It’s not just first-time-to-Thailand backpackers who stay in Banglamphu, and there is more to the area than Khaosan Road. Temples and other sights, great street food and a general feel of an older Bangkok are all reasons to call the area home for a while – and all of this plus the location of my favourite Bangkok guest house, a ten-minute walk from Khaosan, keep me coming back time and time again.
But it could be the nicest spot in the world (and it’s not); you’re still going to want to get out from time to time. And with Banglamphu’s distinct lack of Skytrain and MRT connections, it’s an even more pertinent question – which is the best way to get to downtown Bangkok?
At first thought perhaps the easiest and most comfortable option, a taxi is (depending on the traffic) actually probably your worst choice. On the plus side, and assuming you get a driver who is willing to make the trip without having to spend half an hour on the pavement hailing down taxi after taxi (easier heading downtown than on the way back), you are in air-conditioned comfort as you slog your way through bumper-to-bumper traffic. If that’s your idea of a nice journey, then fine – but it sure isn’t mine. That feeling of not moving anywhere as the clock ticks towards your appointment is about as bad as it comes – and a tuk-tuk can’t do much to get around real jams.
Expect a metered taxi fare from the Khaosan area to Silom to come in at around 100 baht depending on traffic; even if you choose to get a taxi to one of the nearest Skytrain stations (Ratchathewi or Phaya Thai) and then continue above ground the rest of the way, expect to pay around 60 baht for the taxi fare if the traffic is on your side – closer to 100 baht if it’s not (I paid 95B from Samsen to Ratchathewi today). If you need to connect to the MRT, you can do this from Sala Daeng or Asok Skytrain stations (20 baht from Ratchathewi to Sala Daeng, 25 baht to Asok), or take a taxi (or bus, see below) to Hualumphong train station, which has its own MRT station too.
Getting the bus is a good way to get around Bangkok, assuming you can negotiate the route numbers and maps and find out which one you need to take. It might not be the most comfortable, but you’ll get more interaction with locals and at the very least it’s a hell of a lot cheaper – ordinary bus 15 will take you from Ratchdamnoen Road, near Khaosan, to Siam Square for 7 baht. At the very least, if a horrendous traffic jam gets in your way, you won’t be clocking up the taxi meter for the privilege!
This bus also passes by Phaya Thai Skytrain station if you want to head elsewhere above ground, or where you can also connect to the Airport Rail Link if you’re headed to Suvarnabhumi.
If you need the MRT, the 7 baht ordinary bus 53 will take you from Phra Athit Road near the boat pier, to Hualumphong train station, where you can connect to the subway.
A motorbike taxi will get you moving fast, but expect crazy, fearless driving as this is the most dangerous way of getting around Bangkok for a reason – wear the driver’s spare helmet, as even if it’s not of great quality it will be better than nothing if you do have an accident. A journey this way won’t come cheap, either – count on 100 baht for a ride downtown from Banglamphu.
The most pleasant way to get out of Banglamphu, and potentially the quickest excluding motorbike taxi, is by combining a ride on the Chao Phraya Express boat with a connection to the Skytrain. A ride from Phra Athit pier, about a ten minute walk from Khaosan, to the Sathorn or Central pier, takes around thirty-five minutes on an orange-flagged boat and costs 15 baht. From there, it’s an easy connection to the Skytrain at Saphan Taksin, from where it’s 25 baht to Sala Daeng in Silom or 30 baht to Siam.
Even when it takes a little longer (with time for a cigarette, a wait for a boat and then having to change after getting on the wrong boat, I got from Ratchadamri to Phra Athit in just over an hour today), it’s certainly cheaper and still beats being stuck in a traffic jam – hands down.