Nestled in a large oxbow that forms the southern region of Bangkok is an area called Prapradaeng (or the Green Lung), so-called as it is a rough, tumbledown area of jungle that isn’t swallowed up by the dirty concrete of Bangkok’s vast sprawl. Normally, I’d say “unspoilt”, but that would not be true despite the HD, glorious pictures online from various cycling and tourism ventures. There’s plenty of rubbish, broken concrete, stray dogs, crumbling shacks, smelly pools that somehow contrive to be hidden amongst the relentless jungle yet are always assailing your senses.
Running through the Bang Kachao area of this pseudo-tourist jungle is a large network of 1m wide, concrete walkways. For the explorer they are enticing, for the tour guides they are a money spinner as you get to see “local crafts” in action, “floating markets”, and oddities like “Fighting Siamese Fish.” Yes, you can easily get sucked into the wallet-emptying process that is Bangkok tourism, but I’d advocate getting on a bike and exploring yourself. It’s hard to get lost with Google Maps and even if your phone goes dead, head in any direction and eventually you’ll hit water and know where you are. Not only that, but the locals here smile with their eyes and are genuinely helpful.
Most online blogs etc. espouse going to the pier at Khlong Toey and catching a five-minute ferry over and renting a bike. You could do that…OR….be a little more adventurous and realise you can get to this place without having to get a ferry. If you cross the Chao Phraya towards Samut Prakan – anywhere, but Saphin Taksin bridge is easiest – and head south towards Bhumibol Bridge 1 (about 5km from Saphin Taksin) you can turn left to the bridge but skip past to Lat Pho Park which nestles against the Chao Phraya under the two bridges. As an aside, if you ever get the chance to cycle up Bhumibol Bridge 1 and down the other side into Bangkok do it. Not only can you hit breakneck speed, but the view from the top of this vast city is breathtaking. Probably the best panoramic view in the whole of Bangkok if I am honest..
Anyway, don’t ride over Bhumibol Bridge 1 or 2 but bear left past them and, wending your way under the huge bridges, head straight as an arrow towards the river. You’ll go off the road and over a footbridge (it has silver bollards at either end), then past Lat Pho Park – which has a green walk track around it. Keep to the right past the park and turn left at the junction) and you will quickly realize that the river narrows to barely 30m with a small bridge cars can get across.
You’re there! At one end of Soi Petchahung – which is the main “road” through the place.
Four km up the road is the Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park. As I cycle along one weekend the jungle is impenetrable, save those lattice raised walkways that plunge like arrows in to the vegetation. Lots of raised banks of earth to cultivate agriculture, houses dotted about, set back, set forward on the single track road. It doesn’t take long to feel that I have left urbanity and am truly wandering in a strange land.
Eventually, I turn right into the park. Inside there is a route for walkers/wheelchairs, and a route for cycles. The latter is partially finished. The first two km are polished black tarmac, the last kilometer a tyre puncturing sharp stone shard path. The plaque above claims it is “compacted earth”. Not true. Got a road bike? Carry it over the “compacted earth” or you’ll be walking all the way back to Bangkok.
What I find interesting is the Nipa palms. They apparently love to wallow in mud and saline areas like mangroves and estuaries. The park rangers practise coppicing to encourage their growth, something that’s been prevalent here for a very long time as Thai communities near the delta of the Chao Phraya rely on it to create wind barriers and as a land marker. The stalks are used as firewood, new leaves to roll cigarettes, old leaves to package Thai sweetmeats. They even use it to make roofs and walls whilst the flower produces a sugar and the fruit is used in Thai curries and desserts. The fruit is encased in a light, spherical husk, designed to float to pastures new.
Here’s a view or two of the park…
I head out, searching for the ferry. It’s not obvious, but 5km later and two conversations with people who speak English about as well as I speak Thai I locate it and pay 4baht for the ride across to the “mainland”. Before I do that I stumble across a broken, ruined Wat. Which, in itself, is curious because every Wat I’ve seen in Thailand is a golden gleaming accolade to Buddhism. This is crumbling, the jungle reaches out to claim it with green tendrils. The window apertures are slanted, dusty, eroded. Inside the statue is golden but stares over a forlorn floor towards shafts of light that approach but never illuminate.
Time to head home. It’s been fun. If you have time (adult time as it’s not really a place for kids under the age of 8), a desire for exploration and a love of cycling then add this to your bucket list. I have a sense it’s a place expats will go to time and again because, like all good labyrinths, there’s a thousand dead ends to explore, each with a story to tell.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?