Thai Tour: Day 13
In a town hardly renowned for its sedate pace of life, Lumpini Park is to Bangkok what Central Park is to New York. Located in the heart of the city’s main business district, surrounded by skyscrapers and the humming of traffic, it is the haven of tranquillity in the centre of the urban storm; a green oasis in the midst of the chaos.
Given that it was my last day in Bangkok, an afternoon in the park seemed the ideal way to bring a hectic two weeks to a relaxing close. I entered via the Silom Road entrance. The temperature was already well into the mid-30s, and the Rama VI statue, built in 1942 to commemorate the park’s construction, was casting minimal shadow in which to take cover.
Rama VI died in 1925, but it was he who donated the land in the last year of his life in order for it to be put to public use. Having taken its name from the Nepalese village where the Buddha is said to have been born, Lumpini Park has since grown into Bangkok’s very own inner-city retreat. The Bangkok bustle may be going on all around, but inside Lumpini, all that couldn’t be further away.
Within the bounds of its 142 acres, there are lawns to lounge on, lakes for boating, and around 2.5km of paths to jog or cycle round. In the morning the old folks gather to practice tai chi. In the evening, banging techno accompanies open-air aerobics as the local aunties work up a sweat.
I followed the path counter-clockwise towards the fitness area. Buff dudes in tight shorts were bench pressing themselves purple in a gym that looked straight out of a Rocky training montage. Open to the elements save for the covering of the trees, most of the benches had rusted and the weights looked like they’d been there since before the park was even a park. But that only added to the charm.
Further on, dotted amongst the trees by the side of the road, there were fitness machines to work every kind of muscle you could think of. There were machines for arms, machines for legs; pull downs and presses. Old ladies were swinging on leg exercisers while runners stopped for a quick few chin ups on the parallel bars. It was as if someone had discovered the park of my dreams and chosen Bangkok as the place to make it come true.
But amongst all the activities taking place, it was the kick volleyball guys that I could have watched all day. Known as sepak takraw in Thai, it can be seen as distant cousin of the Chinese game jianzi. Like jianzi, Feet, chest, knees, and any other part of your anatomy except your hands can be used to get the ball back over the net. But as good as the jianzi players I’ve witnessed in China are. They’re nothing compared to these guys.
Tucked away somewhere in the north-eastern corner of the park, there were gravity-defying high kicks; feet shooting out above heads. Even the guys you think may not be the most athletic of the bunch would suddenly leap four feet off the ground, Matrix-style, to stretch out a leg and score a winning point. It was as if the laws of physics didn’t apply.
There were a couple of very professional-looking guys taking it a little bit too seriously, but it was all played in good fun, with plenty of laughs at others’ expense and plenty of high-flying attempts at showboating for the crowd that had gathered. It was kind of like the Thai equivalent to 5-a-side football, only without the beer bellies. It was raucous, was fun to watch, possibly one of the most insane sports I’ve ever seen.
The aforementioned Rama VI monument at the park’s western entrance is perhaps the most notable of Lumpini Park’s architectural highlights. Dressed in full ceremonial uniform and looking back down Silom Road, he cuts a dapper, if imposing figure as you approach the park gates.
Older still, however, is the Chinese clock tower, built for the Siamrath Phiphitthapan Trade Fair, held during the park’s grand opening in 1925. Standing around 30 feet tall, the tower is a multi-tiered construction with a square base and classic Chinese-style tiled rooves.
A little further west towards the outdoor gym, a more recent Chinese-inspired construction can be found. Built to celebrate King Bhumibol’s 72nd birthday, this pavilion is one of several gifts from China in the park, including the 9 metre-tall, double-roofed Thailand and China Friendship Pavilion, unveiled in 2008 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Thai diplomatic relations.
No mention of Lumpini Park would be complete without a nod towards its most famous residents. Measuring up to six feet in length and weighing close to 40 pounds, the monitor lizards of Lumpini Park could be seen by some as the park’s de facto security firm. Roaming the walkways like solitary gangsters, keeping their estate in order, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve stepped into some kind of Japanese comic book apocalypse the first time you come across one ambling across the path in front of you.
They may not quite be of baby-snatching proportions, though you would be advised not to try and stroke them just in case. But in general, everybody, including the lizards, just goes about their business unfazed. Runners stretch as lizards walk by, while picnickers picnic as a scaly friend waddles over to say hello, then continues on its way, nonplussed. It’s strange and exotic. But that’s Bangkok for you.
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How to get to Lumpini Park
The main entrance to Lumpini Park is located on Rama IV Road at the eastern end of Silom Road.
By BTS: Get off at Sala Daeng Station and walk 3 minutes east along Silom Road to enter via the main gate. Or, get off at Ratchadamri Station and walk 5 minutes south along Ratchadamri Road to enter via the northwestern entrance.
By MRT: Get off at Silom Station to enter via the main gate. Alternatively, Lumpini Station, will allow you to enter via the southeastern gate.
Opening Hours: 04:30 – 21:00