There has never been a lack of ambitious civil projects in Bangkok. Often done in an effort to add beauty and/or efficiency to a stagnant area or system, they are usually opened with great fanfare and lots of smiling officials, and then quietly left to die an ignoble death once the hype dies down. Famous examples include Hopewell, bike lanes, taxi-hailing stands, and effective, consistent disabled facilities. There are many more.
Hoping that this won’t end up being the case with Bangkok’s newest public infrastructure offering, I went down to check out the new Chao Phraya Sky Park, a USD 4 million project that has turned an old bridge over the Chao Phraya River into a green(ish) pedestrian walkway. Comparisons to New York’s famed High Line abound, but while solidly built and a convenient route to get across the river, the Sky Park isn’t so much a park, as it is a nice walkway with some plants and trees.
BUT…but…in a city like Bangkok, small quibbles like these are not the point. The point is that it exists at all – and what it will hopefully lead to. Niramon Serisakul, the director of Urban Design and Development Center, which led the project, said that the Sky Park “has outsized importance as a catalyst for urban regeneration, and can change the way people look at public spaces.”
The park – 8 meters wide and 280 meters long – is built on top of the Phra Pok Khlao Bridge, left over from another abandoned infrastructure project in the 80s called the Lavalin Skytrain. Accessible via Chakkraphet Road on the Bangkok side, and from Phya Mai Road on the Thonburi side, the bridge is a wonderful example of how to reclaim some of Bangkok’s abandoned, forgotten, or neglected areas and structures, of which there are many.
It’s a win-win idea that has given cities around the world a valuable international PR boost, while making the city more liveable for its inhabitants. Sure, projects like this are expensive, but the payoff is almost always worth it.
I entered from the Bangkok side, which necessitated some walking around – running across a few busy roads with my 5-year old son – to find the gated entrance, but once there a pathway leads you to some steps and up to the bridge.
There are elevators for wheelchair access on both sides, although when I was there the one on the Thonburi side was turned off. There were guards posted at each entrance though, which would be able to help.
The bridge itself is nicely designed, with the route splitting several times into two pathways, with one side rising up and over the other side, creating a nice sun/rain shade should you need it, with a few places to sit.
At the crest of each of the rising paths, you are provided a very nice view over the Chao Phraya River, at one point looking down on traffic crossing the road portion of the bridge, which feels strangely close.
As for greenery, promo images show the bridge adorned with tall, bushy trees, but the ones there now are still young – hopefully they will grow fast and provide more shaded areas.
The rest of the flora are all labeled (in Thai) and add a nice splash of color, although calling this a ‘park’ is a bit ambitious.
The one obvious drawback is that the bridge is bounded on both sides by bridge traffic, which can be very noisy – especially when some twit on a tuned-out motorbike with no muffler screams by.
But as I said previously, these are small flaws. In the long, stuttering effort to improve Bangkok, this is a great step in reclaiming unused land and turning it into something useful. They don’t always dovetail nicely with the surrounding chaos of the city, but when it comes to sweeping civil projects, Bangkok is a city of baby steps.
Note: On the Bangkok side of the bridge you can easily walk to Pak Khlong Talad flower market, the Old Siam, and Pahurat (Little India). On the Thonburi side, the bridge comes down next to a very nice riverside pathway that passes by the Santa Cruz Church, the historic Kian Un Keng Chinese shrine, and ends at the newly renovated Wat Kanlayanamit.