A weekend in Phra Phradaeng

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First published 22nd September, 2013

Want a countryside escape from Bangkok -- without leaving Bangkok? Just a five-minute taxi ride from Bang Na BTS station plus a four baht ferry hop across the Chao Phraya River and you could be chilling to the sounds of crickets and frogs rather than tuk tuks and bars. Here’s our idea of a perfect weekend getaway on Bangkok’s Phra Phradaeng peninsula.


Friday
Get to San Phawut pier in Bang Na by late afternoon, but before you board a cross-river skiff or longtail taxi, notice your surroundings in Bangkok’s not so charming industrial ring. Watch as taxis and trucks vie for every inch in the congested traffic that crawls past ugly gas refineries, gritty ports and mega-highway overpasses. Notice how the only green around -- shrub-like foliage -- struggles to lay roots within cracks in the concrete.

A little bit of green.
A little bit of green.

Once on the Phra Phradaeng side of the river, be mesmerised by the contrast in your surroundings. Over here, you’ll see locals unhurriedly pedal bicycles along leafy lanes that meander past teak wood stilted homes set amid lush gardens and forests teeming with wildlife. Thanks to an almost 360-degree oxbow in the Chao Phraya, this “peninsula” is more like an island of green surrounded by -- but disconnected from -- a sea of concrete.

Whether seeking a cheap but comfortable homestay or an eco-friendly resort with plenty of style, Bang Nam Phueng village’s small but interesting accommodation choices will satisfy most tastes. Settle in, breathe the fresh air and let the relaxation begin.

Lunch time peak hour.
Lunch time peak hour.

No matter which you choose, your accommodation might be so pleasant that you’ll want to do nothing more than kick up your heels on a porch after arriving. Other options include a riverside stroll or bicycle ride at dusk, but don’t go too crazy just yet. Personally, we’d enjoy a slow-paced dinner at our guesthouse of choice, play a few leisurely games of cards or jot down some lines in a journal, and check out the stars before curling up for a quiet night's sleep.

Saturday
Wake up early -- but not too early -- and walk or bike to Phra Phradaeng’s star attraction: Bang Nam Phueng weekend market, which stands out among Bangkok’s plethora of markets as something truly special. Set amid coconut groves and canals, an expansive yet intimate series of footpaths are lined with friendly vendors offering fresh local products that vibrate with colour.

Grazing.
Grazing.

Snack on finger foods like homemade sai krog (Thai sausage, both the northern and northeastern varieties), grilled mushroom skewers dipped in spicy sauce, or khao-niew bing (grilled coconut sticky rice with banana and taro wrapped in banana husks). Or nestle into a kids’ size canalside table for a more proper meal of nam tok muu (spicy and sour grilled pork salad) with sticky rice or ba-mee ped (roast duck noodle soup).

Save a little room for homemade coconut ice cream, and then lie back for a 200 baht, hour-long Thai massage. After sufficiently loosened up, pay 40 baht for a half-hour of rowing a private paddleboat through the canal -- very romantic indeed if you happen to be with a sweetie.

With plenty of afternoon daylight left, hop on a bicycle and pedal along the area’s elaborate network of country roads and raised bike paths that snake through the trees. Make your way to the peninsula’s northeastern corner for two of its most idyllic green spaces: Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery and Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park. Feed the fish, freak out the swans, climb a bird watching observation tower and completely forget that one of Asia’s largest cities is just a couple of kilometres away.

Who needs walls?
Who needs walls?

On the way back to your accommodation, you might stop for a seafood dinner on the tree-lined veranda at Krua Ban Nayok restaurant near Phethahung Soi 28. Don’t forget a torch if returning after dark -- those raised bike paths are narrow and going for a late night dive into a shallow canal is probably not the nightcap you’ll be looking for. A beer on your bungalow porch after successfully returning, on the other hand, sounds just about right.

Sunday
Go ahead -- sleep in -- and then hop back on the bicycle and stop again at Bang Nam Phueng market for a Thai-style Sunday brunch, or skip it and head straight to the west side of the peninsula along Petchahung Road. The terrain will gradually become more developed as the stunning Bhumibol Bridge (Thailand’s longest and tallest) comes into view. With a solid 50 hours of nature already behind you, it will be time for a little culture in Phra Phradaeng town.

After cruising beneath the enormous bridge (feel free to stop at the riverside park beneath it for a photo-op), make a stop at Wat Song Thum. This 300 year-old Ayuttthaya-era temple houses a striking wooden standing Buddha image from the Sukhothai dynasty along with a soaring Mon-style chedi. Sunday late morning and early afternoon are great times to be swept up in a gathering of cheerful locals who come together each week to prepare food for the monks. If you dress appropriately and crack the old ladies a smile, they’ll perhaps invite you in for lunch.

Taxi!
Taxi!

Leave your bicycle at Wat Song Thum and instead let one of the old fashioned human-powered rickshaws take you just south to Phra Phradaeng town. Here, you’ll find some exceptionally lighthearted locals chatting and joking amid the tightly packed old streets where more memorable eats can be scored. After enjoying the town’s inviting air, stroll just north along the river and stop at a picturesque park set around the 200-year-old ruins of Phlaeng Faifa Fort, once a strategic military outpost that was instrumental in protecting the capital.

If you can time your return trip just right, stop by the Firefly Village towards the end of Petchahung Soi 20 at dusk and marvel at the hundreds of fireflies twinkling amid thickly forested paths. Further down Petchahung Road, you might make a detour at Raan Yai Ban just past Petchahung Soi 30 to snatch up some homemade Thai-Mon style sweets that are beloved in the area, you know, for a late night snack.

As the waning hours of your weekend getaway in Phra Phradaeng slip away, a romantic dinner on Bangkok Tree House’s stylish open-air veranda could be just the way to savour one more night “away” from the city. Enjoy locally grown organic produce in simple yet exquisite dishes paired with carefully chosen wines served under the stars.

Blue skies in Bangkok!
Blue skies in Bangkok!

Rest easy amid the peace and quiet, and return to the grind of Bangkok on Monday morning feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. And, the best part is: this magical pocket of countryside is always waiting nearby for your next trip, be it an hour or a week, just across the river.


About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.


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