A historic stroll through Bangkok’s green spots
The sad reality must be acknowledged that among all the big cities in Asia, Bangkok is one of the least green. In a report by German company Siemens, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, Bangkok comes at 3.3 m2 of green space per capita, 10 times less than the Asian average of 38.6 m2 and 20 times less than the top ASEAN performer, Singapore (66.2 m2 per capita). But at least Bangkok is only the “second worst” of the lot (Jakarta tops that list).
But there are many green pockets around town, including large public parks—such as Chatuchak or Lumphini—as well as parks that are just a few square meters wide but represent a welcome green oasis in a jungle of concrete. Over the last five years, positive developments have been seen around town, and new green spaces have been opened to the public. Additionally, a new trend in Bangkok these days is suspended gardens—the best example being the amazing EM Quartier garden on the sixth floor of the Helix Building. In fact, if you look hard enough there are some surprising little gardens around town, many in historical districts.
SARANROM GARDEN: The public garden across the Grand Palace compound is part of Saranrom Palace, formerly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Originally exclusively reserved for a royal use, the Park is an interesting mix of European and Asian style gardens. Conceived first as a private botanical garden, the park was opened in 1874 and was put under the management of King Rama V personal advisor, Britain-native Henry Alabaster in 1881. The Briton imported trees from London and Singapore giving the park its distinctive character, which includes a European style fountain, a Victorian style gazebo, a brass band pavilion, and a Chinese pavilion, as well as a glass house that was later added by Italian Annibale Rigotti. The park was originally a purely private garden for the monarchy, but turned gradually into an exquisite public park open to all.
JIM THOMPSON HOUSE: For most visitors to Bangkok, a visit to the house of legendary American Jim Thompson is a must. The house was built in 1959 by reconstructing and joining together six ancient Thai houses from Ayutthaya, and although the house layout follows many Western patterns—such as the grand staircase to access the living room and bedrooms—the garden surrounding the house is all Asian. It echoes a mini jungle with its lush giant tropical plants, such as banana and palm trees, ferns, flames of the forest, golden bamboos, and majestic rain trees. Despite its small scale, the garden provides this strong sense of plunging in the midst of a deep rainforest. The garden is only accessible with a visit to the museum.
WAT SAKET: Also known as ‘The Golden Mount’, this landmark silhouette stands firmly in the background of Dusit and Phra Nakhon districts, Bangkok historical city centre. And even though most tourists go to the temple for the spectacular view from the top of its chedi into Bangkok old town, another surprising discovery are the gardens surrounding the temple. It is a strange eclectic mix of kitschy statues, more classical representation of Thai deities, artificial waterfalls and mist, giant ferns, colourful bougainvillea, and orchids. The garden is in fact a reflection of Thai soul when plunged into Buddhism, as the gardens are built to tell all about the life of Lord Buddha. The ascension to the 58m high chedi is a voyage of discovery within an enchanted forest. Not to be missed are the 100 year old bodhi trees that form a natural wall.
PHAYA THAI PALACE: Located near Victory Monument, this alluring structure was built by Italian architects Mario Tamagno and Annibale Rigotti (construction lasting from 1909 to 1922). A blend of German, Italian and Moorish architectural styles, the palace was surrounded by sumptuous Italian gardens with a Tuscany-style fountain gracing the entrance to the palace. For many years, the backyard of the palace was designed in Italian style until being converted into a hospital in the 1930s. The garden was then neglected and transformed in the seventies into a parking lot. However, miracle do happen, and in the last two years the Government has transformed the unaesthetic parking into the lost Italian garden, taking its inspiration from old photographs. Behind the palace visitors can now stroll under pergolas, look at a basin with fountains surrounded by coppices and beds of flowers, and see the caryatids and Corinthian columns that create a stage facing the garden. Phaya Thai Palace is open everyday (free of charge on the weekend).
EM QUARTIER: These days Bangkok malls are not just about shopping, and to prove it pay a visit to the amazing gardens at EmQuartier. This freely accessible park is located on the fifth floor of the mall’s Helix building. Shops suddenly vanish to give way to waterfalls, tropical plants, an artificial pond, large armchairs of rattan, and even swings—all surrounded by bushes, ferns and wild tropical orchids. At night, the garden evokes an almost ‘Wizard of Oz’ feel, as spotlights give new shades to trees and bushes in a symphony of rainbow colours. The project is the work of French artist and garden designer Patrick Blanc, who also designed the green wall surrounding the fountain at Siam Paragon. Not to be missed is his giant rainforest chandelier hanging over the travelators. It’s a perfect synthesis between pure art and greenery, as the chandelier’s two elegant spires scroll down over the Helix for 100m, with various tropical plants tracing the shapes of the stainless steel wires.