Bangkok Airport Rail Link vs. city taxi

Bangkok Airport Rail Link vs. city taxi

The city’s long-awaited rail line to Suvarnabhumi International Airport starts full operation today. So how does it compare with taking a taxi to the airport?
Bangkok Airport Link
Bangkok's Airport Rail Link has two lines. The City Line, which makes stops at eight stations along the way starting from the Phaya Thai station, and the Express Line, which travels from Makkasan station to the airport in 15 minutes.
After five years of construction and numerous delays, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link (SARL) opens full commercial operations today. The question on everyone’s mind is: "Will I be better off taking the train or should I continue taking taxis, a system with enough problems of its own?"

To compare time, cost and convenience, I rode out to the airport on the new Airport Rail Link train, then traveled back into the city using a taxi, hauling a big suitcase the whole way. I chose Bangkok’s Hualumphong Railway Station as my start/end point due to its relatively central location.

Bangkok Airport LinkPassengers line up for the single tiny elevator in the Phaya Thai station.To Suvarnabhumi Airport via Bangkok Airport Rail Link

From Hualumphong I grabbed a taxi to Phaya Thai BTS station (60 baht, 20 minutes), which is two stations away from the main Makkasan SARL terminal station in central Bangkok, where you can catch the Express Line to the airport. The slower City Line to the airport leaves from the Phaya Thai SARL station, but the concourse between the BTS and the Airport Link stations is under construction and won’t be finished for a few months, so transferring between the two involves a walk down to street level.

Despite the Phaya Thai SARL station being built for suitcase-toting passengers traveling to and from the airport, the station's escalators only go up, with just stairs going down. There is a single elevator, but it fits only a few people and bags. I saw one such a group wasting time waiting for the elevator as my Airport Rail Link train pulled out of the station on time. Facilities at the Makkasan SARL station, on the other hand, are convenient for air travellers.  

Instead of switching at Makkasan to the Express Line I took the City Line all the way to the airport. The car was jammed with commuters. Despite the crowd, the ride was smooth, fast and relatively quiet. In 30 minutes we pulled into Suvarnabhumi Airport. The City Line costs 15 baht and takes 30 minutes from the Phaya Thai station. The Express Line costs 100 baht and takes 15 minutes from Makkasan, two stops away from Phaya Thai. Note that at the end of the year these prices will go up. (See below.)

The City Line train itself is quite narrow, and its plastic bench seats are tight. The Express Train is larger, the seats more comfortable and there are luggage racks. There are no racks on the City Line, so my suitcase caused a few traffic jams as I squeezed it into a corner as best I could manage. Pity the family of five attempting the same trip.

The Airport Rail Link station under the airport is expansive and leads directly to a series of escalators. These eventually deposit commuters at the departure level, although not before funneling them past the AOT limo service, which helpfully offers rides back into town for 1,200 baht.  

Total time and cost, including taxi: City Line: 60 minutes, 75 baht. Express Line: 45 minutes, 160 baht

Bangkok taxisTaxi passengers are at the mercy of the city's notorious traffic jams. From Suvarnabhumi Airport via taxi

The taxi line outside the airport on the lower level moved quickly, though as anyone who regularly uses the airport knows, the lines can often be long. A teller hands you a ticket, assigns you a driver and you’re off. The trip to Hualumphong was pretty painless, as we were on the expressway for most of the journey.

Total time and cost: 40 minutes, 350 baht (220 baht fare, 50 baht airport fee, 65 baht in tollway fees)

Pros and cons

Airport Rail Link pros: Fast, cheap, no traffic jams, impossible to get lost, train drivers don’t scam you, more environmentally friendly than taxi.

Airport Rail Link cons:
Getting to/from/around stations poses some difficulty if you have luggage, connecting to MRT not easy -- getting to Petchburi MRT station from main Makkasan SARL station involves walking about 300 meters over dodgy pavement, across train tracks, and through a bit of traffic.

Taxi pros: Door-to-door service anywhere in city, can split cost among passengers, very fast if traffic isn't bad.

Taxi cons:
Taxi scams against foreigners common, riders subject to soul-crushing traffic jams (especially during rainy season), limited room for luggage.

Bangkok Airport LinkUntil the end of the year, passengers can ride the Airport Rail Link's Express Line for 100 baht.

Conclusion: Airport Rail Link wins, sort of

There are many ways to slice up a trip to the airport, but ultimately it comes down to what aspect of the journey is most important to you -- comfort, cost or speed. The math gets trickier the more people in the party.

Personally, I’d vote for the convenience of a taxi if I were starting or ending my journey outside of the city center. If I were going to or from the airport from anywhere near the SARL line and didn’t have 10 suitcases, the Airport Rail Link is clearly the easier and cheaper option. 

Quick facts

  • The 28.6km Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link has two trains -- City Line and Express Line.
  • The City Line starts from the Phraya Thai Airport Link station. It costs 15 baht per person until the end of year (15-45 baht after that), leaves every 15 minutes, stops at all eight SARL stations along the way to the airport and makes the journey in 30 minutes. Runs 24 hours a day.
  • The Express Line leaves from the main Makkasan SARL station and travels directly to Suvarnabhumi Airport, costs 100 baht (150 baht from January 1, 2020), leaves every 30 minutes and makes the journey in 15 minutes. Runs from 6am to 1am.
  • There will eventually be baggage check-in at the Makkasan SARL station, but this won’t be ready until the end of the year.

Greg hails from a wee town in Canada that's hard to pronounce and even harder to remember. After coming to Bangkok on a vacation in 2001, he somehow forgot to leave, and has been here ever since.

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