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Where to Get Outdoors and Away from the Sprawl in Bangkok



While Bangkok is certainly more famed for its skyscrapers, shopping malls, and heavy gridlock, it's not to say that there aren't some decent spots to enjoy the outdoors in. The best outdoor activities in the City of Angels usually involve getting to the beautiful green spaces that are scattered around the city, the largest of which is Bang Krachao, also known as the "lung" of Bangkok, where you can find plenty of fresh air, bicycles to rent, lakeside canoeing, and more. Other top draws for greenery are the Suan Rot Fai Park, where there are kilometers of bicycle track, also a lake to boat in, and plenty of great picnic spots under the trees. Further in the heart of the city, Lumpini Park is the downtown top draw, and besides having a great jogging course, it is also home to the wonderful annual Bangkok Street Show, featuring avant garde artists, along with the weekend "Concert in the Park" series where you can relax to classical music and enjoy the green. In the north of the city, in addition to Suan Rot Fai, enjoy shopping outdoors at the always frantic Chatuchak Market, and if this gets a bit too hectic for you, continue further north, where Bangkok's island in the Chao Phraya, Koh Kret, makes for a great car free day, where you can walk, rent a bicycle, and truly relax.

Other outdoor activities in Bangkok involve cycling to hidden or lesser known destinations away from the urban sprawl, and outfitters like Spice Roads and Grasshopper Adventures can get you to all the top spots on two wheels or on foot. If being on the ground isn't your idea of fun, why not take to the water and enjoy Bangkok this way. Either head over to the little known floating market of Taling Chan, where you can charter a longtail boat to explore with or just eat to your heart's content, or if you are looking for something a bit more upscale, why not set sail on a dinner cruise with Grand Pearl Cruises.

For something really unique, head over to the Flow House, Bangkok's urban surfing mecca, where you can ride the waves and hone your boarding skills without ever leaving town. This is a real adrenaline starter and great way to beat the heat.

While Bangkok may be urban and gritty, you can still enjoy some outdoor pursuits and find your green space with this handy list.


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While it isn't back to nature, for the city's best outdoor shopping, head to Chatuchak. Originally a flea market started in the 1950's by a former prime minister who wanted to put a flea market into every town in Thailand, Chatuchak, more affectionately known as JJ Market, is now the largest market in Thailand. 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 is still a great place to people watch, find something you don't have to buy, and 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.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For Bangkok's top outdoor (and overall) shopping experience, Chatuchak Market is one of a kind.

Dave's expert tip: The back section of the market is probably the most interesting, as fairly illegal things such as cockfighting and various animal (some endangered some not) species are to be found, but don't get too pointy with your camera back here, as the merchants may be suspicious of your motives.

Read more about Chatuchak Weekend Market →


Grand Pearl Cruise
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis


Featuring beautiful yacht like cruise ships, the Grand Pearl is a mainstay in the Chao Phraya cruise industry. The company runs trips up to Ayutthaya, Nonthaburi, and other day excursions, but the highlight feature of the Grand Pearl, and one that shouldn't be missed by any visitor to Bangkok, is a dinner cruise up the river at night. All of Bangkok's prominent river landmarks are lit up at night, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the various bridges, as well as the old luxury hotels that line the river such as the Mandarin Oriental and Shangri La. In addition the sights, an international and Thai buffet dinner is served, along with Thai classical dance and a live band for guests entertainment.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For escaping the city sprawl and enjoying the Chao Phraya, a Grand Pearl Cruise is recommended.

Dave's expert tip: As the tours leave from the River City Shopping Complex at 730 pm, best to take public transport here to avoid heavy rush hour traffic. BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station and then river ferry up to River City will most likely be far ahead of a taxi time-wise.

Read more about Grand Pearl Cruise →


Grasshopper Adventures
Photo courtesy of courtesy of Grasshopper Adventures


Grasshopper Adventures is a small company specializing in bicycle, photography, and unicycle tours (talk about unique!). They have adventures throughout all of SE Asia, but here in Bangkok, they specialize in local jaunts featuring trips such as historic Bangkok, floating Bangkok, or wheeling around Chinatown. They even do a night ride free of the crowds, as well as a trip from the city out to the Gulf of Thailand, exploring the canals, small fishing villages, salt pans and mangrove swamps along the way. A great way to see some of the real Thailand.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For off the beaten path and unique outdoor activities in Bangkok, Grasshopper Adventures is a good bet.

Dave's expert tip: bring plenty of sunscreen and maybe consider a rain poncho if here between June-September.

Read more about Grasshopper Adventures →


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One of Bangkok's oldest attractions, the Dusit Zoo has been around for over six decades. It's located in the heart of old town Bangkok, near some more regal attractions like the Ananta Samakhom Throne Room and Dusit Palace, but the royalty here are the animals. There are animals from around the world here, ranging from those you would never expect to see in Bangkok, penguins and kangaroos, to the big staples like tigers, lions, giraffes, and hippos, who all inhabit the African Savannah section. The zoo itself is quite massive, with reptiles, birds, and even elephants getting their own spacious section, and there is even a lake to go paddling in, plus a mini train that goes around the property. It is easy to spend more than a day here, and it's best to choose your top spots first, as the ground really are large. If you get hungry, there is a great food court and even a 7-11 on the property, probably the only zoo in the world with a 7-11!

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For a great family spot outdoors in Bangkok, the zoo is a good option.

Dave's expert tip: Best to go in the morning to beat the crowds and heat here. Take a taxi, as the zoo is well off the sky train and metro lines, and a bit hard to reach.

Read more about Dusit Zoo →


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Chatuchak


Suan Rot Fai (The Train Park) is located slightly northeast of Chatuchak Park, along one of the city's largest connected green belts. The park sprawls over 150 acres in a space that was once a golf course for the State Railway Association which was subsequently turned into a park. On weekdays, you might feel like you have stumbled into Bangkok's quietest nature zone, while on weekends, the crowds do come, but everyone is enjoying the place and despite the groups, you will still be mighty moved by the greenery. 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, and you can rent bamboo mats, 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, and 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.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For plenty of green space and Bangkok's best bicycling, head to Suan Rot Fai.

Dave's expert tip: The best way to get here is to take the BTS to Mo Chit or MRT to Chatuchak. From the station, get out on the Chatuchak Market side and cross through Chatuchak Park (the one with the lake in it visible from the BTS station) to its northwest exit. From the gate here, cross Kamphaeng Phet Road and immediately enter another park gate, which leads into the southern end of Rot Fai Park in a few minutes. It is another 15 minutes on foot to reach the northern end of the park where they rent bicycles and sell food, so you might want to take a taxi or motorcycle from the BTS to the northern gate and rent bikes from there.

Read more about Suan Rot Fai →


Flowhouse
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis


Urban surfing comes to Bangkok, at the Flow House, a city beach club where one can get up on a boogie board or surfboard on perpetual sheet waves created by the Flowrider wave generating machine, perfect for surfing and body boarding. The surface of the Flowrider pool is made from soft plastic, ensuring that one too many margaritas at the bar wont result in a total wipe out. Besides the bar drinks there is plenty of pizza, pasta, burgers, and even pad thai, plus more at Flow, along with an air conditioned indoor area to escape the heat, not to mention a sports bar with a pool and soccer table, making this this coolest urban beach hangout this side of California. Flow riding lessons are available, plus plenty of locker room space and showers for the busy urban warrior with other engagements.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For adrenaline filled outdoor fun right downtown, a ride at Flow House can't be beat.

Dave's expert tip: It is a bit too far down Soi 26 to walk from the BTS Skytrain (Phrom Pong Station), best to hop on a motorcycle taxi for 20 baht to A Square, which is down near the intersection with Rama IV.

Read more about Flowhouse →




Created by King Rama VI in 1932, and named after the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumpini Park is an urban oasis, one of the city's largest parks located smack in the middle of central Bangkok. Besides offering plenty of shady trees under which to picnic or nap, and being a great respite from the city chaos and heat, there are also free aerobic classes held around sunset, and the park's jogging and bicycle paths are a big hit with the city slickers. You can also rent paddleboats to head out on the lake which is in the center of the park, plenty of fun for the whole family, and there are also playground areas for the kids and even rudimentary outdoor gym facilities (free weights and exercise stations) for mom and dad. Other than getting a workout in or just relaxing on a bench or the grass with a good book, there are a few other things to do in Lumpini. The park is home to large monitor lizards, who look a lot scarier than they really are, as well as plenty of birds, squirrels, and other small critters for you to observe. Lumpini is also home to the "Concert in the Park" series, where you can catch classical music performances by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra during the cool season, as well as the annual Bangkok Street Show, which features performance artists from around the world.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For an urban green space right downtown, Lumpini is a top draw.

Dave's expert tip: the closest public transport to Lumpini is the MRT subway station of the same name.

Read more about Lumpini Park →




Ko Kret is an island in the Chao Phraya River at the northern end of Bangkok. Originally settled by Mons, it is famed for its earthenware ceramics and for the traditional Thai sweet, khao cher, rice served with fragrant water and side dishes which is rare to find elsewhere in the capital. The island feels more like a southern paradise than part of Bangkok, as it is composed of small traffic free lanes, dilapidated homes, and a rustic feel. The island is only 7 kilometers around, so it's perfect for walking or renting a bicycle, and the morning can be spent visiting pottery shops, the several Mon (Burmese) monasteries, eating seafood or sweets, and taking in some quiet gardens, a great escape from hectic Bangkok.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For a real outdoor Bangkok escape, Ko Kret Island is a great choice.

Dave's expert tip: Getting to Ko Kret takes a bit of planning. Either take the Chao Phraya "green flag" express ferry from Saphan Taksin Pier to Pak Kret (before 8am), or else take the regular ferry to Nonthaburi (slightly south of Pak Kret) and then either bus 32 or a minivan that goes to the Pak Kret Pier.

Read more about Ko Kret Island →


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Outside the city


While many might think of Bangkok and nature in the same sentence as being an oxymoron, they probably have never heard of Bang Krachao. Bang Krachao, also known as "the lungs" of Bangkok is a vast area of green space just across the Chao Phraya River from Klong Toey. Originally a settlement for ethnic Burmese Mons, Bang Krachao is made up of orchards and gardens, and a strict local planning code prohibiting high rise buildings and factories has kept the area in a pristine state. The 100 acre Sri Nakhon Kuenkhan Park with its oasis of trees, lakes, and trails is the highlight here, as is renting a bicycle and heading out along the raised embankments that run through villages built on wooden stilts.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For Bangkok's largest green outdoor space, Bang Krachao is on top.

Dave's expert tip: If here on a weekend, make sure to go to the nearby Nam Peung floating market, an authentic Thai affair featuring excellent food and organic products. Motorcycle taxis go here from the ferry pier. To get across to Bang Krachao, a 10 minute 5 baht ferry runs from the Klong Toey Pier at Klong Toey Nok Temple.

Read more about Bang Krachao →




Spice Roads is a leading bicycle touring company that takes riders of all abilities and shows them the best of Thailand, both cultural and physical, from the vantage point of two wheels. Their trips combine exercise with cultural endeavours, getting to know the locals, and taking in some great scenery, with trips around Bangkok heading to floating markets, quiet canals, off road through coconut plantations, and out to places like sleepy Koh Kret, a car free island in the Chao Phraya River famed for its pottery. Other nearby destinations include wineries around Khao Yai National Park, the open green space and hidden canal paths of Bang Krachao, and visits to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya. The organization provides trained professional guides, tailor fit state of the art bicycles, sag wagons and support, and for those who get a taste of what bicycle touring is all about, they also run trips throughout the rest of the country and even around Asia and other hot tourist spots in the world.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For outstanding leadership and organisation, Spice Roads runs the best bicycle trips in Thailand

Dave's expert tip: Pack lightly for any bicycle trip in Thailand. It's hot and humid much of the year, and all you'll really need is some light quick drying clothing.

Read more about Spice Roads →


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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave

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