Getting around Thailand

Thanks to its improved infrastructure and booming tourism, getting around Thailand is now easier compared to a few decades ago. You will find a wide range of different modes of transportation around Thailand, from auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks) to the modern Skytrain system.

Of course, do not expect all transportation options to be equal in terms of fare and level of convenience (or the amount of hassle). That’s why it helps to be flexible, patient and well-informed when commuting around the country, especially in cities like Bangkok which has its own share of heavy rush-hour traffic as well as opportunistic drivers and operators.

If you are a first-time tourist in Thailand in particular, then it’s really a must to explore these options and find out which any of them will work best for you.

1) Tuk-tuk
You won’t have the ultimate Thai experience if you haven’t hopped in to one of those tuk-tuks. Tuk-tuks, or auto rickshaws, are an ubiquitous sight in Thailand. This is a good option for short-distance travels. Riding in one of those tuk-tuks is a unique, memorable – but not always good – experience. Many tuk-tuk drivers are notorious scammers, especially towards foreigners. That’s why negotiating fares with them is an absolute must. Rates usually go anywhere between 80 to 150 baht. If you know how to speak a little Thai, the less likelihood that you’ll get ripped off by tuk-tuk drivers.

 

2) Taxi
If you don’t want to suck in all the exhaust fumes and experience heat at the same time, those clean and air-conditioned taxis are the more comfortable option. In fact, taxis are even a lot cheaper than tuk-tuks, as long as you make sure that the driver uses the meter. However, not all taxi drivers in Thailand are honest and not all of them use the meter, so make sure to find one. If you find out that the driver doesn’t have a meter and refuses to negotiate on the fare, keep on hailing until you manage to find a metered taxi. You see, it takes a bit of patience to find for the right taxi.

3) Motorcycle taxis
Motorcycle taxis have grown in popularity recently, as they are a quick and cheap transportation option for short distances. Plus, it is a great idea if you want to get away from tight traffic, and it is also a fast way to get around the city. To avoid yourself from getting scammed by unscrupulous motorcycle taxi drivers, you should choose only official and licensed motorcycle drivers by telling their vests (they are usually colored orange). Hop on in at the back of the motorcycle, hold on tight and get ready for a hair-raising ride.

4) Songthaew
Another mode transportation that is distinct in Thailand is the songthaew, a popular passenger vehicle which is actually a modified pick-up truck fitted with seats. The name itself literally means “two rows” in English, as there are usually two benches fixed along the sides of the vehicle.

Riding a songthaew is also a great and unique experience when in Thailand. Rates are also reasonable, costing at least 10 baht for the shortest destination.


5) Bus

Thailand’s bus system has significantly developed over the years. Not surprisingly, the capital Bangkok boasts the largest bus system in the country. Compared to other modes of transportation in Thailand, the bus is probably the cheapest option, costing as little as 7 baht. There are also long-haul buses that depart from Bangkok to the outskirts, other cities and towns as well as popular tourist destinations all over the country such as Phuket and Pattaya.

6) Bangkok’s mass rapid transit
What other way to get around Bangkok but to escape the horrible traffic? Take the MRT trains! They may be a bit more expensive but they are certainly a quicker way to get to your destination. There are two major MRT systems in the city:

Metropolitan Rapid Transport System (MRT) – the first underground railway in the Thai capital, it comprises of three heavy lines and two monorail lines. It stops at 18 stations which stretch from Chinatown in the south to Bang Sue in the north. It links to the BTS Skytrain but otherwise follows a somewhat different route to the BTS Skytrain, which allows commuters to travel to areas that are otherwise inaccessible by the Skytrain.

Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS Skytrain) – an elevated train system which comprises of 43 stations across two lines: the Sukhumvit Line running north to east, and the Silom Line running south to west. The BTS links with the MRT at two points.

7) Trains
If you have the luxury of time, you can take the train ride. It can be a fun, enjoyable and rewarding experience as it gives you to opportunity to view spectacular scenes and slices of local life that unfold just right outside your train window. Plus, it’s more practical and eco-friendly than flying, and better than buses because it means scenic rides and opportunity for you to stretch your legs and take a walk on the train aisle.

Finding good trains is just a matter of luck (and money), though. If you want comfy train journeys, good news because there are new first class sleeper trains that stretch from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. These trains feature fold-down beds, restrooms, air conditioning, serving staff and food and drinks.

But to those backpackers and other tourists traveling on a budget, they usually default to second-class sleeper trains. They are typically clean but their air conditioning is usually freezing cold so don’t forget to bring your jacket. An attendant will come around and convert the facing seats into two bunks and draw the privacy curtains. However, the food and drinks sold there tend to be expensive but low-quality, so it’s better to bring your own food or go to the dining car at the back of the train.

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Alternative Things to Do in Thailand

After seeing all those world-famous beaches, venturing into many kinds of sports (such as doing rock climbing at scenic spots) and sampling nearly all kinds of street food, is there anything more left to do in Thailand? Well, there are lots, apparently.

If you are on the hunt for something more different, un-”mainstream” and intriguing in the Land of Smiles, you are sure to find more gems lurking along the way. Check out the following “alternative” suggestions that will make travelling in Thailand a unique and fulfilling experience:

1) Go to a fish spa.
There is a growing number of resorts and wellness centers in Thailand that offer these strange kinds of services called “fish spas” which incorporate these so-called “doctor fish.” Hundreds of these tiny fish (most commonly the red garra variety) are placed in large tanks where people dip their feet into. These doctor fishies nip around your foot, nibbling those excess dead skin away from it. The tickling sensation may send people giggling. Others are horrified just at the thought of these hungry fish eating at their feet. Although using fish as a spa treatment is still debated on grounds of effectiveness, safety and health risks, that doesn’t stop tourists and patrons from going to these fish spas.

2) Visit the Siriraj Medical Museum.
With its notorious moniker “Museum of Death,” you know you’ll be into something morbid but nevertheless fascinating. The Siriraj Medical Museum is actually a medical campus that houses six different museums. So a heads-up for those who wish to go to this museum: this is not for the faint-hearted. This museum in Bangkok features incredibly gut-wrenching and nightmarish displays such as a preserved corpse of a serial killer and cannibal (who ate more than 30 children before being executed), preserved fragments of human skins bearing tattoos, hundreds of skulls, preserved human organs and other medical oddities.

Although these things may nauseate you, remember that this is basically a medical and forensic science museum that aims to educate people, ostensibly. So needless to say, this place is a great resource for scientists as well as both medical students and professionals alike (admire them for their strong stomachs).

3) Spend a day in “hell”.
Adding to the list of unusual attractions to see in Thailand is the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden, also known as the Thailand Hell Horror Park. It is the biggest hell garden in the country. This is not your typical garden or park, as this place aims to demonstrate what Buddhism’s idea of hell might look like. Instead of beautiful flowers and neat-trimmed shrubbery, the Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is filled with appalling and terrifying cement-and-plaster statues and images depicting departed souls and sinners sent to hell, as well as underworld figures.

The Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden is located in Bang Saen city in Chonburi province.

4) Tiptoe at the Wat Pha Tak Suea Skywalk.
Not a few tourists are drawn to attractions that seem dangerous. If you’re into that sort of thing, you may get a thrill of a stride at the Wat Pha Tak Suea Skywalk, located at a Buddhist temple on top of the edge of a plateau flanking the Mekong River. Tourists attempt to step on the U-shaped see-through walkway, and those who dare to make it beyond the threshold will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Mekong River and into Laos.

5) Dare to explore the “Ghost Tower”.
In every city, there is at least one abandoned skyscraper that has either seen better days or is unfinished. One of them is Sathorn Unique Tower in Bangkok. The planned 47-storey condominium tower, whose construction was halted during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, is now left to rot in neglect.

As it is now popularly known as the “Ghost Tower,” most locals keep their distance from it as they believe the building is haunted. Dead bodies are often reported to turn up in that building. On the other hand, Sathorn Unique Tower has become an unexpected and strange tourist attraction. Understandably, the building’s dilapidated and post-apocalyptic appearance gives an eerie feel.

Sathorn Unique Tower is now barricaded by a corrugated tin fence. Getting to the top of the tower is possible, but not exactly a good idea, as the structure is weak and fragile. Plus, the flooring has lots of holes. It is now illegal to enter this abandoned building, although some brazen and intrepid individuals still risk their lives by trying to sneak into the premises.

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