Cycling in Suan Rot Fai — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Bangkok is not noted for being a bicycle-friendly city. The traffic is fast and furious, the heat is intense for much of the year and bicyclists certainly take their lives into their own hands in the city center.
However, the BTS Skytrain does allow cyclists to bring their bikes on board, which offers an escape into the outer areas. And one great weekend escape is to head out for sightseeing up at the famous Chatuchak Market, followed up by a leisurely time at the nearby Suan Rot Fai Train Park, which truly is a blessed urban escape.
While there are tour companies doing bicycle jaunts around the city, this is an easy do-it-yourself trip that affords plenty of time to relax. From wherever you are in the city center, get to a nearby BTS Skytrain station and take the train to its northern terminus at Mo Chit. Bicycles go in the last train car. It's only about 30 minutes from downtown up to the Mo Chit Station.
Enjoy the greenery at Suan Rot Fai — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Chatuchak Park lies just outside of the station, itself a large green belt. It is here that the famous weekend market is held. Over 5000 stalls vie for business, selling everything from clothing to pets, antiques, plants, amulets and plenty of food and drink.
The market is now a highly touristed affair - hot, crowded and no longer dirt cheap. Yet it's still a great place to people watch and find something you don't have to buy. The latest addition of impromptu cafes for sipping a cappuccino or having a cold beer and watching the world go by make it worth an afternoon.
Best to lock up your bike here and just wander, as the crowds can be overwhelming, and it's also best to come early to avoid the heat.
Shopping at Chatuchak Market — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Once you have had your fill of the market, cross through Chatuchak Park's northwest exit (visible from the Skytrain platform), cross Kamphaeng Phet Road and immediately enter another park gate, which leads into the southern end of Rot Fai Park in a few minutes. Rot fai, which means "train" in Thai, is a sprawling 150-acre green space that was once a golf course for the State Railway Association and was subsequently turned into a park.
Bicycling is the top activity in the park, and there are loop paths around the park of about three kilometers, which are completely car free. Picnicking is also a top draw. You can rent bamboo mats and bicycles and buy food at the park's northern end.
Best of all might be the completely free Butterfly Garden, a living museum where a lush garden has been sealed off from the sky by mesh covering. This spot is home to dozens of species of exotic tropical butterflies, some of them quite large, like the giant Golden Birdwing.
There are plenty of avid micro photographers spending hours in this living greenhouse, and the beautiful collection of butterfly species (which are also fairly well described on signboards in English and Thai) makes a stopover here a must on any park visit.
If you don't have a bicycle and still want to do this trip, that is fine as well, as Suan Rot Fai rents bicycles at its northern end by the hour or by the day.
Take it easy in Suan Rot Fai — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis