From the airport to the city: How to start your trip across Southeast Asia

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Landing at an airport in a new city can be a little daunting, so we’ve picked out the best ways to make your way to and from the airport in Southeast Asia, whether you are looking for time efficiency or cost effectiveness.


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Calvin Teo, Train at MRT Station in Singapore, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

The uber-efficient Changi Airport lies 20 kilometers east of the city center and is well connected via train, public bus and taxi, though, as is common to most Asian cities, bad traffic can significantly extend the length of your journey.

For the time-strapped traveler…

A taxi is generally the quickest and most comfortable way to travel into town and will cost you somewhere between S$20 and S$35. The Airport Shuttle bus is also an efficient way to travel, servicing downtown hotels for S$9 and departing every 15 minutes during peak times. It takes 25 minutes in good traffic.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

Take public bus 36 or 36A to the city. It will take around one hour and there’s not much room for luggage, but it’s a leisurely way to see the East Coast, passing by the Esplanade, down Orchard Road and to Raffles Hotel, all for less than S$2. No change is given so prepare the exact fare or get a stored-value EZ-Link card before you board. The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) will cost you a similar price, again with the option of using an EZ-Link card, but requires a change at Tarah Merag station and travels both under- and overground.


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Keith Kristoffer Bacongco, An overloaded jeepney in the Philippines, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

One of Asia’s busiest airports, Manila’s Nino Aquino International Airport is named after the late Senator who was assassinated there in 1983. It’s a much safer place today and connects the Philippines’ capital to both national and international destinations.

For the time-strapped traveler…

Taxi is by far and away the best way to get from the airport to the city center – which, at 7 kilometers, is not a long way. Choose from the safer option of a pre-paid, or coupon, taxi which is a little more expensive than a regular yellow taxi with metered or negotiated fare. For coupon cabs, approach one of the hassle-free desks found at arrivals in each terminal, state your destination and pay for your ticket. Rates are calculated according to your destination and journey time ranges from 20 minutes to one hour as Manila’s traffic is notoriously bad.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

Take a jeepney, one of those crazy-coloured elongated jeeps. It’s not the most comfortable way to travel and is best suited to those without much luggage, but is definitely a genuine local experience. Look for Baclaran on the signage in the window and hop on board. The jeepney will transport you the 3 kilometers to Baclaran for around P$10, from where you can either switch to another jeepney for your onwards travel, or jump on the Manila Light Rail Transit System (LRT). Buses are also available to transport you from the airport to Baclaran.

Hong Kong

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Diego Delso, Taxis in Hong Kong, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Located on Chek Lap Kok island which is largely comprised of reclaimed land, Hong Kong International Airport is nevertheless easily accessible, and although taxis are a cheap and efficient way to traverse Hong Kong, they are surprisingly not the best way to and from the airport.

For the time-strapped traveler…

Take the Airport Express train to Tsing Yi, Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. It’s the fastest way into the city, taking just 24 minutes (single HKD$100/return HKD$180) and you’ll whistle past seascapes, mountains and skyscrapers which get ever denser and taller as you approach the final stop.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

There’s a huge choice of buses from the airport including Citybus’ Cityflyer services. The A11 (HKD$40)  and A12 (HKD$45) deliver you, via the scenic Tsing Ma Bridge, to the major hotel areas on Hong Kong Island, while the A21 (HKD$33) does the same to similar destinations in Kowloon. These buses are built for visitors, with plenty of space for luggage and trilingual announcements (English, Cantonese and Mandarin). For a cheaper option try the E11 (HKD$21) to Hong Kong Island, or the S1 (HKD$3.5) to Tung Chung from where you can take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to numerous destinations (HKD$25 to Hong Kong station). Exact fares are required on these buses, or pick up an Octopus smartcard which will work on the MTR too.


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Tomás Fano, Taiwan. Taipei. Taxi. via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Located 50 kilometers west of the city center, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is linked to its capital city by road.

For the time-strapped traveler…

Taxis to the city center will set you back around NT$1,200, but are not much more efficient than the bus. It’s a fairly easy ride along the highway, and there’s pleasant countryside on either side, turning to cityscapes on the approach to downtown. Look out for Taipei 101 on the horizon, visible from miles away.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

Buses deliver tourists to Taipei city center in just under an hour (NT$125) and run 24 hours a day. Tickets are available at either terminal, simply follow the signs for long distance buses and you’ll find yourself at Taipei Main Station at the other end of your journey.

Kuala Lumpur

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Christopher Crouzet, Train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by night, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Malaysia’s airport, Kuala Lumpur International Airport is found 45 kilometers from the city center and covers 100 square kilometers of land, making it one of the world’s largest airport sites.

For the time-strapped traveler…

The non-stop high-speed KLIA Ekspres (single RM$35/return RM$70) will have you in the center of Kuala Lumpur in just 28 minutes. With trains every 15 to 20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., it’s the most efficient way to travel, and both the platforms and trains offer WiFi access. The KLIA Transit (single RM$35) runs the same route, but takes a little longer (35 minutes) and stops at all stations.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

The Airport Coach takes one hour to KL Sentral (single RM$10/return RM$18). For RM$25 one way, get dropped off or picked up at any central hotel.


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Jason D’ Great, Thailand Tuk Tuk, via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

While you may hit up the sky train, boat down the Chao Phraya river and take a tuk tuk ride while in Bangkok, for the trip from the airport to the city center, it’s best to stick to train or taxi, whichever airport you’re flying into.

For the time-strapped traveler…

From Suvarnabhumi International Airport (25 kilometers east of the city center), a taxi to central Bangkok will cost around BT$300 for a 30 to 60 minute ride. From Don Muang, the cost should be closer to BT$250 (20 kilometers north of the city center), with a similar duration depending on the traffic.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

The Airport Rail Link train from Suvarnabhumi International Airport takes 15 minutes non-stop (BT$150) on the Express Service, while its City Line commuter service (BT$15-45) takes 30 minutes. To access the city center from Don Muang Airport on a budget, slow buses make the trip into town, or take one to the nearest Sky Train (BTS) or Metro stop where you can travel on by more efficient means.

Ho Chi Minh City

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yyoz, Vietnam Saigon, via Pixabay CC0 1.0

You’ll be watching out for mopeds, motorcycles, scooters and bikes the whole time you’re in Vietnam, so take the opportunity to avoid them on landing at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport. 

For the time-strapped traveler…

Tan Son Nhat Airport is 7 kilometers northwest of central HCMC. Vinasun and Mai Linh taxis are generally regarded as the most reliable metered cabs and a ride to District 1 should cost around VND$180,000 and take around 20 minutes. Watch out for scams and try and carry plenty of small change.

For the cost-conscious traveler…

Take air-conditioned bus number 152 (VND$6,000 plus a VND$4,000 bag fee) which runs approximately every 15 minutes from the airport to Ben Thanh Market in the center of Ho Chi Minh City.

Main Image: Mark Fischer, Bangkok Traffic via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Slider Image: Picaidol, Tuk Tuk Thailand via Pixabay CC0 1.0 

From the airport to the city: How to start your trip across Southeast Asia was last modified: October 8th, 2015 by Rachel Duffell
Author: Rachel Duffell (35 posts)

Rachel Duffell is a Hong Kong-based writer and editor, who loves to discover Asia and the many adventures it has to offer, whether it's hiking volcanoes in Lombok, Indonesia, eating red ants in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, running across the hills of Hong Kong, washing elephants in Nepal, sight-seeing in Penang, Malaysia, or anything else.