Why stopping your car in Bangkok is sometimes more dangerous than driving it
• The city’s car parks are woeful, characterized by dark, narrow corridors, sharp turns, impossibly small parking slots, high hourly charges, and guards who seem to think their duty includes delivering a steady stream of ear-piercing whistles
• Security guards won’t say how many drivers hit the car park walls. But one admitted that evidence is quickly painted over in order “not to scare the drivers”
• One hapless driver returned to his Honda Accord at Don Mueang to find it jacked up and all four wheels missing.
• Resident of a 34-storey condominium now under construction on Sukhumvit Soi 11 will be able to have their cars delivered by special lifts and parked on their doorsteps
Many of the city’s car parks are woeful, characterized by dark, narrow corridors, sharp turns, impossibly small parking slots, high hourly charges, and guards who seem to think their duty includes delivering a steady stream of ear-piercing whistles.
Vandalism and theft of parts or entire vehicles, though less common than before thanks to improved security measures, still happen.
While there are a number of well-designed car parks in Bangkok, the convenience of drivers seems to have been neglected. In certain cases, parking is just plain dangerous. With tens of thousands of people driving to the inner city from suburbs and surrounding provinces for work, shopping and other reasons, the demand for parking space is huge and growing all the time. After navigating Bangkok’s clogged roads, what should be an easy procedure can be an enormous challenge.
Drawing on personal experiences and the input of colleagues and readers, The BigChilli compiled a partial list of the city’s more testing car parks. We then inspected these spots, as well as a number of others picked at random in and around Bangkok. Here is a list of some of the more problematic places in the metropolitan area to rest your ride:
Getting in to the car park is relatively easy and the space for cars is sufficient. However, before reaching the pay booth on the way out, you have to make six sharp 90 degree turns in the space of about 30 meters. It wasn’t always this difficult – this obstacle course is the result of a poorly thought-out directive. Otherwise, no further complaints about this car park, which is well managed.
Narrow, tight curves make the car park in this old building difficult to negotiate one must be careful not to hit the wall. Black marks on walls indicate where some drivers misjudged the turns. On the plus side, the car park attendants – some have been working there for years – are very helpful and polite. They make the effort to find a spot for everyone.
All Seasons Place
This car park is usually full and hard to find a space. It is also very confusing, and ‘losing’ your car is easy. Do remember where you park and by which entrance you enter All Seasons Place. Otherwise, you may end up spending valuable time trying to locate your car in this labyrinth. Despite taking photos to mark our way, we couldn’t find the entrance we had used and instead surfaced in the lobby of another tower. Our advice is: Stop in front of the Conrad Hotel and use their valet parking service.
Each floor at this car park is separated into halves, with one half for 10 cars and the other for five cars. At the entrance is a sign in Thai and English saying: “Please turn on your headlights while driving in the car park.” Points go to the staff, however. The attendant in the booth, who was wearing a suit, opened the parking bar without handing over a parking ticket. This rare act of consideration was appreciated.
Sathorn City Tower
Here you have to drive through a narrow, spiraling corridor from the street level to the 4th floor to get to the first parking floor. Of all the car parks we visited, this is the only one that actually made me dizzy. I had to wonder what would happen if a car experienced a mechanical problem and got stuck. What a vertical pileup that would be. The car park detracts from what is otherwise a great building in all respects.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
The car park has been a talking point for years. That’s because it may well hold the record for the narrowest parking spaces in town. When two SUVs are parked side by side it is almost impossible for either driver to get in or out of their respective vehicles. Maybe that’s why parking is free. Be careful when navigating into a vacant slot that you don’t hit the car next to you!
Navigating the narrow ramps of this car park requires great dexterity. Take heed of the numerous warning signs on the walls. Even the most experienced car park cruiser will have a tough time avoiding the metal polls recently put in to separate the traffic coming and going, and what’s worse, cars coming from the other direction. This maybe takes away from Saint Louis’ well-deserved reputation as a reasonably priced hospital with exceptional service and good doctors.
Pullman Bangkok Hotel G
This is a nice tower but it has a lousy car park. Upon entering there’s a large notice board with nine regulations written in Thai and English. Then you encounter another sign saying: “Please turn on your headlights.” If you don’t comply you should be ready to encounter the narrow turns ahead in the dark. Understandably, most motorists switch on their lights, but some hit the high beams, leaving drivers coming in the opposite direction with little option but to stop while the car passes or risk running into it or the wall. How about installing some lighting in the dark sections of this car park?
New parking ideas – for ladies only and condo dwellers who want their cars on their doorstep
LADIES-only parking is the latest innovation aimed at making life easier for Bangkok drivers. This follows the welcome introduction of parking spots for disabled and senior citizens in some shopping malls and hotels.
The CentralPlaza in Bangna is one of a few places in Bangkok where women have their own designated parking area, on Level 2 ½ of the car park. The service was also introduced at Suvarnabhumi Airport in August, and the Airport Authority of Thailand says it plans to include it in other airports under its supervision in Hat Yai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Phuket, as well as Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport. Central Festival in Phuket launched its ladies-only parking in April.
Tesco Lotus Extra on Rama 4 has gone one step further by making the ladies-only lots wider than the normal parking slots.
Residents of a 34-storey condominium now under construction on Sukhumvit Soi 11 will be able to have their cars delivered by special lifts and parked on their doorsteps. The automated service, the first of its kind in Thailand, will be available on floors one to 15. The high-rise is scheduled for completion next year. But if you want your Ferrari or Rolls Royce right outside your door, you’re out of luck. Despite allegedly costing a cool 33 million baht, every unit offering this revolutionary parking system has been sold.
Such new parking technologies are making inroads elsewhere in Bangkok. The new 49-storey luxury Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, for instance, is equipped with an automated lift-conveyor system on B3 level and behind the hotel. The two-level lifts can fit two sedans at a time, but there is room for only one SUV. This is unfortunate as SUVs are very popular here.
Also on Sukhumvit, 30 floors of a planned 104-storey condo will be given over to residents parking. Now that’s a dizzying prospect.
We almost missed the entrance to the car park behind the hotel because it is poorly marked. A small sign with the letter “P” is barely noticeable against the backdrop of a large sign at the end of the alleyway pointing the way “Out.” After collecting a parking ticket from a talking machine and driving up a long entrance ramp, we observed scratch marks on the walls that could only have come from cars. This may be because of sharp turns and narrow passages in some parts of the car park. I was grateful when the machine swallowed the parking ticket and the parking bar opened to allow us to leave without charge because we were under the 30-minute free parking limit.
Here the ramps are quite wide, but the turns are so sharp that only one car can pass at a time. Warning signs are pasted all over to drive carefully, but the only way they can make it work is with the help of security guards communicating by transceiver. When a vehicle goes go up or down the guards must hold back other drivers until it passes. Black lines show where drivers have scraped the wall. This car park is a real nightmare! Luckily the car park only has three floors. Overall, it’s probably worth the hassle to keep an appointment with one of the hospital’s skilled specialists.
The entrance to this car park is very steep. Be careful to leave some room between your car and the vehicle in front of you. When a car stops suddenly in front of you on the slope, which happens a lot, it may roll backward and hit the car behind. This actually happened to me once. On a positive note, after you get past the initial steep portion there are plenty of parking spaces, even for an SUV, and getting back on the road from the car park is easy.
It is usually difficult and time consuming to find a space in the multi-storey car park of this popular shopping venue because many slots on lower floors are “reserved.” On the upper floors, if a car stops while waiting for another vehicle to navigate in or out of very narrow parking slots, it inevitably creates a long tailback. On the positive side, the attendants are helpful in directing cars to and from the slots and at 40 baht for four hours’ parking, it’s a bargain. A word of caution: Remember which floor you park on to avoid problems when leaving.
The huge car park at street level is quite convenient, except for the shopping trolleys left all over the place. Often motorists have to leave their cars and move the trolleys away before they can park. Likewise, when you go to pick up your car, empty trolleys may have to be moved.
Here we witnessed what looked to be a HiSo family who were allowed by a security guard to park in an area marked for disabled people, a few meters from the store entrance. There was nothing wrong with any of the car’s occupants, except perhaps that they were too lazy to walk a short distance. The family had a short discussion with the guard which ended in a mutual agreement. Luckily there were a few unoccupied spaces for the disabled still vacant. Hopefully they aren’t all open to negotiation.
The underground car park here is huge and confusing. Because of the many entrances, it might take you some time to find your car unless you have a good sense of direction. It’s a common complaint. Because of the location and excellent shopping environment at CentralWorld, the car park is usually always full, with many spaces reserved.
Siam Paragon reserves parking spaces for the rich and famous on its G floor. All too often, expensive cars like Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Bentley are driven by men and women who look to be university age, or younger. When the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) was waging its campaign against evaders of the luxury car excise tax, this area boasted plenty of empty spaces. Now, however, it is once again full every day. In fact, the floor was altered to accommodate even more cars.
The Q House Lumpini is one of the most expensive car parks in Bangkok, with a charge of 100 baht per hour. If you visit one of the restaurants or offices here, you can get your ticket stamped for some free time, but if you plan to take a stroll through Lumpini Park opposite the hotel, it will cost you!
DURING our investigations, The BigChilli team encountered surly staff in several car parks. Some expressed disquiet when we took photos, and at three locations they followed us around until we left, talking often into transceivers. In another place a security guard arrived on a motorcycle minutes after we took the first photo and ordered us to stop. While there are warning signs inside some car parks urging motorists to drive carefully, open headlights and so on, we didn’t see any notices prohibiting photography.
Staff at several car parks – security guards or others – were mostly tight-lipped when asked how many drivers hit the walls. Judging from the clearly visible black marks at these places, usually after sharp turns, it happens frequently. One guard did admit that evidence of cars hitting the walls is quickly painted over in order “not to scare the drivers.”
Some car park attendants or security guards are intent on exercising their authority, and even seem to enjoy venting their frustrations on local and foreign drivers. Unnecessarily loud and very annoying whistling ensues.
Losing a ticket at a car park is usually no big deal, but if you are unfortunate enough to do it on the watch of one of the more belligerent parking attendants, be prepared for a long delay. Most places charge a fine, which can be pretty hefty. You may be taken to the security office to show your passport or ID, driving license and documents to prove the car belongs to you. Everything is copied and you may have to fill out a form and sign it before you are allowed to leave with the car. It doesn’t help that some buildings issue really small parking tickets, which are easily misplaced.
Six times during my driving history in Bangkok I have gone to pick up my car at a car park and found that it had been struck by another car, most likely when trying to get in or out of a space. This happened twice at Don Mueang Airport and once each at Central Chidlom and the Amari Airport, Novotel Bangkok IMPACT and Dusit Thani hotels. On every occasion, in the presence of security guards, no one saw or heard anything. Somehow I feel that that if I hit another car the attendants would be on me straightaway and I would be “detained” until I had made arrangements with the other driver.
Where parking is a pleasure
Happily, there are many exemplary car parks in the city which are easy to enter and navigate, have sufficient space for two cars to easily pass each other, are well-lit and offer spacious individual lots for comfortable parking. Among the best are the car parks at Amari Watergate, The Okura Prestige, Siam Kempinski, Shangri-La (except the Ballroom car park with narrow passages), Sofitel So hotel and the main car park at the Emporium.
For a monthly fee, a number of hotels, office buildings and even malls offer unlimited parking. Some will reserve you a parking spot but some won’t, so when the car park is full you have to find another place. There are also several multi-storey buildings devoted solely to parking cars. These are usually full by 9am during the week. One really large one is located behind Siam Centre. There are also some street-level car parks in various parts of Bangkok, such as the one opposite Mo Chit BTS station, where your car may be at the mercy of the elements.
Many hotels and department stores in Bangkok now offer valet parking, a very convenient service which saves time and solves parking headaches.
Street parking is not recommended, even outside your place of residence. This is especially true at night when teams of thieves go in search of empty vehicles. They are skilled at disabling safety measures and drive off unnoticed in your car.
It is not unusual for thieves to break into a car and steal valuables and car parts. One hapless driver returned to his Honda Accord at Don Mueang to find his car jacked up and all four wheels missing. Side mirrors are another favourite target, especially from luxury cars. Some unauthorized repair shops reportedly buy them with no questions asked. These mirrors are hard to find and they are also very expensive; a new pair can cost tens of thousands of baht.
Fortunately, a phenomenon common in some European countries where cars are towed into a container and driven away hasn’t made it here yet.
Thieves operate at badly protected car parks as well. They break car windows and steal valuables. Therefore, never leave anything of value, including documents, inside the car. A large car park at Imperial Ladprao is among those lacking in proper security measures. There are no booths for parking attendants to monitor cars coming in and out, an ideal situation for car thieves.
Freelance parking attendants who take it upon themselves to oversee parking on the street can also lead to problems if you don’t comply with their instructions. Acting as if they own the road, they often charge exorbitant fees and can become very threatening when their ‘authority’ is challenged. Taxi drivers seem to escape their attention. On Sukhumvit Soi 11, for example, taxis park all day and night and no one seems to be able to do anything about it - not even the police!