Bangkok’s best secret training and workout spots.
The perpetually tropical weather of Bangkok, and the curious urban planning (or lack of), can make exercising outside a challenge. Add in motorbike taxis, mobile vendors, and the fluid and often poetic brand of chaos that shapes the very infrastructure of city society, and it’s enough to make you want to stay inside—or at least, find a well-equipped air-conditioned gym.
Consider this though; Bangkok has numerous green spaces and safe pathways for both runners and cyclists. While gyms offer relief from the elements, they come with hefty price tags, not to mention classes are often limited, or come at additional costs. And, even though most condos have pools, they’re usually little more than glorified bathtubs.
Bangkok, as ever,has a yin to balance this yang. There are some pretty cool places to sweat it out in the city—you just have to know where to look. So step away from the treadmill, cast your gym pass aside, and check out these unique places and ways to work out.
Rock climbing may not be the first activity that comes to mind when thinking of ways to stay active in Bangkok, but there are a handful of great indoor facilities within the city limits, including one offering a brand-new experience.
Urban Playground is one of the most accessible (located at the Racquet Club in Phrom Phong), and has a full range of climbing options, catering to first-timers and fitnessfreaks alike. The centre boasts a hard-to-fathom 10,000 handholds, which in laymen’s terms means the staff can set a bunch of different climbing routes from week to week. On any given day, you can climb more than 70 unique routes, and 40 bouldering problems.
While Urban Playground arguably offers the best climbing facilities in Bangkok, it isn’t the only world-class climbing experience in town. The first Clip ‘n Climb in Thailand has arrived at Bounce, the trampolining centres in EmQuartier and The Street Ratchada. Occupying the so-called “fun-climbing” sector of the industry, Clip ‘n Climb hails from New Zealand, where it has quickly become a popular all-ages activity.
Even young kids, from the age of five on up, can safely climb the interactive walls, thanks to an auto-belay system that takes in slack as you climb and gently lowers you back to the ground. The centre has 24 brightly-coloured themed walls, each requiring different skills to conquer, so there’s a lot to explore.
SERVE, SET, SPIKE
Beach volleyball and Bangkok may sound like an odd match, but, lo and behold, it exists. And the group behind it, the Bangkok Beach Volleyball Social Group, is quite healthy.
“We started this group many years back, when the only court available was a sand court,” admits Sirikanya ‘Fia’ Supasavasdebhandu,one organiser of the group’s meet-ups, alongside her partner, Saran Phichitsingh. “There were other courts across the city. For example, at universities like Chulalongkorn or in public parks. But public courts had “regular” players, and if you weren’t a student, an alum, or a faculty, the only way to get on a university’s court was to be personally invited.
The group arranges indoor matches nearly every day, including Tuesday night sand volleyball sessions at the Arsenal Soccer School (Sukhumvit Soi 71), and popular Sundays sessions with five-plus hours of game time not out of the ordinary.
Beach (or sand) volleyball requires a different skill set than indoor volleyball. For starters, the court is smaller and teams normally feature just two players per side. But it’s also played outdoors, typically under floodlights.
While Thai society has a well-documented passion for indoor volleyball, sand volleyball remains under-the-radar for locals in Bangkok. Fia, however, is seeing more interest among local crowds, too. She’s organised two volleyball tournaments so far, and a third tournament is in the works. Those interested in joining the tourney or joining the club can e-mail Fia at: [email protected], or check out: www.meetup.com/bkk-beach-volleyball.
Long-distance running and multi-sport events—such as triathlons and duathlons—are on the rise in Thailand. According to MV Vision, a sporting event organiser, there are more than 600 running events and 100 cycling or multi-sport events each year.
Even if marathons and triathlons are surging in popularity, finding a good place to train for them in the big city can still be something akin to a nightmare. Road safety standards are more or less non-existent, and foot traffic often becomes cheek-by-jowl in popular parks. Fortunately for our multi-sport friends, this metropolis has a couple of hidden gems.
“It’s really convenient to train at the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT),” says Ivan Vlasenko, an elite triathlete living in Bangkok, who regularly places on the podium at major events and is sponsored by Optima Bike and REVV Energy. “There’s a velodrome for cycling, a 50-metre pool for swimming, and a 400-metre track for running—all in one place.”
Located on Ramkhamhaeng Road, a little further on from the university of the same name, the SAT is probably best known as the home to Rajamangala Stadium. But, as Vlasenko notes, it’s an athlete’s playground. Beyond the facilities mentioned above, the SAT has basketball and tennis courts, an archery centre, sports dormitories, and even a skate park.
If Ramkhamhaeng is too far from home, try National Stadium. Right on the footsteps of the BTS,this downtown sporting complex features two 400-metre tracks, a 200-metre track, a nearly two-kilometre cycling lane, and a 50-metre pool. The outdoor track, inside Thephasadin Stadium, a popular venue for football matches, isopen to the public in the mornings and at night.
The Wisutamol Pool, meanwhile, might not be the cleanest around, and most afternoons, when a deluge of children descend upon the water for swimming lessons, you can expect to split lanes. But it’s not very often your everyday athlete can paddle in a 50-metre pool alongside the most elite swimmers in Thailand, as you can here and at the Sports Authority of Thailand.
A MOST INTERESTING PARK
Visit the sprawling, shady, ostensibly peaceful park next to Wat Don any evening and you’re likely to find groups of men playing basketball, kids decked out in karate gi on their way to karate class, and dozens of joggers tracing a 1.4 km loop on a concrete path. You’ll also spot some skateboarders, weightlifters, and elderly Thai-Chinese singing karaoke.
Visible even from the park entrance are hundreds of tombs, elevated above ground, and an eerie reminder of the land’s actual purpose, as the park is an extension of the sizeable Teochew Cemetery. The running path here is one of the city’s most shaded, serene, and secluded, even though the park is only a couple hundred metres from busy Sathorn Road.
Locals know the grounds as Pa Cha Wat Don—the graveyards of Wat Don. In 1900, the land was turned into a burial site for Chinese immigrants by the Teochew Association of Thailand. During the iron-fisted rule of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in the late 1950s, the coup-maker used the cemetery as grounds for summary executions.
However, in 1996, three local foundations—Poh Teck Tung, Tae Chew and Hai Nan Dan—gave it a makeover, renovating the grounds to incorporate a park. Now it comes to life every night, when schools let out and the work day is done, but the foot traffic never quite gets as pigsty-packed here as it does in Lumphini Park. Since burials are no longer allowed in the city limits, it’s pretty much full at this point, too, terrestrially speaking, so you don’t have to fear falling into a hole in the ground or running into some creepy gravedigger working overtime.