Having cycled round Limphini Park a fair few times now I decided to see if there was anywhere else that offered similar two wheeled adventure. A Google search revealed that at the northern end of the BTS sky train – Mo Chit – was Chatuchak/Jatajuk Park. The spelling varies with whoever is trying to impart the phonetic translation to a farang. It is also the home of one of the world’s largest markets – http://www.chatuchak.org/ – but this blog isn’t about that heaving emporium of trade. Anyhow, it claimed that the “Railway Park” part of the overall place was a great place to cycle. With that in mind I decided to haul my bike up the 50 steps at Chit Lom Junction, pay my 35Baht and ride all the way to the end of the line. Which is only seven stops, to be fair; and in a heavily air conditioned railcar (for effusive praise of the BTS see blog 3. OR was it 2? I can never remember). I checked online and found another blog from a few years back which insisted you could take your bike on the sky train, when to do it, how to do it, and even gave photos at every needy point. Remarkable and very helpful.
So…twenty minutes later I arrived at Mo Chit and disembarked with everyone else. I could see the Park as I crossed the road but I could not, for the life of me, see a way in.
The problem was I emerged onto a heaving taxi rank and bus stop so pushing a bike through proved hard to accomplish. I decided to go left and seek the first entrance. It was a pit stop building that opened out onto manicured lawns, a glistening lake, a jutting monument and a bloom of floral colours that made me stop and snap a couple of photos.
I swung a leg onto my bike.
“Hey, you” (in Thai, obviously). I glanced up.
“Krap..Poot pah sah, angrit bpen mai?” (Or, Yeeeessss??? Can you speak English with me?)
What? Says who? Apart from him, obviously.
“I cannot cycle here?” I ask suspiciously as two Thais wobble past me on very old two wheeled bicyclettes.
“But the Internet says this is a cycle park.” Brilliant, like that’s going to help!
“No cycling.” I can sense this conversation may get into a loop.
“Where can I cycle?”
“Over there.” Accompanied with a sweeping gesture at the 5 lane highway you can see in the first picture. Really? Yes. Really. I am dismissed and everyone who’s manicuring the foliage watches as I wheel my bike out. I am back on the super highway but there’s a long taxi/bus lane so I decide to follow the park to see where “Over there” actually is. Eventually, I come to another gate, this time with pristine new black tarmac and I cautiously nudge my way in. There’s a guard in a small hut.
“Sawdee….” I barely get a greeting out.
“No cycling. Go over there” and he resumed his mobile call. Where exactly was this magical “over there cycling haven”? I resolved to wait and ask him exactly where I could cycle. It took some time. During it I looked up the park on my handheld. Still saying you can cycle. I watched a motorbike go past me and two more local Thai gardener cyclists. Is this a farang/tourist prohibition? Eventually, he finished his call and I tried again. All very politely as saving face is a huge cultural aspect of dealing with Thais.
“No cycling.” OK. How do I ask where to cycle?
“No cycling here.”
“Korb Khun krap” (Thanks) I’ve given up. It is at that point he takes pity on me and tries to (as I figured out later) indicate I need to go up the road, round the park and to the other side. Which is what I do.
You see, Chatuchak Park is split in two by Thanon Kamphaeng. The part I was trying to get into is an elegant park for bipeds only. Full of fountains, a central lake, the dulcet calls of serene birds, the sighing whisper of clipped palm trees, the gentle breeze through clothes and hair. You get the idea. On the other side is the large extent of the park with its multiple cycle lanes, tennis courts, sports centre, Thai “follies” to enjoy. When I arrived at it, my epiphany was complete and I was able to bike. That said, this wasn’t a speed trip, no sireee. This was a gentle pedal to take photos, gain the lie of the land, so to speak. In fact I only saw one cyclist kitted out in the professional gear and the rest were school kids having fun as they pedalled round.
About thirty metres into my route I came across the Bangkok Butterfly Garden (free entry) – a small greenhouse that I had the pleasure of being the only person to visit at the time. Inside was a fair amount of butterflies flitting from flower to flower, dancing like fairies in a Spenserian utopia. Close enough to see in detail, never close enough to touch. The humidity was high, the drip of water of broad palm leaves oddly loud, the rush of a waterfall like an exhalation of tropical lungs. It was a perfect moment in the middle of a massive city. I managed, as you can see, to get some photos of the delicate Lepidoptera before donning my helmet and heading back to see what else the park has to offer.
For a few minutes I fancied myself a bit of an Ansel Adams as I managed to take photos whilst cycling. Quick snapshots of the landscape sans unparalleled levels of light contrast. Good enough for me, never going to be award winning. I lazily cruised past the ever-present blat blat blat of park water jets, a broken bridge, and onto a part of the park that didn’t look too dissimilar to those which adorn the English countryside (I find the soul of a park is all in the types of trees). En route I went past slumbering denizens, bright playgrounds, basketball courts, and a large lake that was carpeted in huge lilies.
There were various sculptures like this steel square effort:
And this dainty bronze cyclist:
Eventually, I ended up at a small folly (I use this word strictly in the English Regency/Victorian garden sense) which had small metopes resting in a henge of stone pillars. It was clearly a history lesson but I found my time was waning so I contented myself with a few pictures of them.
The other point I noted was the proliferation of photographers in the park. Usually guys taking photos of Thai models. At this point I found myself back at the park entrance I had come in and decided to see if I could walk my bike through the other part of the park.
Apparently you can. Rather than “No cycling” I registered barely a glance from the security people so was able to cross one of the bridges and idly meander back towards the BTS.
From there it was a simple 35Baht ride home, a morning well spent and a sense of broadening one’s horizons. The diplomat has been to Chatuchak market; I have not. That’s a trip and a blog for another day. Oh and the current snapshot of the Park on Google Maps is way out of date. There has been a lot of improvement in the gentility of the park since that photo. Come along Larry and Sergey…keep up with the changing world…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?