A Breath of Fresh Air at Benjakitti Forest Park
When you think of a park in Bangkok, you probably think of something like Lumpini Park, where manicured lawns are lined with beautiful tropical plants and flowers; where park goers can enjoy various water features under the shade of large trees.
You certainly don’t think of raised glowing walkways and wetlands used for treating wastewater.
Welcome to the all-new Benjakitti Forest Park, recently expanded and renovated with a soft opening. Rather serendipitously, the enormous 259-rai (41.4-hectare) site was previously occupied by a tobacco manufacturing facility. Now, instead of tobacco and truck fumes, nearby residents can enjoy the exact opposite: a breath of fresh air.
How did it come about? And how does it hold up? This article will cover the park’s origins, its design, and its future. Some features may surprise you!
Thai people love parks. You won’t find a public green space within Bangkok that isn’t constantly being used—even at 6am. Thais of all ages go to the park to exercise, and relax. Parks are home to everything from aerobics classes and outdoor exercise equipment to covered pavilions used for ballroom dancing and musical performances.
In terms of the green spaces, the unconventional design of Benjakitti Forest Park (alternative spelling, Benchakitti) is quite interesting. In service to the local community, it makes use of a large wetland area that serves as a natural (and surprisingly odorless) wastewater treatment for the nearby canal.
Low walkways allow people to walk amongst the reeds, mangroves, and lily pads to get up close with the many crickets and frogs that inhabit the pools. On the other hand, raised walkways that light up when the sun goes down give great panoramic views of the space nestled amongst the branches of the surrounding jamjuree (monkey pod) trees.
But the unorthodox features don’t end there. In fact, large sections of the park are supposed to naturally dry out and regrow during normal weather cycles so as not to rely as heavily on wasteful sprinkler systems during the dry season.
In addition to 5.8 km of walkways, the Benjakitti Forest Park offers an impressive 2.8 km jogging track and a 3.4 km cycling track. It also boasts an outdoor amphitheater and many covered and open spaces—some of which seem tailor-made for taking photos. The shell of the former tobacco factory itself is being repurposed as a huge modern indoor sports facility, museum, and recreation area.
A royal blessing
The park was originally approved in accordance with the wishes of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (King Rama IX) and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother, who had hoped that a more natural forest park would be a great way to raise awareness and instill the virtues of nature conservation amongst the general public.
His Majesty King Rama IX was renowned for his green initiatives throughout the country. In fact, the aerator pumps seen in many canals and ponds cleaning up the water throughout the city were first patented by the late monarch.
No doubt King Bhumibol would have been delighted to see that this park, once a factory that degraded the local air, is now cleaning water for the surrounding community.
How to get there
Map of Benjakitti Forest Park
Benjakitti Park stretches from Ratchadapisek Road all the way to Duang Phithak Road. During the soft opening, various gates are still closed off. At the time of writing this article, the easiest way to access the expansion is by cutting through the older part of Benjakitti Park near the Asoke intersection off Ratchadapisek Road, within easy walking distance from Sukhumvit MRT and Asoke BTS stations.
Lumpini Park, which will soon celebrate its centennial anniversary, connects directly to Benjakitti Forest Park via a raised green pedestrian bridge. The bridge itself is worth a visit, as it offers a beautiful view of the city uninterrupted by intersections and motor vehicles.
A greener capital
The park has so far been a resounding success—truly a triumph of design and utility. I have visited it myself a few times and very much enjoyed every element of it. It’s well worth a trip and should continue to improve as it expands, offering plenty of opportunities for outdoor and indoor activities.
It also bodes well for the other new park project on the site of the old royal racecourse. It’s exciting to see Bangkok make some big steps in the right direction.