Bangkok off the beaten path makes complete sense in one of Asia’s most touristed cities. The city is a hub for travellers coming and going throughout Asia, not to mention that it has a huge expat and foreign business population, which means that you will be seeing far more than locals wherever you go in town. However, there are plenty of spots that are visited far less than the main tourist sites such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, or Khao San Road, and here are a few tips to head you in the right direction for escaping the crowds.
Known as the lungs of Bangkok, due to the resemblance to a giant lung when seen from the air, Bang Krachao is the city’s largest open green space. It’s located across the Chao Phraya River, yet really just a five minute boat crossing from central Bangkok, and is an absolute world apart. An afternoon here will make you feel like you’re down on a traffic free island somewhere in the deep south of the country as opposed to being in a mammoth concrete urban jungle. What makes Bang Krachao so special are its raised embankments which serve as car free paths that meander through the jungle here. You can rent bicycles by the ferry pier or else navigate the pathways on foot.
Due to strict local planning, no high rises or factories are allowed in Bang Krachao, and it really feels like a tiny island somewhere else in the kingdom. Other that wandering through the maze of embankments, surrounded by jungle and small traditional homes, Bang Krachao is also home to the huge 200 rai Sri Nakhon Kuenkhan Park is a giant oasis of trees, lakes, and shaded pavilions perfect for family outings. The park has walking trails, bike paths, and rents out bikes, kayaks, and paddle boats at reasonable prices. There are several food vendors and drink stops interspersed throughout the park, and once again, even the thought that Bangkok is just across the river seems very far away.
Additionally, you can bicycle over to the Talad Nam Pheung floating market if you are here on weekends. About a ten-minute ride from the ferry pier, Nam Pheung is a traditional floating market offering a dazzling array of Thai confections, food, herbal based cosmetics and organic produce. While very popular with local Thais, you won’t see many tourists here.
It’s easy to get to Bang Krachao, just take the MRT subway to Klong Toey station and then a taxi the short distance to the Klong Toey Pier at Wat Klong Toey Nok Temple. From here, small boats cross the river for five baht, taking all of five minutes.
An island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River, Koh Kret is located just north of the city in Nonthaburi. It’s a popular weekend day escape for Bangkok Thais, but if you come during the week, you’ll have it all to yourself. The tiny island is only seven kilometers round, so you can either walk the entire island or else rent a bicycle, which is a great way of seeing things. Other than motorcycles, the island is traffic free.
Koh Kret, settled by ethnic Mon people, is famed for its pottery, as well as for traditional Thai desserts and sweets, and on weekends especially, there are large open markets where locals sell all sorts of homemade treats, as well as plenty of souvenir shops selling artisan ceramics. With narrow lanes, whitewashed walls, and plenty of lazing dogs, you’ll almost feel like you are on a Greek island!
The best way to get to Koh Kret is via the 166 bus from Victory Monument to Pak Kret, and then a quick taxi or motorcycle taxi ride over to the Pak Kret pier, where a ferry brings you across. Slightly more expensive but more scenic is to take a ferry or longtail boat charter from the Saphan Taksin pier in Bangkok.
For those who love the unusual, Wat Hua Krabeu really is unique. This Thai temple is run by an abbot who rose to infamy when he turned part of his temple into a repair center for old Mercedes, and started a training program teaching novices the art of restoring classic automobiles. Since then, the abbot has embraced an even more odd passion, that of creating a memorial to the Asian water buffalo, which is in danger of becoming extinct.
Wat Hua Krabeu means “temple of the buffalo heads,” and the abbot here wants to create a shrine to them before they disappear. There is a collection of over 10,000 buffalo skulls at Hua Krabeu, many of which are fully preserved head and horns, mostly bought with donations the temple has received, and purchased from slaughterhouses. The abbot says that he wants people to reflect on change, and remember how the areas of Bangkok that are now filled with malls, condos, and cars used to be rice fields plowed by buffalo not all that long ago, and that the buffalo were useful and vital to old Thai life, not stupid or backwards as they tend to be looked upon today.
Hua Krabeu is located in a delightful quiet neighborhood, right on a canal, where parents come in the afternoon to row their children home from school. A leisurely twenty minute walk along the canal also brings one to the sight of thousands of wild monkeys, who hang out along the Outer Ring Road and accept food handouts from passing motorists, making an outing to this part of town one of the more unique ways to spend an afternoon in Bangkok. The best way to get here is by taking a taxi to the Ban Khun Tien district, which is southwest of the city towards the Outer Ring Road and Rama II. Most drivers know the temple, as it is popular amongst Thai tourists due to the abbot.