Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
First published 28th June, 2010
Like most mass-transit rail systems in big cities, Bangkok's skytrain (aka BTS), which opened in 1999, can be confusing when you first use it. But with a bit of research, it will all become as clear as the capital's air was 100 years ago. Better still, before you know it you'll be whizzing above Bangkok's traffic-snarled streets without a care in the world.
Compared to the slow-moving traffic on the streets, the BTS is a great way to see the city and get around. An end-to-end ticket will only cost you 40 baht (US$1.20), and you get an elevated view of the areas you're passing through, providing an extra opportunity to get the lay of the land. In addition to that, it's air-conditioned, has clean and well-lit stations, each with several security staff, and experiences very few service delays. So let's start with the big picture and gradually work our way down.
The good news is that there are only two lines to keep track of:
The Sukhumvit line has 17 stops in total, the terminal stations on either end being On Nut and Mor Chit.
The Silom line has 9 stations in total, the terminal stations on either end being National Stadium and Wongwian Yai.
These two lines intersect at only one place, and it's the only station where you can change lines – the huge Siam Square station.
Navigating is pretty simple once you figure out the system; the first thing you need to do is know where you are and where you're going. Say you want to go check out the awesome evening street food around Thong Lo BTS station. Find the line that the Thong Lo station is on (Sukhumvit), and board the train that will stop at your current station (where the yellow dot is) and then pass Thong Lo station on its way to the terminal station on the Sukhumvit line.
If you need to head to a station that's on another line than the one you're on, you must first head to Siam Square station and change trains there.
There are two options for buying tickets – pay as you go, and buying a pass. If you plan to do a lot of BTSing over the next few days, buying a pass is definitely your best bet, but if you're unsure of how much you'll be using the system, just pay as you go – at the very worst, you'll be out a few bucks.
Pay as you go
With this method, you have to buy tickets from the machine, which only accepts coins, not bills. If you don't have the right change, just go to the kiosk and get some coins.
To figure out how much it will cost to get to your destination, look on the route map on the ticketing machine. Each station has a number, and each number corresponds to a fare amount (listed above the route map). Press the button with the number of the station you're going to, put the money in the coin slot, and viola! - a ticket will pop out.
Insert the ticket into the slot on the gate, pull it out as it pops out the top of the gate, and walk through. It's the same drill when you exit at your destination station, but since pay as you go tickets are single-use, it doesn't pop out the top. Leave it behind and be on your merry way!
Buying a pass
If you know you'll be using the train a lot, you can buy a pass from the staff at the kiosk in chunks of 20, 30 or 40 trips. You can also get a day pass, which gives you unlimited trips for that day. To use one of these cards, place the card on top of the gate's magnetic sensor and walk through (except the day pass – use this like a pay as you go card). Do the same when you leave, and keep the pass with you. A readout on top of the gate will tell you how many trips you have left when you exit the station.
Transferring to the subway
If you're using the skytrain and subway systems together, you can transfer from the BTS to the MRT at three stations. On the Sukhumvit line at Mo Chit and Asok, and on the Silom line at Sala Daeng.
Information booths are located at Siam Square, Nana and Saphan Taksin stations, where you can get maps and advice on what attractions are near which stations.
The Bangkok BTS website is www.bts.co.th/en where they have maps and guides to each station.
Things to remember
There is no food and drink allowed past the gates of any station; do not step over the yellow line while on the platform or you'll get an earful of security guard whistle; open from 6am to midnight.
About the Author
Canadian Greg Jorgensen arrived in Bangkok back in 2001 and forgot to leave. He blogs on his adopted home at Gregtodiffer.com — check it out!
Story by Greg Jorgensen
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