38

I find it extremely difficult to get off at the correct bus stop in Thailand, mainly for the reasons as:

  • The bus stop usually doesn't have a recognizable sign on which stop it is.

  • Thai characters and its words are pretty hard to make out within just a few seconds for non-natives, while Google Maps only show the name in Thai.

  • The bus doesn't make an announcement to inform passangers of the next bus stop. This is unlike countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, which have also a language barrier but make an announcement in English.

  • There is no such app available like CityMapper in Bangkok. This is also unlike in Tokyo and Seoul.

  • There is no electric bulletin board in the bus, that displays where the bus is right now and which is the next station, etc... (unlike Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan).

  • Counting a number of bus stops might work at times, but this has two main problems as well;

    1. You must keep concentrating on the counting

    2. A bus doesn't stop at every single stop, if no person gets on nor off.

  • A bus conductor doesn't speak English at all.

Moreover, in some buses you pay to a conductor a varying amount of fares depending on your destination. Thus you should not get off at the wrong bus stop once on board, as it might turn to a different amount of fares.

For me it is a nightmare to take a bus in Thailand (I'm in Bangkok, if it is relevant). How can you, a non-native tourist, make sure you get off at the correct stop? The only clue seems to be that you keep gazing on the Google Maps with GPS turned on, and use your gut instinct to get off at the correct stop...

  • 12
    @JonathanReez so that's a "yes, it's a nightmare" then? – djna Dec 19 '16 at 14:41
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    @djna the answer is to use Google Maps to track your position – JonathanReez Dec 19 '16 at 15:04
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    @JonathanReez it's an answer, and a jolly good one. However not everybody has a suitable mobile device, with connectivity, suitable data plan, power etc. Indeed part of the fun of being somewhere new can be to use other approaches. – djna Dec 19 '16 at 15:10
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    @JonathanReez: "Ask yourself the same question for your home country, under the assumption that you don't speak European languages and can't read Latin. The answer should be the same." - not necessarily, as in some places, vehicles display the next stop (or even an overview of the entire line with a position marker) on internal displays. This way, even without knowing about the local script, you have way more than just a few seconds to compare stop names. – O. R. Mapper Dec 19 '16 at 17:38
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    My general point is that technology solutions are indeed wonderful but you need alternatives for the situations when they don't work. With suitable planning, pre-loading maps, carrying additional batteries etc., you can minimise the chances of things not working, but even so you will hit glitches. And it's actually quite good fun to try low-tech approaches sometimes! – djna Dec 19 '16 at 17:45
28

Even when I can read signs, it's not always easy to navigate public transport. [Try the New York subway system, although there may be announcements they are not always intelligible. Add in a few service alterations (The downtown F will be running on the Q) and all kind of fun may ensue ;-]

Strategies for buses in general, not just in Bangkok:

1). Research in advance. Try at least to have learned the correct pronunciation of your destination. [Note Alissa Lee's comments that in some countries, pronunciation may be difficult, so perhaps a written text may be useful.] Identify landmarks on the route. Keep track of where you are.

2). Look out for friendly locals. Even if you don't share a common language it's often possible to get help. Have a good sized map to point to. If early in your journey you can make contact with someone it is often possible to get guidance.

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    Even when working in Japan, I always relied on "friendly locals". There was no shortage of them, wanting to try out their English – Mawg Dec 19 '16 at 16:32
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    Things may have changed in the 20 years since I lived in Bangkok, but let's assume they haven't. In which case: don't show your map to the bus conductor, you'd be wasting your time. I don't mean that disparagingly, but I found time after time that maps (even of familiar places) are simply meaningless to Thai people. They never use them. If you ask for directions, they won't draw a sketch map, they'll just take you there. Trying to teach "turn left", "turn right" in a classroom using a simple map of a fictitious town failed completely as a strategy! – Tim Morley Dec 19 '16 at 21:58
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    @Tim Morley : that's fascinating, never occurred to me that maps would not be understood. – djna Dec 19 '16 at 23:05
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    @Mawg: When I tried relying on "friendly locals" for finding my way in Bangkok, I was sent into three different directions by consecutively asking three different people (while heading to the same place!). I had the distinct impression that none of these "friendly locals" had the slightest idea where I should go, but none of them would want to admit to that lack of knowledge, so they'd just send me somewhere. – O. R. Mapper Dec 19 '16 at 23:13
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    Asking "friendly locals" isn't going to work in Bangkok, considering the question the OP is likely to be travelling through non tourist areas where people speak none or little English. Also, with it's 44 consonants, 28 vowel forms, and four tone diacritics, the Thai language is notoriously difficult to pronounce for foreigners, it's not like, for eg, Spanish where you can murder the pronunciation and still muddle through, add the fact that Thais are very polite & non-confrontational, if they don't understand what you're saying they might just agreeably, nod, smile & randomly gesture. – Alissa Lee Dec 20 '16 at 12:26
16

Notice that the main thoroughfares in Bangkok are all called Thanon something (where Thanon is sometimes anglicised as Road), and they all have small streets, often dead ends, sprouting off them all the way along, which are called Soi something (anglicised as Something Alley), and they are usually also numbered sequentially along the Thanon, with odd Soi numbers along one side of the Thanon and even Soi numbers on the other. It's not quite as regular as Manhattan's streets and avenues, but it's half way there!

So let's say you're looking for Sukhumvit Soi 57, i.e. the 57th side street off Sukhumvit Road. Jump on a bus that goes along Thanon Sukhumvit and look out for numbered Soi signs. You notice Soi 30, so you know you need to look out of the opposite side of the bus for the odd numbers. Here's the blue sign that tells you you're at Sukhumvit Soi 53, so hop off at the next stop and you won't have far to walk.

Enjoy Bangkok!

  • This might work when travelling a short distance along one major road like Sukhumvit, but outside the main areas road signage is very hit and miss & if your constantly changing roads, sois and expressways( which is more likely in Bangkok ) then counting soi numbers wont help. – Alissa Lee Dec 20 '16 at 10:57
14

Write the following phrase in Thai script on a piece of paper:

"Please tell me when when we reach < insert destination >"

Then show this piece of paper to the conductor/driver when paying your fare.

The phrase in Thai script is: รบกวนบอกผมลงรถถ้าถึง < insert destination here > แล้ว

Example, if you are going to 'Sukhumvit Rd' you would write:

รบกวนบอกผมลงรถถ้าถึง ถนนสุขุมวิท แล้ว

ถนนสุขุมวิท being Sukhumvit Rd

My advice is to print this phrase in large font(for the long sighted as many Thais don't wear glasses even if they need) or store on your phone, then just insert the destination name for each journey.


If you feel brave you can try to pronounce it, here are the Thai phonetics in Latin alphabet:

róp guan bòk pŏm long rót tâa tĕung < insert destination here > láew

Be sure to research the tonal markings shown above the letters to ensure proper pronunciation ...

  • 6
    In a year in Shanghai, where I travelled by taxi, as opposed to bus, I found only one taxi driver who spoke a little English. Consequently, I had a wallet full of business cards, some bilingual, most (strangely) printed only in English, on the rear of which, I had hotel staff or my co-workers print the equivalent in Chinese. With cards for hotel, office, shopping mall, cinema, bars, tourist sites, etc, I got around just fine. Only two snags: 1) You have to get there first, somehow, in order to collect a card, and 2) don’t ever, ever, ever forget your cards :-) – Mawg Dec 20 '16 at 7:45
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    With it's 44 consonants, 28 vowel forms, and four tone diacritics, the Thai language is notoriously difficult to pronounce for foreigners, add the fact that Thais are very polite so if they don't understand what you are saying they might just nod and smile rather than asking for clarification...& if they do ask for clarification will the OP understand what they are saying? – Alissa Lee Dec 20 '16 at 10:51
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – RoflcoptrException Dec 26 '16 at 9:21
8

As far as I am aware, the Public Transit Navigation option never made it back into Google Maps but Citymapper and Moovit both will happily warn you with a voice to get off the bus.

  • 1
    I forgot to mention it, but CityMapper isn't available in Bangkok (it is in Tokyo and Seoul). I'll edit it once I get back home. And check Moovit later. – Blaszard Dec 19 '16 at 14:47
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    moovit.silk.co/page/Bangkok-Thailand should work – Mawg Dec 20 '16 at 7:46
3

Some possibilities:

  • Count blocks instead of stops.
  • How good are the buses at keeping to a schedule? Use the original mobile device, the one on your wrist.
  • Find out the latitude and longitude of your destination, then use a (not necessarily phone-based) GPS.
  • Look for numbers, rather than words, on signs. (A bit of pre-research with the "street view" on Google Maps might help.) All I can say is, my God, Manhattan has the right idea: it's a shame that not literally every other place with roads follows it!
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    A grid requires design and fairly flat land. Many, and probably most, of the world's cities were not designed but just grew organically. – David Richerby Dec 20 '16 at 0:48
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    Your second point in moot. Bangkok is known for not being able to keep schedule. First point is possible with detailed map in hand with focused mind. – vasin1987 Dec 21 '16 at 7:55
  • @DavidRicherby: "A grid requires design and fairly flat land." - And the will to create a grid rather than something that looks organic or otherwise irregular and varied. – O. R. Mapper Dec 21 '16 at 10:40
  • @O.R.Mapper If something comes down to charm vs. practicality, go with practicality. It isn't long before charm without practicality stops seeming charming. – Robert Lozyniak Dec 26 '16 at 1:44
  • @RobertLozyniak: Practical reasons why city planners in some places opt against large-scale grid layouts include that like that, the street plan gets more varied (to accommodate different requirements and help orientation), long straight roads can be avoided more easily, and grid-like roads would be irregularly interrupted, anyway (dead-ends, pedestrian precincts, ...). As for your reference to Manhattan, linearly numbering streets does not seem all that practical once a city grows towards all directions, new roads can be inserted in between, and the city might even merge with adjacent towns. – O. R. Mapper Dec 28 '16 at 13:36
2

As of July 2017, many buses (including the non-air-conditioned ones) in Bangkok have a television installed in the front. Though the font size is small, you can see the name of the next stop in Thai and English from anywhere in the front half of the bus.

I have read that they will install the television with a ticket machine that supports the subway/skytrain cards by the end of 2017.

1

Some of the buses have conductress. Sometimes I ask the conductress to remind me to get off at the right place. And sometimes I ask young people nearby if there is one. Thai people are friendly. They always help me and give me the direction.

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