Bangkok is a beautiful and vibrant city offering so much diversity, it is hard to see it all. But a day trip to the artificial island of Bang Kachao is not to be missed! Getting there is easier than it seems and will be the perfect get-away from the busy street and the damp air.
I kept a day trip to Bang Kachao for my last day in Bangkok. After so much time in this beautiful but busy city, I needed to find some of the quiet peace I enjoyed in Chiang Mai. Turns out it’s less than an hour away! My plane was not leaving before 8:30 pm from Kanchanaburi airport and I felt like I had plenty of time to enjoy the sunny day in a completely different part of the city. I planned my route the previous evening, packed everything and woke up early to make the most out of the day.
What is Bang Kachao?
Bang Kachao is technically not part of Bangkok but an artificial island belonging to Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan Province. It lays between a bend of the Chao Phraya River and a canal at its Western end and is accessible from Bangkok by ferry boats. It is famous for being the green lung of Bangkok. It is one of the largest (and last) green areas of the city and its role is to pump fresh air for Bangkok’s inhabitants. The Time Magazine proclaimed it the Best Urban Oasis Area a few years ago.
For visitors, Bang Kachao is the perfect getaway from Thailand’s often suffocating capital city. After two weeks of going around on my feet, visiting as much of Bangkok and Chiang Mai I could, a nice ride on a bicycle sounded very promising. And I got what I wanted!
How to get to Bang Kachao?
By boat! A nice, smooth ride on the Chao Phraya River will get you to Bang Kachao in no time. The tricky part is to find the right piers. However, some useful and free apps will make everything easy and unstressful. On Maps.me, you can see where are the piers making the liaison between Bangkok and Bang Kachao. Since I was staying near Udom Suk, I planned on taking the ferry at the pier by the end of the Bangna Canal. I ordered a motorbike to get me there for 60 baht (about 1,75€) through the Grab app, which is the equivalent of Uber in Thailand. The ride took a while because we had to find a way to do a U-turn on the big, busy road and the driver was not breaking the rules (he also gave me a helmet!).
I got to the pier and went on the pontoon, but there was no boat. I asked an old man sitting nearby where I should wait and somehow, as usual in Thailand, we managed to understand each other without too many words. Always have your map handy to show exactly where you are trying to go as not many people speak English and the way you pronounce the name of a place might be very far from the correct pronunciation. For instance, I learnt that Bang Kachao is known by locals as “krapow moo” because it looks like… a pig’s stomach.
I didn’t have to wait long to board the ferry. I checked again with the man in charge of mooring the boat to the landing stage to make sure I was on the right track. You will see a lot of motorbikes coming on board as well.
The ride is pleasant and quick: around 12 minutes. You can sit on the bench or stand and you have plenty of time to take pictures. The area I was sailing from was not exactly pretty but I like to take photos of workers and industrial sites as well. Not everything is a shiny palace.
The price is ridiculously low: 4 baht (0,12€). You pay when you exit the boat on Bang Kachao. There will be a lady at a counter collecting the money. Just follow what other people are doing and you will be fine. I read that it is 10 baht if you come with the ferry that leaves from the pier closer to the city centre so don’t be surprised if you use another route than mine and the price is different.
What to do in Bang Kachao?
I arrived by the temple Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nok. You will find food and lots of rusty bicycles to rent for 50 baht per day (1,46€). If you’re feeling like going faster, you can also rent a motorbike. However, you cannot drive it inside the Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park, which is the nicest place to go to on this island.
Depending on where you arrive on the island, the park can be very close or a few kilometres away. In my case, it was 5.4km away, or about 30 minutes. It is a very smooth ride as the island is flat and the roads are easy. I felt safe all the way, especially with some Internet, navigation, my phone fully charged and a full travel battery in my bag. You should always be careful of cars and motorbikes, though.
There are a few restaurants and cafés on the roads all over Bang Kachao, but make sure you have snacks and bottled water. Some of those places could be closed. Make sure you visit Oz Café! You can find its location on Google Maps, another app you should keep an eye on while vacationing in Thailand. Oz is a welcoming Turkish man who moved to Thailand and opened his little oasis café on Bang Kachao. You can make a stop there, have a little chat, rest from the riding and even read some of his books in English. And you can also use proper, clean toilets, which is handy when on a little trip outside of the city.
Oz told me his personal history of coming to Thailand and finding the peace and quiet he was looking for. He has regular guests, locals and foreigners. People like me coming for a relaxing day on the green lung of Bangkok can learn about the animals living in the area, the trees, the birds… Oz told me several foreigners are living on Bang Kachao, they bought houses and are just enjoying life close to the city, but in nature. There are also lots of Thais living on the artificial island (the population is estimated at 40,000). Most of them take care of the trees and grow delicious fruits to eat and sell in backyard gardens and orchards. The area is sadly urbanizing, but inhabitants are dedicated to protecting it.
I kept driving my rusty bicycle towards the park. The roads started to change and my navigation led me through the jungle on narrow concrete paths. Careful with the motorbikes here! On some places, there aren’t even fences to prevent you from falling in the water of the swamp. Because that’s what you’re driving above of: a jungle swamp. Bang Kachao is a mixture of freshwater rainforest, mangroves and tropical rainforest.
I don’t have a great balance so some parts scared me a little but not enough to make me go back. It was also fun and I was happy to challenge myself! A little tip for you: don’t go fast, slow down or even walk in the curves, they can be sharp and tricky. Be nice to people walking on these paths, they live here.
I was struck by the quietness of the area after so many days in busy Bangkok. It really feels like you are far away from the city. I could be driving my bicycle for 15 minutes on those narrow elevated paths and not meet anyone, although there are many houses. It was nice to have the time to look around, listened to the birds, look at the fauna of the area and take thousands of pictures. I had to keep an eye on the clock though, to make it back on time to grab my bag and go to the airport.
How to visit Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park?
I finally reached the green and lush park Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan on Bang Kachao! I had been driving slowly, stopping to take photos so I was not out-of-breath. I was a bit hungry, though, and disappointed not to find a nice, open restaurant somewhere nearby. I could have looked a bit harder of course, but I didn’t have so much time and I wanted to visit the park more than I wanted to eat.
Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park and Botanical Garden was created in 2003 to be part of the green lung area, for people to relax and visit and also for educational purposes. You will find in the park little a few wooden boards telling you about trees and flowers and the educational activities Thai kids have enjoyed here. The guardian at this entrance just waived me through so I assume the visit is free.
There were not a lot of people while I was there so I spent a lot of time by myself driving around in circles. Well, “alone”. There were a lot of animals! You can drive to the popular bird-watching tower in the park. I did not have enough time to stay there and observe silently the birds in the nearby trees. I could only listen to their tweets and look at the butterflies flying around.
After a short time at the tower, I grabbed my bicycle on the side of the road and kept on going, driving further in the shadows of the little jungle. I met a bat, it looked like it had fallen from a tree and was slowly making its way back up. I observed it a bit, from a distance. It didn’t look hurt so I kept on pedalling. Later, I found myself by one of the ponds on my way to “coconut island”. That’s when I saw a dragon.
It was lurking behind some branches hanging low at the surface of the water. I just heard something moving the leaves, and then a splashing sound that was too loud to be coming from a fish. I left my bicycle on the side of the path and walked to a wooden bridge going over the pound. I kept trying to be rational: this is a well-maintained park which hosts families, classes and tourists. If there was a dangerous animal living among the trees, we would know. Then I saw it swimming in the pond and later going back on dry land. A big lizard, or a small Komodo dragon. I was far enough to feel safe but still a bit scared. Somehow, I still thought it would be a good idea to cross the bridge and try to get closer. I got maybe 10 metres away from it but then it started to move and I just back off really fast.
I went back to my bicycle and took a path going as far as possible as the dragon. Somehow I found myself back near the entrance of the park and decided to do some research on my phone while I felt I was safe. The parks dragons are Monitor lizards. They are smaller than Komodo dragons and are not interested in eating human flesh. Good news!
After reassuring myself, I realized I still had one hour and a half to spend on the island so I made another circle around the park. It doesn’t take more than twenty minutes by bike. I met another Monitor lizard on the way, on a remote, shadowy path… I saw the lizard only at the last minute when it moved to get out of my way and boy did my heart made a big jump in my chest. I pedalled the hell out of there!
I had to accept that it was time to go back to the pier and to the city. I rode back to my starting point and gave back my bicycle. The man owning the rental shop even offered me some fresh mineral water, so nice! I only had to wait a short time to get back on the ferry and cross the Chao Phraya River. At the pier, I found very easily a moto-taxi to take me back to Udom Suk. I asked for the price in advance and he said 30 baht, so half the price I paid in the morning. But it was shorter as we were on the right side of the road when we reached Sukhumvit Rd.
What did I miss on Bang Kachao?
I couldn’t pack my day too much since I didn’t have so much time and didn’t want to stress about missing my plane. But there are many more things to see on Bang Kachao. I hope I will have the opportunity to come back and visit further!
There are many temples on the island. I only saw the one at the pier and an interesting one on the road. I was not dressed properly to be allowed to enter so I only glanced at them.
The Bang Nam Phueng floating market is only opened on Saturday and Sunday. I drove through its alleys but since it was a Wednesday, everything was closed. I wish I had the chance to experience it.
I have heard that the Siamese Fighting Fish Museum is interesting. Thai fighting fish are part of the national culture. This type of fish… loves to fight. As you may know, if you own fish yourself, you should never put two males in the same aquarium or they will fight to the death. A very long time ago, peasants would make the fish fight (while the rich people prefered cockfights). Those are some of the many things you will learn in the museum.
One last thing I wish I had taken the time to see is the fortress Pom Phlaeng Faifa, built in the 19th century to defend Bangkok from the Birmans and the West.