Thailand has been working hard since the late 1990s to bring its infrastructure up to speed. In Bangkok, the most cosmopolitan city in Thailand, this push to improve infrastructure is embodied by the Bangkok MRT, or Mass Rapid Transit. In other words, the MRT is Bangkok's first subway.
The MRT was born in November 1996, but didn't really get started until well into 1997. One of the toughest challenges in Bangkok was figuring out how to build stable, large, underground structures in soil that is low-lying and water-logged. However, the resourceful civil engineers managed to solve these issues, and in 2004 Thailand's King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit officially opened the Blue Line, the MRT's first line. Currently, close to 200,000 people per day use the Bangkok MRT.
Only One Line
The Bangkok MRT has begun modestly, operating only one line – the Blue Line. At present, the line runs from Bang Sue in the north to Hua Lamphong in the south. The Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) has plans to extend the northern end of the line as far as Tha Phra, and to extend the southern end of the line to Lak Song. Construction on these extensions should begin in 2013.
Additional plans call for an Orange Line, a Yellow Line, and a Pink Line. Plans for a Brown Line were recently cancelled, while construction on a Purple Line is currently underway.
Stops that Will Interest Visitors
Despite only having one line – much smaller than what many westerners, especially Brits, may be used to -- the Bangkok MRT is still far from useless. Here's a look at a few of the stops that visitors to Bangkok will want to know about:
- Kamphaeng Phet station: This station provides easy access to the Chatuchak weekend market, the largest outdoor market in Thailand. With over 5,000 stalls on thirty-five acres, the market draws 200,000 – 300,000 visitors each day it's open (most stalls are only open on the weekend). The Chatuchak market is a great place to find clothing, Thai crafts, religious items, collectibles, and food.
- Chatuchak Park station: From this station, visitors can connect with the Sukhumvit Line, part of the system of elevated trains that covers much of Bangkok. The Sukhumvit Line runs north and east.
- Phahon Yothin station: Shoppers will want to stop at this station to visit Central Plaza Lat Phrao and Union Mall. Central Plaza is a huge, seven-floor mall that also houses a convention centre. Union Mall is even bigger at eight stories, and is considerably newer than the aging Central Plaza.
- Lat Phrao station: From here, visitors can find a park and ride service to Don Mueang International Airport.
- Ratchadaphisek station: This district is one of Bangkok's tourist hot-spots. Filled with hotels, museums, and pubs, the Blue Line makes getting in and out of the Ratchada area much easier than before.
- Phra Ram 9 station: This station is close to Fortune Town, a new, large mall especially famous for its selection of electronics.
- Sam Yan station: At the Sam Yan station, visitors will find Chamchuri Square and the Snake Farm operated by the Thai Red Cross. Chamchuri Square is a high-rise just recently completed in 2008 that contains commercial offices, residences, and a shopping mall. The mall, promotionally referred to as the “Edutainment Gateway”, covers more than 20,000 square metres. It features bookstores, a handful of service and retail shops, as well as an exhibition centre of Thailand's National Science Museum. If “edutainment” is too tame for you, go visit the Snake Farm. Since many Thais die each year from poisonous snake bites, the Snake Farm, which is administered by the Red Cross, raises snakes in order to harvest their venom and create antidotes. Dedicated to the world's most venomous snakes, the farm contains cobras, vipers, and many other lethal snakes. Visitors can watch snake shows, witness the extraction of venom, attend lectures, or visit the Snake Farm museum.
A More than Fair Fare
At only 16 – 41 Thai Baht (£0.32 - £0.83), getting to must-see destinations in Bangkok has never been easier or cheaper for the average tourist. Although the MRT did suffer one accident in 2005, no one was seriously injured and the MRTA has spent time improving the way they train their drivers. In short, the MRT is a cheap, eco-friendly, and safe way to get to some of Bangkok's most interesting destinations.