Jumping on the public bus will reward you with some impressive knowledge about Bangkok’s streets and the nation’s underlying culture. But you will be required to have your wits about you.
Public buses can stop and pick you up just about anywhere and not only bus stops. They offer lots of flexibility and freedom for exploring the city this way. As long as it makes sense, doesn’t put anyone in jeopardy and you are nimble enough, you’re free to hop on or off at your own risk.
Bus stops in Bangkok are blue but it’s best to wait with the clumps of people that don’t always form around the designated signs. Groups will often break off ahead or behind. Pick one but don’t expect the bus to stop at yours. There’s no telling which group the driver will ignore so know what bus you’re after and prepare to make a dash for it when necessary.
There are essentially two kinds of public buses. Air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned. The air-conditioned buses are newer, provide a softer ride and stop mainly at designated areas. It is still possible to wave one down if traffic conditions are not overly obscene.
The non-air-conditioned buses are older, roll with their windows open and not so infrequently – with the doors wide open too. They offer a much stiffer ride which is good for people who get motion sick easily as drivers tend to be rough on the brakes and throttle on any bus.
For the new city explorer, the non-air-conditioned buses although older, might be a better choice because bus attendants don’t ask where you’re going. They just collect a flat fare (under 10 baht). In air-conditioned buses, the attendants will ask you where you’re headed to determine the fare, which isn’t much more expensive at all, but can cause some pronunciation embarrassment.
More air-conditioned buses will have signs in English and lots of them have tinted windows, curtains and windowed advertisements that block your view. Buses without air-con provide open-windowed and unobstructed views, more helpful for navigating and taking in unfiltered sights and sounds on the street.
Most crucial is the mounting and dismounting of public buses. Bus drivers will sometimes start moving before you’ve completed the climb up the bus steps which happen to be gigantic. So when the door presents itself, don’t pussyfoot around. Getting on means getting on. The same goes for getting off with an added word of caution to *make sure there are no incoming cars or passing motorcycles. Lastly, check that handrails aren’t loose and can withstand a good amount of force.
But once the easy stuff is over, rest on a seat by the window and get a real taste of what’s around the city.
Keep in mind that routes are only the same if the type and color of bus match. Colors denote the organization providing the bus. For an extensive list of bus routes go to Bangkok Mass Transit Authority.
To learn about the highest quality of public bus transportation Bangkok has to offer, see the article on the Bangkok’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)