Tag - transport

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.

Types of Transport in Malaysia

Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia

Transport in Malaysia tends to be safe and reliable and there aren’t really any no-go areas of the country. This usually means that getting around Malaysia is pleasant and hassle free.

However, most people return to their home town or village a day or two before public holidays, and public transport is usually very crowded during this time. Try to avoid travelling during public holidays and especially major festivals such as Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.

Plane
Travelling across Malaysia by aeroplane is generally quite cheap and certainly the easiest way to get around. The main airline is Malaysia Airlines and booking in advance online can save quite a bit of cash. Cheap flights are also provided by AirAsia.

Boat
There are regular ferries running between the mainland and the numerous islands located just off the east and west coasts of Malaysia. Tickets are usually bought in advance from booths on the mainland. In a few states, such as Sarawak, express boats are the most common form of public transport, carrying passengers down the rivers and streams that run through the areas.

Train
Malaysia’s railway network is fast and efficient, consisting of three types of service: express, limited express and local trains. Express trains are reserved for 1st and 2nd class passengers, limited express trains usually just 2nd and 3rd coaches, while local trains are usually limited to 3rd class. There are overnight sleeper births available on Express and limited express trains. Tourist rail passes are a good way to save money if you planning on travelling by train a lot and last for five days, ten days and fifteen days.

The Jungle Railway runs across Malaysia, stopping at every station between Tumpat and Gemas. This service is 3rd class only and there is no air-conditioning or reservations, meaning that the trains tend to be rather hot and crowded. However, the stunning jungle views more than make up for the discomfort.

Bus
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Malaysia and the best place to catch the bus and guarantee a seat is at the town’s bus terminal. There are luxury buses available for long-distance travel and these can be booked a couple of days in advance. The air-conditioned buses can be rather chilly, so take a blanket with you. Although they tend to be rather slow, local buses are regular and reliable.

Car and motorcycle
Driving in Malaysia is safe and convenient as the roads are good and there are plenty of new cars available to hire. Road rules are basically the same as in Britain and Australia, with right-hand drive cars that stick to the left side of the road. Petrol is generally cheap and motorbikes can also be hired from guesthouses in tourist towns and cities. Although Malaysian drivers are generally good, drivers still need to be careful, especially in large towns and cities as animals often roam freely across the roads.

Taxis
Taxis can be found in all cities and larger towns and usually drive around looking for customers. You will usually need to negotiate the fare in advance and it is a good idea to ask the staff at you guesthouse for an estimate of the going rate.

Trishaws
These bicycle rickshaws seat two people and can be a romantic way to see the sights.

Money Matters in Burma

Money matters in Burma
Money matters in Burma
Money matters in Burma

Myanmar’s official currency is Kyat, pronounced “Chat” and usually written as K. The Kyat comes in K1, K5, K10, K15, K20, K45, K50, K90, K100, K200, K500, and K1000 notes and is the best way to pay for small items. US Dollars are also accepted throughout Myanmar and larger fees such as hotel rooms and transport are quoted and paid for in US Dollars.

Changing your Money
Plenty of people will offer to change your money for you as you travel around Myanmar, although the best places to change money are guesthouses, shops and travel agencies. Of course, exchange rates fluctuate between places, so make sure you take a good look around before handing over your cash.

You can only exchange US Dollars and Euros, and rates tend to be slightly better in Yangon than in the rest of Myanmar. Check the serial number on your bank notes carefully as US Dollars that start with AB or BC are often refused.

ATMs
There are no ATMs at all in Myanmar, so it is a good idea to stock up with cash or traveller’s cheques before entering the country. Traveller’s cheques can be changed at a few chic hotels in Yangon for a commission of between 3% and 10%.

Credit Cards
Although not widely accepted, some major hotels, airlines, international shops and restaurants will accept credit cards, but Master Card is not currently accepted in Myanmar.

Tipping
It is common practice to add 5 to 10 per cent to hotel and restaurant bills as a tip.

It is important to remember that the import and export of local currency is strictly prohibited.

Lampang, Thailand

Lampang, Thailand
Lampang, Thailand
Lampang, Thailand
Lampang, Thailand

Lampang Province is situated in the northern region of Thailand. The capital city is formerly known as Nakhon Lampang but nicknamed Meung Rot Mah (Horse Cart City), which refers to the fact that horse-drawn carriages are still a major form of public transport. Indeed, slowing down a pace or two and taking a tour in an attractive traditional horse cart is a great way to explore the city.

Lampang boasts a long history which dates back to more than 1,000 years. This is an area rich in archaeological evidence, which reflects the ancient civilisations of Hariphunchai, Lanna and Burma. There is a great deal of interesting architectural styles to admire in this area. A good place to start is at Ban Sao Nak (House of Many Pillars), which is a huge teak house built in 1985.

 

Many animal lovers come to the area to visit the National Elephant Institute, which was formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. Here you can interact with and learn all about the mighty beasts in a natural environment and also volunteer to take can of them for a few days.

Lampang is also an area of outstanding natural beauty. Nearby to the capital city you will find the stunning Doi Luang National Park and the Chae Son National Park. There are also many sparkling waterfalls in the area such as the enormous 110 tiered Wang Kaew, Wang Thong, Than Thong and Nam Tok Jae Sawn. Take a swimming costume as most of these waterfalls have large pools for bathing, a great way to cool down and relax in the heat of the day.

Of course, in an area of such profound beauty and history it is only natural that these aspects should be reflected in the local temples. Temples of note include Wat Si Rong, Wat Si Chum and Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, which was once home of the Emerald Buddha. Also look out for Wat Pongsanuk, Wat Chedi Sao and the extremely pretty Wat Phra That Lampang Luang.

Located 25 kilometers from Lampang is the bustling Thung Kwian market, where you can sample the local produce have a cheap meal at one of the many small stalls and pick up a bargain or two.

Another great place to visit is the cotton weaving villages of Jae Hom and Mae Tha, where you can watch the cotton being woven on traditional wooden cotton looms. This is also a good place to buy the wide range of different products that are skillfully created from the local cotton.

Bangkok or bust – a further episode from down under!

OK fellow travelers, you have decided on a holiday to Thailand. You have prepared yourself by buying books and looking at travel brochures. Spoken to your friends who have been there before, and you are ready to experience all that is on offer. Well now I will let you know the things that you don’t know.

This report is generalities because your age, sex, budget, mode of transport and destination are unknown. Therefore for this episode we will concentrate on Bangkok and feature other destinations later. Is that OK? We also assume that you are flying in to Bangkok.

As you approach and prepare for touch down, you can see the size of Bangkok from the window. But only night flights can heighten the sense of excitement as you stare at the fairy lights of the city, which disappear into the distance. Bangkok is immense and not to be taken as a sleepy backwater. After you disembark it is easy to follow the directions or just follow the other passengers to the immigration area where they check your passports, visas etc.

Depending on the time of arrival the duty free shops may be open as well as cafes and retail shops. Toilet and shower facilities are available for your convenience, and very important, there are Automatic Teller Machines located in the walkways. You should use these machines to obtain Thai currency. These machines are connected to the banking system and you will get the best possible rate of exchange without any additional fees.

Once you have passed through immigration descend the stairs and collect your luggage. Now you are required to pass through customs, and lets hope you are not the one with contraband and get caught. Every thing is going good right? As you exit the door to the public area persons offering taxis or cars will swoop you on. If at this stage you have not changed money at an ATM then there is a moneychanger near the door. They don’t give a good rate and charge a fee. Try to avoid this situation.

Now proceed outside and you will see the ‘taxi meter’ stand with lots of cabs. You go to a booth to organize the ride to your destination and there is a surcharge. You [the customer] also have to pay the toll. Now if you arrive on a Sunday tell the driver not to take the toll way, as the traffic is light and no quicker. The shuttle bus is also located in this area and around 70 baht for a ride into town. The train station is across the road, and once again depending on time of your arrival dictates what mode of travel you should take.

For those who are traveling on organized tours someone may pick you up and spirit you away to your hotel. But for the budget or backpacker where every dollar counts, it should be made aware to you that there are thousands of rooms available?everywhere. After check in, it may be time to explore or snore. Factors of age, time and jet lag will determine your activities on arrival. However lets say after 2-4 hours you are ready to explore. Armed with your translator or dictionary or what ever, out you go full of confidence. Use your brains ask the management of the hotel about the immediate area and a few places to see. Perhaps they will suggest a private car or tour. It is not a bad idea for the first day until you get your bearings.

Remember there are some unhappy experiences to be had as well if you fall into the wrong company. But you are an adult now and can handle anything, right? Wrong? Not in a country that speaks a tongue other than your own. Bangkok is not a city for the faint hearted but its vibrancy and love for fun is hard to be beaten. Many beautiful sights can be seen in this city devoted to ‘Sanuk’.

Good Luck and I hope this story adds a little to your life.

Garry

Transport in Thailand

Transport in Thailand
Transport in Thailand
Transport in Thailand
Transport in Thailand

Outside Bangkok, there are fewer transport options and in many places you need to have your own transport. However, motorbikes and bicycles can be found in most places and are cheap to hire.

Motorcycle taxis are usually available in most parts of Thailand, even in small towns. Look out for clusters of young men wearing orange jackets with numbers printed on the back in Thai. Remember to agree the price before you get on the back of the motorbike.

Meter taxis are usually only available in large cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket. In the rest of the country many interesting alternatives are available.

Buses are available throughout Thailand. However, outside Bangkok the destinations are rarely printed in English and you cannot expect the conductor to speak English. The best way to make sure that you arrive at you destination is to ask someone (preferably at a travel agency or tourist cafe) to write the address in Thai and teach you how to pronounce it correctly. Also, most buses fill up quickly and are crammed to bursting point. In order to guarantee a seat, get on at a bus station.

Intercity Coaches are a fine, cheap way to travel around Thailand. The good road system means that they are quite comfortable and travel between most cities, large towns and tourist destinations. Much cheaper than the train (a journey of 220 kilometres costs around 90 Baht) as with local buses it is best to embark at the bus station to guarantee a seat.

Songthaew means ‘two rows’ in Thai, referring to the two rows of wooden benches that line the walls of these small, open-backed mini vans. Very common in small towns and villages, songthaews follow a designated route which is not always obvious. It is best to flag down the driver, state where you want to go and add the word ‘mai?’ to the end. Fares typically cost between 6 and 20 baht.

Saburus are a more modern and comfortable version of the songthaew, with padded seats. Expect to pay about double the price of a songthaew, although many people say the comfort is worth the extra few baht.

Known as Samlaews, these are the same as the bicycle rickshaw, which can be found all over India. Not exactly the fastest or most comfortable form of transport and only recommended for short journeys, although they can be a nice way to get to know a place or enjoy a romantic sunset ride.