The International Writers Magazine
Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Lumpini Park, Bangkok
Ryan Humphreys

If Bill Bryson can take a 'Walk in the Woods' along the well tred Appalachian Trail and write a best selling novel about his experience then I thought, Why not do something similar?

I could take a walk through Bangkok’s equally well worn attraction, Lumpini Park, and give it a fresh perspective. On my first visit to Lumpini Park in Bangkok a few years ago, a sea of karaoke machines greeted my arrival.  I remember a grandmother with moist eyes screeching into the microphone and every few yards large families huddled around karaoke machines, singing shamelessly.  Enjoying a peaceful afternoon in the park was impossible and, given this negative first impression, I had been hesitant to return.  Recently, however, I decided to return to Lumpini and visit the outside gym.  Thankfully, the karaoke machines were gone.  Instead, I noticed Lumpini was a vibrant place with a lot happening.  I promised myself to return a few days later and spend a day walking through the park talking with people, making notes and enjoying the atmosphere.

A Walk in the Woods?
In the morning before setting out I consulted my Lonely Planet guide and scanned the index for Lumpini Park.  When I found the page I was surprised that the guide only made a brief mention of Bangkok's main park.  Only its location, the origins of its name and a few fleeting antidotes.  However, I was intrigued by the statement that "wooded areas" were to be found in Lumpini.  Coming from Canada, a country of dense, soaring forests I have a particular image of wooded areas.  Having not seen any woods that fit my description on previous visits I was skeptical.  Perhaps I hadn't looked closely enough, maybe the squealing grannies from my past visit had so distracted me that, in such a bothered state, I simply missed them.    A small cluster of trees, a thicket I could enter and peer out on the unsuspecting hordes would have met my expectations.  To quicken my search I approached four women park workers and asked them for directions to the woods of Lumpini.  My enquiry met with muffled laughter and raised eyebrows.  One of the women said to her co-worker, 'Why is this foreigner asking about a lot of trees? Can't he see all the trees around him?' Getting nowhere I changed tact and asked them if there were a group of trees close together.  Trees so close that you couldn't see through them.  They thought briefly but shook their heads; Lumpini contained no such cluster of trees they said.  I thanked them for their time and continued along intending to stop at the weight area. 

A Tiring Experience
The main weight area in Lumpini (there are three) has been compared to California's famed Muscle Beach.  If so, it is a poor cousin.  There are no shirtless Arnold Shwartzenegger's strutting around and it is certainly not the den of hard core bodybuilders.  To be fair, there are a few guys with lines of muscularity but they are outnumbered by stringy teenagers and paunchy men.
For the past month I have been coming to this weight area twice a week to lift.  During this time I had been eager to attempt an unusual bench press,  instead of regular weights there are two large truck tires fastened to a bar, like something from an episode of the World's Strongest Man.  I decided, for the sake of a good photo and personal vanity, today was the day to give it a go.  Simply sitting down on the bench peaked the interest of a group of nearby teenagers.  They hovered excitedly about me as I laid down on the bench and grasped the bar.  With a quick thrust I hoisted it into the air, slowly lowered it to my chest and pumped out 8 reps.  I returned the bar to its supports and looked back at my admirers encouraging them to try.  I joked with them that it wasn't too heavy and that with a little effort they too could lift it.  Buoyed by my success the wiry teens made an effort but couldn't budge the bar.   This failure only deepened their admiration for me.  I left the weight area to the chorus, 'Foreigner very strong!" and sat down at a bench, basking in glory.

Over Exposure
With my prolonged exposure to the sun, I had adopted the habit of darting from one pocket of shade to the next, when I came to a particularly inviting patch under the broad canopy of a large tree. I flopped down to wipe the river of sweat from my forehead and realized I was sitting next to another park worker.  She looked similar to the others I had met earlier: dark, leathery skin with teeth as white as piano keys.   She wore a dark green army jacket with matching trousers, on her head a wide brimmed straw hat protected her from the sun.  I considered offering an inflated sum for her hat but, feeling alright in the shade, instead asked her to tell me something interesting she had seen in the park.  She thought for a few moments but said very little is interesting here.  I pressed her some more and attempted to lead her with answers: maybe a child, dangling too far over a bridge, was swiftly scooped up by a water monitor? Or, perhaps a collision between two large floating ducks resulting in drowned swimmers and lame ducks?  'No' she replied laughing at my silly ideas.  Seeing that I would persist until I extracted a story from her, she told me about the daily problems of homeless people trying to get into the park after hours to find a place to sleep for the night.  They try to climb over the fence (about 2 meters high with spikes on the top).  Occasionally, they get stuck in embarrassing positions on the fence and need to be rescued by security.  She found this both amusing and sad.  I shared her sentiment and thanked her before resuming my walk through the park. 
At this point, given the effects of the sun on my head, I decided to leave the park.  I made my way out, snaking through the mass aerobics at the main gate and descending gratefully into the therapeutic chill of the subway. 
In reflection, Lumpini is worth a visit.  It is an interesting diversion for an afternoon to meander about drinking in the sights and sounds.  It is wise to visit in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is less sinister.  With so few parks in central Bangkok Lumpini can get very crowded - especially on the weekends.  If you're just out for a stroll avoid the crowded perimeter path and walk across the park.  It is less crowded and you will be able to relax and see more amusing sights.  Oh, and just in case I haven't made it clear:  Wear a hat!     
© Ryan Humphreys March 2006 

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