Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
Updated on 4th June, 2014. First published 4th November, 2005
Number S6 on the Silom Line, Saphan Taksin station is named after the bridge on which it shares space with multiple lanes of car and truck traffic. Saphan Taksin bridge spans the Chao Phraya river, and directly beneath the bridge is the largest passenger boat pier on the river. This station is also a gateway to some excellent food, shopping, sightseeing and some of the swankiest hotels in Bangkok.
Saphan Taksin is the only BTS station with a direct transfer to the Chao Phraya express boat. Take the stairs at exit 2 and walk straight under the overpass to reach the pier, where you can catch a mix of express, local, long distance and tourist boats which run regularly between 06:00 and 19:00 daily. Hotel and other boats use the smaller pier extending from a walkway to the left if facing the river, including the free express boat shuttle to Asiatique night bazaar and others heading to various hotels, dinner cruise ships and the like. It's also possible to arrange a private longtail boat tour at Sathorn pier, though the touts can be pushy. Aside from the piers, the only place accessible from exit 2 is a tiny riverside park that flanks the station's northern side, the main feature of which is a public restroom.
Exit 1 takes you straight to the cross-river ferry pier, where you can pay three baht to cross over to the Chao Phraya's western bank. Immediately on the other side of the river is another small park with volleyball, basketball and mini-football courts, with Charoen Nakhon Road beyond that. Note that the sky train can also take you across the river. The only other places accessed via exit 1 is the up-scale Shangrila Hotel and a rather neglected Chinese temple.
Other than the piers, the main reason to get off at Saphan Taksin station is Charoen Krung Road, which is the oldest thoroughfare in all of Bangkok. To head south on Charoen Krung, take exit 4 and keep to the right. While walking in this direction, note the towering, unfinished monstrosity that was supposed to be a rather gaudy condo building, the "Sathorn Unique", before the project was abandoned when developers ran short on funds following the 1997 Asia financial crisis. Several such buildings can be found in the city but this is the largest -- now it's used only to hang a couple of massive, obnoxious advertisements.
As you head towards the luxury condos that never were, stick to the right side of the street and you'll first see Promwachirayan Institute, an excellent Chinese-Thai wellness centre where you can enjoy acupuncture, aromatherapy or massage. Just past that you'll see the gates to Wat Yannawa, a historic and ornate temple with one building that mimics an old Chinese trading junk. Continuing south along Charoen Krung from Wat Yannawa takes you past some crumbling old heritage buildings, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and a couple of smaller temples and schools, but the next major attraction isn't until Asiatique at Soi 74, some 1.5 kilometres south of the station.
While Wat Yannawa and Asiatique are both worthwhile, most of Charoen Krung's action is to the north of the station, accessible by exit 3. This is also the way to go if wanting to head straight east on Sathorn Rd, though this stretch of Sathorn takes you past nothing but banks and office buildings until you hit the next BTS station, Surasak, 1.5 kilometres away.
To explore a more bustling section of Charoen Krung, take exit 3, walk east for no more than 100 metres and take a left. You'll be met by a buzz of activity, including some fantastic street food; this area is a feast for all of the senses. Immediately look to the left and you'll see the small Bangrak night bazaar which gets going around 17:00 on Soi 50 and is a fine place to pick up a cheap pair of socks, but not much else. Just past that is the large Robinson shopping plaza, where you'll find a Tops supermarket and a range of fast food joints.
Continue a bit further north and several fresh fruit and street food vendors are clustered in and around Soi 46. At this point, look across the street to see what that aforementioned abandoned hotel would have looked like if it had been completed -- that's the behemoth Lebua State Tower, which is the third tallest building in Bangkok and boasts eye-popping views from the 64th floor sky bar. The golden dome at its top is on the tacky side, but it was the perfect setting for one of the final scenes in The Hangover 2.
Continue north and you'll reach the point where Silom Road shoots east and Charoen Krung curves slightly northwest, following the path of the river. Head this way up Silom and there's plenty more to see and do, including a sea shell museum, Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple, Kathmandu art gallery and several hotels and restaurants, including quite a few serving Indian fare and a clutch of Thai barbecue joints on Silom Soi 20. Speaking of Indian, Muslim Restaurant on Charoen Krung just north of Silom (right after Charoen Krung Soi 42) is a cheap and outstanding spot for spicy southern Indian curries with a Thai flare.
Head northward on Charoen Krung from Silom and the atmosphere quiets down considerably, with trees, crumbling old two-storey buildings, coffee shops and countless silver, gems, jewellery and Asian art and antique galleries lining both sides of the road, which becomes one-way around Soi 36. Take a left down Soi 40 to scope Assumption Cathedral, Bangkok's largest and most prominent Catholic church, located in the greater Assumption University complex.
What many feel is Bangkok's best luxury hotel -- the Mandarin Oriental -- occupies the area between Soi 40 and Soi 38 and has its own express boat pier which is open to all. A range of high-end dining and shopping options, including the silk and antique dealers of OP Place, surround the Oriental. If wanting to stay in this neck of the woods on the cheap, check out New Road Guesthouse near the corner of Charoen Krung and Surawong Rd or Swan Hotel on Soi 36. Also in this area, Home Cuisine is another exceptional spot for Indian-Thai Muslim fare.
Continue north on Charoen Krung for more of the historic and artsy -- check out the photogenically crumbling East Asiatic building just past the French embassy at the end of Soi 36, or pop into exquisite 50 Years Arts and Antiques Gallery and funky Warp54 Studio on Soi 30. Head a little further down Soi 30 past the Portuguese embassy (Bangkok's oldest foreign embassy) and stop for a riverside cocktail at Viva & Aviz. At this point, you'll be a couple of kilometres from Saphan Taksin station and within striking distance of Chinatown.
Related readingBangkok by skytrain: Ari
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