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January 2017

Student Life

Bike, boat or bus?

Tuk Tuk, a traditional taxi in Bangkok popular with tourists

Living in a foreign country like Thailand can be fun, exciting, inspiring and even life changing! At the same time, however, living abroad is also fraught with unexpected challenges and daily struggles that you wouldn’t even have to think twice about back home. One of these such challenges that I’m sure you can all relate to is using public transport!

In many cities around the world, when it comes to transport, the options are pretty limited. In my home city of Sydney for instance, you have a choice of bus, train or an incredibly overpriced taxi. Other than that, you’ll be tying up your laces and be going for a nice leisurely walk to wherever you want to go. Bangkok on the other hand literally has just about every transportation option under the sun to fit your budget. A few of my most popular ways of getting around include:

Bangkok Skytrain (BTS)

BTS is a very popular choice of transport for Bangkokians

Webster University Thailand’s Bangkok Academic Center is located at Empire Tower in the vicinity of Chong Nonsi BTS station

Copyright: sritangphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

For most foreigners living in Bangkok, the BTS will be the main way you get around. In fact it was only after about six months in this city that I realized that Bangkok stretched far beyond the end of the BTS line. When you reach Bearing or Bang Wa you have in fact not even scratched the surface of greater Bangkok. Webster University’s Bangkok campus is located right downtown just a short walk from BTS station Chong Nonsi. On the Silom Line, Chong Nonsi means that you’re only about 5 minutes away from Siam and about 15 minutes away from most places of interest. With fares ranging from 15-52 baht, the BTS is a quick and easy way to get around.

Motorcycle taxi

Motorcycle taxis are a common form of public transportation in Bangkok

Motorcycle taxis are a common form of public transportation in Bangkok

Copyright: idealphotographer / 123RF Stock Photo

It doesn’t take you long on the ground to realize that the traffic in Bangkok can be horrible. What should normally take 10 minutes or so, can in fact take much longer, leaving you hot, sweaty and tired! In order to combat Bangkok’s traffic woes, in the 1990’s the Thai Government initiated a motorcycle taxi scheme. If you have a sense of adventure and can hold on tightly, a motorcycle is a very efficient way of getting around. A short trip to the end of the soi will set you back about 10 baht with anything longer directly negotiable with the driver. Some motorcycle taxi stands might also have a pricelist written up on a signboard near their bikes.

Travel along the khlongs

Water Canal Transportation in Bangkok is an alternative choice to avoid traffic congestion in Bangkok

Water Canal Transportation in Bangkok is an alternative choice to avoid traffic congestion in Bangkok

Copyright: tzido / 123RF Stock Photo

As a city built on water, Bangkok has hundreds of tiny canals (khlongs) that cut across the city in all different directions. Whilst this is not the most convenient way of commuting to and from class each day at Webster Bangkok, it can be surprisingly handy when you’re venturing to other parts of the city. The main route and perhaps the most popular in terms of volume of people is Khlong Saen Saeb. Stretching east to west across the city, the boats along this route stop at some of the most popular parts of Bangkok including Thong Lo, Ekkamai, Nana and Ramkhamhaeng. With fares ranging from 10-20 baht, the journey in itself is well worth the money.

Tuk-Tuk

Tuk Tuk, a traditional taxi in Bangkok popular with tourists

Tuk Tuk, a traditional taxi in Bangkok popular with tourists

Copyright: itman47 / 123RF Stock Photo

Probably one of the most synonymous symbols of Thailand (and Bangkok more specifically) is the tuk-tuk. In fact I’m sure that before you even stepped foot off the plane you had a pretty good idea about what to expect. These three-wheeled motorcycles with a semi-enclosed cabin on the back are a right of passage for most visitors to the Kingdom. If you have friends or family stopping by during your time here, it’s well worth the ride. My only tip however is “bargain hard and bargain often”. Many drivers will suggest spurious figures for short distances with the assumption that you are a cashed up tourist. Good luck and have fun!

Pedal Power

Bicycle riding in Bangkok

Bicycle riding in Bangkok

Copyright: ermakovep / 123RF Stock Photo

Now yes I know exactly what you’re thinking – “Bangkok is a tropical climate and there is no way I’m riding a bicycle in this heat (and this traffic!)”. Whilst these are very valid concerns, you’d actually be surprised at how easy a bicycle makes it to get around! With bike share stations situated all the way from Phloen Chit to National Stadium to Lumphini and Surasak, it is actually pretty convenient. For rides of less than 30 minutes you pay absolutely nothing. For anything longer than that then there is a nominal fee for each 30 minute block thereafter. After you organize your card all you need to do is tap and go. You can take and return a bike at any one of the stations across Bangkok.

Buses in Bangkok

Bus in Bangkok, Thailand

Bus in Bangkok, Thailand

Copyright: tieataopoon / 123RF Stock Photo

There are definitely pros and cons about the buses that traverse this wonderful city. On the positive side, there are literally hundreds of bus options and there will always be a bus that can take you wherever you want to go. The difficult part however is figuring out exactly which bus to catch and where to get on/off. Unfortunately very few of the buses have any signs in English and generally the conductors / ticket collectors will also have only a rudimentary grasp of English. This can make things challenging but definitely not impossible! Whilst I’m no expert, I generally try to memorize the bus numbers, cross my fingers, and utilize Google Maps! My two favorite buses are the bus from Victory Monument to Don Mueang Airport (17 baht what a bargain!) and bus number 62 from Phloen Chit to Sathorn. Each and every time I’ve found the staff extremely friendly and it is also a great way to practice my Thai!

No matter how you decide to get around, one thing’s for sure – you’ll have fun whilst doing it! Each and every option provides you with a different perspective of Bangkok and will undoubtedly make you feel more like a local every day!

Travel

Top Places to Visit in and Around Bangkok

Wat Phra Keaw at sunset, Bangkok, Thailand.

Bangkok has no shortage of things to keep you occupied during the weekends when you’re not studying (I hope that’s not every weekend!). Whether it’s museums, restaurants, shopping or socializing that you’re in to – Bangkok has you covered! As Webster University Thailand’s Bangkok campus is located right downtown, you don’t have to stray too far from home to find whatever it is that you desire.

Personally, after several months of living in Bangkok, I felt the need to get out of the city center and explore a little. Whilst the restaurants and nightspots around Sathorn and Silom are of course extremely fun, I had a yearning to escape from the chaotic Bangkok streets and explore some of the places that are really only known and visited by locals and expats. After a little bit of research, I discovered that there is literally an endless list of things to see and do and all is easily doable as a simple day trip.

Here are my top five places to visit both in and around Bangkok. I have tried to include something for everyone including a place for fitness activities, leisure, a mini-escape, shopping and ‘the wildcard’ – a collection of small activities that can be done together as a full day outing.

Bangkok’s Green Lung

If I were to ask you where the closest nature reserve to Webster Thailand’s Bangkok campus is, I imagine the response would be “a few hours drive away”. Surprisingly, for nature enthusiasts and those that are looking to substitute the concrete jungle for actual greenery, the answer is only about 40 minutes away! Located in Phra Pradaeng just on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok’s ‘green lung’ is an oasis for bike riders and those simply looking to chill out.

Cycling in Bangkok - Phra Pradaeng, Bangkok, Thailand

Cycling in Bangkok – Phra Pradaeng, Bangkok, Thailand

You can rent bikes upon arrival for 80-100 baht and there are numerous trails, markets and small cycling tracks for you to enjoy. With a definitively slower pace of life to downtown Bangkok, you’ll undoubtedly return feeling invigorated. If you want to splash out a little bit and make a weekend out of it, the Bangkok Treehouse Hotel is pretty special! To learn more about the “Green Lung” visit Bangkok Coconuts Day Tripper: Get some fresh air at Bangkok’s Green Lung article.

Samut Prakan – Ancient City

Ancient City or Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan province, north of Bangkok, Thailand.

Ancient City or Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan province, north of Bangkok, Thailand.

Samut Prakan province is most famous as the home of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. What many people don’t know is that it’s also home to the ‘Ancient City’, a 320-acre parkland in the geographic shape of Thailand that contains 116 different replicas of historical monuments. Only about 30 minutes from On Nut BTS by taxi, the park is open all weekend from 8am – 5pm. It is best explored by bicycle but a word of warning – come prepared! There is very little shade throughout the park so bring a hat, a bottle of water and plenty of sunscreen.

Koh Kret

As students that are into all the cool things, you’ve undoubtedly heard of many of Thailand’s ‘kohs’ (islands) including Koh Sumai, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Larn. What you may not know is that there is a tiny koh located smack bang in the middle of Bangkok. At a miniscule 3 kilometers wide by 3 kilometers long, Koh Kret packs a punch for what it lacks in size.

A stupa or chedi at Wat Poramai Yikawat in Koh Kret, Thailand.

A stupa or chedi at Wat Poramai Yikawat in Koh Kret, Thailand.

For such a small island you won’t be lacking for things to do. Famous for its artisans that make handmade terracotta pots, you can easily explore the island by bike, motorcycle or even on foot. There is also plenty of places to try some delicious Thai Mon foods (my favorite is the tort man nor galah). Only 20 minutes by boat from BTS Saphan Taksin, there is really no excuse not to go!

Chatuchak Market

For those of you that have been in Thailand a little while, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with Chatuchak Weekend Market. Just a short walk from Mo Chit BTS, it is full of clothing, books, food, drink and even animals. The first few times I visited the market I left after only a few hours because it was too hot and I kept wandering around in circles.

Night scene of colorful tenta and cityscape at Chatuchak market in Bangkok , Thailand

Night scene of colorful tenta and cityscape at Chatuchak market in Bangkok , Thailand

I would suggest that you arrive early before the sizzling midday sun catches you out. After all your main shopping is done, you’ll have plenty of time to spare to explore the tiny alleys that are full of creatures and critters of all shapes and sizes. There are also plenty of good places to sit down for a relaxing drink and a meal. The only hard part is – finding it! Keep an eye out for the signs at ad hoc intervals that’ll let you get your bearings and continue on.

The Weird, Wacky and Wonderful

Let’s be truthful – some people just aren’t into the everyday and ‘mundane’ but would rather tread their own path when it comes to exploring a new city. Surprisingly, Bangkok contains a treasure trove of such attractions that can all be visited without having to stray too far from the BTS line. Just a taste of these said ‘attractions’ include:

  • Nightingale-Olympic Department Store: With items on the shelf that date back to the 1960s, be prepared to take a step back in time.
  • Wang Saen Suk Hell Garden: Ever want to see visual depictions of people that go to Buddhist Hell? If so here is your place.
  • Amulet Market: Undoubtedly one of the biggest amulet collections in Bangkok. This is definitely a fascinating insight into Thai society.

As you can see Bangkok offers pretty much anything and everything to keep you occupied on your weekends. Don’t leave it to the last minute and get out there and start exploring today.