On the small pathways that zig-zag across the waterways of the Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market, you will often see groups of tourists on bikes enjoying the sights. It seems surprising, for despite being so close to Bangkok, this area is very much off the well-worn tourist path.
However, Bang Nam Phueng in Phra Pradaeng has been popular with Thai day-trippers since its floating market was established as a cultural attraction. The laid-back atmosphere and old-world charm of this near-island in the river, is made even more magical by its proximity to the bustle of Thailand’s biggest city.
Indeed, you can cross over Bangkok’s mighty Chao Phraya River and find yourself in the green, fragrant environs of Phra Pradaeng so suddenly that you risk culture shock. After the fumes and fury of Bangkok, it is like being blasted into Eden. It seems that little stretch of river is the dividing line between the bustling and bucolic, the calming and chaotic, the green and the grey.
The busy floating market with its many eateries where you can sip coffee and watch people is an attraction, but it is the trees, calm waterways and shaded pavilions that really charm.
Phra Pradaeng is green but not wild. There are walking trails, cycle paths (with bikes to rent) and boats to take out on the water. Food stalls are scattered around so there is plenty of chances to snack. What’s more, the activities in the area are priced for everyone.
In Bangkok’s often illogical town planning, it seems that someone realised we all need access to green space – Phra Pradaeng provides it.
Phra Pradaeng has always been agricultural, set aside for orchards, fisheries and food production. But developers are now promoting this area as a place to enjoy eco-friendly experiences for anyone looking to escape Bangkok’s modern bustle. People enjoy shopping at Bang Nam Pheung, but really it is the chance to explore the greenery that brings them back time after time.
Now people stay overnight and guesthouses are springing up to accommodate them. One of the best known is Bangkok Tree house which boasts chic décor that any uptown hotel would envy. It is a little luxury getaway with all the sophistication of a bolt-hole in Pattaya or Phuket, only minutes from the city. More accommodation is opening – Phra Pradaeng is set to become a hot area.
At dusk, it is the famous fireflies that are the real attraction. They flit around with their incandescent light show sparking gasps of delight from anyone who sees them. There is something primaeval about the experience. We may have an obsession with our mobile phones in modern times, but no one has yet created an app that is as lovely and as mystical as the dance of these lusty insects in the mangroves. They provide an illuminating connection with our past – Thai people must have enjoyed these evening light shows for generations.
The evening firefly tour started around half six when a boat came to take us round the waterways. We were told not to use cameras or mobiles with flashes, as it disorientates the flies. Fireflies need to be preserved in the area as they are “marker species” that indicate how healthy the local flora and fauna are.
On our trip was with a researcher from Kasetsart University who told us academics come from all over the world to study the flies. The insects thrive here as the area is protected as part of a Royal Project aimed at conserving the local wildlife. Our well-informed new friend taught us about the life cycle of these lovely creatures and how the drive to preserve them has led to Phra Pradaeng being protected, preserving a vital green lung in ever-expanding Bangkok.
When the tour ended, we left the fireflies to their incandescent flirting. Though our homes were just a short drive away over the Chao Phraya River, we chose to stay overnight and enjoy this little rural retreat for a few hours more. What a pleasure to wake up to Bangkok’s green tranquillity rather than its gridlocked traffic – Eden is now easy to find.
Travel Tips: Phra Pradaeng is easily reached by crossing the Bhumibol Suspension Bridge or via boat from Puchao Samingprai Pier.
Or ride the BTS to Bang Na station and take a taxi to San Phawut Pier at Wat Bangna Nok and cross via ferry. Boats also go from Khlong Toei Pier and songtaeos continue to Bang Nam Phueng.
Bicycles can be rented for 30 Baht a day. Accommodation: Bangkok Tree House (www.bangkoktreehouse.com) Tel: +66 (8) 2995 1150 Phueng Nang Homestay (www.phuengnanghome.com) Tel. +66 (0) 2461 3810 Tel. +66 (8) 4144 4412 Firefly tours with “Uncle Klae” Tel. +66 (0) 83 123 8768