Bangkok, Thailand. It’s bustling. It’s exciting and alive, thriving morning, noon, and night. It’s loud: traffic in the streets and voices, trains overhead and vendors making noises. But there are escapes. Places to whisper, secrets to tell, the city is not entirely a flurry of commotion.
In fact, The City of Angels is rife with out-of-the-way places, and they’re made that much more special because of their stark contrast to the everyday life that we usually experience in this sprawling Asian metropolis. They provide diversions, detours off the beaten path.
In a city known for its pavement and steel, and not so much as a paragon of natural beauty or green urban planning, several Bangkok parks serve city-weary residents and visitors as soothing urban oases. One such place is known as “the lungs of Bangkok,” and it can be found across the river from the congested and developed part of the city. It’s called Bang Krachao, located in the Phra Pradang district on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, and it is a vast verdant sanctuary removed from the concrete jungle and comprised of orchards, gardens, and brackish swampy mangrove. It’s a place for fresh air and fresh scenery, and the park here has bike paths and hiking trails, kayaks and paddle boats, and on weekends a local farmers’ floating market. It’s an amazing place to experience natural beauty in a city of unfettered development.
Another urban green space and retreat from the hectic city traffic is Lumphini Park. Its 140 acres are made up of bike paths, colorful flora, a winding man-made lake, shade trees and most of all, quiet! Here, the habitat makes room for you alongside the monitor lizards and turtles, joggers and people practicing tai chi, punters in pedal boats, and day-old bread vendors whose wares are meant to be fed to the numerous fish living in the lake, blissfully ignorant of the city all around them. As will you be upon visiting this wonderful escape.
Keeping with the water theme, there is another excellent and low-key weekend retreat a few kilometers outside the city called Taling Chan Floating Market, easily reached via an inexpensive cab ride from the BTS line on the Thonburi side of town. It has everything you could possibly need when whiling away half a day with family or friends, and since it has stayed somewhat on the periphery of the famous tour-booked floating markets like Amphawa, it feels a bit more authentic and the pace is definitely easy-going. For me, Taling Chan is about the food, food, food! You’ll want to tuck into some of the great seafood on offer, in a traditional canal-side setting sitting on the floor with the locals. Then, take a trip on a longtail boat through the nearby network of canals, or make a few silly impulse buys in the market, and sample a whole lot of other delicious noshing options. You can even relax with an outdoor foot massage under the shade trees and take in the relaxed scene.
On the banks of the Khlong Bang Luang Canal, also on the Thonburi side of the river, and away from the madding crowd, check out The Artist’s House, or Baan Silapin, a gallery and art center that has the ability to inspire. This enclave of creativity is at the heart of an eclectic waterfront community that has attracted art professionals and students alike, and features the works of painters, sketch artists, photographers, sculptors and nearly everything in between. The most famous artists in residence are probably the traditional Thai shadow puppet troupe called Kum Nai Hun Lakon Lek, who recreates scenes from the famous Ramakien poem every day, except Wednesdays. There is a truly artsy, laid back café at Baan Silapin, and several other structures in the community like temples, smaller art studios, noodle shops, and even a small guesthouse, all contributing to the cool, carefree atmosphere.
For a real freaky time, head to the infirmary. That’s right, off the beaten path, across the river from the Grand Palace and Khao San Road area, visit Bangkok’s esteemed Siriraj Hospital and its infamous medical museum. Nicknamed the Museum of Death, the facility actually consists of several exhibits on site including the Forensic Medicine Museum, the Pathological Museum, the Anatomical Museum, and my personal shiver-inducing favorite, the Museum of Parasitology, among others.
And there are many more interesting and out-of-the-way places in Bangkok, including the Neilson Hays Library, which was established in 1869 by the Bangkok Ladies’ Library Association and which is located in a quaint historic building in Bangkok and devoted to books, art, and creative workshops; the campus of Chulalongkorn University, the oldest university under the Thai modern educational system and home to many cool museums and galleries; or Amantee (which means “peaceful space”), a lush tropical garden featuring Oriental and Tibetan antiques and art; and the list could go on and on.
So just remember, while Bangkok may be a heaving urban sprawl, there are plenty of places to escape the rush.