22 Dec 2013

Bang Kachao: the lung of Bangkok

The day started with a bang: a terrific breakfast at a friends' house. We had delayed that meeting for a while and today we finally cleared all our appointments and met at their place at 8:00 am. Their table was already set and appetizing when I arrived, offering all sorts of fruits, bakery, juices and coffee. We ate and talked at the table for a couple of hours, enjoying our postponed chit-chat, but eventually it was time to move on and continue a day that promised to be photographically intense, as I was about to visit an area of Bangkok that I had heard a lot about but I had never had the chance to visit yet. But as I left their condo and I walked down the street, looking for a taxi, I caught a glimpse of a busy market in an adjacent soi and, obviously, my photo-journey started a bit earlier than expected. Welcoming detours as always!

The brightest flower in the bunch I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The brightest flower in the bunch II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Markets are ubiquitous in Bangkok; big or small, crowded or quiet, cleaner or dirtier, early-rising or vespertine, they all have something in common: they are always diverse and surprising, colorful, suggestive, photogenic. It doesn't matter if you pass by in a hurry or wander around the wet, smelly aisles for hours, odds are high that you will grab a few nice pictures. This time I spent about half an hour strolling in and out of the shaded area of the market, letting my camera make a few friends, until I decided to move on.

Atrezzo, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
In & Out I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
In & Out II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm 
In & Out III, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
15 taxi-minutes later, I was at Khlong Toei Pier. After taking a precarious boat to cross the mighty Chao Phraya river, I finally reached my intended destination: Bang Kachao pier,  in Phra Pradaeng peninsula. Surrounded by a long meander of the river and linked with the mainland by a distant stretch to the West, Bang Kachao is a somehow hidden expanse of green land in the heart of Bangkok. It's surprising how undeveloped and wild this big area has remained despite Bangkok's rapid growth in the last decades; signs of construction can already be seen in some parts of it, but even today, Bang Kachao truly remains a small oasis of rural Thailand mere minutes from the city center.

Lady with umbrella I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm 
Lady with umbrella II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Expect narrow roads and small moobans (villages in Thai language), farmers plowing the fields and wild jungle patches, wooden huts, fishing villages and street markets. But you will also find guesthouses and coffee shops here and there, scattered along the single road, as the place is slowly becoming a popular tourist destination, specially appealing for those looking to scape the noise of the city without traveling too far, and also for the bicycle lovers, as the area is quite traffic-free and vast enough to let cyclists enjoy kilometers of quiet asphalt and ground.

Sunny day I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Sunny day II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Don't worry, as soon as you cross the river the first thing you will notice in the pier is, precisely, a bicycle rental shop. Bicycles are quite old and rudimentary (as are the prices, by the way), but all the area is completely flat, so they are more than enough to enjoy a nice day exercising the legs and the eyes. The fact that Bang Kachao is part of a peninsula on the other side of the river makes it quite isolated from the city, which means that you will not see the skyscrapers nor other traces of the urban metropolis from here: the vegetation is thick enough to erase any presence of Bangkok's skyline; you will really feel as if you have left the city well behind you.

Water caprice I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Water caprice II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
There is a popular landmark in Bang Kachao, and that is Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park. However, the second detour of the day was about to happen, this time a much longer and unexpected one, therefore the park had to wait for a couple of hours more: I spotted a small garden on one side of the road, so I guided my bicycle there, curious to see what it was. It turned out it was a small fishing gallery which contained a camping area in one corner and it was bordered by Chao Phraya river at the end. There was literally nobody around it (Saturday afternoon with a merciless sun above) which seemed to indicate the place might not be of much interest, but maybe it was precisely this abandonment that attracted me. Whatever the reason, I parked my bike at the entrance and walked inside.

Long time parked, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Silent intruder, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The garden itself consisted only of a little pond with a bridge and a pier for pedal boats, a winding cement alleyway over a small canal, and a main, gravel road under the arched canopy of big, aligned trees. Cozy but average. Nevertheless, I kept on walking ahead, unsure of where exactly that was leading. There were no fences or gates whatsoever blocking the way, so I continued my walk until I reached a dead end: the river. Only now I could see the distant monsters of the city and remember that I was still in Bangkok, after all. But it was just momentarily, for I was about to live one of the most bizarre experiences I have encountered in this city so far, camera in hand.

Deserted watchtower, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The light is off, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Stairs to an unknown world, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
I backtracked a bit, trying to resume my walk, when I suddenly saw what looked like a big, wooden boat, moored on the border of a small pond. Seconds later, as I walked in that direction, the trees cleared and I realized the boat was connected to a Thai style house that was standing on top of columns in the same pond. A few steps further the small pavilion revealed to be escorted by a perfectly blue swimming pool. Finally, a bigger building took shape behind and it all made sense, all of a sudden: obviously, that was a resort, but I had no idea how I had ended up there and how to leave, for I had seen no signs or indications at all on my way there.

Framed boat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Thai styles, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Island suite, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
It was indeed a bizarre feeling, walking through a luxurious resort that was, apparently, completely abandoned. I could spot no signs of human presence around me, nor cars or other vehicles, either parked or moving; there were no lights on or doors open. It was all still, quiet, silent. Frozen at 33 degrees. Yet, and this was the most weird thing of all, everything seemed clean and ready, perfectly arranged and maintained to receive the guests at any moment. It was like walking through an amusement park where suddenly everybody had vanished while the attractions were still spinning and the fountains spitting water. That place was alive, yet there was nobody visible. It was just me, and it.

Symmetries, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Hot both sides of the glass, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Searching for light, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Ghost recess, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm 
I slowly walked through the empty galleries and passed by the transparent pools, I saw the tidy bars and admired the lush plants and flowers, cautiously trying to find the way out of that captivating yet creepy place. Maybe an invisible volcano had burnt that resort to ashes and had preserved it in its pristine state but devoid of all human life. Maybe everyone had turned into ghosts by a mysterious curse and were now looking at me with vacant, stareless eyes. I felt uneasy and thrilled with equal measure, but we are humans, after all, and curiosity is always stronger than fear. So I continued for a while, touching nothing, just walking past in the most discreet, unnoticed manner.

The gap, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm 
Music, rest, and water, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Concealed music, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Phantom staircase, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
A cozy corner, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
And then all my suspicions came to life right at the end, when I finally found the magic gate that would return me to our usual human world; disguised between some tree trunks, a hedge and a water pit, there was a gap. I crossed to the other side and then, big and clear, I saw the resort's entrance from outside, totally locked, threatening in its retirement. Wondering no more how all that had happened and what was the meaning of it, I walked away at a faster pace, as if the air around me was less dense now and my body less self-aware of its movements and sounds. In a question of minutes, I was back by my rusty bike's side, relieved. And hungry. Time for lunch and a very cool drink, then!

The way out, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm 
Small maze, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Once my stomach was full, I was ready to go to the place I was supposed to visit all along, the park. It was actually later than I had imagined, sunset was fast approaching, so it was the perfect time to end my journey with a ride along the park paths. Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park is very vast and during the weekend, as I soon discovered, quite busy with couples, families, cyclists and photo groups. It is not as well maintained as other parks in the city are, maybe due to its isolation and size, though it is signaled and kept well enough, and its relative wilderness gives it a touch that none of the other urban parks possess, thus making it somehow different and special, in sync with the whole peninsula.

Distant bridge, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
The tiny peninsula, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Shelter for the unrepentant walkers, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
And that's how I concluded my long, eventful day. A day I will not forget easily, if at all!

A scene in the park, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm

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