Ko Kred: a car-free island in Bangkok

by Travelling Chick

Beyond the thronging streets of Bangkok lies an island where cars are forbidden and the skyline is no higher than a palm tree. Ko Kred is the perfect remedy when the bustling city becomes too much

A Bangkok must-see is the tiny island of Ko Kred where you can blissfully soak up its tranquillity and escape from the jostling Thai capital.

While the dominating metropolis offers a labyrinth of markets, malls and bars on its congested streets, I discovered Ko Kred quietly revels in its lack of chaos. It's the perfect remedy when the pulsating vibe of the city becomes too much.

If, like me, you’ve been held hostage in a Bangkok traffic jam, Ko Kred will seem like a saviour. Cars are completely banned on the island and the main track is only a few metres wide and 5.2 km long. It rings the entire man-made island, passing orchards, river houses and pottery shops.

And, to top it off, there’s not a skyscraper in sight - traditional wooden houses and palm trees are as obnoxious as the view gets. All this within a stone's throw of Bangkok.

Originally built to cut away the deep bend in the country’s longest river, the Chao Phraya, Ko Kred is home to some of Thailand’s Mon community who originated from neighbouring Myanmar. Their traditional pottery is still produced on the island and I came across everything from a gargantuan garden vase to a dangling dog key chain.

In some workshops, which are often an addition to someone’s house, I found men thrusting wet clay into hungry kilns. When they realised I was watching, their cheeky grins flashed my way before they carried on nonchalantly.

As I moseyed about, I found entire families molding chunks of red clay into a form of art. I became transfixed during this metamorphosis and was even allowed to attempt it myself. The result? Let’s just say I wasn’t offered a potter's contract with my piece of handiwork that resembled a dead twig.

Leaving the workshop, I carefully stepped over the dog excretion (one of two annoyances on the island, the other being the dogs) and ambled past banana plantations, coconuts and durian trees growing in the blood red soil.

My curiosity of the vicious-looking durian had been quashed months earlier when I ignored everyone's advice not to try it. Once cut open the pungent stench is enough to evacuate a building. Indeed, many hotels have 'durian forbidden' signs dotted around the premises. And I can safely say it is one of the vilest tastes known to humans (even outranking Brussels sprouts).

Beyond the orchards, scattered between the lilting palm trees, are several temples dating back nearly 300 years. The contrast of saffron robes flitting between the lush green vegetation is a far cry from the concrete surroundings of many Bangkok temples.

It's not only monks that are attracted to Ko Kred's peaceful ambiance. Butterflies are in abundance, especially in the well maintained butterfly garden which boasts a kaleidoscope of colours. You can peer out at the vibrant flowers from one of the salas while taking a break from the sun.

I was used to walking and sweating in Bangkok’s oppressive heat, but you can opt for a motorbike ride round the island. An alternative option is a bicycle tour around Ko Kred with Absolute Explorer (www.absoluteexplorer.com), a company providing small tours through the countryside surrounding Bangkok.

What to eat

After my sun-soaked walk, I recharged at the one of island’s numerous restaurants, Kaen Chan Restaurant, (from the pier in front of Poramai Yikawat temple turn left, it's only few minutes walk away) and tucked into a bowl of kanom chin (rice noodles in curry – lip smackingly good) followed by the traditional Mon dish of khao chae (jasmine scented rice in ice water). I was told most eateries and shops aren’t open during weekdays, but that visitors are a rarity then.

The food on Ko Kred is cheap, all at local prices, costing about 30-60 baht per dish. Most of the restaurants and food stalls are located near the pier where the ferries land from Pak Kred. Further away from the pier, the less commercial and immersed into the island's community it becomes.

How to get there

Avoiding traffic entirely, I took the Chao Phraya River Express Boat to Nonthaburi pier. I whizzed past kids somersaulting into the water and watched the sky-grappling buildings morph into wooden houses. There are express boat stops at Banglampoo for the backpacker Mecca of Khao San Road or at Saphan Thaksin for the Silom-end of the city (also connected by the Skytrain). Then get a connecting boat from Nonthaburi to Ko Kred for about 100 baht.

Alternatively you can get a taxi to Pak Kred in Nonthaburi province. Then walk 15 minutes past the town’s department store to Wat Sanam Nua where the ferry goes to Ko Kred for two baht.

What to avoid

Stray dogs - the majority are too lazy to move but one did give chase. I did as the locals do: bent down while glaring at the beast and pretended to pick up a stone and throw it while shouting, “Ork bai!” (go away). It worked. Option two: scream!

The best time to visit

Weekdays are the quietest but not many shops and restaurants are open. Weekends cater to boats of tourists going up to Auythaya - it's best to go early in the morning or arrive about 2pm, that way you should avoid the bulk of people and the shops and restaurants will be open.

March to May is the hottest time in Thailand so if you're visiting Ko Kred during these months take an umbrella to keep the raging sun off you.

Where to stay

Budget: Sawasdee Khrungthep Inn
Based in the thronging backpacker stronghold of Banglampoo, Sawasdee Khrungthep Inn is a great place to meet other travellers in the downstairs chillout area and it's away from the ear-splitting Khao San Road. (Room from 450 baht / night and you can get up to 40 per cent discount if you book online.)

Mid-range: Four Seasons Bangkok
The Four Seasons Bangkok enjoys a peaceful ambiance with a courtyard, atrium and water features. It also boasts a high standard of service and tasty food. The hotel is in a great location opposite the Sky Train and near the main shopping area of Silom. (Room from 5,550 baht / night - third night free.)