Wednesday, 9 January 2019

A Tale of Two Parks

Flower Show
My continuing mission to explore the city of Bangkok continued with a trip to two neighbouring parks - rather too small to feature on their own they are close enough to make for a satisfying walk with only a small amount of street walking in between.  The two parks in question are Benchakiti Park and Benjasiri Park, both close to Asok BTS station.  They are quite different in character but worthy of some time for their differing reasons.

Waiting For The Lunchtime Rush
I started my exploration in Benchakiti Park and accessed it from Queen Sikirit Convention Centre MRT station.  When I came out of the station it wasn't obvious how to get into the park and there is no direct access.  Head north along Ratchadaphisek Road, a busy stretch that isn't particularly pleasant but does have a pavement (not everywhere in Bangkok does, so this is important).  As I wandered along the road I soon got the smell of barbecue up my nose and saw a street vendor had set up shop by the side of the road.  With traffic whizzing past I wondered how on earth he was expecting to get any business.

Just past the main buildings of the Convention Centre is an access road running along the north side.  Be sure to turn left here as there is no other entrance to the park until you get to the north east corner some distance away.  Even when you turn into the access road there is no immediate entrance and your first view of the park is across an impenetrable fence, tantalisingly close but out of reach.  You will immediately see the layout of the park though and its dominance by a large lake in the middle.  I suspect that more than 60% of the park is the lake but nevertheless it does make an attractive place to walk thanks largely to the perimeter jogging and cycling path.  The actual access is at the south west corner and it is necessary therefore to head all the way to that corner along the access road.

I decided to walk anti-clockwise around the lake for no better reason than I wanted to inspect a large circular jetty that juts out into the lake.  Sadly when I got near to it I could see that it was fenced off and no access could be gained.  All was quiet in the park for I surely was the only one nutty enough to be walking around in the heat of the day?  (it was late morning now)  The only people I had for company were park workers and there were quite a lot of them around, in contrast to equivalent parks in Britain where you rarely see park workers in action.  The first lady I saw was crouching down watering the plants.  An unusual stance and I can only think she was trying to get close to the plants so they actually got more of the water intended rather than losing it to evaporation in the heat.

Pond Heron
I turned the first corner quite quickly to make  my way up  the eastern side of the lake and it wasn't long before I came upon the bike hire and boat hire areas.  Each cost the princely sum of 50 baht to hire - approximately £1.20/ $1.50.  There weren't many takers today and the bikes and swan boats were all lined up patiently waiting for their next customer.  I plodded on and was passed by the first other visitor I saw - a Thai man jogging around the track.  I imagine this would be a pleasant place to go jogging during the week with virtually no-one here.  The weekends are probably a different prospect though!

I should probably mention the flowers along the side of the lake at this point - the planting was mostly bougainvillea and it was out in full bloom on the occasion of my visit.  The dominant colour was hot pink but there was also an amber colour, maroon and white.  It all made for quite a spectacle, especially with the bright sunlight somehow heightening the colours.  The flowers rather dominated the scene along the eastern side of the lake but they weren't the only thing of interest.  I stood and watched a pond heron for some time - it stood and blinked at me a bit with its mouth open.  I am not sure which kind it was - the Indian, Chinese and Javan Pond Herons are almost identical in their winter plumage and are believed by some to belong to the same super-species.  I also tried following around some rather attractive butterflies but my luck with trying to capture one with my camera didn't hold up and I only managed to get one with its wings closed.

About half way along the eastern side I walk through a pergola - it was all rather attractive but the plants hadn't been grown up it, rather missing the point of the structure I would have thought?  Having some climbing plants weaving their way over it would probably provide some much needed shade as well as be an attractive feature.  At the north east corner I turned along the short north shore where the flowers seemed to be at their zenith. The north side was pretty short and only allowed enough time to get a different view of the surroundings including the buildings that I had walked past without paying too much attention.  On closer inspection I could see that they seemed to have helicopter landing pads on the roofs - buildings for the well-heeled perhaps?

Sharing a Joke
I realised at this point that to reach the other park I could do a u turn and head down the road and out of the north east entrance.  However the is a bit more hinterland to the park on the western side and once I had walked down the length of the lake I decided to come back along paths through the trees at the side of the lake.  This proved to be an interesting way to return as I saw a whole lot of different things; some human, some natural and some in the shape of sculptures.  The first thing I spotted was a group of old men doing their morning ritual exercises.  Next I saw an area where people seemed to favour sleeping which wasn't far from the first Buddhist shrine of the day.  I was rather surprised I hadn't seen one before but this one did not disappoint.  The inscription by it indicated the history of the park, which was once occupied by a tobacco factory and handed over to the nation to celebrate the Queen's 60th birthday back in 1986.

Purple Foliage
In the middle of the green area was a wetland feature surrounded by trees that had a warning about monitor lizards.  I needn't have worried - the area was also full of people sleeping so I gave it a wide berth.  I was pleased that I did for just beyond the grassy area was being sprinkled and I had fun trying to dodge the sprinklers as I walked through.  Eventually when I worked my way through I came upon the road out of the park being swept diligently by a lady done up to the nines in sun protection gear.

I left the peace and quiet of the park and returned to Ratchadaphisek Road where I immediately crossed the road via the footbridge adorned with electric wires.  I am amazed at how many wires are dangled from the bridges especially within touching distance - it's a wonder nobody has an accident with them.  Far below on the busy road cars slowing down for the traffic lights ahead were approached by vendors that had their whole heads covered and with sunglasses on.  I know this is for sun protection but they do look like gangsters and I'm not surprised that business was light as a result.  I've never actually seen anyone buy the flower garlands that are the most popular things for sale but I guess they must do business otherwise why else would they be there?

At Asok I turned right and headed along Sukhumvit Road, one of the most famous in Bangkok and home to many of the major hotels in which tourists like to stay.  I found a signboard that told me about the importance of the road and apparently it was named after the Director General of Highways who devised the national road system for Thailand.  This particular road is now the main highway to the eastern border with Cambodia.  I walked for about 10 minutes eastbound along the road before reaching Benjasiri Park.  

Benjasiri Park was a much different green space from Benchakiti Park.  The main similarity was the presence of a lake but that is where similarities ended, especially as this one was much smaller and surrounded on all sides by trees.  One thing I immediately noticed was the number of sculptures in the park and I was rather disappointed to see that most of the captions were in Thai so I wasn't sure what most of them were about.  There were a lot of them though and most were representations of people.  I walked around the ornamental lake until reaching the jetty that jutted out into the water.  This time I had more luck as it was open to visitors.  I walked out to the middle and my eye was drawn to what I initially thought might be a lizard swimming in the middle.  Upon closer inspection I realised it was a turtle head and soon the shell came into view as well.

Benjasiri Park
My eye was drawn to one particular sculpture - one called Ville fantastique II and unusual in that it wasn't a people based sculpture but also because it had an English caption explaining that it represented a surreal vision of a city that fosters dreams and free thinking.  I looked back at the pond and realised that the turtle was closer to shore and so I walked over to take a picture of it.  When I got closer I couldn't be entirely sure that the creature was still alive because it was so still.  No matter how hard I looked I could not be sure as the turtle just seemed to bob along without making any discernible movement.  It did have its eyes open the whole time though so maybe?  I took this as a cue to finish the walk and dive into the Emporium shopping mall next door.  The blast of air conditioning was very welcome while the tropical Christmas decorations outside were just plain surreal.

Ville Fantastique II
These contrasting parks make for a satisfying walk even with the section along Sukhumvit Road to negotiate.  I think next time I visit Benchakiti Park though I will definitely have a go at cycling - I think a few laps on two wheels will be very satisfying. 

Dead or Alive?

No comments:

Post a Comment