Few tourists who spend time in Bangkok, Thailand use the public bus system. There’s buses everywhere but knowing which bus goes where, how much it costs and how to get to the right stop is confusing. Particularly as the destinations for almost all Bangkok’s buses are not written in English, only Thai. When I first moved to Bangkok, I rarely used the bus system as trying to figure out the correct bus to take freaked me out. Over the last few years though, I’ve become an expert on Bangkok’s buses, especially as it’s so much cheaper to get around the city that way.
Buy A Bus Map – If you’re interested in learning how to use Bangkok’s bus system, the first necessity is to buy a bus map. Bus maps are available in book stores, 7-11s and other convenience stores and list the number of every bus in Bangkok and where it goes. With a bus map, you can easily figure out where the bus stops are for the buses you want to take and which buses stop at them. Just make sure, when you buy a map, the one you choose is in English.
What’s The Difference Between Each Bus? – Some buses are owned and operated by the BMTA (Bangkok Mass Transit Authority), whereas others are privately owned. As you’d expect, the ones that are government owned are cheaper than the private ones, but only by a couple of baht (usually less than 10 cents).
Some Bangkok buses are air conditioned, many are not. The non-aircon buses are cheaper than the air conditioned ones but, again, only by a few baht. So, if you don’t like sitting on a hot bus with only warm air coming in through the open windows and a ceiling fan that’s invariably broken, pass up the non-aircon buses and what till an air-conditioned bus comes by. Once you know which bus numbers you can take, you’ll see quickly there’s a bus every 1-3 minutes.
How To Flag Down A Bangkok Bus – Unlike in some cities worldwide, Bangkok buses only stop at bus stops if either someone is getting off the bus or someone is waving at them to stop. So, don’t expect to be able to jump on a bus when you see the one coming that you want. You’ll have to flag it down.
Just stand at the bus stop, hold out your arm slightly into the street, with your palm facing downwards, and wave your arm up and down. The bus driver will then see you and stop. If however he doesn’t stop, that either means the bus is full or there’s another bus of the same number behind him. Look out for that one and wave it down.
How To Pay On A Bangkok Bus – Paying is easy. There’s only one bus that requires payment with the driver and that’s a bus that normally operates far away from the city center. On all other buses, get on and sit down (or stand, if there are no seats) and the conductor will come to you. Be warned, they rarely speak any English so just say your destination, eg : Khao San Road.
You don’t have to have correct change, the conductor will give you any change back. Just try not to give them a bill any higher than 100 baht ($3) as bus fares are only around 20 cents per trip.
Occasionally, you might find yourself on a bus where there’s no conductor or the conductor doesn’t come around. Don’t worry, that usually means it’s a ‘free bus’, so enjoy the free ride.
How To Get Off – Often the bus conductor will remember which stop you’re getting off at and, if you don’t look like you’re getting up as your stop approaches, they’ll shout at the driver to stop and come to tell you this is your stop. If not, when your stop arrives, just before you get there, stand up and either press one of the red or black buttons in the ceiling or the one over the door. This sets off a buzzer and the button lights up, so the driver knows people want to get off at the next stop.
Plus, if you should miss your stop, don’t worry (I’ve done it often). Get off at the next stop, cross the street and take another bus going back in the direction of the stop you needed.
What Times Do The Buses Run? – They begin operation around 6am and stop at approximately 12am. But, unless you have to be somewhere at a specific time, avoid using them at rush hour (7am-10am and 5pm-8pm) as they’re mostly crowded and you’ll have to stand.
But…..the orange buses are usually the most expensive buses (only by about 5 cents) so Thais don’t take them as much. Which means, if you do need to take a bus around Bangkok during rush hour, get on an orange bus if possible. It’ll be a lot less crowded.
Learning to use the Bangkok bus system is a wonderful way to see the city and also to experience the ‘real Thailand’. On the bus, you’ll see few westerners, and you’ll get stared at by the Thais on the bus. Don’t worry. They’re just naturally curious and, I guarantee, if you smile at someone who is watching you, 100% of the time, they will smile back.