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CHEAP -- from 2.5 baht to 25 baht maximum from one edge of town to the other.
Don't need to explain to taxi driver where to go; buses go most everywhere
Compared to driving, no need to find parking, deal with one-way routes, bad drivers, etc.
During rush hour, the buses are crowded with no seating
Pollution is bad on the roads waiting for the bus (sometimes heat, too)
Need a bus map in English; destinations written on bus are in Thai (some exceptions)
Slower than taxis, skytrain, motorcycle taxis, driving
Most buses stop service around 10-11pm (last one leaves station to start route at 10pm)
If you shop much, then better to carry your bags back via a taxi or your car than on a bus
For those without cars, the buses offer savings over taxi fares, and you might be amazed how much the savings add up over a week. For those with cars, alternative transport can relieve you from a lot of Bangkok road hassles and risks.
However, when you take the bus, I suggest you keep a few hundred baht in your pocket for a taxi ride home, along with your address written in Thai, in case you get hopelessly lost ... or carried away on your adventure into the night.
Since the writing on most of the buses is all in Thai, i.e., there is little or no English, then the only two things to go by are the bus number and bus type. The buses don't automatically stop at every bus stop. They stop only if someone waves them down or someone is getting off. Turn your palm down and wave them in with your fingers.
There are several kinds of bus:
The "cream" (or orange) colored air conditioned buses are the newest and most spacious. The fare starts at 10 baht for the first several kilometers, and goes up slowly from there, to a maximum of 20 baht. These buses have started putting English destination signs on the side.
The blue air conditioned buses cost 8 baht for the first 8 kilometers, and the rate goes up slowly from there. A very long ride across town may cost around 20 baht.
The purple MicroBus charges a flat rate of 25 baht regardless of distance, but stops only if there is an available seat, i.e., does not have standing people. No problem except during rush hour when they sometimes fill up and won't stop for more passengers. Air conditioned. Need exact fare, as no change is given back.
The MicroBus is different in that there is no fare attendant. You drop money into a slot. See detailed instructions below.
This Microbus has a big number 3 on it, and most are 2-digit numbers. Others which have a small 4-digit number are shuttles to the nearest skytrain station. (These are a subset of Microbuses bought for the skytrain, but they didn't change their color or appearance otherwise.)
The open-aired (non-air-conditioned) red buses cost 3.5 baht during the day and 5 baht after midnight, flat rate regardless of distance.
The open-aired white buses cost 5 baht, sometimes a little more after midnight. Flat rate regardless of distance.
The small green buses should be avoided, but cost 2.5 baht. These have been called "the unloved buses" because they belch choking black pollution, the drivers are aggressive, and their routes are confusing and change often. Forget the bus maps. If you aren't Thai and familiar with where the particular bus is going (e.g., yelled out the window by the fare attendant), then don't take a chance.
All the buses, except the MicroBus, have an employee who walks up and down the bus to collect the fare. You take a seat first and wait for the fare-taking attendant to come to you. The fare of the air conditioned buses varies with distance, so when the attendant walks up to take your fare, you speak the name of your destination, e.g., "Sukhumvit 49". They usually know numbers in English. However, the fare of the non-airconditioned buses is a flat fee, whereby you need say nothing to the attendant. With both, they give you a tiny paper receipt. Keep this, because sometimes an auditor boards the bus and checks everyone's ticket.
The purple MicroBus is different (see photo). When you board, you drop 25 baht into the slot next to the driver. His side of the money drop box has a window, and he briefly looks thru the window to verify that you dropped in the correct amount. Then he presses a button and a receipt gets printed out. You should be sure to keep this receipt on hand, because the MicroBus has spot-checking auditors who sometimes board the bus and check all receipts. Where the receipt printer is located varies. Usually, it's next to the drop box, above and towards the inside of the bus. Sometimes it's behind you, against the window towards the inside of the bus.
When you want to exit the bus, you press the red button next to the door (or on the ceiling of the MicroBus) which makes a beep and/or turns on a red light for the driver to notice.
The air conditioned buses stop operations sometime between 10pm and midnight. Usually, the last bus leaves its station of origin at 10pm and arrives at bus stops sometime thereafter.
Most of the non-air-conditioned buses also stop at 10pm, but some run all thru the night, a subset of bus numbers/routes. However, the buses after midnight come less frequently, typically once or twice an hour, and many of these have no empty seats, though you won't be standing long since there's little traffic late at night. Also, you don't need an air conditioned bus at night, as the heat and pollution stop being issues.
Busis within provinces
What I call "community buses" are a variety of vehicles which serve specific short routes within a particular community. They vary from a pickup truck with retrofitted seats and a canopy on the back, usually painted red, to even smaller and cheaper vehicles built spefically for this purpose (not seen in farang countries) and which are a bit difficult to climb in and out, usually painted blue.
The red buses are seen frequently going up and down provincial city streets and two lane highways. They are also common in Bangkok for shuttling people in housing villages ("mu ban") to/from the main road, and by schools located off the main bus route.
They do not have bus stops, but pick up whoever waves them down. The students soemtimes pay in advance at the stop, whereas those who are picked up along the way pay when they exit. When you want to exit, you either press a button located on the ceiling, or else you holler. Rides are typically just a few baht, but I usually just hand them a 20 baht note and have them give me the change rather than try to figure out the fare.