Monday, May 2, 2011

Lumphini Park: Bangkok's Emerald Oasis

Panorama view of the lake shore in Lumphini Park

I don't know what Rama IV Road looked like back when King Rama IV gave his subjects a large plot of royal land beside it in the early 1920s, but it's a safe bet it wasn't the 10-lane asphalt madhouse it is today. That plot of land is now Lumphini (also spelled Lumpini) Park, a large public area - over 140 acres, or 360 Thai rai - and an unexpected jewel smack dab in the middle of some of the most crowded and frantic areas of downtown.

A view of Lumphini Park I haven't had the pleasure of seeing myself - yet

Originally called Lumbini - after the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal - it used to sit on the outskirts of Bangkok, but it now sits in the middle of the city, completely engulfed by buildings, making it even more of a precious place for the residents of the Big Mango. Natives and visitors alike make consistent use of the 2.5KM/1.5 miles of paths, water features and lawn area and one of the first (if not the first) public library in the city.

In addition to that the park is also home to an indoor stadium, a performance hall, a youth center, an elder center, Lumphini School, at least six different pavilions and summer evening concerts by the Bangkok Symphony. Despite the number of features mentioned here (and that's not all of them) it's actually a very open and airy park, nowhere near as packed looking as it sounds. As you can see in the top image today it's primarily green area, and it's truly a delight - on foot along the paths or in a paddle boat around the waterways.

The sattelite photo above gives you an idea of the size of the place. On the left is Ratchadamri (also spelled Rajadamri) Road, to the right is Wireless Road, across the top is Sarasin Road and, again, Rama IV is across the bottom of the image. In the lower left hand (Southwest) corner you can make out the statue and white stone monument to Rama the 4th himself, built in 1941.

Getting to the park is easy; seeing everything there is to see there is a little more of a challenge. There are MRT subway stations right at both Rama IV park entrances. If you get off at the Lumphini station use Exit 3 (Wireless Road), and if you get off at the Silom station use Exit 1 (Lumphini Park/Chulalongkhorn Hospital) to be on the correct side of Rama IV road. The Sala Daeng BTS skytrain station is a transfer point for the MRT line, so if you're on the BTS, exit there and follow the signs. If you'd prefer a taxi I'd be surprised if you could find a driver that didn't know where it was - almost certainly none in any area where a you'd be likely to be staying as a tourist.

It's not something you can really appreciate in a single visit, though; it's a pleasure easily (and probably better) spread out over a couple of times or trips.

Mornings, late afternoons and evenings are the prime visiting hours, although there's a lot to be said for a lazy afternoon in the shade while napping on the acres of lawn, too. I'd suggest mosquito repellent during the dawn and dusk hours, as these are the times you're more likely to be bitten, but that's up to you. Personally I tend to get bitten a lot, so I take precautions. Locals are more likely to be there during these prime hours, too, but that's not surprising when you remember that this is a park of the people, and people tend to have daytime obligations. My favorite times to stroll around are when it's less hot, too.

An afternoon aerobics group, being led from the stage up front

There are fitness and aerobics sessions in several different spots, both mornings and afternoons. Sometimes they're very loosely organized pick-up groups, led only by the music from a boom box, but most are larger groups; gathered before an elevated stage of some sort, with amplified music and a leader to coach the participants on while they work up a sweat.

Joggers of all ages and conditions make it easy for anyone to fit in

Walkers and joggers such as the ones above are most common along the paths, and because of that bicycles are limited to using them between 5:00am and 3:00pm. Dogs are not welcome, and smoking is also not allowed anywhere within the park boundaries. While that eliminates the unpleasantness of "doggy chocolates" and second-hand smoke, there are the water monitor lizards you're likely to see during the sunnier hours. They're unlikely to be aggressive but you're wise not to hand-feed one of them, unless you intend to feed them your hand. Adults tend to be about a 3 feet/ one meter long, as you can see in this clip I found on YouTube:

The person filming the clip does a little quick pan around, and when they do you can see the paddle boats that you can rent by the hour. I haven't tried that yet so I'm sorry I can't advise on what it costs, but my guess is that it's very cheap.

Paddle boats lined up along the shore near sunset in Lumphini Park

Slightly out of the ordinary was the man in the picture below; the first little person I've met thus far in Thailand. Not that there was anything odd about him - he was quite pleasant - but it occurred to me afterwards that I'd not seen another dwarf or midget in all my travels there. He was anxious to get moving again after stopping to return my greeting so I didn't get more than the one blurry photo.

As it was dark by the time I'd sat and people watched from a bench while I rested a little I needed a flash to take this last photo of two guys I walked past on my way out. They'd been practicing football moves and were a little sweaty, but one was able to speak some English and was keen to talk about the group he plays with.

Finishing up our chat I took a stroll over into the Patpong area and found dinner before heading back to my room for the night. A relaxing meal after a tranquil late afternoon stroll is a superb way to cap off your time in Lumphini Park, and something I'd recommend to anyone.


krobbie said...

In all my trips I have never been to Lumpini Park. I intend to right that on my next trip as my budget will be quite moderate.

I have all but exhausted that the museums but will check out the BAAC (Bangkok Art and Culture Centre) again. It changes some of the exhibits regularly, so there is always something new.

I think a paddle boat ride on the river will be just the thing.


khunbaobao said...

It wasn't until my third trip that I got to Lumphini myself. I'd seen it riding by and read enough about it, but hadn't made the time to go.

By the way - there's an area where guys go to lift weights that's worth wandering by for some "scenery", too, but I forgot to mention that in the post. I discovered it by accident one afternoon and I think it's near the Southwest entrance, but you'd have to ask.