Oct 21 2012
Just west of the glitzy Siam Square shopping district and easily accessible from National Stadium BTS station, Bangkok’s National Stadium is a sprawling public sports complex in the middle of the city. While not as awe-inspiring as Phnom Penh’s architecturally significant Olympic Stadium, National Stadium is no slouch as stadiums go and it’s one of the best places in the city to get a good workout.
The original, and still the largest individual structure of the complex, is Supachalasai Stadium, which was built in 1937 and has hosted major events over the years like the Asian Games (three times in the 1960s and ’70s) and two Michael Jackson concerts during his 1993 Dangerous World Tour. Supachalasai hasn’t seen as much use since the larger 1998-built Rajamanghala Stadium in east Bangkok became the city’s favoured venue for major events, but it still hosts important Thai club football matches and was used for one game during the 2007 AFC football cup.
Supachalasai is also home to several athletics-related government offices, and there’s even a Thai physical education museum on the eastern side of the stadium. As if that’s not exciting enough, a relatively elaborate outdoor fitness area opens to the public everyday for free near Supachalasai’s northeastern corner.
Anyone who has the patience to locate a way in to Supachalasai Stadium through one of the huge but inconsistently opened corner entrance-ways is allowed to walk right onto the hallowed field of play and daydream about that moment of victory in front of 55,000 screaming fans. If looking to jog or kick a football around, however, you’ll need to head to the smaller Thephassadin Stadium nearby, or risk being reprimanded by a groundskeeper. Thankfully, Thephassadin’s full-size track is a great place to run off some steam along with the stream of joggers who make their way here when the air cools down around dusk.
Just south of Thephassadin, a few half-size basketball courts are good places to join a casual late afternoon game of three-on-three, but these pale in popularity to the takraw (kick volleyball) courts next door. These also fill up as the sun goes down so it’s best to come in the late afternoon if wanting an impromptu lesson from the locals on how to spike a ball over the net using only your feet — you might consider bringing a helmet along.
Just east of Thephassadin you’ll find the Olympic-size pool and diving platforms of Wisutamol Stadium. Anyone can swim laps or practise their high-dive by paying a 100 baht entrance fee in the office at the northwestern corner of the building, making this a solid option for those not staying at a hotel with a pool but needing a dip on a scorching hot day.
Nimidbud Muay Thai stadium is the first part of the complex you’ll see from the BTS station, and many passersby mistakenly assume this is the National Stadium. Only the occasional special kickboxing event takes place at Nimidbud (head to Lumpini or Channel 7 to see more consistent fights), but when we visited preparations were taking place for a muay Thai demonstration in the area that fronts the stadium, which is normally occupied by short-court football games open to anyone in the early evening hours.
Collectively, the National Stadium complex offers both locals and travellers the chance to exercise and enjoy some open space amid the high-rises and shopping malls of central Bangkok. Other noteworthy places in the city to lounge on grassy fields or work off that buffet lunch include Lumpini Park and Suan Rot Fai. Now that you can no longer use the excuse that you don’t know where to go in Bangkok to exercise, we’ll see you out on the track?
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