We take a quick break from our regular programming of Asian skincare products galore to take a stroll in the park.
Lately, my heart has been aching, remembering the three months I spent living in Thailand more than a year ago. Typical American, right? I know, I know; it can be difficult to dissociate your perceptions as a visitor from what you’d think a local might experience, but I like to think did my best as a half-visitor, half-resident—and I had the time of my life, with some clichés, some extraordinary moments, and everything in between. My jogging route is one of those everyday extraordinary experiences.
Living about 30-45 minutes from Bangkok, in Nakhom Pathon, is a huge relief from the hustle and bustle of that sometimes insane city. The arterial roads can get pretty busy in Nakhom Pathon, too, though. Phutthamonthon, or Buddhamonthon Park is one of those little slices of peace.
Did I say little? I meant huge compared to your average friendly neighborhood park. This park is 400 hectares, or 2,500 rai in traditional Thai units (about 1.54 square miles). To give you fellow Americans a better sense of that size, it’s just .2 square miles bigger than Central Park in New York. And a fun fact! The park was inaugurated on Visakha Buddha Day on May 13, 1957, which is the year 2,500 in the Thai Buddhist Era. See that little parallel there? Visakha Buddha Day commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha in Theravada Buddhism. (Wikipedia) I only wish I was living here in May; it occurs yearly, a day when both Thai and international visitors flood Phutthamonthon to celebrate. The Thai Office of National Buddhism is also located at this very park.
The word “Buddhamonthon” can be roughly translated to “Buddha nation.” “Monthon” is a translation of the concept of mandala, the Sanskrit word meaning circle. A mandala, or monthon, historically referred to Southeast Asian areas of political entities like kingdoms, which tended to diffuse like a “circle” from the ruler’s central post. Anyway, it’s a very interesting concept that this slice of land is intended to represent the national religion of the entire country of Thailand. Something upon which to muse.
As much history and cultural meaning there is behind this park, regardless of what you know, anyone who visits can feel the incredible sense of both splendor and quietude, oddly. The place is overall quite manicured, but it’s easy to find a resting spot that’s a bit rougher around the edges while still remaining naturally beautiful.
I’ve probably only explored only 3/4ths of the whole thing. Many areas of this park do not seem to be as well-maintained as others, so I as a scaredy-cat hesitated to venture into those overgrown paths. It makes sense from an economical viewpoint not to constantly maintain this huge park, as the neighborhood’s residents have plenty of space to enjoy even without the entire park being constantly perfectly manicured. The whole park does get a lot of manicurin’ love typically around Visakha Buddha Day, to make it look nice for all of those visitors.
On a regular day, many families come here with their kids to play or have a little picnic. Some locals hold exercise groups, such as for tai chi. I was always content to simply jog, though.
There’s usually not much wind, and like most of the country, it’s very humid. It’s often overcast, but somehow the sun still vaguely shines through the clouds. Sometimes I’d get caught in a veritable thunderstorm. Maybe there’s a little yoga group stretching across my path around the reflecting pool, or a family playing badminton on their weekend off. Maybe I suddenly have to stand still when the Thai national anthem plays at 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Every day is a bit different in this same place, and I love it.
It’s a few blocks away from my dorm. If I jog at around dusk, on my way home, I stop by the many restaurants and markets to pick up something for dinner. If you’ve ever in the area, look for the Burmese soup guy’s stand (hey, don’t look at me…we never knew his name) in front of the 7-Eleven, a couple of blocks before Image Mall. It was basically my comfort food while living there. There’s also an occasional roti guy on a bike who parks nearby. Yum! This is the kind of roti I’m talking about, in case you’ve never seen it.
I could go on and on about this wonderful slice of Thailand where I lived, or I could be struck silent trying to figure out what part of it I could tell you about. If you’re ever in central Thailand, I encourage you to visit mindfully. Learn as much about the history and culture as you can, then take a deep breath and soak it all in.
Do you have a favorite little (or big) spot in a place you’ve visited? Or a nook you love a little closer to home? ☺