Back in the antediluvian 1990s, anyone who wanted to visit more than a couple of Bangkok 's many tourist attractions in a single day had precious few options. They could join an organised tour of the tried and truest sights, hire an expensive private guide, or else brave the city's legendary traffic congestion in a bus or taxi.
The opening of the BTS Sky train in December 1999 changed the face of urban travel for locals and visitors alike. Gliding above the city on massive concrete lines, the sleek air-conditioned train could traverse central Bangkok in less than 25 minutes and eliminated the proverbial rot tid, or traffic jam, as a viable excuse for tardiness.
With the advent of the underground MRT - Bangkok 's second mass-transit system which began operations in mid 2004 - stamina became the only limiting factor to the number of items on a tourist's daily agenda. By alternating among BTS, MRT and the riverboats, visitors can now spend the morning at Chatuchak Weekend Market, see the Grand Palace and WatArun in the afternoon, zip back to the hotel for a shower and still have time for a sunset libation at a glitzy rooftop restauraht.
It would require a guidebook to describe the myriad sights convenient to the more than 40 BTS and MRT stations. One thing worth remembering is that the two transit systems are independently run and passengets must purchase separate tickets for each. Hopefully, the following subjective sampling will inspire you to create your own action-packed itinerary. Very basic route maps are available at the stations.
Though the Sky train offers sweeping city vistas and access to more hotels and tourist attractions, the MRT stations have their own advantages. One disadvantage is that the exit numbers are sometimes confusing, so check the station wall maps carefully.
Hua Lamphong station deposits you at the gracious early-20th-century train station - the nexus for rail travel throughout Thailand - and is also a short walk from Wat Traimit, home to the Golden Buddha, and Odeon Circle, the gateway to Chinatown .
Silom station has an exit at the southwest corner of Lumphini Park , the so-called "lungs" of Bangkok where joggers, ballroom dancers, tai chi enthusiasts and assorted other fitness devotees strut their stuff between five and 8am, though trains don't start running unti1 6am.Open daily from dawn until sunset, this green space makes a welcome respite from the chaotic cacophony along Silom Road .
Somewhat confusingly, Lumphini station does not let you out at the park, but does bring you close to Lumphini Stadium - one of the city's two major muay Thai stadiums. It also exits at Suan Lum night bazaar, a smaller and less congested, though more touristy, version of the sprawling weekend market which also houses the wonderful Nataya Sala, a traditional Thai puppet theatre.
Queen Sirikit Centre station is convenient for business types attending one of the many travel and trade events held regular1y at the eponymous convention centre. One stop to the north, Sukhumvit has a convenient escalator connection to the BTS Asok station and also exits next to the venerable Siam Society, a bastion of Thai tradition almost hidden by contemporary skyscrapers,
Twenty-something party animals can use the Phra Ram 9 as a stepping stone to the youthful nightlife scene at Royal City Avenue, which is a short taxi ride away. It's also next to the big info-tech centre at Fortune Town. The Thailand Cultural Centre is close to the city's biggest cultural performance venue. More convenient than a taxi ride in many cases, the station is nonetheless a kilometre away, so bring comfortable shoes along with your evening finery.
Chatuchak Park, next to the Mo Chit BTS station, is actually not the most convenient exit for the weekend market. Alight a stop earlier at Kaphaeng Phet instead and you'll be in the heart of Chatuchak's chaotic commercialism, near the popular sections 24-26 and 2-3. Also check out Aw Taw Kaw market across the street where Bangkok high society shops for the very best fruits and vegetables. Last stop on the MRT is Bang Sue, an unprepossessing area except for its proximity via a short taxi ride to the wonderful Prachanarumit, also known as "Wood Street". This treasure trove of carvings, altars, spirit houses, antique as well as contemporary wood furniture is closed on Sundays.
The creme de la creme of Bangkok shopping, lodging and dining lies on or near the Silom and Sukhumvit lines of the Sky train. Many stations have exits leading directly into the massive shopping malls. Serious consumers can easily spend a day or two around the National Stadium, Siam and Chidlom stations alone. A dedicated walkway between the latter two stations is now complete. If you can't find something to love among the low-priced fashion bargains at MBK or Siam Square, the upcoming Thai designer outlets at Siam Square or the snazzy imported clothing and interiors at Discovery Centre and Gaysorn Plaza, you're obviously not a shopper. Instead you could treat yourself to a movie at one of the five theatre complexes in the immediate vicinity, catch the latest traditional or contemporary art exhibition and a great snack at Jim Thompson House, or perhaps sip afternoon tea at the Grand Hyatt Erawan or Four Seasons hotels.
In addition to the seedy nightlife street with the same name, Nana station is convenient to the internationally renowned Bumrungrad Hospital (Sukhumvit Soi 3) as well as the tasty Limoncello pizzeria and two long-running nightclubs, Q Bar and The Bed, all on Sukhumvit Soi 11. You could follow your affordable comprehensive health check-up with an Italian meal and then head to a club to celebrate your results.
Further along, Phrom Phong station exits into the elegant Emporium. Opposite this all-in-one classy shopping complex is an assortment of excellent Japanese restaurants, most offering set lunchtime menus at bargain prices, great pubs and the original Villa Market, Bangkok's first supermarket to stock Western imports. Even now it still has items you can't find'elsewhere plus one of the city's largest wine selections.
Thong Lo is adjacent to a long eponymous street, also known as Sukhumvit Soi 55, lined with wedding and doggie boutiques and side lanes dotted with an ever-changing menu of trendy Thai eateries that come and go quicker than you can say "15 minutes of fame". The current fave is H1 Place at the top end. Thong Lo 36 boasts three spicy Isaan (northeastern Thai) favourites: Vientiane Kitchen, Baan Lao and Krua Romai. Further down the soi, the Great American Rib Company serves the city's most authentic American-style barbecue. Meanwhile Ekkamai deposits you near the Southern Bus terminal, the planetarium and a big cinema complex.
Sala Daeng on the Silom line is fractionally closer to Patpong and its attendant nightlife than the Silom MRT station, which doesn't connect to the BTS despite signs to the contrary. It also lets out near the many high- and low-end eateries on Soi Convent, including Eat Me, Indigo, La Boulange and some nameless sidewalk stalls that only dispense their delicious offerings during the early evening hours.
Surasak brings you direcdy in front of the gracious former home of the Thai Chinese Cultural Centre which is now the world-famous Blue Elephant Restaurant and cooking school. A couple of blocks east, on the corner of Sathorn Soi 12, the hugely popular Health Land dispenses wonderful massages from a gracious two-storey wooden house.
Saphan Taksin station at Sathorn Bridge has turned this formerly inaccessible part of town into an important riverine gateway. All the riverside hotels - Oriental, Peninsula and Marriott among them - run shuttle boats to the pier. Taking taxis from here is often the least traffic-intensive way to reach the bottom end of Silom with its many hotels, restaurants and shops.
From this so-called "Central Pier", you can catch commuter and tourist boats that stop at the myriad sites along the Chao Phraya River such as Wat Po, the Grand Palace, Chinatown, the flower market, Wat Arun and Banglampoo. Simply riding a commuter boat to the end of the line at Nonthaburi gives fascinating glimpses into life along City of Angels' most famous waterway. Various piers, especially Tha Chang and Tha Tien and Sri Phraya, run private and public boat services along the many canals on the less developed western side of the Chao Phraya. If you ride far enough inland, you'll start seeing fruit orchards and open spaces along with all the teak houses bordering the canals. One area the Sky train and subway haven't reached just yet.