I love Bangkok, but after 4 days by the peaceful banks of the River Kwai, the city’s traffic, noise and crowds felt oppressive. So I arranged to escape the metropolis for a bicycle tour of Bang Krachao, a small artificial island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River.
Described as being Bangkok’s green lung, locals know it as “the pig’s stomach”, because of its shape. Technically outside of Bangkok in the Samut Prahkan district, the island’s accessibility makes it popular amongst cyclists and weekend visitors who come for its market.
In my first Airbnb Experience since Airbnb’s curated collection of tours were launched, I met with Paul near Klong Toei pier for Biking Bangkok Oasis.
A British expat who has resided in Bangkok for the last 20 years, Paul is a passionate cyclist and mountain biker. After leaving his job in resort marketing following 25 years of service, he experimented with a number of businesses including food delivery. It was when he was on the verge of registering his tour company that his Thai wife, who manages several Airbnb properties in the city, came across Airbnb’s Experiences.
Together with Anneli and Adrian, two Norwegians who also signed on for the tour, we made our way towards the waiting boat at Klong Toei Pier skirting around the flooding that the super moon and high tide had created.
From Klong Toei Pier it’s a straight line across the Chao Phraya to Bang Krachao Pier and takes less than 5 minutes. The water was quite calm, but black and deep, owing to nearby Bangkok Port. There were also no life jackets onboard. Hmm….
Our arrival on Bang Krachao was greeted by rows of bicycles, all of them available for rent. Paul has an arrangement with the lady boss of M-Bike and stores his wheels here.
With helmets on, bags in baskets, and a quick briefing about safety and signals done, we kicked the stands and made for nearby Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park.
Approximately 111,000 square meters in size, Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park combines landscaped gardens and lakes with forest scrub and wetlands. Its varied terrain and wide paths, a mix of paved and tarmac, and wooden bridges, make it ideal grounds for getting familiar with our rides.
We whizzed past joggers, leisurely walkers and fellow cyclists, occasionally screeching to a halt as Paul pointed out a monitor lizard in the water or a long tailed drongo in mid-flight.
After making a stop by the lake to feed the fish and watch them demolish a loaf of bread, we headed off trail. Orientation was over. We were ready for Bang Krachao’s elevated thoroughfares.
Used by pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikes, these narrow paths cut through the marshy wetlands, fruit orchards and coconut plantations and link up roads and homes, many of them wooden and on stilts because of the constant threat from flooding.
Nerve wrackingly, some of these footpaths lacked barriers but even when present, the sharp tight corners had us questioning our skills. One bum move and we’d go flying over our handlebars into the jungle or mangrove below. Paul assured us that his tour has been accident free. But there’s always a first, so for safety, we’d sometimes hop of our bikes.
In general, Bang Krachao is a haven for cyclists. On the Saturday morning that we were there, the roads were quiet except for the occasional scooter, and the only cars we encountered were close to the market. Locals here are used to sharing their roads with riders, and in some areas cycle lanes are present – there’s one that loops around the outer permitter of Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park.
For such a small island, only 16 square kilometres, Bang Krachao has an impressive 9 Buddhist temples. We stopped at Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nok in front of the Temple Pier. The pier is the most favoured way of accessing the island and accessible via Bang Na Pier on the other side of the river.
Consisting of several temple buildings, Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nok includes a colourful ornate structure with temple bells and gongs in its courtyard, a stupa and a large grinning golden Buddha with a hole in his belly button – I’m told by Paul, it’s for worshippers and well wishers to throw coins into for good luck.
For me, the highlight was a visit to Chang Daeng Mushroom Farm. Growing up with the phrase “treated like a mushroom” being taken to mean being kept in the dark and fed shit (pardon my French), I never imagined mushroom farms as being terribly savoury places. But Chaeng Daeng was the opposite of dark, damp and dirty. Dry and clean, the farm consists of a warehouse and kitchen in the front and farm and restaurant in the back.
We wandered between the rows of grow bags stacked up in the cool, shady, well-ventilated fruiting rooms. I was taken aback at how pretty and colourful the oyster mushrooms were, delicate curls of ivory, yellow and pink.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, the morning’s bounty was already being deep fried in the lightest, crispest, tapioca flour batter for us to devour.
There were other vegetables being grown here too, like gourds the size of heads. We didn’t stay for lunch as Paul had other plans for us, but if the farm’s appetisers (which also included a plate of lightly battered banana flower) were any indication of the quality of food, I was coming back.
For a tour that involves exercise, there was a remarkable amount of eating happening on Biking Bangkok Oasis: barbequed meats and catfish from a roadside stall – I passed on this; a clutch of fresh green shoots known as Cha-Om plucked straight from a tree – it tasted remarkably like petai.
Other culinary encounters were unplanned. Like the slivers of ripe juicy mango offered up to us by a pong pong farmer. Pong pong, the fruit of the Suicide Tree (Cerbera Odollam) contains a toxic chemical used locally in hunting, fishing, suicide and murder. Er … thanks for the mango?
Encountering a couple burning coconuts at the side of the road, we assumed they were setting light to husks for charcoal, yet these were whole young green coconuts. Curious, one was fished out and chopped open to try. Each of us took turns to cautiously inhale the hot but sweet liquid hidden inside the perfect white flesh. The same coconut water I’m accustomed to drinking chilled, tasted like a luscious creamy pudding. Totally unexpected!
At Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market, I struggled not to stop and buy a helping of deep fried prawn or charcoal roasted crab from its vendors. Open only on weekends in the morning (7am to 2pm), the name is misleading as the market operates next to the canal rather than on it. Popular with Thais for its affordable offerings, scenic surrounding and because of its quieter than most markets, we pushed our bike through it, me somewhat reluctantly, eating with our eyes rather than our stomachs.
Worth holding out for, lunch was at Dum Kitchen, one of a few eateries open at a market that doesn’t get going until the evening (it’s located just off the intersection of Petchachung Alley and Soi Bun Chuai-Iamchiak) .
Though small and unassuming, the food at this family-run place was fantastic. Stand out among the dishes were the green curry – light yet satisfying, mine with mushrooms – and Yum Talay, an eye-wateringly spicy seafood salad of succulent fresh prawns and squid with a lime chilli dressing bursting with ocean brininess. Aroi mak mak!
Fit to burst, we zipped back to the pier and hopped on a boat. Though I’ve not mentioned it until now, the amount of litter, much of it polystyrene and plastic, wedged between the mangroves trees around the island was saddening. I’m sure it’s brought here from upstream, rather than generated locally. But If Bang Krachao wants to tout itself as a “green oasis”, its denizens will need to act. Bangkok Tree House, the island’s only hotel removes 1kg of rubbish for every booking made with them – it’s a good start.
There was one final treat of charcoal grilled sweet sticky rice with banana for us on the boat before we said goodbye. Then at his insistence, Paul popped me on a motorbike taxi back to Silom. The 15 minute ride (80 Bhat) was my first motorbike taxi and a brilliant way to cap off a day spent on two wheels.
Will appeal to Outdoor lovers, adventure tourists and travellers curious about Bangkok’s other side.
Duration and distance Taking approximately 5 hours, the meet up point for this morning half day tour is on the Bangkok “mainland” just a few hundred meters from the Klong Toei pier at 8.30am and wraps up after lunch between 1.30pm and 2pm. Distance cycled is approximately 20km.
Plus Unlike other tours that require you to cycle through Bangkok traffic, Paul’s cycling tour doesn’t begin until you arrive on Bang Krachao Island, which has minimal traffic and is cycle-friendly.
Tip One thing I didn’t do which you should is try gac fruit. Known in Thai as Fak Kao and hard to find, it looks like a bright orange puffer fish and grows on the island. Consumed as a juice, it purportedly tastes like a cross between a papaya and a tomato.
Getting there The most popular way of getting to the island is via Bang Na Pier. The closest BTS is also Bang Na. Our jumpoff point was Klong Teoi Pier near Wat Klong Toey Nok temple. I took the Metro to Klong Teoi, then walked 30 minutes to the pier. The longtail boat is a 5 minute ride straight across the river and immediately on the other side M-Bike Rental rents bicycles for 30 Bhat/hour, 70 Bhat/day.
Rate Biking Bangkok Oasis is a half day morning tour for cyclists aged 16 and above. It costs RM283 and includes the use of a well maintained, good quality bicycle and helmet, and covers boat fares, all water, snacks, lunch and insurance.