A new year marks a new beginning. It’s a chance to revamp routines, lace up those running shoes like you always swore you would, and trim excess weight gained over the holidays. But making good on the resolution to run isn’t always easy. At least not in Bangkok, says CRAIG SAUERS.
Relentless traffic. Choked sidewalks. Fierce and unyielding soi dogs. The search for open space, the struggle to get in with like-minded runners. Heat, insufferable heat — the sticky warmth that scales your
back, grabbing you by the shoulders, wrapping its arms around your neck.
A maxim of life in Thailand is that every problem, no matter how big or small, has a viable solution. When it comes to running outdoors, that maxim holds true. Walk past the soi dogs, avoiding eye contact. Carry bottled water when you run. If the heat and crowds are too much to bear, try running before sunrise or after sundown. Bangkok is, after all, a city of early mornings and late nights.
A peaceful air distinguishes the predawn hours, a setting evocative of times gone by. The sidewalks are not yet crowded, the fruit vendors, trinket hawkers, and motorsai taxis setting up shop at a languid pace while the work-bound hoi polloi sleep, and the path remains clear enough for a runner to pass without breaking stride. Although the walkways are far from empty in the evening, the climate is at its most agreeable then. A soft breeze flows through skyscrapers and trees, streetlamps flicker on, and running becomes a surreal sensory experience.
Finding a safe place to run, however, is often trickier than choosing when to run. Although the city doesn’t lack green spaces, parks fill up fast, especially after 5pm. Between dance aerobics, roving bicyclists and the sheer volume of walkers and joggers, the cross traffic can be difficult to navigate. In spite of this, there are plenty of great places to run, from the city centre to the suburbs.
At the northern end of the BTS, the Chatuchak neighbourhood claims three semi-connected parks, each with long, winding loops. The eponymous Suan Chatuchak is the most famous, but the best of the bunch is Suan Wachirabenchathat, more commonly called Suan Rot Fai. A former golf course, this tree-dense park gets busy on weekends, although it rarely feels overcrowded and there
is ample space to stretch your legs.
Linking Silom and Sukhumvit in central Bangkok, three parks with large green fields and lakes — Lumpini, Benjakiti, and the smaller Benjasiri — provide a muchneeded breath of fresh air in the frenzy of urban life. The virtues of these parks are well-documented, but a lesser known secret is that a 3-kilometre, car- and motorsai-free path runs along a canal from Benjakiti to Lumpini, giving pedestrians a safe way to connect the two. ‘The green mile,’ as it’s called, is not merely convenient, but rather essential to battling the doldrums of running lap after lap without a change of scenery.
Those who live in the upper Sukhumvit area, from Phra Khanong to Bang Na, enjoy proximity to perhaps the grandest park in Bangkok. Suan Luang, or Rama IX Park, hides behind Seacon Square and Paradise Park, two industrial shopping complexes on Srinakarin Road. A silvery lake graces the interior and flower gardens line the nearly 5 kilometre path that traces the perimeter. Though further afield than the likes of Lumpini, this park is worth a trip, especially on weekends, when you can take your time soaking up the sprawling and well-maintained acres.
Less than a kilometre from Suan Luang, the 800-metre Suan Wanataam is a haven for the olfactory senses, the smell of fresh-cut grass and flowers replacing that of oil and exhaust. Further along Srinakarin Road in Bang Kapi, a few other parks have carved out shady expanses in a rapidly developing landscape. Suan Seri Thai and Suan Nawamin Pirom offer shaded paths, still lakes, and often empty tracks. They don’t get nearly as much traffic as the parks in central Bangkok, which makes them more of a respite from the hustle and bustle.
If you’re the type that prefers variety and entertainment in your runs, head to Rajamangala Stadium in Ramkhamhaeng or National Stadium beside MBK — the Chaucerian cast of walkers, joggers, and sprinters that fill the tracks will surely keep you on your toes. For a combination of all these experiences, a blend of excitement and serenity, run along one of the canals, where the paths are narrow but vacant and people go about the real business of life on the margins of Bangkok.
Still, one question remains: are there any other runners out there? Indeed there are. They run from park to park. They meet for weekly workouts on the track. They walk, they jog, and they race. Like you, they’ve dedicated their dawns and dusks to the strange marriage of health and discomfort.
There are dozens of running clubs with different strengths and niches. One of the biggest is the Bangkok Runners. The group holds regular meet-ups, and not just to go running — members get together for dinners, movies, and even drinks from time to time. They train for marathons, chat about the sport on their Facebook page, and support new and established runners of all abilities.
Other running clubs include the Bangkok Barefoot Run Club, which, as the name suggests, is a bunch of runners who prefer to hoof it without shoes; the 14K Running Club, a long-established group that meets in Lumpini; and two groups with mostly Thai memberships, the Banana Running Club and For Runners Running Club.
For information about upcoming races, meet-ups, and running news throughout Thailand, check out the quintessential runthailand.com. The website lists nearly every race in the Kingdom, even the smallest mini-marathons upcountry, and provides the brass tacks to boot, including starting times, maps, and nearby hotels.