I’ve often heard visitors to Khaosan Road complain that it is too developed, there are too many tuk-tuks and taxis and nowhere for them to relax and collect their thoughts in peace.
These people are obviously unaware of one of Banglamphu’s most beautiful and natural areas. For me, Santichaiprakan Park is a piece of Eden, a place to sit and read under the shade of a tree, watch the sun set or look on as groups of Thai teenagers and brightly-dressed backpackers do their thing.
As I wander through the park, I never know what sights await me. The park is situated on bank of the Chao Phraya River, and as I follow the zigzagging pathway a cool breeze blows across the river, welcome in the heat of the day. All around the park are benches so that people can sit and gaze out over the river. Many couples are doing just that, the natural setting acting as an enhancement for romantic feelings.
I pause for awhile under a huge tree tied with coloured scarves. This is the ancient Lam Phu tee, from which Banglamphu takes its name. The tree is believed to be more than 100 years old and is the last of its kind in the area. Nearby is another sacred tree – the Pho Si Maha Pho. The fruit, flowers and bark of this tree all have special medicinal properties.
The park was originally dominated by a sugar factory. 3.3 acres of this land were cleared and relandscaped as a public park to commemorate the 6th cycle of King Rama IX on December 5th, 1999.
Although often referred to as Phra Sumen Park, the official name is Suan Santichaiprakan. The name was provided by H.M King Rama IX and means: The Park with a Fort that Symbolised the Victory of Peacefulness.
It’s true that the fort has seen better days, but it is still an impressive structure. Situated at one end of the park, the octagonal brick and stucco bunker is 45 meters wide and a towering 18.50 metres tall.
Phra Sumen Fort, or Phra Sumeru Fortress as it is also known, was one of 14 forts built to defend against potential naval invasions. Now only two of these forts exist – the other being Mahakan Fortress, situated at Democracy Monument, near The Golden Mount. The fort is encircled by large cannons and has 38 rooms for ammunition and weaponry in its center.
As I wander around the fort, I come across a group of young Thai men playing Takraw, a special Thai game
similar to volleyball. Players cannot touch the ball with their hands but can use any other part of their body. Each team consists of three players and three contacts are allowed before throwing back the ball to the other side. I stand and watch for a few minutes as the players jump and twist their bodies into the air to smash the ball back at their opponents.
Around the other side of the fort near the river, an interesting event has just begun. People of all ages meet here at 6 pm each day to join this open air aerobics class. The class also draws a large number of spectators too as people of all nationalities gather to take in the site of dozens of lycra-clad bodies bending and stretching in the twilight.
The sun is nearly ready to set now. I walk through the park once more, past the dreadlocked backpackers playing bongos and wooden flutes under the trees. Their music makes an interesting accompaniment to the electronic beat of the aerobic class’ dance music.
I pause and watch a small group of jugglers practicing on a patch of grass. They skillfully twirl batons and throw balls into the air, twisting their bodies to catch the equipment with fluid grace. Nearby, a group of Thai teenagers are break-dancing, taking it in turns to impress each other with the latest moves.
The sun has begun to set now and I sit on a bench watching as it slips down the horizon.
Then it is back to Khaosan Road for a night of drinking, dancing and debauchery.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!