Landing in Bangkok International Airport, the culture shock had well and truly hit.
Despite it being our second time in Thailand, after travelling for so long through Latin America where Luke’s fluency in Spanish and my somewhat understanding of it meant we could easily make our way around each one of the 13 countries we were lucky enough to visit.
Fast forward and here we were in a part of the world with many different languages; difficult to understand, speak and read. Here we were in a place that not even our trusty Google translate could help us, nor our Google maps since you cannot download offline maps for Bangkok.
*Hint* Download and use MapsMe instead as you can download an offline map of the entire country. This will help you navigate your way around Bangkok and other locations within Thailand.
In the meantime, to help make life that little easier, here we share a simple three-step guide on how best to travel from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal where all busses heading towards Phuket or towards the port towns Chumphon or Surat Thani which is where you can catch the ferry to islands such as Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Krabi etc.
As well as a quick guide from Khao San Road, the tourist favourite and usual starting point in Bangkok, to the Southern Bus Terminal (scroll to the bottom of this page!).
Public transport in Bangkok is cheap and efficient, however it is an extremely large city so travelling from the airport to the bus terminal will require taking three different modes of transport. Considering the traffic in Bangkok is one of the worst we have witnessed, avoiding the roads by travelling across the city on the rail link and skytrain means you this method is far faster than flagging an overpriced taxi.
Should you prefer to take a cab, we suggest downloading UBER or the more Southeast Asia friendly taxi app – Grab.
#1 The Airport Rail Link:
At 8:30 am, travel weary and bleary-eyed we exited the main airport terminal and headed to the airport’s basement level to board the commuter rail (from the left hand side) to Phaya Thai station for only 45 BHT (€1.20) per person. Phaya Thai station is the last stop (stop A8 – 7 stops).
The rail link runs 24hours but the ticket offices only opens between the hours of 5:30am and midnight. There are ticket machines for you to use outside of these hours but you will need change as it does not accept large notes.
Before boarding, be mindful and wait until a staff member blows the second whistle. Staff usually sweep the train after the previous passengers leave so hold your horses and if unsure stand at the end of the queue and wait for everyone else to board. Luke jumped straight on and got a serious scolding from the security guard.
#2 The Bangkok Skytrain:
At Phaya Thai, exit the station, head down the stairs and stay straight to cross over to the BTS skytrain. Single journey tickets cost 16 BHT (€0.45) per person. Head to platform 2 to take the skytrain towards Mo Chit and jump off at Victory Monument which is one stop from Phaya Thai.
Leave Victory Monument via exit 3 or 4 and stay on the left hand side of the road as you walk towards the large roundabout. This is the last leg of the journey which could take you anything from 20 minutes to an hour depending on traffic.
#3 Public Bus
From the highly congested roundabout, the bus stop is less than 5 minutes away. Avoid crossing the roads by taking the overhead walkways.
Take the #515 bus which will pull up on the left hand side corner of the roundabout. The bus costs 17 BHT (€0.45) per person. As you pay for the ticket, tell the bus helper/ticket inspector “Sai Tai Mai”, which is Bangkok’s south bus terminal. The ticket inspector will nudge you as the bus approaches the station but we do advise having an offline map downloaded so you can follow the bus route.
The bus will stop on the main road outside the terminal, and from here you can easily pick up a bus going to any of the islands and escape the big city madness.
There is no need to have a bus booked in advance, in fact we recommend heading with no ticket and instead haggling for the best price. Taking an overnight bus to your destination is better and the bus station has a reasonably priced food court on the upper level should you feel a rumble.
Note that taking an overnight bus to your destination usually includes a stop with a free meal served, ensure this is included in your ticket price.
From Khao San Road to Southern Bus Terminal:
Sai Tai Mai bus terminal, pronounced as you see it “sigh, tie, my”, although can be a long journey thanks to Bangkok’s traffic, it is easy to get to from the Khao San Road.
#1 Hit The Pavement:
From the party street itself, walk to the bottom of the road towards Tanao Road (use Maps.Me) and take a right on to the main Ratchadamnoen Klang Road – yeah, the one with the traffic.
Cross the road, and aim for one of the many bus stops (usually found next to the blue signs and long queues of people).
#1 Local Bus:
Take either the #124, #516, #566 or #511 bus – you should see either the Southern Bus Terminal displayed on the side or front, but don’t be afraid to double check with either the driver or boarding locals.
We took the #556 and it cost us 12BHT (€.30) and took 30 minutes to reach the terminal, but again, leave yourself enough time for traffic as there are a lot of stops along the way.
Follow your progress via Maps.Me or ask the ticket guys to shout when you have reached the bus terminal. It will be fairly obvious as you shoot down what feels like a motorway (highway) to stop abruptly at the busy bus stop.
Hopefully this guide will make this journey slightly less of a confusing culture shock for you than it was for us. As always if you need anything do give us a shout, if we can help we will, promise!