Pedaling to health
Story by THANIN WEERADET
Bangkok Post, October 19, 2006
A five-minute boat ride across the Chao Phraya lands bikers in a world that is the closest thing to a forest near Bangkok
The idea of cycling in Bangkok does not sound attractive given the congested traffic and lack of bike lanes, but SpiceRoads managed to persuade me to join them with the promise of a leisurely ride through jungle settings.
Before I took their offer, I wondered if there were still any jungles left in or around Bangkok and try as I may couldn't think of one. But I gave them the benefit of doubt and went along.
The meeting point was in front of a golf driving range opposite a superstore in Khlong Toey district. Six bikers were already there when I arrived, warming up, the sense of anticipation clearly written on their faces.
"Are we going to pedal from here or get a car to a drop-off point?," I asked our female guide Suthasinee, who would be accompanying us on the trip.
"No. We pedal right from here," she said, checking the bicycles to make sure they were in trim condition. Then we were given our rides and spent some time familiarising with the gears and brakes, after which we received our helmets and water bottles.
And it was time to go. Intense traffic in front of the superstore was intimidating but we held our nerves pedalling in a straight line. I have lived in Bangkok for long but have never sat gripping the handle bar in such heavy traffic.
I found it safer to jump off the seat and walk the bike when crossing the road. After 15 minutes we had crossed several intersections. Our Dutch colleagues, there were two of them, coped well under the conditions.
Soon we arrived at the pier next to Wat Khlong Toey Nok by the Chao Phraya River. A tour boat docked and unloaded a group of foreign tourists. I looked across the river and saw a green patch on the other side. Was that the jungle I had been promised?
It took us five minutes to cross to the river and hauling the bikes ashore we found ourselves in Bang Krachao, a sub-district on Thon Buri side that almost looks like an island because the river there forms a curve, virtually cutting off access by road to the community.
We could breathe more freely now. The road congestion of Khlong Toey had given way the rustic ambience of trees and back roads that ran through coconut groves and homes.
"Incredible," exclaimed our foreign friends. "It's a different world five minutes across the river," I snapped back. It's hard to believe two completely different worlds could exist just five minutes apart.
We pedalled in peace, the air fresh and the greenery pleasing to the eyes. We arrived at an orchard through which ran an elevated cement path two metres wide and just about as high from the muddy floor that twisted and turned sharply, leaving bikers no room for error.
Negotiating it was some challenge as I almost went over at the first turn. Next stop was Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nai where we took a short break. Every weekend a canalside market springs to life by the temple, filled in our guide.
After the elevated walkway through the orchard we moved on to another stretch, longer, but by now we were more confident in our ability to handle the tricky route. One irritant was the narrow route, we had to pedal in single file.
I spotted a young boy skillfully manoeuvring his bike. He was probably on his way home from school. An hour later we stopped at a house that is open to tourists. Its owner makes incense sticks but the day we visited her she and her family were busy cleaning the place. We stopped there briefly and she offered us fruits and drinks. The stop gave our foreign friends a chance to experience the traditional lifestyle of Thai people living in wooden houses.
Setting out again, we pedaled on a country road past houses, grocery stores and gardens. The heat was scorching and we're all sweating. We took another stop at a shop selling drinks in tambon Bang Kobua where we saw a sign pointing to Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nok.
The temple dates to early Rattanakosin period and has a mural that was painted in 1911. Even the original ordination hall and vihan (chapel) are still standing. We admired what still remained of the stucco works on the roof's facade.
We left the temple, turned right and went over a bridge where we spotted a man we had met earlier in the day. He was sitting patiently by a pond waiting for the fish to take the bait. After 15 minutes we hit a huge green patch. The sign there said it was Si Nakhon Khuen Khan Park. Its exquisite row of coconut trees complemented the pleasant green lawn and a big pond abundant in fish that sat in its midst.
"I'll be back in a couple of minutes with food for the fish," said our guide and left. She was back in quick time and we had a great time feeding pla taphien fish in the pond. They were really huge.
We would have liked to spend more time in the park because it also had a biking trail, but the guide signalled that our time was up and we had to return to the harsh reality of Bangkok _ congested roads and polluted air.