Off The Beaten Track in Bangkok: Part Three – The monitor Lizards of Lumphini Park
Regardless of whether you’re a long term resident, frequent visitor, or new arrival to the “City of Angels” (Bangkok) you can avail yourself to any of the number of fine parks, dotted throughout this teeming metropolis, for some relief from the urban sprawl and traffic congestion. Most, who’ve spent any time here, are well aware of the low air quality of this city; particularly during the hotter times of the year when the combination of vehicle emissions and the high humidity can seem overwhelming. Finding a green zone to detox in, from time to time, can make all difference to your stay here. Fortunately the city forefathers were intelligent enough to include some reasonable size parks in their city planning to enable residents, and visitors, to escape the stress of the busy roads and find some chill time – and better air – in amongst the cooler, green expanses.
There are three fine parks located in amongst the central business districts of Silom and Sukhumvit. Benjasiri, the smallest of the three, is situated right next to the Emporium shopping center on Sukhumvit Road. Although having less acreage it’s no less popular and many local residents can be seen doing their calisthenics, walking and jogging in the cool hours of morning or evening. Benjakiti Park is located along Rachadaphisek Road (AKA Asoke Montri) and situated next to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center. A spacious park with a lake as its center piece it is, perhaps, the largest, and most suitable, for those wanting to get serious about running or cycling; a full circumnavigation of the lake on the encompassing track, or boardwalk, is approximately two kilometers. The third (and for me the most interesting) park is Lumphini. Situated in the Silom area the entrance gate (King Rama VI) is easily accessed by public transport; take the underground (MRT) and hop off at the Silom terminal. The above mentioned park entrance is no more than 100 meters walk from the terminal exit point. Having visited the park both morning and afternoon my personal preference is the morning. In the late afternoon, and early evening, it’s a lot more crowded and even though it’s probably the cooler part of the day the place is packed with people running, cycling and exercising. The whole experience in the afternoon seems much noisier; there was even a large speaker, with hi-fi system, blasting out the latest offerings from MTV. The morning experience seems a lot more sedate with smaller numbers of the more senior citizens of Bangkok doing their tai-chi and gentle exercise routines. It’s also the time when the parks four legged residents, the monitor lizards, are out and about. A good friend, and skilled photographer, invited me to join him on a photo shoot at Lumphini. Having not been there before I thought it might be good opportunity to get a guided tour from someone who knew the place well. I was also rather intrigued by his tales of the large reptiles that inhabit the waterways of the park. After catching the MRT from Sukhumvit we arrived at the park, at approximately 9.30 am, and upon entering through the Rama VI gate were immediately treated to quite a primeval spectacle; a large lizard had just caught a bull frog and was about to gulp it down. As far as photo opportunities go, we couldn’t have timed it better.
After about twenty minutes of getting some great shots of the hungry monitor chowing down its frog breakfast we began to work our way further into the park. From the Rama VI entry gate a wide road runs straight through the middle of the wooded, grassy expanse of this most well-known of Bangkok’s recreational areas. Smaller side roads branch off to the outer fringes of the park and there is also a broad moat system which takes up a fair sized chunk of the parks territory. It was around the fringes of the moats that my friend suggested would be the best places to see more monitor activity. Lumphini Park is well established and, with its abundance of old growth trees, provides ample shade for those wishing to exercise in the cooler, early hours of the day. There is also plenty of seating available for those, who may have had a late night, to catch up on a bit of sleep. For the more energetic there is a variety of physical activities going on which, for those that are keen to do so, you are probably welcome to join in with. As we head down a side road, towards one of the moats, I’ve already noticed a number of Tai Chi enthusiasts going about their slow, praying mantis like routines. Some even have the traditional Chinese garb on to proclaim that they’re complete aficionados of what is, apparently, a very beneficial and healthy exercise system. Down the grassed slope, of the moat we’re approaching, we can see a number of the primeval reptiles hanging out at the water’s edge. One is resting up in the crook of a tree overhanging the water. We creep in and begin banging off shots. As we edge closer the one in the tree gets wind of us and begins lowering itself into the water. It hangs there slowly for a few seconds and then plops in. With a lazy side to side motion of its long, narrow tail it moves off into the safety of the middle of the moat.
The central feature of the park is the large moat/lake which is home to the pedal boats available for hire for those wishing to participate in a leisurely cruise about the waterways. With the heat beginning to increase towards the middle of the day I could see there wasn’t much interest in peddle boats; all were sitting idle on the moorings. The lake is quite picturesque and the surrounding stands of tree, and the city skyline beyond, create a nice backdrop to the calm body of water. After a bit of time spent checking out the central lake we push on further along the edge of another moat and spot another group of resting monitors. One has a rather unusual look to it; its tail has been lopped off and he’s got a feisty look to him as he waddles, ungraciously, along the water’s edge. It’s a monitor with attitude and I nick name him “stumpy.” We get some more shots and as we continue on a large lump of a lizard surfaces near the moats’ edge. With its tongue constantly flicking about we can see that it’s sniffing the air for the tell-tale signs of food or danger. Apparently this is how lizards actually detect the scent of any other creatures in their general vicinity. With the sun inching ever closer to the apex of the heavens we’re beginning to feel the heat as it get closer to midday. We’ve both worked up a decent sweat getting the shots we wanted so a respite with a cold bottle of water is called for. There are plenty of vendors, on the park grounds, to provide refreshments to those exercising or wandering about. We find a spot under some wide spreading foliage to sit down and cool off. The stillness of the morning, and the increasing heat, has combined to form quite humid conditions. The perspiration is dripping off us as we chill out on one of the park benches and watch all the activity going on around us. We’ve still got a couple of more monitor spots to check out before we call it quits for the day though.
From the shady vantage point we were occupying I could see all kinds of activity taking place around us. The lunch time street hawkers were getting their barbecue stands fired up in anticipation of the hungry hordes that would soon be filling the park. A water truck passes nearby sending out a horizontal jet of spray into the road hugging foliage. There was still not a breath of wind and, as the humidity increased; more locals were seeking the relief of the shady spots near the moats. It was understandable; the atmosphere was thick. We finished our cold bottles of water and primed our cameras for the last shots for the outing. We were following the road back towards Rama VI gate and branching off into the smaller side roads, and moats, along the way. After crossing a small road bridge we veered down another grassy slope and were pleasantly surprised to find a rather large monitor sunning itself right at the water’s edge. It was an excellent spot for getting some close range shots and, as we inched in, the lizard just lay there oblivious to our presence. I got down flat on the ground and squirmed my way down the gentle slope firing off shots while my mate decided an outflanking maneuver was the best approach for his camera work. Somewhere along the way our antics weren’t unnoticed by other visitors/tourists and it was long before another couple of keen photographers had joined us in the action. After a few more minutes of working the cameras furiously we decided we’d got what we needed and, with our shirts dripping in perspiration, we made a bee line for some shade. Just as we were about to move away from the moat my mate, who’s a photography fanatic, said he was sure he saw the king daddy of the monitor lizards in a shady spot next to a pipe. He was right and just when we thought we’d seen the biggest in the park the “Alpha male” makes an appearance. At approximately six feet from tip to tip this big boy resembled a Komodo dragon. Luckily it wasn’t aggressive like the Komodo monitors.
All in all it was a great morning of photography. If you’re keen to do something a little different in Bangkok then I recommend you check out Lumphini Park and its monitor lizards. Just be sure you go in the morning though as they’re not around in the late afternoon.