Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
Updated on 20th January, 2011. First published 4th May, 2006
Did you know that within 20 minutes of jumping on a bicycle at Bangkok's Emporium mall you can be pedalling your way through the hidden jungles of Umphang? Neither did I, until I did an Amazing Bicycle Tour in the amazing megalopolis of Bangkok (okay, I admit it, it was Samut Prakan, not Tak).
I took part in the daily trip that is run by the ABC Amazing Bangkok Cycling Company. They promise to show you some of the hidden nooks and crannies that people take for granted as a part of their daily life in the Khlong Toei area, before crossing the Chao Phraya River to a different province and a different world - the lungs of Bangkok, Phra Pradaeng.
I've lived on Sukhumvit Road for years and was a little dubious of all this hidden secrets talk, but by the end of the tour I was ready to eat my bike tire or maybe just a slice of the giant anaconda we saw... but I'll tell you about that later.
We begin on Sukhumvit Soi 26 where we meet our guide for the day Wichit. Although not a Bangkokian, Wichit rides this trip almost every day and today was going to be extra-special as we'd be doing a "new trip" exploring a "new" part of Phra Pradaeng that no ABC Amazing Bangkok Cyclist had ever set rubber onto. Oh my god, we could hardly contain our excitement!
Before we know it we're pedalling up Sukhumvit 26, dodging the traffic and stares from pedestrians wondering what on earth five farangs are doing cycling down Sukhumvit Road. For a cyclist, Sukhumvit Road is pretty boring though, and within two toots of a horn we're racing back down Soi 24 towards Khlong Toei.
Just when I think I've figured out where we're going, Wichit's hand signals a left turn and we stop and push our bikes through a hole in the fence and into someone's backyard. "Hello!" a bunch of children sing out as we get back on board and pedal through a veritable rabbit warren of alleys and sub-sois.
We're on the edge on Khlong Toei slum and we pull up to take a look at the world's only tuk-tuk fire engine. Wichit explains that because the sois are so narrow a normal fire truck cannot reach the houses so if there is a fire, the tuk-tuk fire engine does the job.
Our sightseeing over we head over to Khlong Toei market where we pedal our way through the packed market, squeezing between the ducks and the chooks, the fish and eels and the millions of different vegetables. Then, with a gush of air, we're expelled from the market and before we know it we're at the water's edge.
We look over to the other side - no condos, no office buildings, no highways, no nothing, except for simple swaying palm trees. Who could imagine we're leaving a city of 10 million behind to visit an area the size of Bang Rak where fewer than 10,000 call home?
The roads in Phra Pradaeng are unusual: imagine if you lined up all your school desks and rode your bike along the top... that's what it's like. Very few roads are on the ground, instead they are all very narrow concrete walkways lifted off the ground.
Walking along them is bad enough -- if you don't watch your step, oops, splash and you're in a banana canal -- erk! So riding a bicycle is a bit of a nightmare.
The paths branch and branch and branch. Left, right, straight, right, right, straight, left, straight then the second right then left… before we know it we're totally lost in the lungs of Bangkok, and only our faithful guide Wichit knows exactly where we are.
Wichit must have been a botanist in a previous life as every 10 minutes or so he stops and pulls a leaf from a plant, scrunches it up and sticks it under our nose - smell that? Basil, lemongrass, coriander -- he knows more herbs than I've had hot breakfasts.
It's about 16:00 now and the light is beautiful, sun streaming through the fronds above us. No motorbikes, no karaoke, no toot toot -- just the occasional "Hello!" and the slow but steady whoosh whoosh of our bikes. I'm so relaxed I could fall asleep, but I don't because then I'd fall off these very silly footpaths into the water and mud below.
Wichit pulls up and shows us a massive anaconda in a cage and tells us how it was caught nearby. It must be at least 5 or 6 metres long -- in the past they have even eaten children in the area. We all pedal away rather quickly.
We're back at the river and it's time to cross, returning to the smoke and smog, condos, office towers, traffic, horns, noise and millions of people... home.
Related readingA Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
Elephant trekking in Laos
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
Diving Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
The hills of Vietnam
Read 2 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (19)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- Blue Dragon Children's Foundation
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Khlong Toey Music Program
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Soi Dog Foundation
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma ()
- Cambodia (9)
- Indonesia (4)
- Laos ()
- Malaysia (1)
- Singapore ()
- Thailand (66)
- All stories
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Great Thai food blogs
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Ko Chang's east coast
- Ko Lanta's best budget guesthouses
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai?
- Loy Krathong in Thailand
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Songkran festival in Thailand
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Full Moon Party
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The changing face of Ko Lipe
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Trekking in Thailand
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (7)
- Accommodation guides (4)
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (17)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Great river trips in Southeast Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- Where is the best place in Southeast Asia for ...
- How do I? (8)
- Cycling Asia (12)
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (5)
- Photo essay ()
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.