With the opening of Bangkok Airport’s new high speed train service into the city centre, visitors now have a choice of train or taxi – which one is best to take?
The new express train link from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport into Bangkok’s city centre recently opened after numerous delays. The official name for the link is SARL – Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link. New arrivals at the airport can now go catch the Express train straight from the Airport’s basement floor level and arrive 15 minutes later at Makkasan station, which is located in the city centre.
Sounds great, right? Well, it is – up to a point. The brand new train station facilities at Suvarnabhumi and Makkasan are very impressive if slightly oppressive looking – everything is the same uniform grey as the airport and city’s MRT stations. Finding the train in the airport is easy – just keep heading down to Level B1. Buying a ticket is straightforward – get the Express ticket (currently 150 baht one way) for the high speed train, or the City ticket (35 Baht) if you want to stop at every station along the line.
The Express trains are custom built for newly arrived passengers with lots of luggage, with big luggage racks at the doors and above seats. The City trains don’t have these facilities and are also a lot more crowded with commuters, so it’s probably wise to get the Express train. The Express train departs every half an hour at 15 minutes past and 45 minutes past the hour.
The ride into Bangkok is super smooth and super fast. What would normally take at least 30 minutes by taxi takes just 15 on the train. Once at Makkasan, passengers can transfer to the City line and continue onto Phaya Thai BTS stop or exit from Makkasan station and catch a taxi or go onto the Underground MRT system at nearby Petchaburi station. There are no downwards escalators in Makkasan so it makes getting luggage down the stairs difficult – there is only a small lift too. Quite how this got neglected during the planning stages is hard to figure out. I didn’t see any luggage trolleys in Makkasan station but I might have just missed them.
Here’s where things get tricky. Makkasan is currently not connected to the Petchaburi station, so you have to walk around 200 metres over a couple of busy roads and a train track to get to the MRT. It’s not clearly signposted and it would definitely not be fun at night. If you’ve got big luggage, it will be a nightmare. (And once you get into the MRT station, the security guards will ask you to open your suitcases to check inside before they’ll let you onto the platform). However, if you’re travelling light, it’s extremely convenient – you can then head to anywhere on the MRT and Skytrain public transport routes. A connecting walkway is coming, but it’s not sure when it will be completed.
Similarly, if you continue from Makkasan onto Phaya Thai, you have to take all your luggage off the Express train and then fit it onto the City line trains, which don’t have luggage racks or much room.
Alternatively you can go outside Makkasan station and catch a taxi to go on to your destination. To catch a taxi at Makkasan SARL station, head for Exit 3 when you are in the Arrivals section. You go down one level from the trains to the Exits. Exit 3 is where the taxis wait. If you walk out of another exit you will be further down the station slip road and unable to flag one down.
Given Makkasan is right next to the Asoke-Petchaburi intersection which is notorious for traffic jams, you could quite literally get in the cab and then end up stuck in traffic almost immediately. It doesn’t really make sense to get the train unless your destination is fairly nearby in the Sukhumvit area.
There’s a map of all hotels around Makkasan station on Agoda – you’ll need to drag the map around a little to locate Makkasan station to begin with. All these hotels will probably need a short taxi ride to the Makkasan Station to begin with. You can also check out the map of hotels around Petchaburi MRT which is right next to Makkasan SARL station.
If your destination is not near Makkasan, it might make more sense just to get a taxi to begin with? (See previous posts about Where To Find Bangkok Airport Taxis and how to avoid the touts, and the cost of a Bangkok Taxi to Khao San Road).
Luggage is, I think, the real issue here. Given a taxi from the airport to most places in Bangkok – Sukhumvit, or Khao San Road for example – costs anywhere between 250 to 350 Baht including airport tax and tollway fees, the train is only cheaper if there’s just one of you. (The prices are apparently going to go up to 150 Baht per person for the airport train in 2011). If there’s two or more of you sharing a cab, it’s definitely cheaper. But more importantly, the stress factor of dragging luggage through Makkasan to the MRT or to another cab means that many people will simply opt to get in a cab at the airport and be done with it.
There are already plans afoot to build a connecting walkway from Makkasan station to Petchaburi MRT, and Makkasan itself is already equipped with a huge hall where people can check in and have their luggage shipped straight to the airport. The Makkasan airline counters where you can check your luggage in will be operational from January 4th.
In conclusion, then, there are several problems with the setup of the Bangkok Airport Express Train Link that makes it possibly less convenient than simply getting in a cab at the airport and heading straight to your destination. If you’re travelling light and you’re wanting to get near somewhere on the MRT and Skytrain routes, then it’s great. If you’ve got a lot of luggage, you might as well just get a cab at the airport.
Given this is just my impression from one ride on the Bangkok Airport train, I’d be interested to hear other people’s views of their own experiences – did you find it convenient? Did you combine the train trip with a taxi ride? It would be good to know any tips for getting the best out of the service.
UPDATE January 2011: I’ve now used the airport link several times and have found it very useful – I live near to Makkasan station and travel with one big roller bag and one backpack so I’m fairly mobile and it’s only a 50 baht taxi ride to my home.