Sky Lane at Suvarnabhumi Airport

There are a lot of times when infrastructure in Bangkok leaves me underwhelmed. But sometimes, the planets align and we have a piece of infrastructure that impresses. Such is the case with the recently-reopened “Sky Lane” bicycle track around Suvarnabhumi Airport.


The 23.5-km (14.6-mile) track opened originally in late 2014 or early 2015 and was so well-received that they closed it for five months to upgrade it, with the corporate sponsorship of Siam Commercial Bank. The track reopened in November and is been a big success. Some highlights of the project:

  • The track is double-width, striped with a passing lane and distance markers every quarter-kilometer, and paved to international standards
  • More than 600 light poles allow for after-hours riding. Currently the track opens at 6:00 am and last entry is 7:00 pm; I understand you can ride until 10:00 pm
  • Four sets of clean, large men’s and women’s restrooms are located in each quadrant of the track
  • Entry is controlled by snap bands with RFID chips, which can be obtained for free by registering with a photo identification
  • There is a 1500-space parking lot with security guards, lighting, closed-circuit cameras and plenty of room to safely on- and off-load bicycles and change gear
  • There is also a shorter 1.6-km training track near the parking lot, allowing families and those who need a shorter route to ride; this track has a parallel jogging track
  • I have made three trips there so far, all in the morning. Arriving at 6:30 this morning, the parking lot was busy and hundreds of riders were already on the track. Despite this, the facility did not feel crowded.

One thing you discover is that out in the open fields on the outskirts of Bangkok, there is a stiff breeze! Along one side of the track, it was easy to average a speed of 30 km/hour. On the other side, heading into the wind, it was tough to stay much above 20 km/hour!


As the track surrounds the airport, I enjoy the opportunity to watch the planes. There are a few good vantage points, although you are set back from the action, not right up against it. There are a few early morning arrivals and departures of larger jets and I suppose a true enthusiast could time his or her riding with the schedules of the most interesting airlines.

There appears so be some construction near the entry of the Sky Lane, presumably for some shops and hopefully restaurants. I’ve read on the website that bike repair facilities will be coming, too. Bicycle rentals would be an obvious addition, I hope.

All in all, this is a world-class facility that gives the every-growing cycling community a safe space to ride. If you have the opportunity and are so inclined, I would encourage you to check it out.


Floating Bicycle Infrastructure

The extent to which a population cycles depends on what infrastructure is available to them. Striped bike lanes? That will encourage some people to venture out on bicycles. Dedicated lanes that are physically separate from traffic? That move makes bicycling even more appealing, especially to new cyclists. The Netherlands takes the proverbial cake for bicycle friendly infrastructure, though, especially with the recent opening of a dedicated bicycle roundabout that “floats” above a busy vehicular intersection.


The roundabout is located in Eindhoven, a suburban setting that would look familiar in many parts of the United States. Large streets carrying lots of fast moving vehicles meet at a traffic circle (okay, not so typical in the US!), something that could be tricky for cyclists to safely navigate.


The original design of the roundabout already had bicycle paths that were physically separate from the road, although cyclists still had to cross the roads at traffic signals. This design vastly improves on standard practice in most countries, but for the Dutch, it was not safe enough.


The new bicycle and pedestrian roundabout is suspended from cables as it floats above the motorized vehicles below. It creates a safe path as well as an aesthetically pleasing gateway announcing your entry into the community. Interestingly, you’ll notice that the roundabout for the motorized vehicles has been removed in favor of a typical right-angle intersection.

It seems to me that these type of infrastructure investments are very beneficial to society. They encourage more people to travel under their own power and increase transportation safety at the same time. This reduces traffic congestion and energy consumption, both worthy results. Plus, the roundabout’s design is elegant.


Bicycle Riding in Phra Pradaeng

Since our guests are adventurous, outdoorsy sorts, I arranged for a half-day bicycle tour of the “Bangkok Jungle” through Spiceroads.  Located just across the river from the Khlong Toei district (which includes the part of Sukhumvit Road that I live in), this jungle is just that – an isolated and undeveloped section of the larger metropolitan area.  Joining us were a pair of expats, one American and the other British, who I know.

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The reason that Phra Pradaeng, the green patch nearly encircled by the Chao Phraya River, has avoided development is that it is actually part of Samut Prakan province instead of Bangkok.  Zoning laws were enacted to limit development in this section of the province.  The area is often referred to as the “lungs of Bangkok” and includes a large public park.

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Our starting point for the tour was a restaurant near the Thong Lo BTS Skytrain station.  We rode through a little bit of city traffic, although mostly on back sois (alleys), and then through the slum area of Khlong Toei down near the port.  Finally, we boarded a long-tail boat and left the city behind.

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On the other side of the river, any sign of the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital quickly melted away as we rode along small roads and elevated concrete paths through banana, coconut, and lychee plantations.  Except for the occasional view of a skyscraper peeking over the horizon, you could easily forget where you were.

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We had time for several breaks, seeing some of the local sites (which are limited), feeding the fish in the park, and trying a Thai snack of sticky rice and starchy bananas steamed in banana leaf.

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Back at the pier as we waited for our boat, some local children swam in the edge of the river, showing off for us by performing ever more daring stunts.  Here, a double flip into murky waters.

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Back near our starting point, I peeked in the front gate of a complex that is usually closed.  I don’t know what it is, but it looks almost like a shinto temple.  Very beautiful.

Cycling to Recycle

Throughout the year the Thailand Cycling Club conducts many different charity events.  They collect and repair old bicycles, donating them to underprivileged children.  They raise money for various causes.  And they help recycle pull tabs from aluminum cans into artificial limbs and crutches for those without arms and legs.

After getting my bike rack fixed and taking my bicycle in for a much-needed service, I was ready to accept my friend Poom’s invitation to join TCC on this annual trek to bring the hundreds of thousands of pull tabs they’ve collected up to BCM – Bangkok Can Manufacturing – the largest maker of aluminum cans in the kingdom and one of the main drivers of the “pull tabs to limbs” charity.


The meeting point was Suan Rot Fai (Railway Park), built on the old executive golf course for the State Railways of Thailand.  There were about 150 riders.  In addition to each of us carrying a pink back pack full of tabs, many riders were carting additional tabs using any means necessary, including this cart fashioned from PVC pipe.

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Me with my sporty pink back pack.  Notice that I’ve decided, despite the political unrest pitting the Yellow Shirts (royalists) against the Red Shirts (republicans), to go ahead and wear my yellow jersey this morning.  Hope I don’t get beaten up!

We set off from the park just after the national anthem was played at 8 am, as it is in public places all over the country.


The route north took us past the old airport, Don Meuang, along a wide road that had light traffic and, unfortunately, not much shade.  On the 30-km route in the morning, the weather was still relatively cool and a little breezy, so the lack of shade wasn’t much of a problem.  Above, we make a stop at a petrol station to use the facilities.


Poom figures we should wait at the “point assembly”.


When we arrived at BCM’s factory (which is located across the street from one of the country’s largest indigenous beverage companies, Green Spot), the staff had chests of ice cold beverages for us including plenty of water.


Above, our haul of pull tabs being piled up in the BCM parking lot. 


A display in their lobby shows the products made from the recycled tabs and, presumably, cans.  I’m a little confused.  I’ve long believed that the tabs are made from a different metal than the cans themselves.  A little research on debunks this myth, explaining that the tabs are also aluminum and that the extra work to remove the tabs and handle them separately is wasted effort.

Nonetheless, the charity is being organized by the can manufacturing company, so I would think they must know what they are talking about when it comes to cans.  I will continue to set aside my pull tabs while recycling the rest of the can as normal.


Instead the conference room with the air con at full blast, we watched a video presentation about BCM and then had some dignitaries speak.  An official presentation of the pull tabs was made by some representatives of the TCC.  Then it was time for entertainment.  After the group sang an a capella version of the royal anthem (that’s HM the King on the portrait they’re holding), a young man who is the recipient of two artificial legs made through this recycling program spoke to us.  He expressed how much having these artificial limbs had improved his quality of life.  Then he put on his guitar and, strapping a pick on his handless left arm, led us through a popular song about having courage.  Snippet in the video below.

Afterwards, the group posed for pictures.


At this point we were all set to roll out for lunch at nearby restaurants along the Rangsit Canal.  Unfortunately, we discovered that Poom’s rear tire had a flat.  So while the rest of the group road ahead, Poom and I stayed to repair the flat with the help of two other riders.  While he was carrying a patch kit, we were fortunate that there are more expert riders who carry larger pumps and better equipment.

After lunch we started our route back.  Riding through the town of Rangsit, two khatoey on the back of a motor bike called out to me, “Farang lor jang leuy!” as they sped by.


Because it is rainy season and we’ve received a lot of precipitation, some of our route along the canal was flooded.  It took us a little longer to head home than it did to ride to the plant in the first place.  To top it off, I had to take a few breaks on the way back to cool down as the sun was really beating down by that point.


Nonetheless, it was a wonderful ride and a very worthwhile cause.  Lots of fun!


Car Free Day 2009

P1190487 We are a city that tries very hard.  This is especially true when it comes to being green.  We want badly to be green. 

We have added bicycle lanes… that parked cars block with impunity and that run down the middle of vendor- and pedestrian-filled footpaths. 

We stress the importance of public transportation, while dickering over the replacement of noxious, smoke-belching busses and the ever-delayed extensions of rail lines.

And we participate in Car Free Day.

While the rest of the world celebrates Car Free Day on September 22, which this year fell on a Tuesday, we found that a bit inconvenient and so instead celebrated it on the previous Sunday.

While the rest of the world emphasizes getting out of the car on onto your bikes, Car Free Day was just an excuse for those of us who already are cycling, to get together for what wasn’t much more than a publicity stunt.

While mayors and politicians in major cities around the world actually get out of their cars and bike to work or take public transit, our politicians were chaffered to the Car Free Day events.  Only a few people from the Ministry of Energy actually made the effort.


While this may sound a little bitter, I assure you I’m not.  The (pre-)Car Free Day event brought together about 5,000 cyclists from around the city.  We met at Kasetsart University (originally is was going to be Sanam Luang, the large royal parade ground, but that had been under seige by the “red shirt” anti-government protesters the day before and we thought better of going there) for a group photo on the football pitch, organized into a map of Thailand.  This was dutifully reprinted in some of the local papers the following day, having absolutely no effect on the number of cars on the road on the 22nd.

This publicity stunt was reasonably well organized, but still required more than an hour of standing around in the hot sun.  I didn’t have the patience, since I actually wanted to ride.  So I snapped this picture after about twenty minutes.  It is meant to be the north third of Thailand.  Chiang Rai is kind of up near the goal posts.


Everyone was in a jovial mood.  Many people who ride for fun have wonderful, unique bicycles.  There are several that are doctored in various ways, customized to express the personalities and playfulness of their owners.  We even had a few Victorian bicycles.  Can you imagine riding this in Bangkok traffic?


On my way home, I explored a stretch of road I did not previously know about, heading along Thanon Prasert-Manukitch through the Lat Prao district to Thanon Ram-Intra.  I think I once drove out here but have never cycled in this area.

Two blocks from home, while riding along a street that was mid-way through repaving, my rear tire popped and I started to lose air.  Thankfully, I made it back home before the tube was completely flat.  This served as the necessary prompting to finally take my bicycle in for maintenance.  I’ve had it more than three years without any work done to it.

More about that later…


Critical Mass Resumes

About six (or was it nine?) months ago I was participating in the monthly Critical Mass bicycle rides here in Krungthep, held the final Friday night of each month.  Based on their counterparts in San Francisco and dozens of other cities worldwide, CM is about creating a space where bicyclists can safely ride the roads, demonstrating the significance of our numbers to the drivers of motorized vehicles, and calling attention to the importance of including bicycles in the overall scheme of transportation.

As rainy season arrived, attendance at CM diminished, particularly after one Friday night where the two or three dozen of us ended up riding down Sathorn Road in a heavy rain.  We were soaked by that point and seeking shelter was pointless, so we kept riding until we reached the river.

Perusing the Thai-language web board at Thailand Cycling Club’s website, I discovered that CM was once again happening.  In addition to the Friday night downtown ride there is now a weekend daytime ride on the second Saturday of the month, held up at Railroad Park near Chatuchak Weekend Market.  A Thai friend, Poom, confirmed that CM was drawing a good number of people, so Stuart and I decided to join.


After setting out from home at 5:30 and stopping by the ProBike store next to Lumpini Park to buy some new headlights (so much brighter than the old ones!), we arrived at the new Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, located right across from MBK and Siam Discovery Centre malls on what has to be one of the most valuable properties in the city.

About sixty cyclists joined and we set off in a reasonably cool and breezy evening, riding up Phahonyotin Road then turning eastbound onto Lad Prao Road.  After about 15 km the group stopped at a night market to eat.  By this point we were pretty far north of home so Stuart and I decided to continue without the group and return to our neighborhood before eating.

Sure enough, after a 40 km circuit which retraced a good part of the previous Sunday’s homeward-bound path, we had worked up a hearty appetite, which was satiated at Great American Rib Company on Sukhumvit 36.  Nothing like some mango margaritas and pulled pork shoulder to add back on those calories that were burned off on the ride!

Ride finds combines and, eventually, Hell

Sorry for the delay in writing.  My computer’s hard drive, which I swear I’ve been cleaning up and organizing all along, nonetheless reached 95% capacity and until I offloaded some of the contents onto DVDs and external drives, I was unable to edit the video I wanted to attach to this entry.  I finally had some time to do that and am ready to write this post.  For some reason, I just can’t allow myself to post too out of order so various events from this week will trickle out over the next few days.

Ride Area Overview Last Sunday morning, Stuart, Markus and I went riding in Minburi.  There was a 70km ride scheduled with the Thai Cycling Club in an area south of the city, but those rides move really slow and make lots of stops.  Not wanting to be beholden to a hundred other people, we opted to set out on our own.

This was Stuart’s second ride with me and his first as a proud owner of a new bicycle.  The previous day he had rented a bicycle from Spiceroads, a company that does very good bicycle tours.  He was so dissatisfied with the quality of the rental bike that when he met me at the bicycle shop for a little browsing he had, unbeknownst to me, already decided to buy.  And I thought I’d have to cajole him a little!

The ride site was, as usual, the rice paddies and surrounding countryside in Minburi and Nong Chuk, northeast of the city although still within the Khrungthep province, pictured right.  It took about an hour to get there, since we were looking for a well-placed wat (temple) at which we could park.

We did find a quiet country wat and pulled in and took the bikes off the rack.  I asked a dek wat – literally a “temple child” or assistant to the monks, who in this case is a man in his fifties – whether it would be okay to park there for a few hours.  He said it would and when I asked whether he had ever had any farang bicycle riders come through the wat, he surprised me by saying that it happens a few times a month.  He also kindly suggested I move my car to a spot that would be in the shade when I returned and asked me to make sure the doors were locked.

We set out along the northern of the two roads that border khlong San Saeb, the same canal that the canal taxi boats run along inside the city.  From there we headed down some small soi that led through vaguely residential areas.  These roads are familiar territory as I’ve been down them several times before.  We worked our way to “the invisible lake”, below, a rather sizeable body of water that doesn’t appear on either my road atlas of the greater Khrungthep area or on Google Maps, although the satellite view does show it.


The lake is on private property, which is probably why it doesn’t appear on the maps, but there is no fence so Markus suggested that we try to ride around it.  I’m always a little hesitant to leave public roads and venture onto private property.  While Thais in general aren’t the shotgun-toting type, I’m a big believer in property rights and respecting them. 

We headed out and found the path pretty rough and, about a quarter way around (a little past the promontory you see in the picture) the paths became impassable and because of some reverse irrigation, very muddy.  Actually, the gears and brakes of my bike were clogged with mud and straw making it necessary to do some dirty cleaning.

P1050921 Along the way, we encountered some cows.  Taking care to not spook them, as getting gored by a cow is not my idea of fun, I stopped to take a few pictures of a trio of calves who were resting nearby, left.

They were really cute.  When Tawn saw this picture he announced that he wanted to adopt them.

We continued, leaving the lake and more developed areas behind for the open rice fields of Nong Chuk.  Before you know it, the trees and scattered houses (many no more than shacks) gave way to a view of endless green meeting the big sky a long and hazy way off.


In the midst of this we stopped to investigate a park that is under construction, below.  Being built by the local Buddhists in a largely Muslim corner of the province, it will eventually become a wat but for the time being will be a park honoring a revered monk.  Much of the compound is being built in a basin that looks like it might have been intended as an irrigation lake.  Speaking with the construction foreman, I discovered he was proficient at English so I asked a few questions, answered a few questions, and enjoyed the ice water his wife offered us.


Below, architectural detail of the statue that is being constructed in the picture above.  While I originally assumed it would be an image of Buddha, as is the white one in the saffron colored robe, it turns out it will depict a revered monk.



P1050929 In front of the statue was a platform that had been set up with offerings, above.  It seems that there had been a ceremony the previous day (or maybe earlier that morning) to dedicate the whole affair. 

The flower arrangements were amazing, depicting many traditional forms and mythical creatures.  The main one, pictured right, has a bull on top (a nod to Brahmanism) with the creatures depicting the Chinese zodiac around the base. 

This was the centerpiece of the offerings, a white cloth suspended overhead on a network of white strings that connected all the offerings to the new statue. 

These strings are used in Buddhism, during various ceremonies, to literally connect participants to a venerated object like an image of the Buddha, in essence combining their collective prayers.  Sort of a Buddhist prayer daisy-chain.

In the picture below, the image of Buddha is shown in a traditional seated posture with a multi-headed naga, or mythological deity in serpent form, forming a protective hood over him. 

P1050932 As the story goes, the naga Muscalinda protected Siddhartha Gautama as he meditated under the bodhi tree.  After forty-nine days the heavens clouded over and it rained for seven days.  Muscalinda sheltered Gautama from the elements as he attained enlightenment, becoming the supreme Buddha (or “Awakened One”) of our age.  How’s that for a little Buddhist history you may not have known?

In any case, the detail of this arrangement is incredible.  The heads of the naga are made of rolled leaves, the mouths lined with small purple flowers and the teeth made of jasmine.  Only the tongues are not natural, made using red ribbon.

I’m fascinated at how there are so many elements of Buddhist mythology that trace back to Hinduism.  No surprise of course, as Buddhism was born in a Hindu society and Gautama’s family would surely have been Hindu.  But the liberal borrowing of creatures and stories is interesting.

We continued our ride and stopped for a bowl of noodles at a small nondescript restaurant at the intersection of two equally nondescript roads.  Despite the unremarkable restaurant, the bowl of pork noodles was really tasty and at twenty baht would almost be worth a ride all the way back out there!

Heading north, I wondered about Wat Peuchamongkol, a temple I’ve been to on two previous rides with Spiceroads.  It is a temple that has an amusement park-like depiction of heaven and hell.  While I had the name written down, like the lake this temple didn’t appear on any maps.

Rather serendipitously we ran into it about fifteen minutes later, a stroke of luck and nothing more.  I watched the bikes while Markus and Stuart went to hell and then, on my recommendation, heaven.  Afterwards, we stopped at the vendors in the car park – this is something of a tourist attraction – and had cold drinks.  Stuart fed the fish in the khlong to earn some merit.

P1050940 This being summer break, the temple had plenty of naen – novices – running around.  It is common for young men in Thailand to spend a period of time in the monkhood before their early twenties.  This is done in order to earn merit for your parents, enabling them to be reborn in a better position – defined as being closer to enlightenment – in their next lives. 

Traditionally, this is done during the rainy season when the monks would return from their wanderings to gather at the temples so as to avoid treading on newly-planted rice in the fields.  In modern times, it is common to do it during school break, sort of a religious summer camp.

There were ten or so novices, four of whom are pictured right, playing around by the vendors, considering which treats they’d like to buy.  While their heads and eyebrows were shaved and they’re undoubtedly receiving some religious instruction, they were behaving every bit like young boys: loud, rowdy, and aggressive.  One of them had a small metal object in his hands and when I asked him what it was, he responded with the Thai word borrowed from English, la-zuh

Sure enough, it was a small laser pointer.  The boys all laughed as he projected a red spot on a fellow novice’s forehead, another interesting if unintentional allusion to the Hindu roots of Buddhism.

Riding in the countryside provides an unlimited number of opportunities to appreciate the blessings of my life.  One was this couple paddling by the temple in their canoe, their stomachs distended, a possible symptom of hepatitis B.


It was a little past noon and the sun was hot and high.  Even trying to drink a lot of water and reapply the sunscreen, it was getting uncomfortable, so we headed back towards the car which was still ten kilometers away.  Along the way, even though according to the map we were still inside the province (although near the edge) we passed this “Welcome to Bangkok” sign, below.  There’s quite a bit of growth on the sign that looks like moss.  The sign does face north…


P3300069 On the final stretch, we noticed a large amount of smoke rising from the fields to the east of us.  We turned down into a small housing development – a single soi with shoulder-to-shoulder one bedroom single story houses – until we found the fire trucks.  One of the locals explained that there was a grass fire behind the houses and the firemen were trying to fight it from there.  One of the trucks left and we passed them later as they tried to find another path to the fire.

As we spoke with the residents, a small crowd of children gathered.  The boys are always more outgoing than the girls, so when Markus pulled out his camera they ran up to pose for a picture, above.  I made multiple copies of the photo today and will mail the copies to them, in care of the neighbor in the picture who gave me his address.

This is always the best part of exploring outside of Khrungthep.  There are so many friendly people who are excited and curious about strangers: Where are you from?  How long have you been here?  How do you like Thailand?

I’ve never met a people who are more genuinely flattered that people choose to visit their country.  The jaded natives of Khrungthep and tourist towns aside, Thais are generally very proud that their country is such a popular destination.  I wish Americans were a bit more welcoming of visitors.  The xenophobic streak that seems to be on the rise in the U.S. will only be detrimental to the country’s future.

Lest this descend into politics, let me conclude with a video of the rice harvesting we saw.  This is the end of the primary rice growing season in Thailand and we saw a lot of combines while we were riding.  Here’s a short bit about that: