Bangkok's BTS Sky Train - A Quick Tour
Bangkok is a city with a notorious reputation for congested traffic jams that last for hours throughout the day. So when Bangkok's BTS Sky Train first opened it's doors it was like a god send to thousands of locals who pack the trains to get to work, social gatherings, shopping and finally back home to begin the day again with a ride aboard the Sky Train.
Visitors to Bangkok today are seen enjoying the affordability and ease of use of the Sky Train system. Though it is not ideal for touring the city since the BTS system is not too extensive you will be able to see some interesting attractions or at least get close to where ever you want while avoiding most of the street traffic. Staying in a Bangkok hotel near a BTS station is also a wise way to explore the city.
A good example is the BTS National Stadium station which has many highly recommended hotels near MBK shopping center. The station is directly next to many hotels so you can easily hop on and off the train and explore central Bangkok.
Why is it called the Sky Train?
The trains run on elevated rails right above several of Bangkok's busiest roads and districts. It's quite similar to Vancouver's own Sky Train system though the name was first introduced by Bangkok's press on its inaugural trip. The name was fitting as the trains glide silently and effortlessly through the city's maze of asphalt and concrete streets with car vehicles of all sizes grinding to a halt.
Today it's hard to imagine what daily life for Thais needing to get around the city would be like without the construction of the Sky Train. Bangkok is a growing cosmopolitan city, constantly feeding on concrete and high rise condos mixed in with some of the fanciest malls this side of Southeast Asia. Its need for all the finer things from Western life not only satiates the city but the citizens living in the city as well.
For tourism the Sky Train has certainly made the city much more travel friendly. With stops to most of the best shopping districts in Bangkok as well as popular hotels near Sky Train stations for their stay on their vacation in the Big Mango.
A Quick History
The BTS or Bangkok Mass Transit System (I have no clue why the M in Mass is omitted) Sky Train first opened its doors and accepting passengers on December 5, 2009. It was a symbolic day coinciding with and in honor of the reigning King's birthday. Suffice to say there was much pomp and circumstance when it first opened.
Funny thing is it was predicted that ridership levels were to be low. Given that vehicle traffic in the areas that the Sky Trains make its stops, local Thais would be scrambling to the Sky Train in droves. But the proof is in the pudding as they say, as by it's 6th year anniversary in 2005 the Sky Train has reached a ridership of nearly 500,000 single trips per day as reported by the BTS authorities.
As a side note I've ridden the Sky Train on a daily basis on almost all different times of the day. Though I have to admit during morning, afternoon and evening rush hours the trains are easily packed full like sardines, especially during weekends. Though I wouldn't venture a guess as to how many people ride the Sky Trains per day I would've certainly guessed less than 500,000.
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Something to remember
- BTS stations open 6am daily and technically close at 12am. I say technically because certain stations will usually not permit riders to enter starting around 11:30pm.
- Each BTS station is only about 2 to 3 minutes away from each other.
- Children under 90 cm. (3 ft.) ride for free.
BTS stations are up on elevated platforms. Most stations have at least 2 escalators; 1 going up and one going down to street level. But unfortunately there are more stairs than escalators.
By the way these escalators or stairs are great if you want to get across the road, especially with small children or if you're not able to be quick on your feet. Drivers on the road whether it be taxis, trucks, vans and motorbikes are scary, especially the motorbikes who often ride against traffic near sidewalks. So since each station has exits to either side of the ride it sure comes in handy.
And now that the Airport Express Rail Link is connected to Phaya Thai BTS Station travelers carrying a lot of luggage can easily ride straight to Bangkok without taking a taxi.
As of writing there are only 5 stations with elevator service for the handicapped or travelers with luggage:
- On Nut station - Sukhumvit Line
- Asoke station - Sukhumvit Line
- Siam station - This is an interchange station linking Sukhumvit and Silom.
- Mo Chit station - Sukhumvit Line
- Chong Nongsi - Silom Line
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Don't be intimidated by the Sky Train. It's hard to get lost since there's only 2 lines. Plus train announcements and maps are in English.
Riding the Sky Train
The Sky Train as of writing is not a massive system with a dizzying network like Tokyo or New York City . There are only 2 trains lines called:
- Sukhumvit Line - Makes stops to 22 stations (more station stops are scheduled in 2011)
- Silom Line - Makes stops to 9 stations (more station stops are scheduled in 2011)
The BTS system includes 3 interchange stations for transferring to Bangkok's underground subway system called the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit):
- Mo Chit station (near Chatuchak Weekend Market)
- Sala Daeng station (Silom District)
- Asok station (Sukhumvit District)
You can also visit my Bangkok's MRT Trains - A Quick Guide for more information on how to use the MRT subway system.
Riding the Sky Train is easy
It's not easy to get lost while riding or orienting yourself to your destination off station. There are plenty of maps with English signs posted almost everywhere, showing points of interests; such as hospitals, shopping malls and of course popular tourist attractions. English speaking station attendants are available to help you out as well.
Cost of riding the Sky Train
Compared to most Western countries, a train fare to ride the Sky Train is cheap.
The price ranges from 15 baht for short distance and 40 baht for long distance. For instance a ride to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is the last stop on the Sukhumvit Line from Asok station cost 40 baht and takes about 19 minutes.
Check out BTS ticketing website to find the cost of a fare from one station to another as well as how long the ride will take.
Buying a single trip fare is super easy. You can use the automated ticketing machine pictured above or just purchase one from the station ticketing booth. The attendants inside are able to assist you in English.
Simply insert the single trip ticket into the entry gate and retrieve it as the gate opens. Single trip fares are pre-programmed with your station destination. And you will need it to exit the gate, so don't lose it or else you'll end up paying the full fare, even if you're traveling short distance. The exit gate will keep your fare for recycling.
There are computerized screen single fare trip dispensers with touch screen with English instructions. Currently you won't find them in all of the stations but I have seen them in Asok and Chit Lom stations. These machines accept coins and bills.
Multi-pass (more commonly called Smart Pass) fares for multiple trips are also available and highly recommended. You have a choice of purchasing stored valued cards - which works like a debit card or you can buy pre-valued Smart Passes. Keep in mind each Smart Pass card cost an extra 30 baht.
There is also a one day Unlimited Smart Pass for a flat rate of 120 baht. BTS ticketing website has more information.
If you know you will be using the BTS Sky Train often during your stay in Bangkok it is best to get a Smart Pass to spare you from waiting on long lines to purchase a fare. During rush hour the lines are full of tourists and locals purchasing fares from automated machines and ticket booths.
Rush Hour in Bangkok's BTS Sky Train Systems
- Morning rush hour occurs between 7am to 9am
- Evening rush hour occurs between 5pm to 7pm
Missed the train?
No worries at all. Sky Trains make frequent stops between station to station. If you just missed one or if it's too full you can expect another train to arrive in approximately 3 minutes.
Avoiding the crowds
With Bangkok being the main center of city life and activity more and more Thais from the outer region of greater Bangkok are moving in. And those people need to get to work to pay the bills and the rent.
As a result the Sky Train system has already begun to peak it's capacity. The Sky Train is not long at all, only 3 passenger cars and you can easily see from end to end. Many passengers are usually left stranded on the platform for the next train as the one in front of them is packed to the rafters.
Of course you can avoid overcrowding by avoiding the rush hour, which like anywhere else is morning and evenings. On weekends the Sky Trains are usually always packed too but there are more trains on schedule to handle the excess riders.
It's not too bad getting squeezed into though as the passenger cars are very well air conditioned and just think about the vehicle traffic mess you're avoiding below on the streets.
Shopping by BTS Sky Train
Shopping Mall or Market
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Pantip Plaza and Pratunam Market
MBK Mall and Siam Discover
Siam Paragon, Siam Center and Siam Square
Central World, Gaysorn, Amarin and Erawan Shopping Arcade
Emporium Department Store
Something to remember
Though you can find many places to buy food in a BTS station, eating and drinking is not allowed on the train platforms and in the Sky Train too.
If able, you can actually walk from Chit Lom Station to Siam Paragon without stepping down onto the street. Between these two stations are Skywalk platforms that are also elevated above the streets, just right below the tracks of the Sky Train. Skywalks are connected to Gaysorn Plaza, Central World and Siam Paragon.
Siam Paragon is partially connected to Siam Center and Siam Discovery. To walk to MBK mall just use another set of Skywalk from Siam Discovery.
Using the Skywalk is highly recommended, especially for travelers with young children with strollers. First off you'll be walking in a shaded area as the sun can be overbearing. Second the streets of Bangkok are not the most well paved nor maintained with so much construction going happening. Finally you will often find motor bikes riding on the sidewalk against traffic.
You can also do a bit of shopping and eating in a BTS station. Need a lawyer or buy insurance? Or how about the latest cell phone and fashion? Many BTS stations have all types of businesses, which goes to show the city's voracious shopping appetite.
Sightseeing by Sky Train
Lumphini Park and Patpong Red Light District
Jim Thompson House and Bangkok Art and Culture Center
Wang Suan Pakkard
M.R. Kukrit's House
Red Light District
Soi Cowboy Red Light District
Siam Ocean World - Basement level of Siam Paragon
Ferry Pier - Boats there can take you to Chinatown, Grand Palace and Wat Pho
From this station you can take a taxi to Vimanek Mansion and the Dusit Zoo
The Sky Train is able to take you to some popular attractions but not all. Though what I do is take the Sky Train to a station that is nearest to my destination and then take a taxi or ferry boat from there. This cuts down a lot of travel town as well as the costs of a taxi ride.
Bangkok Tourist Information Center
Bangkok is a tourist friendly city. But for the uninitiated getting around street level can be of course confusing in a foreign land. Thankfully there are several tourist information centers situated in some of the most well traveled stations by tourists. You can find these tourist information centers at:
- Siam BTS station
- Nana BTS station
- Saphan Taksin BTS station
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