CEIL MILLER BOUCHET
Green Lung, a smog-free, government-protected oasis of green that the mighty Chao Phraya River wraps around. It is an island of falling coconuts, papaya groves, Buddhist temples, nine-foot-long pythons and miles of bike-friendly elevated sidewalks snaking through the jungle.
This verdant island is all the more remarkable as it is across the river from Bangkok. The contrast between “Bangkok’s Green Lung,” as the palm-choked, lung-shaped Bang Krachao is known, and the concrete jungle on the opposite bank could not be more striking. Downtown Bangkok’s central Silom business district is only about six miles away.
“It’s amazing how few Bangkok locals come here,” said Paul Mueller, an expat American engineer who recently began running bike tours, using a growing fleet of fat-tired custom cruisers he buys from junkyards and refurbishes. Like many others, he frequently heads into Bangkok via a regular ferry service (about five minutes to the other side of the river) and then hops on Bangkok’s Skytrain mass transit system. Mr. Mueller believes many city dwellers avoid the area because “Thais are in love with their cars,” he said. “But it’s hard to bring your car here because there’s only one road.” Yet the languid, rural way of life is evolving on this patch of wild, which is actually an artificial island because of a canal built on one side.
Bang Krachao is emerging from its time warp as more local bike tours are offered and new establishments (boutique hotels, a coffee bar) join old stalwarts (food stalls, a floating farmers’ market). Even so, “mai pen rai” (Thai for “no problem”) could serve as the island leitmotif, according to Mr. Mueller. The laid-back feeling of Bang Krachao itself is a lure to a growing community of day-tripping Thais, cycling-loving tourists and expatriates.
Among the newcomers is the Bangkok Tree House, a stylish, ecofriendly boutique hotel that Joey Tulyanond, the 37-year-old son of a Thai diplomat, opened last year. Mr. Tulyanond recently began offering cooking classes in the hotel’s spacious kitchen for guests who want to learn to cook like locals. Nearby, a bungalow resort is under construction.
Visitors can also take cooking (and incense-making) classes at the Herbal Joss Stick Home, a five-minute bike ride from the hotel.
Biking is a big draw in Bang Krachao, where most locals get around on bikes or scooters. Nai Baan Kafe (Coffee House), a new coffee bar with Wi-Fi, has become a popular refueling stop for cyclists.
On a recent half-day bike tour, I pedaled slowly behind Mr. Mueller. The jungle air, full of chirps and buzzes, smelled of musty decomposing leaves. We threaded among hamlets studded with wood-framed cottages on stilts and through shady, swampy patches sheltered by towering palm trees. As we cycled, Mr. Mueller remarked that he was not troubled by the lack of guardrails on the raised paths, the tree vipers or even the python he spotted on the road one night. His fear? Falling coconuts, he said, like the one he saw crash down during a recent ride, scaring him half to death.
Yet coconut-related anxieties dissipated amid the village fair atmosphere of the weekend Bang Namphueng floating market. Crossing a humpbacked bridge, I saw a dozen small wooden vendor boats moored along a canal. They were far outnumbered, though, by covered open-air stalls set up next to the canal serving sizzling stir-fries and fragrant curries to customers seated on low plastic stools. Scores of other thatched-roof stands selling fruit, vegetables, soaps and sweets crammed the covered walkways.
A wizened saffron-robed Buddhist monk flicked holy water from a brush onto a passer-by. Children played while their parents sang karaoke and spread picnic lunches near a Technicolor temple. As we left the market area, Mr. Mueller pointed out the freshly asphalted parking lot.
“The market is growing,” he said. “More city folks are coming here on the weekends.” Now he has a new fear: traffic jams. “We don’t want Bangkok over here,” he said.
Source: new york times