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Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor

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The first in our series of "Exploring Bangkok by Skytrain" series -- with a new station to be added every Friday afternoon (just in time for the weekend). We cover everything from restaurant and bars to little-known art-cafes, and they're all walking distance from Bangkok's BTS Skytrain.

Thong Lo station is right on the edge of one of the more Westernised areas of Bangkok, reflected by the many pubs, bars, shops and restaurants catering to expatriate tastes sprinkled here, but the soi also has many distinctly Thai spots. Thong Lo station is the sixth from Siam Square, or E6 on the Eastern Route. The fee here depends on where you're coming from, but will never be more than 40B.

Thong Lo station lies at a four-way intersection. Branching off of either side of Sukhumvit is soi 38 to the south and soi 55 (aka Soi Thong Lo) to the north. During the day, the only soi of any note is Thong Lo, but from around 4 pm, the area comes alive.

Directly under the station lurks some of the best street food in the city. The mouth of soi 38 is renowned for its selection and quality of dishes which appear on carts once the sun goes down, luring loads of hungry diners. Some favorites are khao moo daeng (rice with red pork) and khao niaow ma muang (mango with sticky rice and sweet sauce). Opposite on the north side of Sukhumvit, you'll find a friendly young woman selling one of the best examples of khao na moo (rice with pork and vegetables) around. She's usually sold out by 8 pm, so get there early! Next door is a stall selling khao na gai (rice with chicken), which is basic but quite good. Most dishes around here cost 20 to 40B per plate.

If you're looking for something a bit more upscale, try Face Restaurant (02 713-6048), about 50m into soi 38 on the left. Inside you'll find a funky lounge and beautifully decorated Thai and Indian restaurants. The food is outstanding and the service great, with Western prices to match. Phone ahead for reservations and dress appropriately -- no shorts or sandals. Another upper-end choice, although more palatable to the wallet, is Duilio's, a decent Italian restaurant just a short walk west of the station, and about 120m into soi 49.

Heading down into Thong Lo, a few stalls on the left hawk fresh fruit ranging from ordinary red apples and hands of bananas to more interesting local fare like bright pink dragon fruit (kaew mung korn) or furry red rambutans (ngaw). Several stalls also sell Thai snacks like barbecued pork (moo ping), roasted bananas (gluay ping) and the delicious but horrendously fattening rotti (dough baked with sugar, banana, condensed milk and eggs).

Down about 50m on the left is The Barber Room, a cluttered barber shop staffed by a rag-tag group of friendly older men who will cut your hair, shave your face and even clean and trim your ear and nose hairs, all for 80B-150B, depending on what you get done. A proper salon a few doors down for women offers everything from a basic wash to a whole new look for 150B-500B.

Further down, just past the first of many 7-11s, you'll find Plan Net, a well-run internet shop. Prices are a bit higher (40B per hour) than some other places but the air-con is refreshing, the computers are fast and the staff friendly. Outside a small coffee kiosk serves good java (iced or regular) for 20B - 35B per cup to sip while you surf.

Thirty metres beyond Plan Net is Grand Ramen, a Japanese noodle shop. Again, the prices are a bit higher (50B - 140B) than a bowl of soup from a street stall but the portions are huge and you get a cold towel and tea with your order. The Japanese Katsu Curry is delicious.

Across the street from Plan Net you'll see a group of motorcycle taxis, always on the lookout for a fare. Just wave your hand and one of them will zip across the street to pick you up. These guys might be the cheapest in the city - the 2.5 km trip to the other end of the soi is only 20B. They're usually pretty fair, but use this price as a guide to how much they should charge you.

If zigzagging between lines of cars belching fumes isn't your thing, try catching the small red bus that stops just outside Plan Net - a few constantly circle Thong Lo. They depart roughly every 15 minutes, to be replaced by a twin that pulls up behind it, and putt along at a leisurely pace. When you see where you want to get off, press the buzzer and jump when they (sort of) stop. If you're more than 5'8", you might find it a bit constricting, but the flat fares are only 4B for Thais and 5B for foreigners. Don't fret - at 1B, it's the least-offensive double pricing in Thailand.

Use your preferred method to get further down Thong Lo and explore this interesting area a bit further.

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