A ‘Crippled’ Bridge Finds Its Legs
After almost three decades of laying abandoned, an unfinished bridge over the Chao Phraya River has been completed and been given a new life – as a skypark overlooking the river.
Since opening at the end of June, Saphan Duan has become one of the hottest spots in Bangkok, not least because for Bangkok residents, finding a public space to enjoy, especially by the river, is a major challenge.
Hundreds of local residents now take part in new activities in the morning and late afternoon. They stroll along this unique skypark, sit on the “ringside seats”, revel in the soft breezes and watch the sunrise and sunset over the Chao Phraya River.
Walk along the bridge and you’ll meet couples or groups of visitors taking photos as well as lone strollers snapping selfies. From the looks of admiration on their faces, it’s obvious that the minimalist style of the concrete bridge is much appreciated.
More interestingly, the opening of the bridge has not only given a modern boost to the traditional Thonburi neighbourhood, but also become the link connecting the Thonburi and Phra Nakhon sides of the river.
Nicknamed Saphan Duan, which literally means ‘crippled bridge’, the structure was originally planned as the country’s first skytrain, the Lavalin project, which received approval in 1984. However, the structure was left ‘crippled’ when the skytrain project was abandoned in 1992.
That all changed two years ago when the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) wanted to give a facelift to the riverside neighbourhood and turn the unfinished bridge into a new landmark, ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bangkok in 2030.
The project is similar to the shelved Garden Bridge project over the River Thames in London in terms of function. How it has come about, however, is like The High Line in New York, a 2.3km elevated linear park, converted from an abandoned rail trail.
The conversion of an old structure is a worthy addition to the city’s leisure areas but the BMA knows only too well that the ratio of green space in the city is well below the recommendation of the World Health Organization of 9 sqm per individual. Compared with other metropolitan cities around the world, such as 23.1 sqm in New York City and 66 sqm in Singapore, Bangkok has one of the lowest ratios. The conversion is an effort to get rid of that image and to increase the ratio of green space from the current 6.99 sqm to 10 by 2030.
Dubbed a sky park, the structure is in fact a pedestrian bridge and an alternative route for people commuting between the Thonburi and Phra Nakhon sides.
The bridge is about 280 metres long and 8.5 metres wide and is decorated with a variety of plants from herbs to tropical trees, perfect for the warm weather of Bangkok. The path connects Chaloem Phrakiet Forest Park on the Thonburi side and King Prajadhipok Park in the Phra Nakhon side.
It is reserved for pedestrians so cycling on the bridge is prohibited, though walking a bike across the river is allowed.
Phra Phuttha Yodfa Bridge or Memorial Bridge has always been a popular spot for locals to hang out and sit down – on the floor or steel bars – to watch sunset or get the soft breeze. Thanks to its unique steel architecture, rather than concrete like others, the bridge is a perfect place for local people to sit and watch sunset through the steel spokes.
If you are looking for a place to enjoy the riverscape and soft wind, check out one of the spots below. Some of them are library or shopping mall, but all is free and all are welcome!
On Phra Nakhon Side
On Thonburi Side