Ok, so here is a post this month that I have been meaning to get done for ages due to lots of questions from readers about the greener side of Bangkok. So, this one is all about Bangkok’s rare green oasis spots, the antidote to anybody feeling overdosed on the asphalt jungle.
There are several large and very well known parks within the Bangkok city limits, there are also some larger ones that are very famous and treasured by Bangkokians but which are slightly out of the city (the beautiful Phuttamonton park at Salaya being a good example) but for the purposes of this month’s entry I will keep it simple and give some advice regarding the easiest ones to get to by BTS skytrain so that people here on holiday reading this can have an easy time of it too.
The best known are probably the Railway Park AKA ‘Suan Rotfai’, Queen Sirikit Park which borders onto the railway park and Suan Lumphini. The BTS stations for these would be ‘Chatuchak’ for the first two and either ‘Ratchadamri’ or ‘Sala Daeng’ for the latter. I think that the Railway Park might be one of my all time faves but today I will look at Lumphini Park in detail. To be fair though, some of the tips and advice below is applicable to the others.
Lumphini is quite large for a piece of land located in such a downtown part of Bangkok but it’s not overly huge. I’d guess around 150 acres or so. There is a regular flow of joggers and cyclists orbiting around it in daylight and the total track distance is about 2.5 kilometres per loop, if that helps give you some idea. It’s nice to not go when it’s too hot in the early afternoon but there is a lot of shaded tree cover in places to help with that a little. The best times for photographers to visit there are very early morning and just before sunset OR any time during a consistently cloudy and overcast grey day ...although hopefully not actually as it is raining. Unlike the other parks in Bangkok, the joggers and cyclists generally (but not always) seem to orbit the same way and follow the rules. Be aware of the yellow lined track if you are standing with your eye buried into your camera as you could inadvertently turn around into a cyclist going at a rate of knots! Also be advised that some very healthy, large examples of Thailand’s famous water monitor lizards live and thrive in the waters all over this park and although sometimes you won’t see a single one, other times you might see several and quite close to you as well. It’s nice to be prepared with this information as if you are not expecting to see such a beast and then happen to stumble on one unexpectedly, it can be quite the shock (they are the size of an alligator or even longer in some cases and just as ugly and fierce looking). They generally won’t harass humans but give them their space!
This park has more than its fair share of expats as well as locals due to such a location being really hard to find in downtown Bangkok. It’s prized by a lot of hardcore fitness types as well as leisurely strollers. Very early morning visits can lead to you discovering huge groups of elderly Thai Chinese people doing Tai Chi with great synchronicity and people making religious offerings at little shrines and spots around the park.
There is a very low tech but incredibly cheap outdoor weightlifting and bodybuilding place or two hidden around the park that you’ll no doubt stumble over. It’s like something out of a prison yard but has been going for decades and decades (it has moved spot a few times though as I recall). Lots of guys doing dips and chin ups and the like. There is a nice lake in the middle and lots of connected waterways with pedal boats for hire, attracting tourists and locals having fun, making for good people shots. Refreshments are sold around the outside of the park with some good street food and drinks near some of the main entrances in and out.
Some safety tips and local knowledge that you won’t easily find in all the usual trite guide books:
Although it’s good to come very early for the morning golden hour, be advised that during the night it is not a safe place and full of mentally disturbed people, homeless tramps, drunks and hardcore drug addict types. Be warned that some of them will still be hanging around and maybe only just coming down (or even still high) so don’t be walking around there THAT early. The official opening time is around 4:30am till about 9pm but wait until the sun is up or you might find yourself in the middle of a Michael Jackson video from the 80’s. There are also lots of sex workers in the park at night, often the kinds that can’t or won’t work in the ‘usual’ places for them in Thailand and often for dubious reasons. Don’t get robbed for your camera or wallet.
Another top local tip that catches a lot of people out: If you wanna picnic with your partner under a tree and read a book whilst making some shots and enjoying the day, great. BUT if you are a man alone in Lumphini park on a picnic blanket under a tree in the shade reading a book (especially on a weekend or holiday) then this is locally the equivalent of putting up a huge neon sign that reads “I am looking for a casual sexual hookup with another male’ and you will very likely be approached by people who might misunderstand your intentions. It’s ‘the spot’ apparently and if that is what you want of course, then hey...that’s also cool but I just thought that as one of my readers, you ought to know as I have never seen this written in a guidebook anywhere yet locals and especially long term expats often are aware of it..
Lumphini Park, or often just ‘Suan Lum’ as it’s known to the locals, has been a public park in Bangkok since just after the first world war so we are talking about getting on for nearly a hundred years. The whole of the city has been built around it in the area and so it’s a nice juxtaposition of proper, long standing tropical park and huge metropolis all around. It’s named after a loose transliteration of the reputed birthplace of Buddha himself (although that wasn’t in Thailand of course). There are outdoor music concerts in the cooler months of the year, some of them are quite large and well executed affairs with full orchestras and the like, jazz concerts being another common one.
It’s a great Bangkok park for people watching and photos, enjoy it. This post was a change from the old 6 x 6 Rolleiflex work that has been dominating the blog for the past year and was actually all shot on 35mm Tri X with a Leica M2, a goggled Summaron 35mm and 50mm Summicron (rigid) lenses.