The Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) was officially opened on the 5th December 1999. It had been under construction, in one for form or another, for a decade before finally being completed. The name by which it is commonly known, ‘Skytrain’, was coined by the local press.
The Skytrain has been extended twice since 1999, once in 2009 and again in 2011 and now extends 30.95 km across the City. The system has two lines: the Sukhumvit Line and the Silom Line. The Sukhumvit Line currently has 21 stations going from the North of the City (Mo Chit) to the South East of the City (Bearing) stretching almost to the metroplitan limits of the Sukhumvit Road. The other line, the Silom Line, has 8 stations and runs from the National Stadium in the centre of the City to the West of the City over to the other side of the river (Wongwai Yai).
Diagram courtesy of www.bts.co.th
As the digram above shows, the term Skytrain refers to the elevation of the track above ground level at an average of 12 metres. The Stytrain largely follows existing roads in Bangkok. As well as being a great way to beat the traffic on the congested Bangkok roads, for tourists this elevated position provides excellent views of the City. Even if you have the money to pay for taxis, it is well worth using the Skytrain as you will see so much more than you would at road level – as well as travelling much more quickly on long journeys.
Navigation on the Skytrain
Navigating the Skytrain is very simple. Select the correct line and then select the correct direction of travel by referring to the end station on the line. For the Sukhumvit Line you head towards Mo Chit if you are going North (ie from Sukhumvit to Siam Square) or Bearing if you are going South. For the Silom Line you head towards Wongwian Yai if you are heading West (ie from the city centre to the Silom area) and towards National Stadium if you are heading East.
The Skytrain has its limits in terms of coverage of the City. It won’t take you to the Grand Palace or Khao San and it won’t take you to the airport.
To get to the international airport take the Sukhumvit Line to Phaya Thai BTS station and change to the Airport Link. You will need to buy a new ticket.
To get to the Grand Palace or Khao San take the Silom Line to Saphan Taksin BTS station and exit the station to Sathorn Pier. From there you can take the Chao Phraya Express Boat onwards to destinations on the river. You can buy the ticket on the boat.
Fares for the BTS
From the perspective of tourists the BTS system is incredibly good value for money. Although, from the perspective of Thai’s who are on an average income the fares are expensive and many people are forced to struggle to and from work on the buses which are a fraction of the cost.
To purchase single journey tickets you must use the coin operated machines before the barrier gates. They are simple to use with a useful explanatory map beside each machine. The way you buy a tickets is to select the number of zones you wish to travel and insert coins. They don’t take notes. If you need change every station has a kiosk where you can get change.
There are six zones. As of June 2012 a journey in 1 zones costs 15 THB ($0.5), 2 zones 20 THB ($0.67), 3 zones ($0.83), 4 zones ($1), 5 zones ($1.17) and 5 zones ($1.67). For the journey from Siam Square BTS station to Nana BTS station (near Soi 7 on the Sukhumvit Road) you travel 2 zones and therefore pay 20 THB.
You can also buy a Day Pass from the kiosk for unlimited travel in any 24 hour period, these cost 150 THB ($5). For longer stays, purchase a 30 Day Smart Pass for 30THB. Once you have the Smart Pass you can buy a block of single journey tickets which you must use within 30 days of purchase. For travel over a period of a week or more this is by far the cheapest way to buy tickets. Thai Commuters all use a Smart Card. There are different packages: 15 trips for 375 THB ($12.50), 25 trips for 575 THB ($19.16), 40 trips for 840 THB ($28), or 50 trips for 1,000 THB ($33.33).