Mini-vans are faster than buses and much cheaper than taxis when you’re making longer hauls to parts of greater Bangkok
The basics of mini-vans
Consider a mini-van when you want to spend a fraction of what a round-trip taxi would cost, in a comfortable and cool cabin that surpasses any bus.
Mini-vans (loat-dew in Thai), can seat up to 12 people, come with air-conditioning vents in the front and rear cabin and offer cushioned seats. Some are modified beyond as they conduct private tours on the side.
Mini-vans are most often used by students and office workers that need to cover long distances across districts, or to meet up with rail transit networks from their distant suburbs on a daily and economical basis.
There is flexibility with mini-vans within their fixed routes. Drivers trawl for passengers at informal stops, mostly bridges, bus stops and shopping malls, but allow passengers to disembark virtually anywhere on the route once they’ve boarded.
How do mini-vans work?
Mini-vans depart from a ‘station’, which are usually found next to shopping malls, popular outdoor markets and skytrain stops by key roads to adjoining districts. Drivers conduct their runs by picking up and dropping off passengers, reach their final destination and repeat the same process in reverse collecting fares along the way.
Fares scale based on distance, but are capped after a certain point. To give you an idea, a 30 km trip by taxi would cost you approximately 250 baht, 500 baht two-ways. Whereas by mini-van, the same distance would be capped at around 40 baht, 80 baht two-ways, and traveling at roughly the same speeds.
Each mini-van will have their stops written on the windows and lit up in signs, although the majority of signs are still in Thai. A few are written in English.
How to travel by mini-van
At each ‘departure station’ will be a mini-van conductor who hollers out destinations and points the many passengers to their correct vans. If you’re unsure what van has your destination on it, ask the conductor.
Note that if you’re catching a mini-van mid-route at a bus stop for example, it’s up to you to read the signs in time to flag one down. Ask the driver if they are headed in your direction before hopping in.
Find a seat, get comfy and take a quick nap with everyone else. In addition to the front and rear air-con vents, windows have sliding curtains that block out the sun.
Mini-vans can and do drive fast which might be a little nerve racking at first. It is an express form of public transportation so prepare for some zig zagging past cars when presented. Stick to Bangkok routes during the day when traffic is thicker.
When you’re nearing your stop, there’s no buzzer to press. You’ll have to ask the driver to stop manually please. In Thai it’s “jawt noy” = “park please”. Informing the driver where you’re headed beforehand will prompt him to tell you when you’ve arrived.
It’s awkward exiting the van through its sliding door and paying with your body half in half out. The driver may forget where you boarded and ask you to determine the fare.
Getting creative with mini-van routes
A very useful route that can save you a good amount of taxi fare is if you need to report to the immigration office in Chaengwattana. Take a skytrain to the Chatuchak Park where lots of mini-buses are parked outside, ask the conductor for the Pak Kret van and it’s the same route a taxi would take but much cheaper.
Lots of useful routes which include mini-vans can be created if you’re motivated.