On The Right Track: the Bangkok Tree House April 30th, 2012
On The Right Track: the Bangkok Tree House
April 30th, 2012
The first resort to open on the city’s wild green lung is a trailblazing beacon of green living
When I meet Jirayu Tulyanond, the thirty something creator of an ambitious new riverside resort called the Bangkok Tree House, we don’t wai or shake hands. We can’t, as they’re full with all the bits of Styrofoam, plastic bags and other pieces of trash he’s fished out of the water on his walk up the floating bamboo pontoon that guests arrive on. “It’s amazing what washes over from the city,” he tells me a little later, once we’ve finally made our formal introductions. “We already have a salvaged wood wall, but I’m thinking of adding a wall of sandals, and maybe even bicycle helmets.”
Plucking flotsam from between the reeds is not something Joey, as his guests call him, just does on a whim – it’s an integral part of his hotel’s deep-rooted philosophy. The recently completed, twelve ‘Nest’ property sits just across from the smoking refinery chimneys of the city’s Bang Na area, perched above the marshy banks of a kidney-bean shaped landmass that some call the Phra Padaeng peninsula, others call Bang Krachao or Bangkok’s Green Lung.
And to match the improbably lush location – almost 2,000 hectares of wild open space surrounded by the Chao Phraya on three sides – he has come up with a Green Alphabet: an ambitious A to Z of environmental principles. A is for air-quality control, B for bamboo structure, C for carbon-free cooking, and so on.
“Why put the bar so high for yourself?”, I ask him. Over a cup of coffee at the hotel’s funky organic restaurant Reflect, Joey tells me that he was originally inspired by Walden, American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s account of simple, self-sufficient living amid nature, published back in 1854. That and his first-hand experiences. “My family owns another property, the Old Bangkok Inn, and we realised how much impact such hotels have on the environment. So when I had the chance to build a second property, I wanted to go all out and really push the limits of being green.”
Just as quixotic as his green manifesto is a headline on the hotel’s website that reads: ‘The Tree House is not for everybody.’ Click on it and instead of the usual boastful clichés telling you why you’ll love the place and beseeching you to ‘BOOK NOW!’ you arrive at a list of reasons why you might not. These range from the insects (“won’t, don’t, can’t fumigate”) to the chemical free swimming pool (“you might have to share it with plants”), to the lack of roads and air-conditioners. It’s a brave move, but a refreshing one. Is he not afraid it may put people off? “Being upfront may hurt us in the short run,” he admits before adding, “but we think it’ll pay off.”
Joey’s refusal to give the hard sell seems naive, reckless even… until you get here and realise that Phra Phadaeng’s charms speak for themselves. For decades now this untamed wild zone has been one of Bangkok’s best kept secrets, and it remains so, despite steady blips of effusive coverage in the local and international press. On weekends, small groups of outdoorsy, in-the-know Thais, tourists and expats hop on a cross-river ferry or long-tail, hire bicycles and set off down the mazy network of raised cement paths that weave through it.
During my time here, I grab one of the hotel’s free bikes and quaint maps plotting the main points of interest and follow their lead, peddle deep into the unknown. I cut past banana and palm groves, fragrant tropical foliage, boggy forests of towering mangrove palms, and clusters of low-rise habitation where mangy dogs scramble nervously out of my path, and the earthy locals go about their business, but still find time to stop and give me a wave or shy smile.
Before long, I’m very far from home (or what feels like it). But the sights I encounter offer no incentive for me to turn back: a dilapidated old temple lined with fading mural art; exotic birds; strange hanging fruits and vivid blossoms; the local incense factory. At one point during my four hour foray, I squeeze past hundreds of hungry locals at a packed weekend market, at others I emerge onto a busy road. But for most of it there is not another soul in sight, just me and the chirruping cicadas.
After this mini-adventure, I retreat to my ‘Tree Top Nest’, exhausted but happy, and am seduced all over again. With their clean modern lines and boxy shapes, these tropical, three-level abodes look not a million miles from something Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag would craft for some slick minimalist beach resort. Only these are more open to the elements and have green touches, such as bamboo trellises that, Joey tells me, will soon be graced with edible climbing herbs.
I’m also struck by the lack of a fridge (to save energy guests share a communal one) and the presence of only one airconditioner, in my cozy mid-level bedroom, reached via a funky (but mildly perilous) zigzagging wooden staircase. Beneath it there’s a living area and an open-sided shower, and above it a roof deck blessed with panoramic views and a daybed that will surely go down well with sunworshippers. Even the compact PC that doubles up as my in-room entertainment is green – loaded with eco-themed documentaries and films.
Alternatively, for the hardcore nature buffs who think enjoying a Planet Earth marathon with the air-con blasting isn’t really in keeping with the spirit of things, there is Joey’s pride and joy: the ‘View with a Room’. Just before I leave I climb to the top of this seven metre high ‘swans nest’, where guests can slumber under the sky with only the palm trees and passing storks for company. Here, as I stare across the river to the big smoke, it strikes me that Joey is right: the Bangkok Tree House is not for everyone… and all the better for it. Some of the locals think the project is an expensive folly (“they say I’m burning money”). Up here, though, it appears visionary.
Reflect With its open-sides and decking over the river bank, the Tree House’s funky, bamboo accented restaurant appears to be in perfect harmony with its surroundings – and truly is. All cooking is done using wind and solar energy, all ingredients are sourced locally or grown on-site (pot plants made from recycled water bottles line the walkways), and all the washing up is done using organic detergent (used pineapple peels that are bought off a neighbour and then fermented). Breakfast options include the ‘Bangnamphung Surprise’: a bowl of rice porridge and tray of assorted local fruits and khao tom mut (sweet sticky rice treats wrapped in banana leaves). Dinner is a three-course set, and Sunday brunch available.
Baan Nam Phung Floating Market There are handicrafts for sale at this weekend-only market beside a khlong (canal), but most locals pack its covered aisles with one aim only: to buy local delicacies, from fresh, steaming bowls of noodle soup cooked from within long-tail boats to obscure nam priks (curry pastes), kanom boran (old-style snacks) and 10 baht claws of local bananas. There is also a tree-shaded kid’s area with bouncy castle and painting, plus a karaoke garden.
Wat Bangnampheung Nork Only a few hundred metres from the Tree House, located beside the pier that ferries locals to and f ro the city, this temple complex has a couple of 200-year-oldtemples at its rear. The neglected murals inside one of them, including a rather risque one of a Mon tribe lady having a bath, are highly regarded in classic Thai art circles, noted in textbooks and attracting students with sketchpads.
Herbal Joss Stick Home A short cycle from the resort sits this house, where the friendly owners usher you in to show you how they make incense, candles and torches using a mixture of wood, lemongrass, kaffir lime and water. Even if you don’t have an insect problem (they work as natural mosquito repellant as well as fragrant room fresheners), the polite thing to do is buy a couple of packets.
Srinakon Kheunkan Park A smart place to take a well earned rest, this big public park has wide open lawns, botanical gardens and a huge pond where you can feed the schools of unruly catfish. It’s open everyday, 6am-7pm.
Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery Turn right out of the park, then right again and you’ll spot the large gates of this lush complex devoted to pla kat, tiddly finned fish with ferocious temperaments. Betting on fights is banned, but here you can peer into little tanks each containing a different colourful breed, plus read placards outlining their different characteristics and personality traits. It only open on Saturdays and Sundays, 10am-5pm.
Take the Skytrain’s Sukhumvit line to Bang Na station. From there catch a taxi to Sanpawaut pier (‘Tha Sanpawat’). Call the hotel and they’ll send a boat to pick you up. Alternatively, take the peppermint green ferry to the pier opposite for B4. On exiting the pier turn left, passing the temple on your right, then walk for 300 metres along the winding concrete path.
BANGKOK TREE HOUSE
60 Moo 1, Soi Bou Phueng Pattana, Petch Cha Hueng Rd, T Bang Namphueng Phra Padaeng, Samut Prakarn 10130 | BTS Bang Na | 08-1453-1100 | www.bangkoktreehouse.com | Soft opening rates (until April 30): Tree Top Nest B3,444; View with a Room B4,943
รร.บางกอก ทรี เฮาส์ ซ.บัวผึ้ง พัฒนา จ.สมุทรปราการ
By Max Crosbie-Jones