One of a number of artificially created islands in Bangkok’s Chaophraya river, Bang Krachao is often referred to as the city’s ‘green lung’, since it’s one of few places within reach of the capital where you can truly still surround yourself with trees and breathe in fresh air. Technically it’s actually outside of Bangkok – but only just, barely inside neighbouring Samut Prakan province – and sadly the expiration of legal protection for the island means development is beginning to appear even here, but for now it’s still somewhere to escape the downtown crowds, traffic and pollution.
Bang Krachao also goes by the names Phra Phradaeng and Bang Nampehung but, if we’re being technical, Bang Nampheung refers to a specific part of the island and Phra Phradaeng to a wider area of Samut Prakan of which Bang Krachao is one part. The island is especially well known and popular among cyclists, who love to get out for a ride among local communities and cycle along raised boardwalks that run over mangrove swamps.
But it’s Bang Nampheung floating market that puts Bang Krachao on the map most of all – this popular weekend floating market is one of the easiest to reach from downtown, since it’s located less than 20 minutes from Bang Na station on the Skytrain’s Sukhumvit line. From there, it’s easy to jump on a 20-baht motorbike to the Sanphawut pier, take a 4-baht ferry across to the island, and then hop on another 15-baht motorbike to the market (there’s no need to even tell the driver where you’re going, since everyone’s heading in the same direction). It’s also possible to reach Bang Krachao by ferry from Khlong Toey or, if you really must, by taxi.
This might not be a truly authentic market as they operated in local communities in years gone by, but it’s a far less touristy affair than the likes of Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi, at least in so far as it’s been created primarily for day-tripping Bangkokians. Like our other favourite Khlong Lat Mayom, there’s a heavy focus on food and drink – expect to eat well here on all the usual street food staples, plus specialities like local honey and gak fruit juice (fuk kao in Thai, it’s a gourd-like fruit that tastes like a mix of tomato, passion fruit and ripe papaya). You’ll also find everything from homewares and cute homemade craft items to plants and gardening supplies. It’s a lovely market to take a wander around – you’ll likely get lost at least a few times in its maze of alleys – and there’s also a low-key, serene spot to grab a Thai massage, as well as a couple of pleasant places to grab a coffee, including in a beautifully restored old Thai house filled with retro childhood artefacts.
Other sights around Phra Phradaeng – all of which are free to enter and can be reached either by renting a bicycle at one of the piers, taking a motorbike taxi or, if you’re particularly energetic, walking – include the expansive and well-cared-for Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, perfect for bird-watching, feeding the fish that inhabit the lush ponds, or relaxing in the shade of a sala hut. Among temples worth visiting on the island is Wat Song Thum, while the Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery is a more out-there attraction, displaying numerous tanks of live tropical fish – the male fish ‘fight’ with one another by biting at their tails.
Bang Krachao has just a handful of places to rest your head, mostly low-key guest houses and homestays. But the Bangkok Tree House stands out as a romantic, eco-friendly spot that’s well worth checking into for the night, or at the very least to cool down on their attractive riverside terrace and enjoy a coffee, beer or refreshing butterfly pea flower (dok anchun) drink turned purple by the acidity of lime juice – they also serve a range of light meals. The hotel is comprised of freestanding solar-powered ‘tree houses’, which despite the name are actually brashly modern duplexes. Everything here is environmentally focussed, from eliminating plastic waste by providing guests with free drinking water in reusable glass bottles from a communal fridge, to writing receipts on banana leaves rather than paper. There’s free homemade ice cream or sorbet in that fridge, too – whatever flavour they’ve decided to try that day – and more recently they’ve added a help-yourself communal minibar that’s pleasantly run on an honesty basis.
Rates include a nighttime trip out by longtail boat to spot the neighbourhood’s fireflies – the excursion beats those at Amphawa floating market any day, and the boatmen are locals whose genuine care for preserving the firefly population is obvious – and to top it all off, for every booking received the management of Bangkok Tree House will remove a kilo of trash from the Chaophraya river (something that’s badly needed, even in the stretch immediately around Bang Krachao). But all of these fantastic extras aside – and even the fact that the treehouses themselves are gorgeous nests and come with private sundecks on the roof – it’s worth spending the night here just for the privilege of seeing the area when all the day-trippers have left, the wind is rustling the trees that are everywhere, and there’s a cool breeze to be caught from the terrace around the lobby, which has a walkway leading right down to the water’s edge.
Have you been to Bang Krachao? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by James Antobus, Andrew K. Smith, Paul_the_Seeker and Chris Wotton