A forest in the heart of the city

Bangkok is currently shrouded in monsoon clouds, but during the day, green parks and open-air venues have become popular gathering places for locals and families.

A forest  in the heart of the city

A forest in the heart of the city

To lift spirits and promote exercise and biodiversity, Benchakitti Park is a key venue of the Krungthep Klang Plaeng festival

published : 21 Jul 2022 at 04:14
newspaper section: Life

Bangkok is currently shrouded in monsoon clouds, but during the day, green parks and open-air venues have become popular gathering places for locals and families.

Benchakitti Park has become an urban forest park where visitors can come to relax and learn about biodiversity. It is home to more than 300 kinds of plants and flowers.

It seems like our lives are getting back to normal as Thailand transitioned to a post-pandemic state this month, allowing residents to stop wearing masks outdoors. Tourists are also no longer required to apply for the Thailand Pass and purchase Covid-19 insurance.

Face masks are still necessary indoors though and in places with inadequate ventilation, as experts monitor two new subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, with the caseload reaching 2,000 per day. However, these adjustments have raised hopes of Thailand's tourism rebound.

To get people out of their homes, the Krungthep Klang Plaeng festival has converted a number of residential, recreational and entertainment venues into outdoor cinemas this month. This follows the successful return of Music In The Park after a two-year hiatus.

As part of the 12 month, 12 festival project, the project is a collaboration between the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), Film Archive Thailand, Thai Film Director Association and Outdoor Cinema Association to support the Thai film industry and boost the local economy.

"The project's goal is to provide income for neighbourhood vendors, so each day we'll select two spots among Bangkok's well-known landmarks and open spaces both in the city's core and its outer suburbs. This is a parallel strategy for promoting various locations and giving inspiration for movie locations," said Minrayaporn Somnongkham, secretary of the Thai Film Director Association.

"We're working with Film Archive Thailand to select movies that match the lifestyle and environment of each location. For example, the festival's opening film -- Dang Bireley's And Young Gangsters -- were shown at Lan Khon Muang in front of City Hall, so that young viewers could observe how their neighbourhood had changed. Meanwhile, residents of the Klong Toey community enjoyed a heartwarming comedy to lift their spirits after going through difficult times."

The 'green bridge' between Benchakitti and Lumpini parks.

From today until Saturday, Benchakitti Park will serve as one of the key festival locations, with screenings of Citizen Dog, The Blue Hour and Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy as well as music performances and other leisure activities. Urbanites with little time to travel might find respite there on the weekends.

"Benchakitti Park has a beautiful grandstand set against a backdrop of green landscapes and Bangkok's skyscrapers, making it a perfect site to enjoy a feel-good movie and breathtaking city views at night," Minrayaporn said.

Located in downtown Bangkok, this park covered 130 rai and had a sizeable pond and a small green courtyard until it was extended to the adjacent 320 rai in 2016 where the Tobacco Authority of Thailand factory formerly stood.

It was a collective effort between the Treasury Department and the Royal Thai Army to transform the remaining tobacco factory grounds into an urban ecological forest park in celebration of the Queen Mother's 84th birthday and to educate the next generation about environmental conservation.

Billing itself as the city's new green lung, it has a stunning, lush woodland setting ideal for breathing fresh air while getting your daily workout or learning about biological diversity. After a partial launch earlier this year, the park draws between 3,000 and 10,000 visitors on weekdays and 15,000 to 17,000 on weekends, while full amenities are slated to be available from Aug 12.

Lumpini Park was built in the reign of King Rama VI.

Focusing on sustainability, this verdant 450 rai park has created a cluster of miniature forest islands for water storage and retention utilising soil and sand from the tobacco factory. It has embraced local wisdom as farmers built tree-lined embankments over water ditches to maximise the utilisation of local resources.

As a result, pockets of small forests rise above the nearby water surface and tree roots are adequately hydrated by water tables, prompting healthy tree development. The plan also reduces water evaporation, which makes the air on the floor cooler. During rainstorms, the ground naturally acts as a water bank to prevent flooding.

The expansion of the park is divided into three phases to accommodate four enormous basins in different themes -- mangrove forest; freshwater swamp; low and evergreen forest; and agroforestry and gardening plants.

"The idea is to combine a water park and forest under one roof to rejuvenate deteriorated forests as proposed by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. We learned to use earthworm fertiliser to raise the quality of the soil. We constructed monkey cheeks for water storage and a wetland lined with water lilies, roseum plenum, yellow walking iris, canna lily and pickerel weed to purify the wastewater from the Phai Singto Canal so that we can use it in our park," said Nantaya Nuchanart, head of Benchakitti Park.

Visitors can take in panoramic and bird's eye views of prolific landscapes while strolling down the network of sinuous walkways and bridges. There are more than 300 species of plants and flowers as well as Bangkok's unique native trees like Knema furfuracea and Gmelina arborea on view.

"Considering that some plants take four or five years to grow, this is an experiment to find out what kinds of plants are ideal to grow in this area. We focus on biodiverse ecosystems to provide an animal food chain. Dragonflies and butterflies represent abundance in this park," said Nantaya.

The ring of bike lanes and running tracks are designed to resemble barricades to keep the forest park away from busy streets and communities. Shady with towering trees, Benchakitti Park is home to more than 50 different species of bird such as spotted owlet, Indochinese roller, Asian openbill, cormorant and estrildid finches, making it a new favourite spot for both experienced and amateur bird-watchers.

Siam Square Walking Street has proved popular during weekends.

The warehouses have been turned into indoor sports buildings, while a museum will open to the public next month and offer an interesting exhibition of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and the Tobacco Authority of Thailand.

If you still have stamina, you can easily bike or stroll from Benchakitti Park to Lumpini Park thanks to the 1.6km "green bridge". Built in the reign of King Rama VI, this is Thailand's first public park on 360 rai of land, which was formerly known as Thung Sala Daeng.

Amid a tranquil mood and lush scenery, visitors can view a historic Chinese-style clock tower and the country's public library while running, strolling around or riding a boat in the lake. In addition to a playground, the HSBC Lumpini Park Children's Library with its red polka dots and ladybug-inspired design is quickly gaining popularity as a place where kids and parents can study together.

Next Friday, a group of book lovers will gather to read outside and discuss their favourite novels at the Book In The Park event. The event is a collaboration between the Just Read Facebook page and the BMA to offer mini-talks and an intriguing book exhibition to create an open creative space and encourage reading habits among future generations.

After leaving the green urban forest, you may end a day trip in the freshly renovated Siam Square Soi 7, where you might feel you are browsing in the popular South Korean shopping area of Myeongdong. It has morphed into Siam Square Walking Street during the weekends, allowing customers to enjoy hassle-free shopping without having to worry about traffic.

The main street continues to be a mixed-use area where young artists can showcase their talent through a variety of street shows, so the new zoning of stores and restaurants is made to fit the idea of a new walking street. Several international and Thai brands, including Shu, SOS & Sense and Firster, have flagship stores to offer a variety of cosmetics, fashion and lifestyle products.

From July 28-30, Block I Siam Square will join the outdoor cinema festival with screenings of The Love Of Siam, Seasons Change and Siam Square to illustrate how the area has been a popular shopping destination for people of all ages.

Throughout this month, Bangkok's public parks and landmarks have transformed into outdoor cinemas for the Krungthep Klang Plaeng festival. Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut

With more than 50 species of birds, including the spotted owlet and Indochinese roller, Benchakitti Park has become a popular spot for birdwatchers. Photos: Chatchawan Jaksuwong