Transportation in Bangkok

Yesterday was my first day exploring Bangkok. And overall, it was amazing!!! I learned a lot about how to travel around, and thanks to an app called (which does routing even when your phone is offline, like mine often is), I always knew where I was in the city.

I decided ahead of time to take the bus to the city, and planned out all of the bus routes on Google Maps before I ever left my apartment. The bus system in Bangkok is really inexpensive and quite extensive. You can reach every corner of Bangkok through the bus system as long as you know which buses you need and where to get off (all of the bus stop are in Thai of course, so that is where really came in handy). I left around 10am, and stood at the bus stop for about 5 mins before the bus with the number I was looking for arrived. The man giving out the tickets asked me a question in Thai. I had no idea what he said, and asked him, "How much?" He asked the same question in Thai again, maybe with some hope that in the last few seconds I had started to understand, but I just smiled and told him, "I'm sorry, but I don't speak Thai." He looked around hastily, as there were plenty of other locals who had just gotten on the bus that also needed to pay, and nudged a girl about my age that was sitting right next to us. I stood there, looking very sheepish I'm sure, and waited while he asked the girl to translate. She told me he needed to know where I was going and then he would tell me how much to pay. I stammered out, "CentralWorld," and asked again how much for the ticket. He told me the ticket would be 55฿, so I shelled out the cash unthinkingly. I was stumbling around in the center aisle as the bus lurched forward and stopped abruptly on its way central Bangkok. All the while, I tried to get money out of my wallet to pay for the ticket. He gave me change for the 100฿ I handed him, and I tried to maintain my balance as I put away the cash and coins he handed back to me. The ticket man walked behind me, and told someone to get out of their seat and gestured for me to sit down. I shook my head and told him I was fine standing, but he insisted. That was probably for the better since I likely would have fallen into someone's lap otherwise from all of the jostling. As I sat down, the man next to me offered me a little Tamarin filled candy, and then popped one into his own mouth. I smiled and thanked him, but I popped the candy into my purse instead.

The bus ride was about 30 mins. and as I sat there, I started watching the ticket man as he collected money from the other passengers. Quickly, I realized I had been overcharged. ON A CITY BUS! The other passengers all handed him coins (coins are come in .25, 1, 5฿ pieces), and they never seemed to exchange details about where they were going. Never once did I see a single passenger hand the man a bill of any kind. Naïve little me never thought that a city bus would ask for more than how much the bus ride was worth. Furthermore, I noticed that my large bill went into the man's pocket and not the collection tube. I took the bus ticket out of my wallet, and studied it carefully. It was all in Thai; the only thing I could read was the number "13 บาท," which means 13 baht. (When I got home I looked up how much the buses should cost, and found out that the older non-air conditioned buses ranged from about 8-13฿ and about 15-20฿ for the newer air conditioned ones).

I got off the bus once I had decided that it had gotten as close to where was directing me to go as possible. Bam! I was in the center of Downtown Bangkok. What a city. For being 10:30 in the morning, there were people everywhere, presumably headed to work unlike me. I opened and head to CentralWorld. I hardly needed a map, though, since CentralWorld boasts seven stories and takes up 830,000 square metres. It is located next three other shopping epicenters, all around the same size. There were so many stores, I hardly knew where to begin. Around 1pm, I finally concluded my shopping. I hadn't bought too many things despite the prices being so appealing. I wanted to save my money, and spend it at local markets instead. Then, I headed across the street to do my grocery shopping at the local supermarket, Big C. I wandered around the three story supermarket successfully checking off all of the things on my list. And by 4pm, I was ready to head home. At this point, I was absolutley overloaded with shopping bags, so the bus was not an option. While I was in Big C, I noticed that people were putting their plastic grocery bags into a larger duffle bag to make it easier to carry all of them at once. Smart idea. However, I had not brought a duffle bag so I was stuck loading up each of my fingers with plastic bag handles as I left my cart behind in the store.

I barely made it out of the supermarket before I was bombarded by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers trying to get me to come to their vehicles. I politely turned the tuk-tuk drivers down, and asked the two men with taxis if they would take me to my apartment. I had read up on taxis, and everywhere I read said to insist that the taxi driver turn on the meter, or at least negotiate a fair price. Neither of the men were willing to turn on their taxi meters since the traffic was so bad. I bet taxi drivers in New York would love this logic. I was desperate to set all of my groceries down, so I went for the second option of negotiation. (To give you some reference: the taxis from the airport are required to turn on the meters, and that taxi ride was 377฿ to go about 35 km or about 22 miles. I was only 8 km, or about 5 miles, away from my apartment.) I told them I needed to go to 3J Court, my apartment building, but neither of them knew where that was. I explained it was right next to Thammasat University, and then they began offering me prices. The first taxi driver asked 600฿. I said absolutely not. The second driver said 400฿. I knew it was overpriced, but, like I said, I was desperate to put my groceries down because the plastic bags were starting to cut into my fingers. I told him I didn't have 400฿, but that I'd give him 300฿. He countered with 350฿. I agreed, and then he helped me put all of the groceries into his taxi. 350฿ is about $10, and for a taxi from the center of Bangkok during the middle of rush hour, it seemed like I was getting a good deal. As we were driving away, I explained to him that my apartment was actually across the river from Thammasat. This was not good news for him. He told me that to cross the river he would need 400฿. I really didn't have 400฿, so I told him I'd give him 370฿ to take me there. He agreed, but said that he would have his father (also a taxi driver) take me instead, and that I would only have to pay his father. He explained that he had just started his shift, and didn't want to come back across the river since it would take him too long to get back to the center of the city. To his credit, the traffic really was that bad. What was a 30 min. bus ride at 10am, ended up being an hour taxi ride at 4:30pm. We met up with his father, they transferred all of my bags for me, and then we headed to my apartment. All the while, motorcyclists were zooming between cars, cars were actually maneuvering perpendicular to the road, and here I was in my taxi, very happy that I was smart enough to not agree to take a tuk-tuk. We arrived near my apartment, and the taxi driver asked if this was where I wanted to be dropped off. I told him that my apartment was actually another block down, but that I could walk. He did not stop there, and instead squeezed the taxi through an alleyway, dropping me off right at the door of my apartment building. He turned back to me and told me to wait in the cab, as he got out and started talking to the 3J Court staff. Soon, two men in bright green 3J Court shirts arrived with a shopping cart, and loaded all of my bags for me. The taxi driver opened the door for me, and I thanked him for all of his help, handing him the 370฿. When I got back up to my apartment on the fourth floor, I gave both of the young men 10฿ for helping me.

As I relayed this story to Nicolay this morning, he laughed, and offered me some great advice.

Lesson of the Day: Never take the first price, even if it's from a city bus driver. Always counter with an extremely low price and begin your negotiating from there.

I haven't gone to a local market yet, so this experience with transportation has really taught me how to reach a fair price.


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