After a heavy day hitting golf balls at the driving range on top of the Dusit Thani Hotel with Tiger (Beer, not Woods) and Canada’s finest Jazz vocalist export to Bangkok, I decided to see if I could cycle the 7.6km from our apartment down to the Chao Praya river and specifically to Sanam Luang Park – an oval piece of greenery a bit like the park nestling between Independence and Constitution Avenues, Washington DC. Whereas the latter has the Capitol buildings and the Washington National Monument at either end, this one has the Grand Palace and the World War I Memorial.
It was a hot day. Despite the claims Bangkok is mid-winter, it’s like no winter I’ve ever experienced. Wearing a lulu wet/dry top is a must, as well as a litre of water, sunglasses, and the obligatory cycle helmet.
So….after heading upstream against the flow of traffic down Langsuan I took a left onto Thanon Rama I which runs almost all the way to my destination. It is also the main route for the west-east track of the BTS from the National Stadium to Bearing tracking firstly Rama I, then Ploenchit Road, and then Sukhumvit (the old road that eventually makes its way to Trat, a town near (100km or so) the border of Cambodia (you have to take the A318 to get to Cambodia from Trat). Anyway, back at the other end of that ancient roadway, I was cycling due west through Patumwan district, past BTS Siam station and towards Huachiew General Hospital.
…till I literally got to the dead end of the BTS…
A little further on was Wat Chaimongkol……before I had a short climb up and over the Si Rat Urban Expressway. Rama I ends shortly after this, becoming Thanon Bamrung Muang. However, I found myself carving through the waiting cars to join the mopeds at the front of the light and took a right onto Thanon Krung Kasem. I realised I had diverted from my planned route but an Android GPS and a carefree attitude to exploring encouraged me to push on. Now, this is a fascinating street. It hugs the klong (river) Phadung Krung Kasem and is home to Bo Bae market which is a series of soi with thousands of colourful market stalls selling everything you could possible want from a wholesale clothing destination. It’s also rated as the cheapest place to get clothes, cheaper even than the National Stadium’s indoor market. It was clearly a tourist venue with the dozens of farang and tuk-tuks.
I got a couple of envious glances from both those groups as I wove through the cars on my bike. I have to say, despite the diplomat telling me traffic related deaths in Bangkok remains high, the best way to get round the city is by moped or bike. You can get most places quicker than you can by car. and the exhilaration of navigating the currents is something you have to experience. Riding up and over the klong Saen Saep (see a previous blog for our boat trip down that to Wat Sakhet) I took a left down Thanon Lan Luang past a small stretch where they were making a lot of cosmetic bottles, and headed to the first major intersection before you come into the Old City. It was at this point I realised where I was from our previous trip to Wat Sakhet and with some confidence pushed on down the five-lane highway that heads towards the Democracy Monument.
quickly going past the monument…and making the final stretch down towards the north-eastern corner of Sanam Luang Park. I had made it! Unscathed, dripping with sweat, happy as the proverbial Larry.
The Park lies between the Grand Palace (Wang Luang) and the Front Palace (Wang Na) and used to be called Thung Phra Men or Phra Men Ground, as it was used for the cremation ceremonies of high ranking royalty and monarchs. In the reigns of Kings Rama III and IV the park was a demonstration rice field for foreigners and was renamed to Sanam Luang in the reign of King Rama IV. King Rama V used it as a racing track, a golf course, and a kite-flying arena.
I decided to do an anti-clockwise circuit of this stretched oval, checking first that you can cycle around (you can, if you are slow and respect pedestrians). The park has three “lanes”, each marked out with trees around a vast, flat, grassy open space.
Tamarind trees are planted around its circumference to provide shade and it also was used as a market place – subsequently moved to Chatachuk. Now it remains as a place for many important ritual ceremonies and as a public space for the people to relax. I slowly circled it, taking photos of the Grand Palace, the World War I monument, the Judicial courts…
I took a video but despite Microsoft Windows Media Player 12 claiming it can play .mp4, it can’t. I also seem to have lost a great photo of the pineapple sellers – I’ve never seen so many pineapples stuffed into one car.
My journey is complete, bar the race back which was flat out, involved no photos and was pure, utter fun. I’ve seen a dozen thanon and soi to explore…and I will.
For now, that’s the Rama I road from Chit Lom to Sanam Luang Park. if you get a chance, forget a taxi or tuk-tuk. Cycle it. It’s a whole new view of a thriving city.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?