Bangkok by skytrain: Siam

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First published 4th June, 2014

Anchoring the Siam Square shopping district, Siam BTS station (aka "central station") provides the only interchange between the Skytrain system's Sukhumvit and Silom lines. The station sits over Rama I Road in a central area of the city where real estate is among the priciest in Thailand.


Siam station is a bustling, multi-floor affair that can get uncomfortably packed during rush hours despite its user-friendly design. Connected by escalators, lifts and regular stairs, the upper two platforms each service two trains heading in one of four possible directions. Signs for the trains are clearly marked and easy to follow. Along with several small shops, you'll find maps of the immediate area, exit information, change booths and ticket machines on the first floor.

The most Instagrammed place in the world, Siam Paragon covers a huge area to the immediate north of the station and can be reached directly via exits 3 and 5. This glistening mall is studded with names like Gucci, Prada, Chanel and even Ferrari; scruffy backpackers might feel out of place. You'll also find pricey eateries on the ground floor, Siam Ocean World in the basement, and a bowling alley and super-posh cinema on the fifth floor. Paragon is also home to Sra Bua, a creative-upscale Thai restaurant that regularly appears on "best restaurants in Asia" lists. If you're after a good book, head to Kinokuniya's flagship store on the third floor.

Straight west of Paragon and reachable via exit 1, Siam Center is a smaller mall with brand-name shops that tend more towards a youthful, skate-kid sort of crowd. West of that is Siam Discovery, a more straightforward, midsize mall with a wide mix of fairly expensive stores. Discovery's top floor is home to Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

Midday in Siam station.

Midday at Siam station.

Heading east out of Siam station, a spacious sky-walk leads to Wat Pathum Wannaram and the cavernous CentralWorld, one of the largest malls in the world. Along with eight dizzying floors of brand-name stores you'll find an ice-skating rink and cinema. Directly in front of the mall, CentralWorld plaza is a large outdoor square that hosts Bangkok's largest New Year's Eve countdown party.

Skip CentralWorld and the skywalk continues east, over Ratchaprasong intersection, and straight into Chit Lom BTS station. Turn left (north) onto Ratchadamri Road in front of CentralWorld plaza and you'll reach a San Saeb khlong boat pier, with the more working-class malls of Pratunam a short walk back west from there, along Phetchaburi Road.

Humble street carts amid a futuristic atmosphere.

Humble street carts amid a futuristic atmosphere.

While the entire north side of Siam station is dominated by malls, the south retains a more energetic and youthful atmosphere thanks in part to neighbouring Chulalongkorn University. This is where you'll find Siam Square proper, which consists of a few wide side streets connected by countless narrow alleys with loads of trendy boutiques and restaurants. This is hip and modern Bangkok at its best.

Immediately south of the station lies the brand new (as of 2014) Siam Square One, a partially open-air shopping plaza that fits fairly well into the cool-kid atmosphere. Just east of that is Siam Square Soi 5, home to Som Tam Nua and its upmarket Isaan fare. For something cheaper, look for the narrow alley that shoots straight east from Soi 5 into the tightly packed Food Plus Hawker Centre, where you can fill up on authentic Thai street staples for under 50 baht.

Due west of Siam Square One and accessed directly from the station via exits 2 and 4, Siam Square sois 3 and 4 are good starting points for exploring the countless closet-size boutiques. You'll find everything from name-brand sunglasses to knockoff shoes and retro wears invented by creative local designers.

Sois 1 and 2 on the west side of Siam Square are home to two theatres serving up a vintage movie experience. While the 1,000-seat Scala shows the latest blockbusters, the Lido mainly runs indie films and documentaries from Thailand and abroad. If you need to freshen up before that movie date, several salons and skin-care centres are found over on Soi 3.

A bit further south from the BTS station lies the prestigious Chulalongkorn University campus. Home to Thai/Asian history and culture books at Chula Book Centre and the jarring Museum of the Human Body, the leafy campus is a fine spot for a break from the urban chaos. Along with more boutiques and cafes, you'll happen upon some rad street art on and around the adjacent streets. This is also where Bangkok's Hard Rock Cafe is located.

The footpath night market begins to take shape.

The footpath night market begins to take shape.

Back near the station on the south side of Rama I Road leading up to Pathumwan intersection, the footpath jams after dark with vendors selling dirt-cheap wears in a bustling night market. On the opposite (west) side of Phaya Thai Road looms the enormous MBK and Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, both accessible via a skywalk from the footpath near Siam Square -- but not from Siam station itself. Both are more easily accessed from National Stadium BTS station.

Though better known for shopping than dining, Siam Square offers a decent mix of chain restaurants, food courts and hole-in-the-wall cafes scattered amid the boutiques, with a notably high volume of Japanese eateries. Award-winning Chabuton Ramen on Rama I Road, vegetarian Koko Restaurant on Soi 3 and no-frills See Fah on Soi 4 are all worth seeking out. Ka-nom Fashion Bakery on Soi 4 is also worth a stop for something sweet. For street food it's either the aforementioned Food Plus or Sam Yan market, which is a 20-minute walk from Siam station to the west of the Chula campus.

The hotels closest to Siam station are all high-end offerings such as Siam Kempinski in Paragon and the Novotel off Henri Durant Road. For something cheaper, head a little further west to Lub d Siam or one of the inexpensive guesthouses on Soi Kasem San 1.


About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.


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