Urban chaos might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok. The city is a blur of colors, historical shrines surrounded by modern-day conveniences and crowds of people rushing through the streets. While this developed city may be a fascinating experience, it is also the kind of place that proves culture shock is a very real thing. However, within the city limits is a tiny oasis known as Bang Krachao (also spelled as Bang Kra Jao) where locals and tourists alike seek a little peace of mind when city life becomes too much.
Bang Krachao is an artificial island surrounded by the Chao Phraya River, and its lush landscape is such a contrast to the urban landscape of the city, that it is often called the “green lung” of Bangkok. As a government protected area, it remains a hidden paradise where Bangkok’s pace slows and busy streets give way to miles of bicycle paths and green jungle. Not many locals visit the island due to the lack of roads and their preference for the convenience of cars rather than the slow-paced bicycle paths of Bang Krachao. Despite the fact this little island only has one road, travelers are eager to make their way across the river to this quiet natural sanctuary. Its beauty and peaceful atmosphere are like a portal that transports people worlds away from the city.
A quick boat ride across the river will deliver you to the shores of Bang Krachao where motorbikes and bicycles can be rented for just a few bucks and allow for easy island exploration. Due to frequent flooding, there are miles of elevated walkways and bike paths across the island that offer an interesting way to see the fertile parks and coast through the thick treelines. There are also bike tours available including one from Paul Mueller an American expat that is quite the expert on the area. Sri Nakhon Khuan Khan Park is a short ride from the pier, and it is the perfect place to do some exotic bird watching or just enjoy a rest among the natural, untouched trees.
Bang Krachao is more than a beautiful outdoor attraction, there are a variety of unique activities that capture the essence of the quintessential Thai experience. At the Herbal Joss Stick Home, the owners of the house use natural elements to make incense, torches, and candles. They happily offer instructional demonstrations to visitors and sell their creations which work nicely as mosquito repellant (which can be helpful while staying on the island). On the weekends, the Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market takes over the island and people flock to Bang Krachao to buy locally made goods. This market situated along the canals has delicious cuisine and beautiful handmade crafts for sale. Amid the wafting aromas of curry and cooked meats, there is an area with a bouncy castle for kids as well as a place to sing karaoke!
While cycling around the island, visitors can also catch a “show” at the Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery. Often referred to as bettas, these colorful fish are very aggressive and territorial. In the fish gallery, you can watch these beautiful creatures as they battle with each other in their tanks. Be aware that betting on the fish is strictly prohibited. After a day of biking and fish brawls, in the evening, you can take advantage of the firefly tours on local boats for another amazing show beneath the stars.
No trip to Thailand would be complete without viewing some of the ancient temples, and Wat Bangnampheung Nork is a temple complex that contains mon-influenced temples. This influence originates from a cultural group from Burma known as the Mon that helped spread Theravada Buddhism in Indochina. These massive temples are located near the ferry and are decorated with beautiful murals that attract many artists with sketchpads trying to capture incredible details left behind from past centuries. These structures are an amazing sight that emerges from the tangled green scenery of the jungle and draws in island guests.
When hunger calls after a day of cycling, Nuea Toon Mong Kong is the place to eat. Translated to braised beef, this restaurant is set-up like an open-air market, and they specialize in Thai Chinese style braised beef. The rich, hearty smell is what will bring you to the counter, but it is the delicate, tender, mouthwatering beef that will have you ordering seconds and thirds. You have never had beef this tender! The beef dishes are ordered in sizes named after Thai education terms from elementary to a Master’s degree. Delicious spices and Chinese celery permeate the broth and bathe the beef in a mouthwatering taste that is hard to capture in words. If braised beef is too heavy for your bicycle trip, you can opt for something lighter at one of the coffee bars with free WiFi or pop into the 7-Eleven for your favorite snack.
While some would love to take over this quiet island anomaly for its tourism possibilities, others work desperately to preserve its natural state. The Bangkok Tree House Hotel is one place that has been striving to protect the island and offer visitors a place to stay that provides an eco-friendly experience. This hotel embraces the atmosphere and provides truly one-of-a-kind “nests” to spend the night. There are “traditional” rooms as well as an open-air deck with a bed and even a floating bed in the river! From carbon-free cooking and organically grown veggies to hiring locals that live within walking distance, this hotel has gone green from A to Z (literally, look at their website). They are also dog-friendly! However, if you aren’t much for the outdoors, this might not be the place for you.
Bang Krachao is unlike its fast-paced neighbor, Bangkok. It is a stone’s throw from the city and has managed to hold onto the natural beauty of the landscape and preserve a piece of the country’s ancient history. Bang Krachao is an oasis that offers so much more than meets the eye, and it should be on every Thailand traveler’s must-see list.