At first the idea was frightening. I couldn’t speak the language; reading it took me ages and thus I wouldn’t be able to read the signs on time. Without even considering the option, I began exploring the metropolis using other methods.
After a while I changed my initial reluctance. Buses ceased being threatening; in the worst case I would find myself in a random, unknown quarter. I could always catch a taxi and return to known areas.
Reinforcing the change was the fact that Bangkok is a safe city and thus buses posed no threats. The other eternal concern of a traveler - loosing precious time – was solved by dedicating a day to the exploration of Bangkok buses; now I could justify my aimless wandering in circles.
The foreign letters, the strange sounds and the many variations of buses did not make the beginning easy. The need to make a quick transaction on them without understanding the language was worrying. However, soon became clear that brain surgery is a more complex topic; riding the buses was simple.
The first lesson was not paying while boarding; a tickets’ seller approaches the passengers during the trip expecting to get approximately the right fare, paying the 7B fare with a one thousand baht note was an obviously bad idea.
The bus trajectories maps turned out being inexact.
Bangkok buses turned out being very effective at all times, especially since they travel all night; crossing the city on one of them at 3am is an inexpensive pleasure. However, at peak hours it may take hours to cross the city, thus planning is essential.
I began looking around. Buses are taller than taxis and tuktuks and thus allow sightseeing; a new and less congested Bangkok appeared before my eyes. Traveling in an air-conditioned bus was more appealing than the fanciest taxi and both advanced at the same speed.
The denizens made justice to the local claim that Thailand is the land of the smiles. Some of them wanted to practice English with me; others wanted to pull out the weirdly placed hairs on my arms. More experienced people around them shyly apologized for their peers’ conduct. Despite the misunderstandings and a few embarrassing moments I always felt as being among good people.
A new city was so discovered, with quarters neither reached nor mentioned by travel agencies. I found markets selling local products and not souvenirs; people shopping for their next meal and eating their regular lunch; a living city instead of a museum.
Red and Green Buses
These buses are by far the cheapest ones; at 7B per trip regardless the distance you can hardly find a better deal. After midnight they charge 10B.
They do not have air-conditioners and their frequency is low; thus hordes of people attack them once they arrive. Using them at off-peak hours is a good tactic.
The most useful lines leaving from Khaosan Road are:
Line 2: leaves from the stop in front of the Lottery Building on the main road leading to the Grand Palace, just south of Khaosan. It reaches the Central World Plaza, from where all the main shopping locations in town are accessible, and through Sukhumvit Road to the Ekamai Eastern Terminal leading to the south-eastern parts of Thailand.
Line 3: Leaves from the closest road to the Chao Praya River, just west of the road around the temple at the west end of Khaosan. It reaches the Chatuchak Weekend’s Market.
Air-conditioned buses are painted in yellow, blue or white and sometimes appear in two-car long buses; the doubles are usually a bit cheaper.
The fare depends on the distance traveled; the destination’s name – or the nearest landmark to it - should be pronounced to the tickets’ seller SLOWLY and clearly in English.
The most useful line from Khaosan Road is the 511 (it exists also as a red or yellow bus numbered 11 – but with a very low frequency). However two slightly different lines operate with the same number; if there is no additional sign on the bus, it reaches the Central World Plaza, Sukhumvit Road and the Ekamai Eastern Terminal. If there is a white sign in front of the driver, it means that this is the highway version of the bus, which after reaching the Central World Plaza climbs the highway instead of continuing through Sukhumvit Road.
The purple buses are minibuses operating in relatively few lines along downtown. They feature a flat fare and a seat is guaranteed; once full it does not take more passengers.
Unlike the other buses, here the fare is given directly to the driver. All of these lines are doubled by cheaper ones.
In front of the Central World Plaza there is a bus stop with television screens. There, a couple of screens on a high pole show video clips as well as announce the buses approaching the station using a sophisticated system.