escape to the green lung

My first few months in Bangkok were a little rough. I have started to write about it roughly eight times…but it has yet to come out in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a whiny baby. Essentially, I had just been encountering that old adage – “when it rains it pours;” experiencing a pretty lasting stint of bad luck. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but my spirit had just been feeling a bit broken. A big part of it was a result of living in a huge city – both the isolation that comes despite being surrounded by so many other humans, and the complete lack of nature. Instead of being surrounded by trails to run and mountains to hike, I am now fenced in by concrete and buildings. I had read about Bang Krachao, or the “green lung” of Bangkok, and even just by the name, I knew this would be a welcome respite from the daily grind. I recruited Kaitie to spend the day wandering the lung-shaped island, right in the middle of central Bangkok.

Once you climb out of the tiny boat that carries you across the Chao Praya, you immediately feel a shift in atmosphere. This is still Bangkok, but it is not the Bangkok I have come to know. As we begin to peddle our bikes down the narrow path away from the water, the city disappears – palm trees and swamps replace the skyscrapers and concrete, birds take over the sound of cars, and instead of the combination of smells that assault you everyday in the city, the air smells faintly of water and musty leaves. Obviously at this point, I’m obligated to quote Will Ferrell. “That’s why I come up here…nnnnaaatureeeeee!”

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(most of the photos I took were taken with my film camera and are still waiting to be developed!)

While only about ten percent of the 2,000 hectares is protected and run by the Royal Forest Department, the rest of the land is privately owned and there is an ongoing campaign to keep the area undeveloped. You can imagine this is what Bangkok looked like before development.

Bikes are truly the best way to get around here. The raised concrete pathways over the swamp can be a bit daunting (I had to really force myself to not “look at that snake climbing that tree over there!” and focus on the <four feet of concrete curving in front of me) but we made it, unscathed. Kaitie and I continued to gush about our improved mental state (and desire to improve our physical states) over coffee and as we strolled down wooden platforms over monitor-filled waterways.

In the afternoon, the skies turned dark; clouds heavy with rain. Neither of us were ready to head back, but we also weren’t sure where else to go. We had no agenda, so I just picked a new direction to peddle. Luckily, we eventually fell in behind some other foreigners, and they unknowingly led us to the Bang Namphueng floating market. No longer a true floating market, it still keeps its name because of the small boats lining the canal selling noodles by the bowl. We made our way through covered alleys of the typical market stalls, stopping only to pet goats and enjoy a bowl of egg noodle with pork. The servers there seemed especially excited to have farang at their stall. I don’t think Bang Krachao sees a lot of foreigners.

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Kaitie and I could not stop exclaiming about how much we needed this day and how rejuvenated we felt after – totally obnoxious to any outsiders, I’m sure. As simple as it was – essentially a bike ride through a mangrove – it was just enough to help me feel like myself again.

The green lung offers a refreshing reprieve from the sometimes suffocating attributes of the city – it reminded me that no matter where I am, with a little effort, I can still find these places. Hopefully Bangkok development keeps its shopping malls and high-rise condos on the other side of the river indefinitely.

If you go:

You can either take the BTS to Phromphong or the MRT to Khlong Toei. Take a taxi to the Khlong Toei pier (have them drop you in front of the 7-11, and walk down the alley to the left. You’ll pass a temple before you get to the waterfront). Ferry is only 10-20baht. We rented bikes immediately after getting off the boat on the other side. You can book tours or explore on your own.

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