Bangkok is a very large city. As many as 12 million people live there. The city has no real center, and a rather limited transportation infrastructure relative to many other cities its size.
There was a time in the early 1990's when getting around Bangkok was close to a nightmare. You could easily find yourself stuck in traffic for several hours just to make a short trip. The situation has improved dramatically in recent years. In 1999 the city's first modern mass transit system opened, the elevated Bangkok Transit System, known as the Skytrain. Ridership initially did not meet expectations, but the Skytrain is a quick and easy way to get from one place to another and is now quite popular. In 2004 the Skytrain was joined by the city's first subway.
Bangkok Airport Transfers
The new Suvarnabhumi International Airport is located some distance from the center of town. The best way to get into town is by taxi or airport limosine. Although there is an express train to the airport, the cheapest and easiest option to most city center hotels is public metered taxi. There's a counter in the airport terminal to request a taxi. You pay a small surcharge on the metered amount when taking a taxi from the airport. The Airports Authority also runs its own taxi service, operated from its own counter just outside customs. The Airport taxis have a fixed rate depending on what part of town you're going to. It's generally about double what you would pay a regular metered taxi. There's also a limousine service.
Under no circumstances should you accept a ride from any touts or "unofficial" taxi services. Real taxis have a red and white TAXI-METER sign on the roof. All Airport Taxis are white with green plates. Many people have been robbed by seemingly friendly people offering them a ride to "a good cheap hotel they know."
There is also a train directly from the airport into town. However, unless you're traveling very light and your hotel is near one of the in-town stations, it's not the best option.
Getting Around Town
Bangkok Transit System
Better known as the Skytrain, the capitol's first mass transit system is a quick way to get around. The system isn't very big, so it probably won't go exactly where you going, but it can cut a lot of time from a cross town trip. In April 2002 the Skytrain made several improvements to help make using the system much easier for tourists. A three-day unlimited use ticket can now be purchased at all stations and many hotels for just 280 Baht. Included is a tourist guide and system map. Several stations now also have tourist information centers with qualified English speaking attendants to answer your travel questions. Information centers are located at Siam, Saladaeng and Taksin stations.
In 2004, the Skytrain was joined by Bangkok's first subway. The single line travels from the Hualompong main train station down Rama IV road, then up Asoke / Ratchadapisek Road, and finally under Ladprao and Kampangphet roads to Bang Sue train station. The subway intersects with the Skytrain at Silom Road (Skytrain Saladaeng station), Sukhumvit (Skytrain Asoke) and Chatuchak (Skytrain Mo Chit). The subway is an alternate means of getting to Chinatown, and also gives good access to the Siam Society, Queen Sirikit National Convention Center and the Chatuchak Weekend Market (Kampangphet station).
Taxis are cheap and air conditioned. They are required to use their meter, but some drivers will attempt to negotiate a rate, especially late at night. If you're in a well populated area, you can just wait for a driver willing to use the meter. All taxis have a red and white TAXI-METER sign on the roof, yellow license plates and either a two color paint job or a distinctive metalic color such as hot pink. Most two-tone taxis are yellow and green, with the second most common color scheme being blue and red.
These three wheeled carts, properly called a samlor, are generally the quickest way to get somewhere, but they're rather dangerous and if you take a long trip in them you'll be quite dirty at the end. Be sure to negotiate the fare before starting your trip.
Those aren't gangs you see hanging around at major intersections in colored vests, they're taxis. You ride pillion while the driver weaves through traffic. Useful if you have to get somewhere in a hurry, but a little dangerous. Note that helmets are required.
Driving yourself in Bangkok is definitely not recommended. However you can rent a car with a driver if you want to go someplace out of the way and don't want to bother with a taxi. You can rent a car with driver for as little as $25 a day.
The Chao Phraya river makes a great way to get around, since many of the major tourist sites are easily accessible from the river. Chao Praya River Express operates a regular boat service up and down the river. Sort of a bus on the water. Fares are extremely cheap. You can get just about anywhere for 10 Baht or less. There are piers next to many of the riverside hotels. Even if you aren't staying on the river, if you are staying close to the elevated train system, you can catch a train to the Taksin Bridge station. A River Express pier is on the river right below the station, and there is generally someone on duty at the pier to sell you a ticket and help plan your trip. The boats can be dangerously crowded during peak traffic times, so avoid rush hours.