Despite its reputation as a polluted city, Bangkok offers beautiful parks and gardens.
by SeenThat on January 21, 2009
Missing the Central World Plaza, the huge structure at the important Ratchadamri and Ploen Chit junction, is difficult, especially since that’s where the two Skytrain lines meet. The shopping mall includes six shopping zones and two department stores. At its four corners are offices, a fifty-five floors high hotel, and the Zen and Isetan stores facing the Central World Square, shops and restaurants occupy the space between them. In front of the shopping mall is a plaza running all along it. It is difficult to define it as a park or a garden, since it is completely covered up and does not feature even one spot of green; yet, two temples occupy one of its corners. One of them features a large pond of water, adding thus a touch of nature to one of the most developed areas in the city; thus this plaza belongs to this journal. The rest of the plaza hosts changing displays; at the time of my last visit, a huge exhibition of photographs of the Earth surrounded a map of the world centered around the Pacific Ocean, so that Thailand appeared near its center. Visitors were allowed to step on the map; many used the opportunity to take pictures of themselves at their favorite location. Greenland had a special success here, maybe because it had a subliminal cooling effect under the over-heated Bangkokian skies.Ganesh and Trimurati ShrinesThe two shines are located in the northern corner of the plaza. The one, solid and low, is the Ganesh Shrine; it is dedicated to the Hindu Elephant God, which is considered here as a benefactor. An elephant was featured in the old Siamese flag and up to date elephants enjoy a special place in the Thai culture. In the shrine, a huge Ganesh sits below a dome and is surrounded by many small elephant statues put there by worshippers. Flower garlands, bananas and fresh stalks of sugarcane are given to it as offerings. Near it is the larger, whiter and taller Trimurati Shrine, amidst a shallow, black pool. Its calm waters add a bit of serenity to this hectic part of Bangkok. The shrine consists of three pillars representing the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The offerings here include red flowers, candles and incense. The fact that most of the worshipers are Theravada Buddhists is another odd peculiarity of the Thai society.Watching the Plaza: Sun Moulin Cafe BakeryOn the third floor of the Isetan Department Store – within Central Plaza northern side - is the Sun Moulin Cafe Bakery. Beyond the coffee shop, the place provides what they call a Bakery Buffet every day between 12 PM and 2:30 PM.At the time of my visit, the experience cost 139 baht (including soft drinks and coffee), the deal was hard to beat; the price compared to simple fast food meals. The only catch was an additional charge of 100 baht if more than a hundred grams of food were left on the plate.The food included sweet and salty pastries; some of them hot, others cold, their shape were varied and attractive. Small sandwiches, in bread or croissants were a bit unusual for Thailand, but no less than the reasonable potatoes salad; attractive cakes and cookies explored the limit between western and Thai cuisines. In the pasta corner I found a superb spaghetti, spiced up with Thai basil and chili.Drinks included the usual soft drinks, as well as several syrups typical of Thailand, tea and coffee. I spent most of the time there sipping coffee while happily watching the crowds in the plaza, since from the large bakery windows are excellent views of the shrines, which are located right under them.Related AttractionsAt the kitty corner of Central World, across the junction is the Erawan Shrine; it belongs to the Grand Hyatt Erawan, one of the best hotels in Bangkok. The shrine was built to appease the spirits after a series of construction accidents occurred when the hotel was being built. Traditional Thai dances can be appreciated there during the day. The temple is dedicated to Brahma (Phra Phrom) and was named after his elephant.
The Santi Chai Prakan Park and Phra Sumen Fort are one of the most distinctively Thai sights in Bangkok. Seldom do such couples exist and it is even rarer when they are easily accessible.Walking to the ParkThe park and fort are superbly positioned for those travelers staying in the Khaosan Road area.To reach it, advance toward Khaosan Road western end, where Wat Chana Songkhram blocks the way, and turn northward. One block after that begins the Banglamphu Market. Part of it is on Thanon Rambuttri (eastwards) and part on Thanon Chakrapong itself. This market is interesting mainly due to its lack of fame. Among the typical neighborhood markets in Bangkok it is the closest to the Grand Palace. It offers a look into the Thai life and is a good place for buying traditional fisherman’s pants.Thanon Chakrapong (and the market) ends by Khlong Banglamphu, a typical water canal in this Venice of the East. Turn westwards on Thanon Phra Sumen – which runs parallel to the canal – and follow it until it sharply turns to the south and changes name to Thanon Phra Athit. At the corner is the Phra Sumen Fort, right on the Chao Phraya Riverside; just south of it is the Santi Chai Prakan Park.The FortFort Phra Sumen is one of the two remaining forts in Bangkok; it was constructed in 1783 to fortify the old city during the reign of King Rama I, who made Bangkok his capital. The other city wall fort, Mahakan Fort, is located nearby, just east of the Democracy Monument.Its location is deeply related to the defensive rings of canals protecting the old city to the east. The fort was placed at the confluence of the Chao Phraya River and the Banglamphu Canal; the last belongs to the second ring of canals and was built in 1782 after the Lord Canal just east of the Grand Palace. The Banglamphu Canal joins up with the Ong-Ang Canal and reaches the Chao Phraya River to the south, enclosing the old city in what is known as the Rattanakosin Island, the Royal Bangkok.The fort is worth a special visit at night, when it is delightfully illuminated and provides amazing views of the Saphan Phra Ram VIII Bridge and the river. The fort has two levels of battlements where antiquated cannons are still deployed and an observation tower.In the past the fort was connected to the city walls. Those do not exist anymore; however, the fort external walls provide a good idea of how did they look. A bit to the east – across the first junction – a restored gate can still be watched.The peculiar spiky roof of the fort’s watching tower can be seen also in other Thai towns featuring old forts, like Phitsanulok. The ParkSouth of the fort are the Santi Chai Prakan Park and several attractive coffee shops; the last are more expensive than those on Khaosan Road and attract mainly local yuppies. After seeing the park and recovering the lost calories with an espresso and a piece of cake, it is recommended to continue along Thanon Phra Athit since it displays an eclectic mix of Thai nobility houses and typical Thai shop houses.The park lies between the old fort and the river making it a pleasant and breezy area to spend an afternoon. One can have a panoramic view of the riverfront and watch river life go by with the majestic Rama VIII suspension bridge in the distance; at night the last is beautifully illuminated.A traditional teakwood Thai Pavilion occupies much of the riverfront. It is one of the best such structures in Bangkok, offering awesome photographing angles with the fort, the river and the park. Many benches and a large green area allow enjoying the park, especially the mangrove tree located next to the water. On the southern side of the park is a sculptured wall featuring traditional scenes of the Thai culture and lifestyle; the wall almost connects to the river, implying maybe the deep connection between this culture and rivers.
Occupying 57.60 hectares, Lumphini Park is the largest in Bangkok and with no doubt one of the main attractions in town; few metropolises in the world can pride themselves on such awesome green space. Its name refers to Lumphini in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha.Reaching the ParkSince it occupies a big chunk of central Bangkok, there are many options for reaching the park. Road Rama IV can be reached with buses 4, 14, 46, 47, 50, 74, 76, 106 and air-con buses 7, 109, and 115. Ratchadamri Road can be reached with lines 14, 15, 74, 77, 119 and air-con buses 4, 5; Sarasin Road with buses 13, 76, and 106 and finally Wittayu Road with buses 13, 17, 62, 76, 106 and air-con buses 62, and 76. The Skytrain Sala Daeng Station, and the Subway Silom and Lumphini stations reach the park as well.TimingThe park is open daily between 4:30 AM and 9 PM.HistoryIn 1925 the Thailand was experiencing a recession due to the World War I; to solve the problem, King Rama VI sponsored an exhibition of local products and natural resources. The grounds were intended to be used afterwards for the foundation of the first public park in Bangkok.However, the fair was delayed due to the king’s death. The successor, King Rama VII gave the southern side of the proposed park to an amusement park called "Vanaruengrom," and the rental fees were used for the development of the park. Later, during the World War II the park became the Japanese soldiers’ camp. SnacksDespite the attractiveness of the park for a picnic, the idea is almost sacrilegious. The park is too well kept and even a temporary interference with its perfect, ascetic lines seems wrong, despite the friendly Sri Thai Doem Food Center. Instead, Silom Road offers one of the best coffee shops in Bangkok. Heading south into Silom, it is a matter of minutes until a branch of Delifrance is reached. They serve an excellent coffee, but there is a more important aspect to such a visit. They are one of the few shops in Bangkok specializing in bread and offer awesome sandwiches on a wide variety of fresh breads. After living for a while in a rice-oriented culture, such a place grows to be of importance and successfully provides the illusion of returning home, at least for a short hour.FeaturesThe lush and green garden hosts two lakes and two ponds; while walking among them, pleasant surprises await the visitor. The Thai Lanna Pavilion is better than any similar structure in Chiang Mai, the capital of the old Lanna Kingdom, which was one of the predecessors to the modern Thai Kingdom. Almost on the opposite side of the park are a Chinese Pavilion and a beautiful Chinese Clock Tower, which honor another important segment of the Thai society.The Royal Monument of King Rama VI was built in 1942 to commemorate to the king who gave this park to people and is located next to the southern entrance of the park.The Bird Watching Course allows enjoying the over thirty species of birds that inhabit the park. The Smiling Sun Ground is an area designed for the disabled, with no stairs, a special playground, parking lots and other special facilities.The Bangkok Senior Citizens Club is located within Lumphini Hall, offering exercising and vocational training for the elderly. The Home of Hope offers services to homeless children.The BMA Apprentice School offers vocational courses to the public. The Lumphini Public Library, which is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8 AM to 8 PM.The Lumphini Youth Center offers sports activities and training to children. These last services give to Lumphini Park an important social service in its area.Pedalboats and Rowboats are available for rental; thirty minutes cost thirty baht (roughly one dollar). Dharma in the Park is the name of a Buddhist sermon given on the last Sunday of every month between 7 AM and 9 AM.Music in the Park is the name given to various Thai and Western musical performances in the Palm Garden between February and April, on Sundays between 4:30 PM and 8 PM.These last two services are similar to those offered in Benchasiri Park, which is also reviewed in this journal.Nearby AttractionsAmong Bangkok's main streets, Silom Road offers the biggest diversity of all. Probably that is the result of its access to the Chao Phraya River, to the Lumphini Park and its hosting the main commercial quarter of the city. The street ends at the junction with Phra Rama IV Avenue, where the Silom's Robinson Center can be visited for a shopping spree. Below it, under the street level, was the humorous choice for a branch of the Tops Supermarket.
Few things are more relaxing after a busy day of sightseeing and shopping than a reinvigorating break in a lush park; especially if it is located at the very center of one of the main avenues in town and nearby several shopping centers.Even from the side facing Sukhumvit Road, Benchasiri Park looks attractive on the verge of irresistible. When approaching it, a sudden void, the open space between the high buildings, provides an exciting prelude. Following the void in the altitudes is the appearance of greenery. Once inside the landscape changes, as if by work of hidden stage workers, and a green screen falls upon the city; the visitor is immersed in a different world of blue waters and greenery.Location, Location, LocationSukhumvit is one of the most interesting streets in Bangkok and one of the best shopping areas; it flows eastwards from the Ploen Chit Intersection and had recently regained importance after it became the main access road to the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The Benchasiri Park is just west of the Phrom Pong Skytrain Station, roughly in front of Soi Phromchai.Sukhumvit is easily accessible on the Skytrain Sukhumvit line that runs from Mo Chit, through Siam Square up to On Nut on Soi 81 of Sukhumvit Road. The metro Sukhumvit Station interchanges with the Skytrain at Asok. The Chalerm Mahanakhon Expressway has an exit at Soi (alley) 1. From Suvarnabhumi International Airport the AE3 Airport Bus (150 baht) runs up Bangna-Trad and along Sukhumvit Road all the way to the Central World Plaza or bus number to On Nut Skytrain Station. Nearby Shopping CentersModern shopping malls are scarcer than in the nearby Ploen Chit Road, but still exist in Sukhumvit Road. The Robinson's Department Store has a branch at Soi 19. The Emporium Shopping Center at Soi 24 is the main competitor to the luxurious Siam Paragon and Gaysorn Plaza on the nearby Ploen Chit Road; it has an attractive food court and several restaurants on the 5th floor and is somewhat cheaper than the former two. Thong Lo - or Soi 55 - features some of the best fashionable shops, clubs and restaurants in town; this is one of the few musts in Sukhumvit. All are reasonably close to the Benchasiri Park.History of the ParkThe construction of the park was decided on 1989, the construction began in 1990 and it was inaugurated on 12 August 1992 as a tribute to H.M. the Queen on her 5th Cycle Birthday. AttractionsDespite its relatively small size, the park packs in many attractions, while keeping a serene and peaceful ambience. A big pond at its center and the tree’s shade create an attractive contrast with the surrounding skyscrapers. EntranceAn impressive three meters tall, golden sculpture of H.M. the Queen in a standing posture in what looks like a commemoration coin welcomes the visitors to the park. Near it are two Thai styled pavilions exhibiting H.M. the Queen's activities. Separating the sculpture from the street is the musical fountain. The fountain is part of the sculpture called "Hansa" (ecstasy) by Mesium Yipinsoy. Shows in which the water dances at the rhythm of the music are held three times daily, between 6 and 7 AM, 12 to 1 PM and 6 to 8 PM.SculpturesThe park was designed as Bangkok’s Park of Sculptures, and includes eighteen pieces by well known artists. Those include "Cheevit lae Sattha" (Life and Faith), "Roi Sattha" (A Trace of Faith), "Kird" (Birth), "Wan Dek" (Children Day), "Rammana" (a one-ended drum with a short cylinder), "Dek" (Child), "Toeb To" (Growth), "Ngok Ngarm" (flourish), "Puen Pipop lae Jakkawan" (Earth and the Universe), "Wua" (Cow), "Sanyalak Haeng Seriphab" (Freedom), "Sanyalak Haeng Cheevit" (Life), "Manus" (Human), and "Leela Haeng Samphantaphab" (Relative Movement). This adds an interesting cultural level which is almost inexistent in other local parks.SportsDespite most of the park being greenery (70%) or water (20%), some space was kept for sports; paved areas for the following games exist: Taek Raw, Volleyball, Basketball, Roller-Skating and also a Health Plaza with various fitness stations. A children playground and a swimming pool complete the list of sport facilities.BuddhismIn addition to a recreational place, the park is a venue for Buddhist activities. Every second Sunday of each month between 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM a Buddhist sermon – called "Dharma in the Park" – can be listened to in Thai. MusicBeyond the fountain musical show, special performances can be enjoyed in the weekend’s evenings. They include Thai and Western groups.Information BoothJust west of the entrance, on Sukhumvit Road, there is a tourists’ information booth. The service is given in English and I have found it to be extremely accurate, updated and polite. Free maps of Bangkok are available there.
by SeenThat on January 19, 2009
The Chatuchak Park is one of the largest parks in Bangkok and the most natural destination after visiting the adjacent Chatuchak Market. Since the market is the largest in Bangkok and a main tourists' magnet, visiting this park is an unavoidable pleasure.AccessFew spots in the city are so accessible: the Skytrain, the subway and practically all the buses reaching Mo Chit - Bangkok's accessible bus terminal - pass near Chatuchak. Activity HoursThe park is open daily between 4:30 AM and 9 PM and features gates on strategic places along its perimeter. The most natural entry is at its southern tip, next to the market. The market is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 AM until the last customer leaves; during the weekdays, only a few stalls in the central structure are open. HistoryChatuchak Park is one of the oldest public parks in Bangkok; it was created in 1975 on 30.4 hectares donated by the State Railway of Thailand on the occasion of H.M. the King's 4th Cycle Birthday on 5 December 1975 and was inaugurated five years later. Nowadays it includes also the Queen Sirikit and Wachirabenchatat parks, which are across the Kampaengphet 3 Road from Chatuchak.FeaturesAn artificial lake runs along the thin and long park; numerous attractive bridges cross it. The irregular shape of the lake and the undulating bridges create pleasant patterns. Due to its unusual shape, a thorough exploration of the park is easier than in circular ones; moreover, spotting interesting sights is simple since in most of it, a glance is enough for looking across the park. A good approach for such a journey is walking around the central lake.The Fish Watching Bridges overlook the central pond; despite their romantic name, the waters were quite muddy and watching fish was a luxury I couldn't enjoy at the time of my visit. However, rowing a boat through the pond was possible. A clock tower, a flower clock and sculptures from six Asian countries honor international cooperation. More local attractions include the Thai Literature Garden and Herb Garden. Fitness stations are located in the Health Plaza and seem to be popular with locals. They were built in commemoration of the Crown Princess's 3rd Cycle Birthday.Having been built on the Thai Railways grounds, the park features a Train Museum, which displays an exhibition on the history of the railways and cars in Thailand. It is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 AM to 4 PM. This is another reason - together with the Chatuchak Market - to visit the park on weekends. Related to this exhibition is the Youth Traffic Garden where children can learn traffic regulations while playing.Around the Corner: Chatuchak MarketThe market is one of the world's biggest ones and offers practically every good produced in the kingdom, from high quality silk, through birds waiting to be free in the Buddhist fashion, and ending in wooden carvings. Even jewels - especially the colored stones so favored by the Thais - can be bought here.With around ten thousand booths, it is impossible to cover the market in a single visit, but that vast richness is what makes this market unique and worthy. An entertaining aspect of the market, are the endless variation of tactics used by the stalls to call the attention of potential buyers, from making unusual noises to wearing strange clothes.The crowds filling the narrow alleys are as varied as the merchandise, ranging from merchants from far away Thai provinces to "farangs," the long nosed visitors from all the globe's corners. A good place to socialize with the locals is the many food stalls selling everything from typical Thai snacks to beverages of strange colors and tastes.The prices here are substantially lower than elsewhere in Bangkok, but higher than in the provinces where the goods originate. However, the opportunity to compare and choose among vast quantities of similar products more than compensates for that.
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