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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. These are the spots where millions of city-dwellers and travellers go for recreation and respite from the concrete chaos.
Chatuchak, Rot Fai & Queen Sirikit
At 112 hectares, the city’s largest contiguous green space actually comprises three parks, collectively dubbed ‘Chatuchak Discovery Garden‘. Originally owned by the State Railway of Thailand, a golf course occupied much of the land until the late 1990s. An impressive list of activities and attractions includes lotus ponds, botanical gardens, bicycle and rowboat rental, football fields, basketball courts, weightlifting facilities, a driving range, butterfly garden, children’s museum, meditation centre and nature trails in a lush ‘city forest’. The whole shebang is an easy hop from Mo Chit BTS or Chatuchak MRT stations in north Bangkok.
Just west of Siam Square, this sprawling athletics complex lacks fish ponds and towering trees, but it’s a great choice if exercise is what you’re after. Fitness enthusiasts can choose from multiple pro-size football pitches, Olympic size jogging tracks, an Olympic size swimming pool complete with a high-dive platform, an indoor muay Thai training facility, weightlifting equipment, basketball, tennis, volleyball and takraw courts. As one of Southeast Asia’s largest stadiums, 75-year-old Suphachalasai occasionally hosts pro football matches.
Despite its central location just south of Sukhumvit Road and adjacent to Queen Sirikit Convention Centre, one of the city’s prettiest parks seems to slip under the noses of many. Romantics can peep two exceptionally well-done fountains from the comfort of a swan boat on a lake rimmed by flowers. Other features include playgrounds, a meditation park, nightly yoga classes, fitness equipment, a BMX bicycle ramp, a jogging track and Bangkok’s only separated bicycle lane for unheeded pedalling.
This wide grassy oval serves as a sort of ‘front yard’ to the Grand Palace. Elaborate royal functions regularly take place here, including the King’s birthday festivities in December and Royal Ploughing (rice-planting) ceremony in May. When the pomp and circumstance isn’t going on, Sanam Luang is a fine place to sit back and watch the sun dip over neighbouring Wat Phra Kaew‘s sparkling spires. You won’t find exercise equipment or swan boats, but Sanam Luang does host a picturesque kite-flying festival each year in February and March.
Suan Luang Rama IX (Rama IX Garden)
Boasting 80 hectares of green expanse in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs, Rama IX Garden is more than just a public park. It includes gazebos, a large lake with pedal boats, fitness equipment and playgrounds, but the unexpected attractions are what make it worth the trip. After checking out a memorial to King Bhumibol (Rama IX) that looks like a flying saucer, visitors can explore the cactus garden, Japanese style Zen garden, elegant Chinese and Thai pavilions, lotus and water lily ponds, and botanical gardens where you can surround yourself in rare, beautiful blossoms.
Reachable via a short ferry hop from south Bangkok, Bang Kachao is an agricultural preservation area spanning several square kilometres in Phra Phradaeng. From the air, it looks like a broad tear drop of green amid a sea of urban sprawl. Though it’s home to just one ‘official’ park, the lovely Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan, the entire area is crisscrossed by raised bicycle paths that ramble alongside coconut orchards, canals, modest homes and forest. If you need a dose of countryside but don’t have time for an excursion further afield, a day trip to Bang Kachao should be just the ticket.
Bangkok’s favourite park, centrally located Lumpini features pavilions, sculptures, playgrounds, a modern indoor fitness centre, an imposing statue of King Rama VI and swan boats on a lake that teems with fish. You might see a monitor lizard lounging in the shade of abundant trees amid the park’s 58 grassy hectares. Every day at dusk, Lumpini buzzes with group aerobics, tai chi, dance lessons, basketball, badminton, tennis, takraw, swimming, hundreds of joggers and often the music of local musicians.
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 historic 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, with some of the original jail cells now hosting the Corrections Museum. Near the horrifying torture displays you'll find exercise equipment, a performance stage, a basketball court, one of Bangkok’s only skate parks and an eye-catching 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 teakwood 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 atmospheric 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. Chalerm Phrakiat is perhaps more commonly known as Saphan Taksin Park.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 14th May, 2014.