The 10th World Film Festival – Nov 16-Nov 25

10th Edition World Film Festival, Bangkok, ThailandKriangsak “Victor” Silakong, Festival Director, brings you the 10th Edition of the World Film Festival here in Bangkok. A truly international event, the festival brings films from a wide range of countries including India, South Korea, Iran, Jordan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Myanmar, USA, France, and a host of others. A total of around 50 films will be shown.

The festival is well-known for promoting independent Thai film-makers and in the past has unearthed considerable local talent.

The event takes place at Esplanade Cineplex from November 16 to November 25 and tickets are only 100 baht a shot. It couldn’t be easier to get to – it’s on Ratchadaphisek Road and you can get there by the MRT underground – the Thailand Cultural Center station is right next to it, so no excuses. The festival opens Friday November 16 with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mekong Hotel – an hour-long film that was shown in Cannes earlier this year. 

Check out the festival website… 

Airport Rail Link to Khao San Road

Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link
Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link
Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link
Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link
Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link
Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link
Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu - the Airport Rail Link

It seemed like a project destined never to see completion, but it got there in the end. After endless setbacks and delays, the train line linking downtown now cuts the cost of the journey by about two thirds.

Construction on the project, estimated to have cost 25.9 billion Baht, began more than five years ago in July 2005. Due to be completed the following year, what followed instead was delay after delay, caused partly by the fact that old pillars from 1997’s failed Bangkok Elevated Road and Train System stood in the way of the new system. In the face of debate over their suitability for re-use and demands for compensation from the constructors of that old system, the State Railway of Thailand decided to ditch them and put up new ones. Legal wranglings with landowners who had encroached on the SRT’s land delayed things further, but the line – which now runs largely on a viaduct over the SRT’s main eastern railway – eventually began initial tests in October 2009. After a free trial service that began for passengers in April 2010, full operations finally got underway at the end of August 2011.
 
The train station isn’t the easiest thing to find in the sprawling complex that is Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. From the arrivals area on the second floor, it’s a further two-storey drop on the escalators before you’re deposited near the train. And while it’s well signposted to begin with, alongside signs for the shuttle bus, public taxi stand and so on, the closer you get, the thinner on the ground these signs become, until you just have to hope you’re going in the right direction. This isn’t helped by the fact that the area near the train station is so eerily quiet; you can really tell just how new the rail line is, and that it’s not yet being given much use – at least from this main station. As a result, it’s a bit of a funny set up down there; there’s a 7-11, a Mister Donut and a couple of other shops, but hardly anyone there to use them. When we passed through the station, our train was already ready to leave and yet was almost empty on departure – even when it arrived, full, at Phaya Thai, we spotted just five western tourists amidst the river of Thai commuters. It is inevitably going to take time for word to get out to travellers about the new service.

Two services connect Suvarnabhumi with the city – the fifteen-minute Express Line aimed at tourists, leaving the airport every half an hour and running directly to the City Air Terminal transport hub at Makkasan, and the commuter-targeted City Line, which departs every fifteen minutes and runs further than the Express, down to Phaya Thai, taking in eight stations along the way and doing the journey in half an hour. The City Line can also work well for tourists, save for the lack of space for luggage, particularly at rush hour when the train is packed to the rafters with Bangkokians on their way to and from work. And while these are new trains, the bench seats on the City Line are also rather narrow and less than comfortable – perfectly manageable for a thirty-minute journey if that’s all you’re doing, but perhaps not what you might be looking for if you’ve already endured a fifteen-hour donkey-class flight. The Express Line, meanwhile, offers just a little more comfort and has space for luggage. Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways passengers travelling to the airport on the Express Line can now check in their luggage at Makkasan before before continuing themselves, far less weighed-down, by train to the airport itself. The service is available daily between 8am and 9pm and requires check-in between 3 and 12 hours before flight departure.

As the train snakes its way out of the airport and hurtles across the city’s skyline, you get the gift of a perfect view of Bangkok and its weaving maze of ground-level roads and elevated flyovers and tollways, cars inching along them like ants. The change from the green fields distantly bordering the roads near the airport, to the gradual build-up of chaotic development and ever glitzier high-rise buildings as the train approaches the city’s commercial centre, makes for an equally buzzy lookout, worth the journey in itself.

For most, though, the real benefit of the opening of the Airport Rail Link will be just how much this new transport option simultaneously speeds up and cuts the cost of the almost thirty kilometre trek out to the airport. Since Suvarnabhumi opened, for most travellers a metered taxi has been the only reliable way to get to the city – now there’s an alternative. The travellers’ ghetto of Banglamphu, including the famous Khaosan Road, can now be reached by train for a third of the price of the equivalent taxi. The relative lack of public transport in the old city, including Banglamphu, means a journey here from the airport still isn’t as direct as it is to other parts of Bangkok – or as direct as it ought to be. Indeed, there was talk of improved transport connections from Suvarnabhumi to Banglamphu, as part of the Airport Rail Link, but these don’t appear to be showing any sign of materialising any time soon. Until the proposed subway link to the area is completed, a short taxi ride will still figure as part of any Khaosan Road-bound traveller’s journey, even if the rest of it can be done by train. 

Introductory fares were on offer while the Airport Rail Link was still in its infancy – until the end of last year, a journey anywhere on the City Line cost just 15B; since the start of January 2011 it has risen and the cost, anywhere between 15 and 45B, depends on the distance travelled – if you’re going the whole hog to Khaosan, figure on 45B for this leg of the journey. The one-hop journey from Suvarnabhumi to Makkasan has also risen from 100 to 150B. Both lines run between 6am and midnight, seven days a week. Coming from the airport, tickets are purchased from the machines and booths at the entrance to the station; on our visit, the ticket machines were all out of service, presumably because of the relative lack of use of the station at the time. After you’ve bought your ticket, a guard will check it (despite the purchase having been made fully in his sight) and you can then proceed down to the train.

Our test journey took us on the 45B City Line ride from Suvarnabhumi to Phaya Thai, where for 20B we connected with the Sky Train (BTS) to National Stadium station, near the MBK shopping centre. A 63B taxi (as ever, ironically more than both far longer-distance train journeys put together) then got us from National Stadium down to Khaosan Road, backpacker hub extraordinaire. Total journey cost: 128B. Compare that to a taxi that would set you back at least 250 to 350B – more if Bangkok’s notoriously gridlocked traffic is up to its old tricks. Plus you get to avoid tollway fees, which taxi passengers are responsible for in addition to the fare and which would otherwise set you back a total of an extra 70B.

The train, or at least the City Line, is admittedly slower than a direct taxi, though this is mainly because the journey time is bumped up more by the interchanges between the Airport Rail Link, BTS and then a taxi for the final leg – we set out from the Suvarnabhumi train terminal at 8am, and the City Line had us at Phaya Thai by half past the hour. It’s then about another fifteen minutes on the Sky Train from Phaya Thai to National Stadium, and our overall journey came in at just over an hour – not helped by the bumper traffic on the roads. That of course doesn’t compare overly favourably to the usual taxi journey time of around forty-five minutes, but take the Express Line and you stand far more chance of beating it. You’ll be at Makkasan in fifteen minutes, from where your best bet for minimising your taxi journey is to connect with the MRT underground subway system to Hua Lamphong, and then continue by road to the public transport desert that’s Banglamphu.

Whether by City or Express Line, you’ll get to Khaosan Road and its surrounds for a fraction of the cost of a taxi. Of course, if you favour the comfort of a door-to-door journey, or if you’re travelling with others and splitting the cost, then a taxi may well still win hands down. But, for Bangkok, a city world-renowned for its congestion, it’s a win either way – a new transport option on the scene can surely only be a good thing. 

CHRIS WOTTON is a twenty-something crazy about Thailand. After a first visit in 2008, he fell in love with the country and has since travelled its length and breadth, searching out local life – and local food! – while writing and researching for SE Asia travel guides and magazines. When not discovering and writing about Thailand, Chris studies French and German in his native UK, and runs an online shop selling authentic Japanese and Thai cooking ingredients.

Bangkok Underground – MRT

Bangkok Underground - MRT
Bangkok Underground - MRT
Bangkok Underground - MRT

The relatively recent addition of the Mass Rapid Transit network (MRT) has made traveling around Bangkok much easier and dramatically decreased the amount of traffic on the roads.

The MRT (also known as the Bangkok Subway or Bangkok Metro) is known as Rot FAI Die Din in Thai; ‘car with fire under ground’. It was opened by HM King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit at 19:19 on July 3rd, 2004.

The MRT is particularly useful for people traveling to/from Hualomphong Station as it runs from there round in a horseshoe shape to Bang Sue, which is also located next to a railway station.

The MRT comprises 18 stations and intersects with the BTS at three points: Chatuchak Park, Silom and Sukhumvit. It is impossible to get lost on the underground as there is only one line. Some of the most frequently visited stops include Kamphaeng Phet, Chatuchak Park, Silom, Asok (Sukhumvit) and Lumpini.

Single journeys are quite cheap, costing 15 baht for one station, whilst a ticket from one end of the line to the other costs 39 baht and takes about 25 minutes. You can also buy san unlimited one day pass for 120 baht, a three day pass for 230 baht and a thirty day pass for 800 baht. It is a good idea to carry a supply of 5 and 10 baht coins for the automatic ticket machines. You will be issued with a plastic disk, which you lightly press against the barrier to gain admittance.

The trains can carry 40,000 passengers an hour in each direction and arrive every five minutes during peak times – 07:00-09:00, 16:00-19:00 – and every seven minutes at non-peak times. There are also TV screens and soft music to entertain you while you wait.

Although traveling on the MRT is quite simple, you may want to bear the following tips in mind:

The MRT is air conditioned throughout, and sometimes gets so cold that it feels as though it were designed by polar bears! Take a sweater if traveling more than a couple of stops.

If you are visiting Lumpini Park, do not get of at Lumpini Station but exit at Silom Station instead. Lumpini Station is close to Lumpini Stadium and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Phaholyothin Station, rather than Lad Phrao Station, is also the closest station to Central Lad Phrao.

Bangkok Underground - MRTAlthough Chatuchak Park Station is the closest station to Chatuchak Park, Kamphaeng Phet Station is the most convenient station for Chatuchak Weekend Market (J. J. Market).

It is worth bearing in mind that the Thailand Cultural Center Station is actually quite a distance from the Thailand Cultural Center. Visitors to the center may want to get a taxi from the station.

See the MRT website.

Crosstown Traffic

Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailands
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand

“Don’t s**t yourself that’s the secret,” I’d never been on a motorbike taxi before and they were the words of advice my mate Chris had given me about riding on one. He said, “Most accidents happen when farangs get on the back and don’t know what’s going on. They panic and try to jump off when it gets a bit scary.”

At the time I was trying my best not to s**t myself. We were going the wrong way down a one way lane and a bus was coming towards us. The sheer terror was incalculable, I’m struggling for metaphors, it was like being on a motorbike heading straight for an oncoming bus. I covered my face with my hands, a few seconds later I uncovered my eyes and saw that we were ten feet (that’s about 3 meters for those of you from mainland Europe) away from colliding head on with the bus.
 
I made the sign of the cross and wondered weather to jump or not but the driver glided deftly to his left and slid through a gap about two feet wide (that’s about an inch and a half wider than your humble narrator for those of you from mainland Europe). The slipstream of the bus to my right and of the taxi to my left made the hairs on my arms face the wrong way.
 
When we got to my destination I paid the driver the prearranged sum of sixty baht although I genuinely felt like “tolchocking the brazny vesch in the litso real horrorshow for making me kaki my breshies which at the time were the heigth of fashion” (if you don’t understand that last little phrase try reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess although the diction gets the general sentiment across).
 
I’d always sworn never to get on a motorbike taxi, but that day matters were quite urgent, I had 20 minutes to get from Sukumvit to Thai Air’s offices on Silom to get my flight changed or loose it altogether. Once the panic was over and everything was sorted out I heaved a sigh of relief, reflected on the journey and thought how convenient that particular option had actually been.
 
The return journey to my hotel wasn’t that urgent, but I weighed up the other modes of transport available and actually opted for a motorbike again. This time, as I was relieved and happy to be staying in the kingdom for another week and not so petrified of the consequences having managed a successful maiden voyage, I actually enjoyed it. I sat back on the seat, lit a cigarette at some traffic lights, waved flirtatiously at a young lady in a taxi and regretted not having brought anything to read with me.
 
When I got back to base camp I pondered for a while over another facet of Bangkok that makes it so enchanting, there are just so many ways to get around in this great city. Here’s an outline of some of the different options available.
 
Walking

Pros

If you smell some nice food being cooked you can stop and try some.

Cons

Within a hundred yards you’ll have sweat accumulating in every nook and cranny of your body and within two or three you’ll need a change of clothes.

Dos

Wear something light and loose fitting.

Don’ts

Bother unless it’s journeys of less than a couple hundred yards or so.

Motorbike Taxi

Pros

They’re a very quick efficient way of getting from A to B, especially in heavy traffic. Can be exhilarating. Cons You may need a change of underwear. If you have back problems repeated motorbike journeys can aggravate them.

Do’s

Agree on a price before setting off, and get the driver to come down 10 to 20% on his opening price. Insist on wearing a helmet. Keep your knees tucked in.

Don’ts

Panic or wobble about.

Tuk Tuk

Pros

They’re a quaint entertaining way of travelling. They can cut through traffic, but not as well as motorbikes. They carry more than one passenger.

Cons

The drivers tend to have commission deals set up with tailors shops, bars, massage parlours, jewellery stores etc. and will constantly bother you to take a visit at no extra charge.

Do’s

Knock them down on their asking price.

Don’ts

Believe they can take everywhere in Bangkok for only 20 Baht!

Taxi

Pros

Taxi’s can be a nice comfortable way of getting around town. They’ve got aircon, are amply protected from the rain and have plenty of storage space for luggage and shopping. If three or four of you share the fare it can actually work out cheaper than the other modes of transport.

Cons

They sometimes have the aircon on too high and aren’t too good at cutting through traffic. The drivers have a habit of talking complete nonsense about how bad the traffic is, how little money they earn. If they hear you mention an English Premiership Football team they will furnish you with their intimate knowledge of the side ad nauseum. If they hear you speak even a single word of Thai they assume that you’re fluent and will speak freely and openly to you in their dialect despite your protestations that you only speak a little bit.

Do’s

Wear a seatbelt. Insist on them using the meter instead of letting them quote you a price.

Don’ts

Mention a Premiership Football team, especially one that’s doing well, or they will bore your socks off.

Bus

Pros

I’ll put my hand on my heart and admit to it I know next to nothing about the buses in Bangkok, so if you don’t like me personally their main “pro” is that you can be 100 % certain never to run into me on one of them, although apparently they’re very cheap. From what I can work out they are either air conditioned or non air conditioned and those who use them tell me they’re a good way of getting about and cover virtually the entire city. Cons They go head on at you when you’re on to the Thai airways office on Silom on a motorbike in an emergency and make you soil your breeches.

Do’s

Expect to be one of too many people jammed onto them and have to listen to very disconcerting engine noises. Find out from somebody how to go about using them.

Don’ts

Expect any help from me!

River Boats

Pros

Bangkok’s River Boats or River Taxis a very very cool way of getting about. They’re fast, cheap, exciting and offer some outstanding views of the city. Bangkok was known as the “Venice of Asia” because as recently as the 1980’s the best way to commute was by canal although recently most of them have been closed off because they became polluted although a couple of the main routes (Chao Prahaya and Klong Saem (sic)) are still used. A lot of people visiting Thailand form the west want to see the old Thai culture and travelling my river boat will give you that on old charming creaky timbered boats. The Chao Prahaya boat is pretty easy to use and is quite tourist friendly and there’s a pier at Banglampu near Khao Sarn Road and near Wat Po, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace.

Cons

The routes they travel are a bit limited and there is little tourist information on them, so unless you’re on the Cha Prahaya one ask somebody who knows, if you use them it may take a while before you know your way around. You might get a bit of water splashed on your face and have a bit of a nerve jangle getting on and off them but it’s part of the fun. If you don’t like me you’ve got the chance of running into me on one of them.

Do’s

Give them a whirl. Don’ts Fall into the river, or expect it to go without hitch, but you’re on holiday so what does it matter ?

SkyTrain

Pro’s

The Skytrain or BTS was opened on the Kings Birthday on December 1999 and was a real milestone in the development of Bangkok as a modern city. There are two lines which cross the majority of the city and intersect near Siam Square. It’s a fast, safe efficient way of crossing the city and can offer some pretty good cityscapes from above ground level. If you’re in a hurry through the business districts of town it can be the best way to travel.

Cons

It can be a bit overcrowded at time so expect the odd game of sardines and it can be a bit disorientating at times, a lot of people when they first start to use it have to ponder about which exit they take so expect a few wrong turns during your visit but it’s still a good way of getting about, oh and I got my pocket picked on there once but don’t let that put you off, everybody who knows me will tell you how unlucky I am.

Do’s

Give it a try, enjoy the views and zip through the congestion.

Don’ts

Get aggravated like I sometimes do at the dumb visitors who can’t work the ticket machines or the barriers.

Subway (MRT)

Pros

The Subway/MRT or “Mass Rapid Transport” system is the latest weapon in Bangkok’s artillery as it prepares to do battle for the title of number one 21st Century city. It opened in around 2003 and after a couple of false starts and hiccups it now runs quickly and efficiently across the city from Hua Lamphong (the Central Railway Station) to Chatuchak Market in the North and intersects at two or three places with the Skytrain.

Cons

The aircon is sometimes set a little bit too high so when it isn’t rush hour you can feel the cold and a lot of its stops are non tourist destinations. The map and ticketing systems at the stations are a little bit on the vague side if you don’t know your way round Bangkok.

Do’s

Give it a try.

Don’ts

Worry about it if you don’t give it a whirl, the views aren’t that spectacular with it being underground and anyway it’ll still be there when you come back.

Don’t fotget there’s no a Railway Link (Airport Link or SRT) that’s a good way to get around Bangkok.

CHEERS !