Cycling Bangkok’s Green Space
It’s been more than two months since we’ve been on a bike and as more time passes we get antsy for a little cycling excursion. Bangkok doesn’t lend itself well to cycling. With the ridiculous traffic, heat, and pollution even walking up stairs is enough to give you an asthma attack. We picked up a local paper printed in English and it had an article on Phra Padaeng, Bangkok’s “Green Lung.” The Lung occupies a small peninsula formed by a bend in the river. The article told us that the peninsula has few cars, is still covered in lush jungle and can be accessed by boat just a few minutes from Sukhumvit Road. To top it off you can rent a bike to cruise around on and enjoy the scenery. On our last day in Bangkok we had to make the trek over there.
We were a little uncertain on how to get there so we spent the morning trying to find information on the bus system website. Not surprisingly the Bangkok bus website is difficult to navigate, just for fun, check out their system map. In the end we discovered that we were in luck and our local line would take us across the city with only a short cab ride to the pier. (It is also near Skytrain for those of you coming from Skytrain accessible parts of the city).
When we got off the bus we flagged a cab but we were a little skeptical that our taxi driver understood where we wanted to go. In the end he dropped us off right at the pier. Being the confused starry eyed tourists we were, we walked to the first dock we saw. This was the charter pier, but for three of us to get across it was still only 40 baht, as compared to the 30 baht on the return trip.
As soon as we got off the ferry (by ferry I mean tiny long tail with ankle high gunwale), we were met by a beautiful spread of rental bikes, probably about 20. They looked like Japanese cruisers from the 80s, most were a sturdy steel gray with lovely handlebar baskets. We each chose our bikes, paid 100 Baht ($3) and were on our way. The bikes were decently maintained. The brakes worked well enough though all of the gears were simply for show. Briana’s bike even had a chainless direct drive system. The bike nerds in us were happy with the eccentricities though a few hours on those huge seats left us both a little eager for our tandem.
Leaving the pier we were met with incredibly empty roads. There were a couple of people on bikes and some scooters parked, but on our two hour ride we saw maybe 3 cars. One of these cars was the coconut truck, it was just driving around until there was a local with a pile of coconuts next to their orchard, then he would load them up and keep cruising.
The peninsula appears to be used almost exclusively for agriculture. They use a different type of row cropping than anything we’re accustomed to in the States. If there weren’t filled in roads we would have been riding in a swamp. Even the mango, coconut, and durian trees were all planted on filled in rows surrounded by stagnant water. It was crazy to think that this is what the natural landscape of much of Bangkok used to look like. What is now home to massive skyscrapers and mega-malls stands above what once was (and in many ways still is) a giant swamp. One of our couchsurfing hosts told us that if you dig one meter down anywhere in Bangkok you hit water. Streets are literally sinking and there are large problems with flooding.
In the Lung the only thing we saw besides jungle and fruit trees were houses. There was a large range of housing there from tin roofed shanties to multi-floored houses with manicured lawns. It looked like lots of construction was underway. I’m sure those who can afford it recognize the value of being isolated from the city. Thai McMansions are definitely in the works.
Probably the coolest part of the whole ride was the side streets. These “streets” are concrete board walks about 4 feet over the swamp and 3 ft wide winding through the orchards. We were a little nervous to venture on them at first since we saw people and scooters using them and we weren’t sure if we would be able to pass simultaneously. But being that we didn’t have a map, and were deliberately getting lost, it wasn’t long before the paved road ended and the boardwalk began.
It was a lot easier to ride on them than I expected. We only ran into trouble when we hit the turns. We usually put our foot down to make sure we could get by without falling in the swamp. Our couchsurfing host, Jesse, kept joking about falling into the khlong (canal) and getting impaled on a rusty post. There are no signs posted about where you are, not that we would be able to read them if there were. But we continued getting deliberately lost, riding through people’s back yards and dodging the low hanging power lines. Jesse almost got taken out by one, but luckily he caught it at the last minute and didn’t veer off into the swamp.
Through our wandering we stumbled upon a Siamese fighting fish gallery. Sadly, it was closed, but it was a nice new building and had a beautiful garden to relax in. After a little break we kept riding around and after seemingly endless turns we ended up right where we started. So we decided to call it a day and head back across the river for an air con mall and a snack.
Our trip to Phra Padaeng was definitely one of the highlights of our week in Bangkok (just look how happy Briana was to be on a bike). It’s so amazing how different it feels to be surrounded by nature instead of traffic. The sounds were a little softer, the sky a little bluer and our lungs happy for the break. Next time we are in Bangkok we will certainly pay another visit to the Green Lung.
How to Get There
The closest Skytrain station is Phrom Phong on Sukhumvit Road. From there it is a 70 Baht taxi ride (depending on traffic) to the Khlong Toey pier. We had a bit of difficulty expressing that we wanted to go to the pier. Khlong Toey is also the name of a whole neighborhood. Somewhere in the mix of saying “Chao Phraya” (the name of the river we wanted to cross, “we go by boat” and “Tha Khlong Toey” (Tha meaning pier) we got the message across. The cab will probably leave you off in front of a big toll gate into the shipping port. To the right you will see an ornate gateway that leads to a Wat (temple). If you walk down that road you will find the public pier and 10 Baht later you will be across the river at the Bangkrachao pier. Bikes are available right at Bangkrachao for 100 Baht each. If you have your bike with you the ferry will take it across the river. There is also a bike shop that leads tours around Bangkok. If you prefer guided tours check out ABC Bicycles.
The picture on the left is the ornate gate leading to the pier which is the picture on the right