Oct 12 2012
Fantastic green spaces are found in many Southeast Asian cities. Hanoi has West Lake, Singapore boasts Bukit Timah and Chiang Mai is graced by Doi Suthep to name a few. Yet only Bangkok’s Lumpini Park rubs shoulders with London’s St James Park and New York’s Central Park among the world’s best centrally located urban parks. Here’s how to enjoy every bit of Lumpini’s 142 acres in the heart of Bangkok.
Named after the village where the Buddha was born in western Nepal, Lumpini Park was created in the 1920s by King Rama VI. An imposing statue of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) greets those entering through the main western entrance. Rama V — who’s credited with modernising Thailand — is depicted while standing in full military regalia, gazing at the modern office buildings and high-rise hotels of Silom Road.
Lumpini is surrounded by the pricey Sathorn, Ratchadamri, Wireless and Rama IV roads and is accessible from Silom MRT station, Lumpini MRT station or Sala Daeng BTS station. Also just five to 10 minutes’ on foot from a handful of major Western embassies, some of Bangkok’s most luxurious hotels, the glitzy malls of Siam Square and the prestigious Chulalongkorn University, Lumpini occupies some of the most prime real estate in all of Thailand.
Not including a 40 baht swan-boat ride around one of the park’s two large ponds and a new fitness centre, Lumpini is entirely a free and open public space. Perhaps more than anywhere in Bangkok, the park feels like a common ground; expect to hear a variety of languages spoken and see every skin colour imaginable. Lumpini is large enough, however, that it’s easy to find a peaceful slice of green all for yourself — don’t forget that picnic basket.
Lounging on the spongy grass or stepping along the paved walkways (don’t forget to stop at one of the bridges to feed the fish) are what most travellers end up doing in Lumpini, but the park does offer a wide range of activities. A copy of your passport and 40 baht bags you a year-long membership to a brand new air-con fitness centre, outdoor laps pool and tennis/badminton courts, which is a steal if you live in the area, and reasonable even if just wanting to work out once.
Lumpini also offers plenty of free activities. My favourite is joining the hundreds of runners who emerge each evening around sunset to jog laps around the park’s flat two-and-a-half kilometre loop. Several stands sell water and snacks throughout the park; an icy fresh-squeezed tangerine juice from a vendor near the entrance to Silom MRT station has become my post-run ritual.
If running is too dull for you, why not join in one of several fitness dance groups who work it out to fast-paced Thai and Western music each evening around dusk? If wanting to work on your biceps and triceps, stop by one of two outdoor weight gyms and ask one of Bangkok’s friendly musclebound lifters for a spot. Or you could hop on one of the oddly placed free-standing fitness machines that line some of the walkways, join in a weekly ballroom dancing lesson (usually held on Sunday early evenings near the basketball court) or work on your kick flip around a few skateboard-worthy fountain areas.
If seeking something more competitive, you could test your skills in a rousing game of tha kor (kick volleyball), but be warned that the locals take it pretty seriously so you’ll need to have at least been an avid hackey-sacker in your teenaged years to have a chance of keeping up. A well maintained full basketball court is also found near the tha kor court in Lumpini’s northern reaches — join a relatively competitive five-on-five game in the early evening hours or come in the morning if you need a little personal time to practice that jump shot.
Lumpini is most active when the air cools down around dusk and in the early morning. Sleeping under a tree seems to be the only manageable mid-day activity thanks to the tropical heat, but a couple of large playgrounds are shaded by tall trees. Indeed, Lumpini is the place in Bangkok for letting your kids play off some steam.
Along with several interesting sculptures and traditional Thai- and Chinese-style pavilions, Lumpini is also home to a fair share of animals. Docile stray dogs and cats are regularly found wandering the park, and a healthy population of monitor lizards lurk in the murky ponds. Often more than a metre in length, the mini dinosaur-like green lizards are a frightening sight to most travellers. Some locals, on the other hand, are a bit more accustomed to them.
Lumpini teems with well-groomed trees and flowers, making a romantic stroll beneath the banyans another popular activity.Come on a Sunday and you might be treated to a free concert by local music students or even the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. If that and/or watching the goofier of the fitness dancers isn’t entertaining enough, you could always stroll to Lumpini Boxing Stadium just southeast of the park for a raucous night of Muay Thai.
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