One would not expect to find a green, rural island in the middle of a bustling modern megalopolis. Especially if it does not even stand on the seashore. Yet Bangkok, one of the biggest and most hectic cities in Asia, has its “lungs” on a manmade riverine island: Bang Krachao. Crossing Chao Phraya river in a simple ferry magically transports you into a world of little overgrown canals, wooden houses, nipa palms, and farming plots. In recent years, Bang Krachao has been steadily gaining popularity as a weekend escape both among the expats and locals in Bangkok but still, its natural, slow-paced ambiance remains undisturbed even on holidays. And it is mostly the overall atmosphere that makes it worth visiting. Tourist sights are few, and most of them have recently been labeled as such or constructed in the attempt to develop the area as a new attraction.
Once again, mostly it is just the environment. Essentially, it is a cluster of ordinary, rustic Thai villages, set amidst slightly swampy gardens and farms. But normally one would have to travel for a couple of hours out of Bangkok to get immersed in this sort of natural calm. Here, you get it right inside the capital city. In addition, there is an arboretum, Sri Nakhon Kuen Khan Park, more relaxed than educative, but definitely very green. There is a weird museum of Siamese fighting fish. A recently opened tourist attraction, a grove of lamphu trees, is being promoted as a firefly garden, but the luminescent insects have yet to settle in it. So far, you will see more natural illumination of this sort simply by walking along the canals.
Finally, on weekends, there is a make-believe floating market – one of those typical enterprises springing up by the dozen all over Central Thailand. Bang Nam Pheung floating market, it is called, but in fact, most of the trade is conducted from stalls lining two sides of a canal, rather than from boats, and all of this is food and souvenirs. There are other minor sights, but merely hiking on the elevated walkways above murky water, squinting to see traditional village lifestyle through bamboo fences, or exchanging smiles with the chilled-out locals is what makes worth it a trip.
While technically Bang Krachao is an island – an oxbow bend in the river completed by an artificial canal – there is a bridge connecting it to the rest of Bangkok. If you are riding your own motorbike, this is the best way in. Otherwise, two ferries link it with the mainland: one at Khlong Toei pier, and another at Sanphawut pier. Both are located within walking distance from BTS/MRT (Bangkok metro). On the island, at both ferry jetties, bicycles can be rented for a small charge. Conveniently, you can rent them at one spot and return at the other, eliminating the need to backtrack. Cycling or hiking is a much better way to soak up the island’s relaxed ambiance than driving, and some of the smaller walkways may be tricky to navigate on a motorbike. Bang Krachao is only a few km across, but there is no reason to march through it in a straight line – and given all the little canals, it would be technically impossible – so plan on a few hours on foot, less if cycling. A few modern cafes and lots of local food stalls are scattered around the island, and accommodation is available in the form of homestays. Staying in Bang Krachao is not a good choice if you plan to regularly commute to Bangkok, but if you want to chill out without leaving the city, you can just as well settle down in its lungs.
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