Living in Bangkok?
Transportation in Bangkok
Getting a Thai Driving License
If you are planning a longer stay, but think you cannot do without driving yourself, you need to get a Thai driving license from the Department of Land Transportation (DLT). An International Driving Permit for foreign drivers in Thailand is valid for a limited duration only, especially for tourists.
To get your Thai license, you need to go to the head office (1032 Phahonyothin Road, Bangkok) or one of the local branches. It is usually required to bring along the following documents:
- your valid passport with a non-immigrant visa
- two passport-sized photographs (which can also be taken at the DLT office)
- a medical certificate
- your work permit or an official proof of residence
- your old license from home
Theoretically speaking, you must still attend a class on driving safely, a color-blindness test, as well as a written and a practical driving exam. However, you might be able to skip the last one or two steps.
Ask at the DLT if you can avoid the exam(s) in case you are in possession of a valid International Driving Permit. You should also ask your embassy in Thailand if your home country has an agreement for a license exchange with Thailand.
Your Thai driving license will be valid for one year. You must renew it after that.
Don’t forget to take out a car insurance policy that is as comprehensive as possible. Many other drivers in Thailand might not have any insurance at all, and you certainly don’t want to pay for any accident-related expenses from your own pocket.
Getting Around in Bangkok
As we have mentioned before the traffic chaos in Bangkok does not show any signs of decreasing in the near future — quite the opposite. As a result of the city’s rapid demographic growth and urban expansion, Bangkok’s infrastructure, including the road network and public transport, is overburdened and does not live up to daily demand.
Driving around Bangkok is only recommended if you live in a location, e.g. in a provincial suburb, with a long commute and bad public transport links. There are high import taxes on motor vehicles, and buying a new car of a well-known quality brand isn’t that cheap in Thailand, either.
While the roads in Bangkok are well maintained and most street signs are bilingual (i.e. in Thai and English), drivers — particularly motorcyclists — can be rather reckless. Furthermore, depending on your own country of origin, driving on the left side of the road might be unfamiliar and confusing to you.
Getting to and departing from Bangkok is relatively easy. Bangkok has two airports: the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport, about 30 km east of central Bangkok, as well as the old Don Muang Airport in the north.
Both airports are well connected to the city center, either with the Airport Link or by regular taxi services.
Getting the Hang of Public Transportation
Expatriates without a car usually prefer the Skytrain, the underground, or the Airport Rail Link to get around in Central Bangkok. If your home or your destination is located close to the Chao Praya River or the Khlong Saen Saeb, you may also make use of an express boat service for part of the way.
Bangkok’s waterways are less crowded than its streets. Unfortunately, even all these services combined cover only a certain part of the city, not to mention the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, as you can see from a glance at this overview map.
Getting By with Buses and Taxis
The bus network is vast, comprehensive, and cheaper than the Skytrain, but it’s also slow (due to buses getting stuck in traffic jams), crowded, and not always very comfortable. The cheapest buses, for example, are generally not air-conditioned.
The bus lines and private fleets of mini-vans and mini-buses which link the suburbs to the fast traffic nodes via the elevated expressways are very useful for expats who do not live in downtown Bangkok. The mini-vans in particular are often more comfortable than regular buses, and faster, too.
Last but not least, there’s always the possibility to call a cab, for instance, via a 24/7 call-a-taxi service such as Taxiradio (1681 in the Bangkok area). However, using taxis on a regular basis is anything but cheap. It will fast increase your expenses for (relatively) quick and reliable transport in Bangkok.
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