The International Writers Magazine: Lumpini Park, Bangkok
I could take a walk through Bangkok’s equally
well worn attraction, Lumpini Park, and give it a fresh perspective. On
my first visit to Lumpini Park in Bangkok a few years ago, a sea of karaoke
machines greeted my arrival. I remember a grandmother with moist
eyes screeching into the microphone and every few yards large families
huddled around karaoke machines, singing shamelessly. Enjoying a
peaceful afternoon in the park was impossible and, given this negative
first impression, I had been hesitant to return. Recently, however,
I decided to return to Lumpini and visit the outside gym. Thankfully,
the karaoke machines were gone. Instead, I noticed Lumpini was a
vibrant place with a lot happening. I promised myself to return
a few days later and spend a day walking through the park talking with
people, making notes and enjoying the atmosphere.
Lumpini Park, Bangkok
Bill Bryson can take a 'Walk in the Woods' along the well tred
Appalachian Trail and write a best selling novel about his experience
then I thought, Why not do something similar?
A Walk in the Woods?
In the morning before setting out I consulted my Lonely Planet guide and
scanned the index for Lumpini Park. When I found the page I was
surprised that the guide only made a brief mention of Bangkok's main park.
Only its location, the origins of its name and a few fleeting antidotes.
However, I was intrigued by the statement that "wooded areas"
were to be found in Lumpini. Coming from Canada, a country of dense,
soaring forests I have a particular image of wooded areas. Having
not seen any woods that fit my description on previous visits I was skeptical.
Perhaps I hadn't looked closely enough, maybe the squealing grannies from
my past visit had so distracted me that, in such a bothered state, I simply
missed them. A small cluster of trees, a thicket I could
enter and peer out on the unsuspecting hordes would have met my expectations.
To quicken my search I approached four women park workers and asked them
for directions to the woods of Lumpini. My enquiry met with muffled
laughter and raised eyebrows. One of the women said to her co-worker,
'Why is this foreigner asking about a lot of trees? Can't he see all the
trees around him?' Getting nowhere I changed tact and asked them if there
were a group of trees close together. Trees so close that you couldn't
see through them. They thought briefly but shook their heads; Lumpini
contained no such cluster of trees they said. I thanked them for
their time and continued along intending to stop at the weight area.
A Tiring Experience
||The main weight
area in Lumpini (there are three) has been compared to California's
famed Muscle Beach. If so, it is a poor cousin. There
are no shirtless Arnold Shwartzenegger's strutting around and it
is certainly not the den of hard core bodybuilders. To be
fair, there are a few guys with lines of muscularity but they are
outnumbered by stringy teenagers and paunchy men.
For the past month I have been coming to this weight area twice a week
to lift. During this time I had been eager to attempt an unusual
bench press, instead of regular weights there are two large truck
tires fastened to a bar, like something from an episode of the World's
Strongest Man. I decided, for the sake of a good photo and personal
vanity, today was the day to give it a go. Simply sitting down on
the bench peaked the interest of a group of nearby teenagers. They
hovered excitedly about me as I laid down on the bench and grasped the
bar. With a quick thrust I hoisted it into the air, slowly lowered
it to my chest and pumped out 8 reps. I returned the bar to its
supports and looked back at my admirers encouraging them to try.
I joked with them that it wasn't too heavy and that with a little effort
they too could lift it. Buoyed by my success the wiry teens made
an effort but couldn't budge the bar. This failure only deepened
their admiration for me. I left the weight area to the chorus, 'Foreigner
very strong!" and sat down at a bench, basking in glory.
With my prolonged exposure to the sun, I had adopted the habit of darting
from one pocket of shade to the next, when I came to a particularly inviting
patch under the broad canopy of a large tree. I flopped down to wipe the
river of sweat from my forehead and realized I was sitting next to another
park worker. She looked similar to the others I had met earlier: dark,
leathery skin with teeth as white as piano keys. She wore
a dark green army jacket with matching trousers, on her head a wide brimmed
straw hat protected her from the sun. I considered offering an inflated
sum for her hat but, feeling alright in the shade, instead asked her to
tell me something interesting she had seen in the park. She thought
for a few moments but said very little is interesting here. I pressed
her some more and attempted to lead her with answers: maybe a child, dangling
too far over a bridge, was swiftly scooped up by a water monitor? Or,
perhaps a collision between two large floating ducks resulting in drowned
swimmers and lame ducks? 'No' she replied laughing at my silly ideas.
Seeing that I would persist until I extracted a story from her, she told
me about the daily problems of homeless people trying to get into the
park after hours to find a place to sleep for the night. They try
to climb over the fence (about 2 meters high with spikes on the top).
Occasionally, they get stuck in embarrassing positions on the fence and
need to be rescued by security. She found this both amusing and
sad. I shared her sentiment and thanked her before resuming my walk
through the park.
At this point, given the effects of the sun on my head, I decided to leave
the park. I made my way out, snaking through the mass aerobics at
the main gate and descending gratefully into the therapeutic chill of
In reflection, Lumpini is worth a visit. It is an interesting diversion
for an afternoon to meander about drinking in the sights and sounds.
It is wise to visit in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is
less sinister. With so few parks in central Bangkok Lumpini can
get very crowded - especially on the weekends. If you're just out
for a stroll avoid the crowded perimeter path and walk across the park.
It is less crowded and you will be able to relax and see more amusing
sights. Oh, and just in case I haven't made it clear: Wear
© Ryan Humphreys March 2006
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