I’ve got a Bangkok secret…do you?
My Bangkok secret involves crossing to the other side, penetrating deep into luscious splendor along paths less travelled. Unexpected delights titillate the senses at every turn. Satisfaction is all but guaranteed. It’s my secret Bangkok cruising spot.
I’m talking about cruising on bicycles, of course. Who wants to come along for the ride?
Just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Bangkok, Bang Krachao, also known as the ‘lungs of Bangkok’, is a massive undeveloped island of forests, parks, rice paddies, home stays, markets and ancient monuments. If you enjoy bicycling, nature and a glimpse into the Thai life and culture of yesteryear, I’d highly recommend a visit.
We left in a taxi from Sukhumvit road after breakfast one beautiful Saturday morning. It took just 10 minutes to deliver us to the tiny Klong Toei pier (also known as Bangkok Port or Wat Klong Toei). Within seconds a small boat appeared (20 baht/US$0.6 per person). Speeding across the river just inches above the water, sun on our faces, wind in our hair, we were ready for an adventure.
The boat driver knew exactly where to deliver us. Minutes later and we found ourselves in a quaint wooden house on stilts (the bicycle shop), surrounded by palm trees. As we soaked up the relaxed island vibe and enjoyed the view, we already felt a world away from the heaving metropolis of Bangkok.
The lovely Thai owner arranged bicycles (100 baht a day US$3) and we were off. Armed with a basic map (courtesy of the bike shop), we followed the main road for a mile until we spotted the turn to Sri Nakhon Khun Khaw Park, a giant botanical garden.
It was easy to follow the shaded bike trails which weave through this beautiful forest park. If you’re into taking selfies, the lakes and gardens provide a glorious backdrop of bright butterflies fluttering through every conceivable shade of vibrant green. Of course we went nuts.
After climbing a bird watching tower and riding a full loop of the park, we headed off to Bang Nam Phueng Floating Market (open Saturdays and Sundays), about 20 minutes along a quiet road of traditional Thai houses.
As we arrived, masses of other day trippers (mostly Thais) swarmed in to this popular weekend market. The range of local food and handicrafts was outstanding. Many of the snacks I’d never seen and you’ll never find in Bangkok restaurants. If you’re game to try local flavors, this is a foodie’s paradise. Forget the diet and dig in!
After vegetarian spring rolls, coconut rice cakes and another coconut dessert, all of which were delicious, we decided to move on. As for the ‘floating’ market….well apparently there hadn’t been enough rain (the boats were resting on the ground!). If you’re hoping for postcard shots of colorful boats floating by, you may need to visit another floating market.
Continuing along the main road (Soi 26) to the river, we took a left turn down a grassy lane for 50m before mounting the narrow, elevated concrete paths which snake across the island connecting homes and villages. These small paths are fun to bicycle as they weave through dense jungle, palm trees and rice paddies. But they’re a little tricky on the corners – make sure to slow down!
Following the signs to our next stop, Bangkok Tree House, we suddenly came across a massive monitor lizard (as big as a dinosaur, I swear) sunning itself on the path. Three screaming men seemed to be all that was required to convince the beast to leap from the path to the waters below. Phew!
Bangkok Tree House is a lovely boutique hotel tucked away in the jungle. With its eco-friendly philosophy, chic design and river views, this place oozes calm.
After a leisurely, delicious organic lunch and a few beers, we tentatively rode off, a little wobbly. Thankfully there were no more giant lizards and we safely made the 15 minute ride to the ancient temple of Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nok, a hidden treasure. Inside the crumbling pagoda a beautiful Buddha statue and fading 300 year old artwork peacefully watch over you, filling the air with good vibes.
20 minutes along the main road we reached the Thai Fighting Fish Gallery (open weekends only), a beautiful garden containing hundreds of magnificent specimens and a history of Thai fighting fish. It’s worth stopping in for a few minutes.
Moments later and we reconnected to the original main road, close to our starting point. The entire circuit took around 4 hours and I’d estimate we covered 20 miles of pleasant and easy riding along quiet roads and paths.
Bicycling Bang Krachao is a fabulous way to spend a half-day in Bangkok. It’s difficult to get lost (you’re on an island) and the entire experience will set you back under $15 per person (including taxi, boat, bike rental, drinks and meals). If you’re not confident setting out on your own, several companies offer guided tours. For those who feel like a break from the city, you can stay overnight. The island is famed for swarms of fireflies which appear each evening, creating an eerie glow.
Now I’ve told you my Bangkok secret, are you ready to tell me yours? Enjoy Amazing Thailand, Go Thai Be Free.