travel on fixed routes.

2. Each song taew features two rows of seats for passengers. The space in the middle is for the unfortunate ones to stand on while holding onto a rail. The brave ones like to hang out at the back.

3. Like a bus, you have to wave at it to stop it. There's no visible song taew stop. If you think you're cute, try asking the driver if you can sit on the passenger seat.

4. If you're gifted with height, you may have to lower your head as you stand inside the vehicle.

5. Don't sit at the head of the seat rows because you could be crushed by the weight of fellow passengers when the driver abruptly stops the vehicle. Avoid being the person standing in front of the standing row for the same reason.

6. Buzz the bell when you want to get off.

7. Walk to the window on the passenger side to pay the fare.

8. Don't wait for a receipt or ticket because there aren't any.

Move fast or it will trap ya


1. The BTS is above the ground while the MRT is below the ground. Know where you want to go and find out which BTS or MRT station is closest to your destination.

2. Walk up to a BTS station or go down to a MRT station. If you've been living under a rock (or have a chauffeur), you have to pay for a ticket at a ticket vending machine. Normal people already have magical cards with money stored in them to pay the fare.

3. While walking towards the fare gate, take out your ticket and be ready to use it.

4. Go up to the platform of the BTS or head down further to a MRT platform.

5. Both the MRT and BTS have yellow lines for which you stand behind while waiting for your train to come.

6. Let the ongoing passengers exit the train first before you go in. Don't hog the poles. They are meant for several passengers to grab on to.

7. Kill your commuting time by looking at free advertisements inside the carriages or social networking on your smartphone.

8. Make sure you walk out of the BTS and MRT stations at the exit which is closest to your destination. Ask the staff, if you aren't sure.


1. Stand on a side of the road. Look for a car with a "TAXI-METER" sign atop. That's a taxi.

Although it says ’vacant’ in red light, it may not take you

2. Then look for another red sign that reads wang in Thai. Although it means "vacant", you shouldn't take it literally.

3. The driver may or may not stop despite the vacant sign. After he stops and you tell him where you want to go, the driver may or may not take you.

4. Favourite excuses taxi drivers give to refuse a passenger include "The fuel is almost empty", "I have to return the car" and "It's too far and there's a lot of traffic". The driver who no longer gives a damn just shakes his head as if you told him some bad news and drives away.

5. Taxis in tourist areas mostly don't accept Thai passengers. Or if it's really late, they may lure you to an after-hours nightclub. Deal with it.

6. If you're fortunate enough to be accepted, quickly get in the car. Fasten your seat belt should you choose to sit in the passenger seat. If you forget, the driver will tell you to do so when he spots a police checkpoint from a distance.

7. Riding on the front passenger seat has its pros. First, it reduces the chance of motion sickness. You can also marvel at the head-bobbing dolls and other types of decoration the driver has put on his dashboard, steering wheel, rear-view mirror, and seat.

8. Pay the fare when you arrive. Let the driver keep B3-B5 change if he/she has been good.


1. Although they're called tuk-tuks, the motorised three-wheeled vehicle has a "TAXI" sign atop.

2. You can hail a tuk-tuk like you do a taxi and, like a taxi, it doesn't always accept you.

3. Tell the driver where you're heading and he will give you a quote. Bargain.

4. Get into the back of a tuk-tuk on its left side and then get out the same way.

5. Holding the overhead handrail may be optional in other vehicles but we recommend it for tuk-tuk passengers. Given the low fence around the passenger seat, you should hold onto the rail so you won't pop out of the vehicle when it hits a bump on the road or something.

6. Enjoy the unfiltered view and air of Bangkok as you ride the tuk-tuk.

This is what a typical tuk-tuk looks like (minus the balloons, of course)

About the author

Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru Reporter

Latest stories in this category