A natural oasis in a hectic, noisy, polluted city
The taxi dropped the four of us off at a ramshackle dock on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. There was a foul odor in the air. It was difficult to determine if the smell came from one of the backed up sewer drains or from the nearby mound of trash that a pack of stray dogs had made their home. Regardless it was not the welcoming scent of incense or familiar aroma of fried street food that I expected.
On the river’s bend, several hundred meters away, stands a power plant that feeds the northern half of Bangkok. Grey exhaust puffed from its smoke stacks. Looking at my twisted expression, my wife knew that I had reservations about our reservations. Before I could complain that this did not seem to be the eco-friendly hotel that she promised, Christina smiled and pointed across the river. On the opposite bank stood the Bangkok Tree House and Organic Restaurant, our accommodation for the following few days. Unreachable by car, it is situated on the water’s edge half hidden among the coconut palms and papaya groves in an area of Bangkok known as Bang Krachao.
With my mind only slightly more at ease, the kids, Christina, and I boarded a ferry along with a dozen motorbikes and enough other people to capsize the vessel. As I watched our luggage getting loaded onto a narrow motor boat moored nearby, I wondered to myself if we’d see our bags again. Although I trusted the good intentions of our, uh, bellhop, I had a lot less confidence that his tired looking boat would make it across the river.
ARRIVAL: Minutes later the ferry dropped us off at the a dock on the other side of the river. The bustle and dust of the noisy city faded into the background. Even the grime of the ferry’s diesel exhaust seemed to free itself quickly from our clothes. The stench that greeted us on the eastern bank was replaced by the sweet smell of fruit and flowers.
Much of the surrounding area is a marsh. In order to get from the dock to the Tree House we walked three hundred meters along one of the elevated walkways that wind through much of Bang Krachao. After a few minutes we arrive at our destination where Joey, the owner, greets us with refreshing drinks. Our son and daughter are excited to be shown the unlimited ice cream cooler.
GREEN: As Joey and the staff showed us to our room, I asked about the environmental features of the Tree House. Joey said that they strive to reduce their carbon footprint in many ways. Much of the building material is highly renewable, sturdy bamboo.” They use discarded material where possible. For example, the pier was made with reclaimed wood and used plastic drums. Lights in the public space, our host tells me, are powered only by wind and solar.
NESTS: Upon entering our room, it is quickly apparent that the concern for Mother Earth extends to the lodgings. The guest rooms, referred to as “nests” are elegant in their simplicity and supplied locally with natural linens and organic soaps. Our son was fascinated by the glass floor on the bathroom that gave an unexpected view of the marsh below. The beds are clean and comfortable and there is even an option to sleep on the roof (at the time of our visit, unfortunately, the roof sleeping sections were not yet finished).
TASTES: After a short rest and getting familiar with our nest, we wandered over to the restaurant for lunch. Continuing the environmentally friendly nature the Tree House, the food is organic and seasonal. Lunch is prepared using solar cookers. A choice between three prix fixe menus minimizes food waste. Although carbon and waste is minimized, taste is not. Meals that we had were bursting with local flavor and color.
LOCATION: Commonly called the “green lung of Bangkok,” Bang Krachao’s abundant fauna and wildlife is a welcome contrast to the gritty, choking, concrete city that most people know. The sounds of song birds and cicadas mute the roar of the city. As we discovered during a morning walk, you are more likely to come across a monitor lizard than a exhaust spewing tuk-tuk. The Bang Namphueng Floating Market is a short walk or bike ride from the Tree House. There we found great food stands and activities for the kids. Izzie liked painting local flowers. Ian had fun on the hand pushed carnival rides.
Visitors to Bangkok will likely want to visit some of the attractions that the city is better known for. A journey from the Tree House door to central Bangkok via BTS Skytrain takes about an hour.
The heart of Bangkok is an exciting, whimsical place full of monumental sights and savory smells. The familiar bustle, majestic temples and well known nightlife is often what visitors to Thailand’s capital are seeking. The Bangkok Tree House, in the lung of the city, however, gives visitors a chance to breathe.
The Bangkok Tree House is not for everyone. If you’re squeamish about a few bugs or open air showers, then you might want to think twice. I, for one, am very much looking forward to staying there again.
CultureShox Destination Rating (a seven star system)
Sleep = 5 stars: Cozy, comfortable and unique. Lack of a sitting area in the room and awkward stairs detracted from this characteristic.
Eats = 6 stars: fresh, organic, tasty. We couldn’t wait to see what the cooks would prepare for us.
Sustain = 6 stars: It is clear that the Bangkok Tree House’s environmental practices stand far and above most other hotels. Their policy of hiring locals and sourcing locally gives them bonus points here. Although farther along the road to sustainability than similar establishments, the Tree House is not yet 100% carbon neutral.
Children = 4 stars: Our children were treated exceptionally well by the staff and management. Furthermore, we found sufficient activities and adventures in the area to hold their attention. Other families with young children, however, may find getting to and from the hotel more trying than they wish to handle. A conservative use of railings along the elevated paths, decks and in the guest rooms meant that we had to keep a protective eye on our kids.
Environs = 5 stars: The amount of time that it takes to get into the city detracts from the Bangkok Tree House’s location. However, Bang Krachao is a fantastic escape full of unusual adventure and local color or for those who seek a more rest than restlessness.