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Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)

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Sala Daeng station is number S2 on the Silom line, two stops away from Siam, the main interchange station. It hovers above Silom Road in Bangrak, close to the intersection of Rama IV and parallel to Surawong Road. Simply put, this is one of the liveliest, busiest, most interesting and eclectic areas in the whole city. While it's happening during the day, Silom especially comes to life after dark -- expect a mix of locals, expats and travellers vying for space with makeshift clothing stalls, potent scents wafting from a healthy array of street food carts and music blaring from both pirated CD stalls and upcountry musicians trying to earn a few baht.

Sala Daeng is perhaps best known as the gateway to the infamous Pat Pong red light district. The seediness once seeped onto Silom Road itself, but today it has been largely pushed into the side streets and alleys between Silom and Surawong Roads by government officials keen on cleaning up Bangkok's image. If you're put off by the idea of go-go bars and "massage" parlours, don't let that stop you from exploring this area. Especially if you stick to the southern side of Silom, which we find to be the more interesting side, you'll have no idea what goes on nearby. Bangkok's best public park, the family-friendly Lumpini is also a stone's throw away from Sala Daeng station.

This station is also one of three in the BTS system that connect to the MRT (subway). The MRT station here is called Silom -- to get there from inside Sala Daeng BTS station, walk east towards exits 4 and 5, but keep going straight along the sky walk over Silom Road, then take a right at the end of the walkway and head down the stairs to the MRT station.

Lumpini Park is directly across the major intersection where Silom meets Rama IV and Ratchadamri Roads. There are no elevated walkways to the park, so the best way to reach it from Silom Road is to go into Silom MRT station and use the free walkway (to your right upon entering the station) to walk beneath Rama IV. Take the escalator on the other side and you'll emerge slap bang at the front gates to the park.

Such is the volume of people in the Silom area that you'll find quite a bit to spend your money on before you even leave the BTS station itself. Coffee and bubble tea shops, bakeries, travel offices, news stands, phone shops and ATMs are all found immediately after exiting the ticket gates.

Directly south of the station and accessible from either exit 4 or exit 2 is Central Silom shopping centre, a medium size modern mall with a high-end department store on the top floor, pricey name brand fashion boutiques and an iStudio Apple shop on the middle floors, and a host of trendy restaurants in the basement, including a Wine Connection that's extremely popular. Also in the basement, behind a mix of Western, Thai and Japanese restaurants and several bakeries is a Tops gourmet supermarket, which is handy if you're seeking Western grocery standards like a full deli and cheese bar, a hot food bar and extensive bakery.

Back inside the BTS station, if you take exit 4 and hang a U-turn at the bottom of the stairs to turn back east on the southern side of Silom Road, you'll enter a tightly packed footpath where fresh fruit and grilled meat-on-a-stick carts fight for space with makeshift clothing stalls and sit-down street restaurants. Excellent khanom Jin (Chinese style rice noodles with a fishy curry sauce and greens) and khao mun gai (Thai style Hainanese chicken rice) stalls are found almost immediately in this direction after 17:00 -- but be prepared to wait for a table. There's also a Yum Saap northeastern Thai style salad joint with an English menu in this stretch.

Continue east on Silom Road from here and you'll hit Sala Daeng Road, a narrow two-lane thoroughfare that runs south to Sathorn and the heart of the commercial and banking district. Here you'll find a great artsy coffee shop called Cafe Bangrak next to Silom Cellar Wine Shop, and across the street is Rice Bar, a tasty Korean restaurant with an emphasis on healthy food. Just south of that are a number of reputable dentist offices should you need a root canal or two. The road gets quieter the further south you go, but a couple of excellent Thai-Western fusion restaurants -- Aubergine and Eat Me -- are found down this way. The latter also hosts a contemporary art gallery considered one of the best in the city.

Smack at the corner of Sala Daeng and Silom Roads is an old school noodle shop that serves tasty and cheap kwit tieau nam all day and a street cart that hawks savoury deep fried crab and shrimp after 17:00. Continue east on Silom past Sala Daeng Road and you'll hit an Au Bon Pain before the entrance to the large and long-running Dusit Thani Hotel, and the MRT station just beyond that.

Take exit 2 out of the station and you'll be immediately hit by row after row of footpath clothing and phone accessory vendors in either direction. Hang a U-turn for several great hole-in-the-wall food shops that line the footpath as it heads back to Central Silom shopping centre. Go straight west out of exit 2 and you'll first pass an air-con Doi Tung coffee shop, an excellent choice for a cuppa northern Thai arabica and a break from the crowds and heat.

Just past that is the narrow Soi Convent, which shoots to the south towards Sathorn and is a go-to street for foodies in Bangkok. Here you'll find a range of large-scale air-con eateries, pubs and cafes on the east side of the soi -- some chains, such as Starbucks and Zen Japanese -- and others local institutions, including Coyote Tex Mex and Molly Malone's Irish Pub. A host of excellent noodle soup and khao ka muu (braised pork shoulder with rice) street restaurants also line this side of the soi smack in front of the big, pricey restaurants. If you want Thai food in a more spacious air-con setting, Bua Restaurant is a fine choice.

Cross over to the western side of Soi Convent and several no-frills Isaan street eateries, including Hai Som Tam Convent, churn out spicy northeastern Thai salads and soups with sticky rice to the masses every day and evening. Nearby is Seafood Tubtim, which is always packed full of locals, a testament to the fresh catches served up no-frills here. If seeking something more refined, head for the French brasserie at Indigo.

Back to Silom Road and continuing west, the clothing stalls continue but things get slightly less crowded. You'll pass CP Tower, home to a McDonalds, Pizza Company and Bookazine, a well stocked bookstore that stays open until 23:00. Tucked into a tiny, dark alley just on the western perimeter of CP Tower is a quality little seafood street restaurant with an English menu. Keep going and you'll reach Naradhiwas Road and the nondescript entrances to Lalai Sap market after a few more hundred metres, at which point you'll be close to Chong Nonsi BTS station.

Back at Sala Daeng station, take exit 3, hang a U-turn to head west on the northern side of Silom Road and you'll pass a handful of restaurants and cafes, including Noodi and its interesting menu of pan-Asian noodle soups, Bug & Bee, and one of the better coffee shops in this neighbourhood -- Coffee Society. Past that is another, smaller Tops Supermarket, another Starbucks and, yes, another McDonalds located at the corner of Silom and Rama IV Roads. Mosey around the corner onto Rama IV and you'll see the cosy Dolores Old Times Pizza and the swish Crowne Plaza Bangkok Hotel just past that. Further this way is a solid American style steakhouse/pub, Smokehouse and Grill, located at the corner of Rama IV and Surawong.

If you go straight out of exit 3 and walk west on Silom, things get even more lively, but also more sleazy. First up is Thaniya Road, which shoots north to Surawong and is home to loads of bars and clubs, including go-go bars, more standard nightclubs and the popular Irish pub, O'Reilly's. Thaniya boasts several clubs and "massage" parlours that cater specifically to Japanese people, but one good, non-sleazy exception is the Barbican, a great little pub about 200 metres in on the right side of the soi. Continue west on Silom and you'll pass a handful of chain restaurants -- Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway, Haagen Dazs -- before hitting Sports World sporting goods store in front of exit 1 out of the BTS station.

Next you'll come to Soi 4, a short strip of clubs that's usually crowded no matter what night it is. Many of the bars here tend to be of the gay variety, but remain popular with both gay and straight crowds for the thumping dance music and party atmosphere. Of all the side streets between Silom and Surawong, this is the best bet if seeking a fun but not smutty night out.

Continue west past Soi 4 and you'll hit Pat Pong itself. Fifty years ago it was a pineapple plantation but now hosts many of the bars (or their descendants) that gave rise to Bangkok's reputation as sex capital of the world. Although there are still plenty of venues offering hard core entertainment, it's been toned down over the past decade to the point that it's not uncommon to see families walking around and browsing the Pat Pong night market, one of the busiest in town and quite the tourist trap. These days, the more pronounced sleaze factor has taken root a tad north in the small alleys on either side of Surawong Road, which are easily avoided should you want to. Throughout this area, beware of the pushy touts who like to grab the arms of men and shove smutty "brochures" of naked people -- men, women, and those who fall somewhere in between -- in their faces.

Near the corner of Pat Pong and Silom Roads are two more Tex Mex joints, Patty's and Sunrise Tacos; if deciding between the three, Coyote has the best but most expensive food, Patty's is lively but has a slightly raunchy feel, and Sunrise is open 24 hours. The night market atmosphere continues westward for a good distance from here; expect knock-off Diesel T-shirts, hats made out of Coke cans, cheesy lanterns with pictures of elephants and the rest of the typical array of crap that you'll also find at MBK. Then, as if out of nowhere, comes Bangkok Christian Hospital.

Immediately past the hospital is Soi 6, which is home to a host of Japanese restaurants and a handful of far more low-key bars with open-air patios. You'll find a good nibble of sushi here, but the best Japanese food around is probably further west at Takeitei Restaurant, near the corner of Naradhiwas Road, which offers a great lunch buffet.

The entire area around Sala Daeng station is also home to countless massage parlours and spas, but choose wisely as many of these offer a bit more than just a plain old Thai massage (and we don't mean aromatherapy). It's not too difficult to decipher between a clean, reputable spa and a seedy massage parlour, but one very good, non-seedy spa in this vicinity is Body Tone, located near exit 5 out of the BTS station. Otherwise, try Health Land a 15-minute walk or five-minute taxi ride away on Sathorn Road.

If looking for a budget place to stay near Sala Daeng BTS station, check out The Inn Saladaeng, HQ Hostel, Silom Art Hostel or The Urban Age.

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Location map for Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)

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