Rise above the chaos and polution of Bangkok's streets, on the Skytrain...

Anyone who has sat hunched in a Bangkok tuk-tuk knows two things about the place: first, it's one of Asia's most exciting cities; second, it has an almighty traffic problem. Those motorised rickshaws are fun, but with gridlock threatening (an estimated 1,000 new cars hit the street every day), they're a lousy way to get anywhere. Far better to rise above the mayhem and take the Skytrain instead.

This elevated railway is the antithesis of the streets below. It's efficient, clean and easy to use, and it whisks you over the jams in air-conditioned comfort. It solves another Bangkok bugbear too - the baffling layout. There's no central point, just an amalgam of fuzzily focused areas that has visitors yearning for a beaten track. Well, here it is: two simple lines that make up a tour with fantastic views and theme-park simplicity. Hop aboard.

THE START: kick off at the fabulous Chatuchak weekend market at Mo Chit, the northernmost stop on the Sukhumvit Line. It's a maze of 15,000 stalls, with plants, pets, food, handicrafts and lots of clothes - many wannabe Thai designers start their careers here. You'll be lost in no time, but don't worry; that's half the fun. Catching the cacophony early is best, from about 9.30am, before temperatures rise. Handicrafts are around sections 22-25, and you'll find fascinating food stalls, with exotic local fruits and spices, in sections 6-8.

It's a short walk to the Skytrain station from here. Flop into the welcoming blast of air-con and get ready for some superb views - the tracks are about level with a fifth-storey window. Sit on the left-hand side and you won't miss the Victory Monument, a bombastic obelisk commemorating a victory over the French. As you head south, the cityscape grows more shiny and new, with towering hotels and office blocks and, to the left, Bangkok's tallest building, and briefly the world's tallest hotel, the 88-storey Baiyoke Sky Hotel.

The Skytrain track creeps higher as it approaches Siam Square, the nation's shopping showcase, and the swish facades and double-height intersection of the two Skytrain lines are downright futuristic.

FIRST STOP: Siam Get off at Siam station and leave by exit 4 to enter the recently opened Siam Paragon Siam Paragon. This mammoth mall is every bit as glitzy as those in Singapore or Hong Kong, with Ferrari and Maserati dealerships tucked in-between French Connection, Levi's and Miss Sixty.

Hungry? Good. Bangkok's street food is tasty and shouldn't be missed, but it's fashionable to eat in shopping centres right now, with the big malls competing to offer cheap gourmet-style market favourites for a couple of pounds. Tuck in here or at the nearby MBK mall.

Now walk west along Thanon Rama I, cross the busy Thanon Phrayathai and turn right into Soi Kasemsan 2. At the end of the lane is the Jim Thomson House. Still the city's most famous farang (foreigner), he was the charismatic OSS (forerunner of the CIA) station chief here for a spell in the 1940s, and later rejuvenated Thailand's silk-weaving tradition. It's sumptuous stuff, and you can see the fabrics - and his collection of Asian antiques - to best advantage on a tour of his six traditional Thai teak houses.

BACK ON BOARD: National Stadium Reboard the Skytrain here, a couple of minutes' walk from Jim Thompson's. You want the Silom Line, heading for Saphan Taksin. The train weaves over the traffic on Thanon Rama I and turns south, past the vast lawns and whitewashed grandstand of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club and Bangkok's most pleasant park, Lumphini. Then you veer right at Thanon Rama IV, where the night is given over to a market packed with designer fakes and the city's most famous fleshpot, Patpong.

THE FINISH: Saphan Taksin The Chao Phraya river sees the end of the elevated line, but just underneath the station is the Express Boat pier. This is a contender for a great public-transport route as well, but that's for another day. Hop one stop upriver to the Oriental Hotel, once the grandest non-royal building in Bangkok - possibly outmoded, but never outclassed. Take an outside table by the water's edge, order a cocktail, and watch the hotel courtesy boats switch on their nocturnal silhouettes of white lights.

Details: a single Skytrain ticket from a coin-operated machine costs 20p-60p, depending on the journey. A one-day pass is £1.50, a three-day pass £1.80, from a ticket office. Trains run 6am to midnight. Find a good detailed guide to the routes and stations at the Bangkok Mass Transit System