Oct 02 2013
With more than a dozen parks and other public green spaces strategically dotted around Bangkok, a pleasant place to play, picnic and exercise is never far away. Part one of our wrap on the city’s parks focuses on the smaller options. In a giant metropolis, small can be refreshing.
The best known of Bangkok’s smaller parks, Benchasiri is a welcome breath of fresh air amid the hotels and shopping malls of Sukhumvit Road. Its most distinctive feature is a pair of traditional Thai-style pavilions that starkly contrast the surrounding skyscrapers. With playgrounds, wide lawns, nightly aerobics, takraw and basketball sessions, and occasional weekend concerts, Benchasiri packs a lot into five measly hectares.
Known as Suan Somdet Ya in Thai, this small but peaceful garden near Memorial Bridge in Thonburi was established in memory of King Bhumibol’s mother, Srinagarindra, on the actual site where she was raised. The park features a shrine to the Princess Mother, a replica of her original house and a small museum in her honour. Benches set amid tropical foliage, fountains and ancient spirit trees provide respite from the chaos of Bangkok.
Just east of the vibrant Victory Monument area, Santi Phap is a thin, three-hectare sliver of green set in the shadow of Bangkok’s tallest building, Baiyoke Tower II. Locals flock here at sundown to partake in aerobics, jog on a walkway that circumvents two small ponds, and enjoy the simple yet precious experience of sitting under a tree.
Despite its central location near Wat Suthat in the historical district, five-hectare Romaneenat slipped under our radar for a while. It came into existence in the early 1990s when a century-old prison was cleared from the grounds. The original prison wall and watch tower remain along Mahachai Road, but the jail cells have been replaced by exercise equipment, a performance stage, a basketball court, one of Bangkok’s only skate parks and a lovely bronze fountain designed in the shape of a conch shell.
Due east of the Grand Palace in Rattanakosin, Saranrom was once a royal garden where 19th century Siamese kings hosted lavish parties. Elegant gazebos, historic teak wood villas, a monument dedicated to a former wife and daughter of King Rama V, a century-old Chinese style pagoda, elaborate flower gardens, ponds and banyan trees all give Saranrom a fair claim to the title of Bangkok’s most picturesque park. Though Saranrom was the exclusive terrain of nobles while nearby Romaneenat housed prisoners, both now ironically boast similarly tranquil atmospheres.
Saphan Rama IX
Nestled beside the Chao Phraya river in the far southern reaches of Sathorn, this is perhaps Bangkok’s most underrated park. Its official mouthful of a name is ‘Public Park in Commemoration of His Majesty the King’s 6th Birthday Cycle’, but the common moniker comes from the huge suspension bridge — also named after the current Thai king — that looms next door. Eight hectares of grassy hills are suitable for picnics, naps and jogs, while sleepy gazebos diverge from a relatively long riverside promenade.
Follow the Chao Phraya north from Saphan Rama IX for some 15 kilometres and you’ll reach Bangkok’s other riverside park, Santichaiprakan, also known as Phra Arthit Park. Wedged between Phra Arthit express boat pier and Phra Sumen Fort, this riverside splash of green with an attractive Thai style wood sala is more suited to a lazy riverside read than a jog. Exercise isn’t out of the question, though, at least not for the crew of dreadlocked hippies (presumably from nearby Khao San Road) who we once saw dancing wildly here, much to the amusement of the local school kids.
Nowhere exemplifies how Bangkokians get all they can out of the city’s otherwise idle corners better than Chalerm Phrakiat. Situated beneath Saphan Taksin bridge on the Chao Phraya’s western bank, this neatly packaged little park includes playgrounds, football, badminton, takraw and basketball courts, a jogging track and even an open-air muay Thai training facility. Because it’s partially sheltered by the bridge, many of these activities carry on unabated even during the heaviest monsoon storms.
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