Bangkok: start your day the Thai (chi) way

by susan elizabeth

Lumpini Park is Bangkok's oldest, largest, and most loved public park. Get there at 5am and watch, or join in, as the daily workout for health conscious residents begins

Lumpini Park is immaculately kept, clean and safe. Artistically clipped trees, plants and flowers grow among the brightly painted traditional Thai architecture of pavilions, archways and shrines. The giant trees of the park provide shade from the sun and a shield from the noise and pollution of the traffic. Only when you look up and see the circle of skyscrapers towering above do you remember you are in a city                      

As daylight increases, so does the size of the throng, chatting happily as they jog gently along. Groups of boisterous, elderly Thai men try and up the pace in bursts of friendly rivalry. All ages and abilities join in. Some take it seriously, dressed for the part. Most are laughing, joking and enjoying themselves. It resembles a huge, never ending, fun run!

Dotted through the park are seating areas, where little groups meet to exercise, make tea and socialise. Each group provides its own music and everyone is welcome to join in. Or join in the mass aerobic sessions. Small groups practise tai chi under the trees, some performing with large, dangerous looking ceremonial swords. Everywhere people are stretching, limbering up and involved in some form of exercise. Thai men flex their muscles on ancient equipment in little open air gyms, while others play badminton.

In the lakes enormous catfish wait, mouths open, for their breakfast. This is provided by the Thai people who tip large bags of bread crusts from the bridges. The catfish in turn become breakfast for the giant Monitor lizards who are free to roam the park. Tourists can breakfast at the food stalls. There is a bewildering array of food on offer. The only thing we could identify with any certainty was a basket of duck feet!

How to get there

Go to the park by taxi, early morning is the only time to use a taxi in Bangkok. By rush hour most of the roads will be at a standstill. The mostly metered taxis (or settle on a fare before you go) are air conditioned and cheap. Lumpini is in the Silom area of Bangkok, it lies between Wireless Road and Rachdamri Road.

Take a sky-train back to your hotel and soar above the traffic jams. The nearest stop to the park is Sala Daeng. The excellent sky train service is easy to use. It's cheap, clean and air conditioned. Trains run frequently and cover the length of Bangkok. Or use the equally efficient Metro system from Lumpini Park station. Thai people are nervous of travelling underground so the trains are surprisingly empty.

Where to stay

Stay at the 4* Somerset Lake Point serviced apartments. The nearest sky train stop for the hotel is Sukhumvit Road, a ten minute walk away. A complimentary tuk-tuk is available from the hotel. The hotel is located on Sukhumvit Soi 16. The soi - a side road, off a main highway - is peaceful, with a few food stalls. The impressive, traditionally styled reception areas contrast well with the contemporary air-conditioned apartments. There are studios and up to three bed apartments available.

Ask for room 918 - a one bedroom corner apartment on the ninth floor. Floor to ceiling windows and french doors give stunning, all round views of the city. The impressive apartment has all the comforts of home. Clean, modern and comprehensively equipped. Dark, shiny floorboards, comfortable furnishings, with a kitchen area containing everything you could possibly need and more! It also has a dining and living area with a television and stereo system. The fully tiled luxurious bathroom has a large walk-in shower separate bath and plenty of toiletries and fluffy towels.

Relax in the large bedroom. It has loads of storage and is nicely furnished with ambient lighting as well as a sofa and another television! And a large comfy bed with double aspect views of the city. Impressive by day, the view at night is magical. The twinkling skyscraper sky line is enchanting.

Swim in the hotel's small open air or indoor pool. Or use the fully equipped gym and fitness centre. There is a travel agent's desk and Internet available in the lobby. Also, a small supermarket and two restaurants with room service are available.

Breakfast is included in the price. It is served in the lobby restaurant and is available until 11am. Breakfast is buffet style and offers English, continental or Asian. There is an excellent choice and the very friendly staff will keep you topped up with tea or coffee

For the best price book before you leave home, and save yourself at least 50% of the price quoted if you were to walk in off the street and book. We paid only £90 for two people for a three night stay in a one bedroom executive apartment with complimentary breakfast. (Price correct as of February 2009).

susan elizabeth

Born in Gibraltar, my father was in the air force. My life was then spent constantly on the move. I have lived in many places- the one I loved the most was Tobruk in Libya, North Africa where we spent 3 years. My biggest joy is to travel. Money and time dictate when and where I can go- but I have realised that simple back-packing is not solely for gap-year students, but is a wonderful way for anyone, of any age, to see a lot more of a destination ( sitting for 2 weeks on a beach is not for me- unless perhaps its The Maldives !!! )also its a such a good way of meeting people and making new friends. Fellow travellers are more than happy to chat and share their experiences. Get all your information beforehand, take a good guide book, but be flexible and change your plans at the suggestions of other travellers- its much more exciting and you will often be very happy you did so !