Travel Report: Lumphini Park, Bangkok.
Lumphini Park, Bangkok.
Cover photo courtesy of Terence Ong.
April, 2015. There’s no doubting what a colossal and often uncompromising city Bangkok can be. It’s a relentless concrete jungle for the most part, with green spaces being few and far between. But luckily for me, the Thai capital’s oldest and most charming park was within walking distance from my hostel.
Indeed it took me a leisurely thirty minutes to walk from (the now sadly closed) Three of a Kind Hostel. Moreover, virtually the entire route was a straight shoot down the seemingly infinite Silom Road. Wherever I was heading on my daily adventures, I’d nearly always grab a coffee and head to the park for a bit. It was always the perfect start to my day before jumping on the metro at the nearby Lumphini Station.
Lumphini Park began life in the early 1900s as a private garden belonging to King Rama VI. In 1925 he donated the land to the city for use as a fairground. A few years later he announced that the area would be turned into a public park, which he named Lumphini, a reference to Lumbini, the Buddah’s birthplace in Nepal.
Lumphini Park, Bangkok.
Unfortunately, the king died that same year, some time before the park’s grand opening. But his role in creating Bangkok’s first public green space has never been forgotten. Indeed a statue of the king was added to the park’s southwestern entrance in 1942.
Photo courtesy of กสิณธร ราชโอรส.
I have such fond memories of hanging out in Lumphini Park. After a year working my ass off in Beijing, I was finally free and at the beginning of a three month adventure exploring Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Sometimes, if I arrived early enough, I could watch the group of local seniors who came to practice Tai chi every morning.
In fact, Lumphini Park is home to Bangkok Elders Club, which organises exercise, dancing and book club meets. The old folk that did Tai chi were a bit frosty towards me at first. No doubt wondering who this skinny, pasty, latte drinking foreigner was. However, on my third or fourth visit, I eventually got a few waves and an endearingly mispronounced hello from one old man.
There are around two and a half kilometres of walking trails around the park, the nicest of which run around a large, artificial lake. I loved how quiet it was on weekdays, though on Saturdays and Sundays the place gets flooded. Mostly by families and couples who come to rent swan paddle boats for an afternoon on the water.
What to See and Do, Bangkok.
The park plays host to an excellent array of wildlife, including more than thirty species of birds. On those mornings where my coffee came accompanied by a pastry, a group of black crows would form a circle around my bench. Watching me from a safe distance with their beady eyes, it all felt just a touch Hitchcockian.
My most defining memory of Lumphini Park has to be its large, ever-present community of Monitor Lizards. I remember nearly jumping off my bench the first time one of these dudes came ambling past. For just a terrifying millisecond I thought the damn thing was a crocodile!
I saw dozens of monitor lizards during my visits and was surprised to learn that they’ve been living in the park for decades. Despite their fearsome looking scales, claws and forked tongues, monitor lizards are mostly docile creatures who feast on dead fish, turtles and birds.
Not that Thai people take such a laid back view. Interestingly, Bangkok’s locals see them as little more than ugly pests, while for many they’re also a symbol of bad luck. Furthermore, the Thai name for monitor lizard (hia) equates to one of the worst swear words and insults in the language!
Lumphini Park, Bangkok.
As a result, it’s perhaps no surprise that local authorities removed most of Lumphini’s monitor lizards in 2016. According to various articles, their numbers had begun to grow out of control. They were also accused of destroying plants and flowers, in addition to scaring people. In the end around one hundred found themselves carted off to a wildlife sanctuary outside the city.
One day I was resting in the park on my way back to the hostel after a wonderful afternoon at the fascinating Jim Thompson House. Suddenly, I caught sight of a determined looking man poking around in a nearby tree. He seemed to be urgently searching for something, eyebrows knitted, lips pursed.
“Hey, what’s up?” I called. “Anything I can help you with?” “Oh hey!” he replied, his face transforming into one large friendly grin. “Just geocaching” he explained, before returning his gaze back into the branches. “I know it’s in here somewhere”.
Lumphini Park, Bangkok.
I had never heard of geocaching. And yet, as Frederik from Frankfurt explained, it’s actually the world’s largest treasure hunt, with over three million participants worldwide. Basically, the hunt has people using their GPS to both hide and seek little items and messages concealed in inventive locations. Some of these bits and bobs are part of extended quests and official competitions.
The items are known as caches. Frederik’s cache that day was a handwritten anime riddle with a clue leading to another cache somewhere in the district. He seemed delighted with his find and, having exchanged a few travel stories with me, off he went with a spring in his step to uncover his next bounty.
Lumphini Park is an essential spot while in the Thai capital, and one that provides a much needed breather from the city’s many demands. On top of everything I’ve already covered, you can also find Smiling Sun Ground, a support hub for the disabled, as well as a refuge for homeless children called Home of Hope. Last but not least, don’t miss Lumphini Library, Bangkok’s very first public book centre.
Photo courtesy of Teerarat Yamngamluea.
Lumphini Park opens seven days a week between the hours of 04:30 and 21:00.
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You’re still bringing back great memories of Bangkok. I don’t recognise the park but the word “Lumphini” is very familiar so we’re now racking our brains to try and remember why. We walked miles in Bangkok so who knows. Great post again, really enjoying Bangkok memories.
Cheers guys! Having this place as my morning stop before jumping on the metro was something I looked forward to every day.
The park looks to be a great place to unwind and relax beneath the shade of the trees and to escape the hustle and bustle of city life for awhile. Hope you have a happy Easter. Marion
You too Marion! Hope the weather is suitably spring-like. Just reading your article on Port Isaac & Tintagel.
Brings back memories of when we visited a few years ago, those lizards are pretty terrifying
I’d never seen anything like it in a public park! Thanks for reading and commenting.
The first time I saw a salvator lizard was in a canal in Bangkok. It was a big one. It scared the heck out of me and I was in a boat.
Ha ha nice! I can literally picture this. Thanks for reading John.
It has been a long time since we visited Bangkok. I remember the beautiful people and temples and the heat and humidity. We always joked that in the day time, it was 100 F and 100% humidity, but at night it would cool off to 97F and 100% humidity. Our tours then were in the morning or evening. The rest of the day, we tended to stand in a shaded pool with an umbrella drink in our hands. We did love the place though. Thanks for sharing. Allan
Thanks for this lovely comment Allan. I was a bit mad in those days, out in the afternoons in that ridiculous heat sweating buckets. If I were ever to go back, your umbrella drink approach sounds like a winner.
What an inviting park except for the lizards. Little geckos are about far as I go with “cute” lizards. I could hang out there with a good book and watch swan boats and tai chi. Never heard of geocaching before. Looks like it beats Pokemon though.
I’ve heard of geocaching, but neve really knew exactly what it was about. Lumphini Park looks to be a unique park, as you can also see unique wildlife there. Never thought it would be adventurous like that!
I only had a day or two passing through Bangkok, so many places I missed. Enjoyed lingering with you in the park and listening to the birds. When I lived in Guatemala, there was a free tai chi class in the park on Sunday mornings that I would join sometimes.
Hey Ruth, great to hear from you. I suspect I just don’t have the grace needed for tai chi. But it is an exceptionally relaxing thing to watch. Thanks for dropping by.
I saw this video the other day of one of your lizards in a 7-11 in Bangkok and thought you would get a kick out of it.
This is insane! The way it scaled that fridge… Appreciate the share!
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.
Seems like a great place with lot of interesting things Leighton! I have never heard of geocaching, looks like Pokémon in a different tangent.