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JULY 3, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 26

Illustration for TIME by Sam Wilson.

Leap Bangkok's Traffic With a Single Bound

Black clouds of exhaust invade your nostrils. Red tail lights flash endlessly before your eyes. You are going nowhere, and not even fast. While Thailand remains one of the top destinations in Asia, Bangkok's legendary traffic jams are of such epic proportions that they drive the average tourist from the capital in about two days. That's a shame, because the city offers more diversity, diHot versions and richness of culture than anywhere else in Thailand. Luckily, with the opening of the Skytrain last December, you no longer have to waste precious time trapped tuk tuk-deep in Bangkok snarl.

Set in motion by Thailand's last military government in 1992, the Skytrain project took more than seven years to complete and cost $1.2 billion. It also brought its developer, Tanayong Plc., to the brink of bankruptcy and inspired stubborn opposition from Bangkok's governor and environmentalists who said it would blight the skyline and increase pollution. From ground level the elevated Skytrain is indeed an eyesore. Beneath its concrete-slab stations, once-sun-splashed streets are shrouded in cave-like darkness. Ascend to the platforms, however, and the Skytrain becomes a thing of beauty. Crime-free and clean--they are brand new, after all--the red, white and blue trains whisk passengers along a 23.5-km route that offers a vantage point to vistas and greenery most locals had never seen.

Leap Bangkok's Traffic With a Single Bound
Bangkok's legendary traffic jams are of such epic proportions that they drive the average tourist from the capital in about two days

Skip the over-touristed early morning Floating Market and satisfy your floral and vegetal needs by heading to where Bangkok's merchants shop

Short Cuts
Take a trip to Dan Sai town in Loei province for some traditional revelry

Hot Spot
Your stomach will agree that this part of town is a victory of substance over style

Golf fans will be able to get a glimpse of Tiger Woods

More importantly, it opens up areas of the city once strangled by traffic. To drive from the Shangri-La Hotel to Chatuchak weekend market would normally take an hour and a half, maybe four during a downpour. By Skytrain it takes 25 min., maximum. Travelers would do well to stay at hotels along the Skytrain route, and there are plenty in all price ranges. In the five-star category, the Shangri-La, Oriental, Regent, Grand Hyatt Erawan, Dusit Thani, Inter-Continental, Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit and Landmark all have Skytrain stations nearby.

The main terminal is Mor Chit, home to Chatuchak, a sprawling market for crafts, antiques and second-hand junk. The Skytrain consists of two lines: the Sukhumvit and the Silom. To reach downtown Bangkok from Mor Chit, take the Sukhumvit line past the Piccadilly Circus-like roundabout of the Victory Monument to Siam station, the nexus of the two lines. Below lies the busiest junction in the city, Siam Square, which is home to Bangkok's vibrant youth culture. Right in front of this area is shopping central, with the massive Mahboonkrong, Siam Center and Discovery Center malls. One stop away is Chit Lom station near the famed four-headed golden statue of Brahma at Erawan Shrine, where Thai classical dancers twirl and sway at all hours as crowds make offerings of incense and jasmine.

The latest dance craze in Bangkok isn't classical, but salsa, and one of the premier clubs, El Nio (tel: 6560-1602) is across the street in the President Hotel. Spasso disco (tel: 254-1234) in the basement of the nearby Grand Hyatt is a big draw, too. For a more sedate evening, try the Regent's Biscotti (tel: 255-5443), regarded as the top Italian restaurant in town.

The prime stop for dining and nightlife, however, is Saladaeng station on the Silom line. Here you will find the Patpong sin strip and the Japanese hostess bars of Thaniya Road. The locals prefer Soi 4, a small lane of mixed gay and straight bars and discos. For dining, you can't go wrong on Convent Road, home to Delaney's Irish Pub & Restaurant, La Boulange patisserie, Via Convent, Café Bongo, Soho and a smattering of tasty shophouse Thai restaurants. Along nearby Soi Saladaeng is Zanotti, an elegant Italian bistro, and Anna Café, specializing in the trendy northeastern Thai cuisine of Isaan. Phone numbers for these and other eateries are available at

While Bangkok's nightlife never stops, trains stop running at midnight, leaving you at the mercy of the roads and the capital's charming taxi drivers. By then, thankfully, most of the exhaust fumes have blown away.

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