Exploring Bangkok’s (Literal) Urban Jungle
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s a thriving ecosystem inside an urban sprawl.
Located just on the eastern fringes of Bangkok, a self-sustaining jungle is growing at breakneck speed. It may seem a little odd, but in a country where shopping malls shoot up faster than bamboo, planting actual bamboo and encouraging the development of a mini rainforest ecosystem has become the ultimate subversion to an otherwise wholly concrete jungle that is Thailand’s capital city.
Just 3.7 miles from the country’s main international airport, the 5-acre experiment began in 2012, dreamed up by the PTT Reforestation Institute, the state-owned oil and gas company of Thailand, and made a reality by the designers at Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB). Named Metro Forest, the project was meant to be part education on reforestation, part warning to unchecked urban sprawl and part present to the nation’s beloved princess, Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
It was a simple idea. Take over some 4.75 acres of dilapidated urban land and try to bring it back to life. “We weren’t really given a brief, just that we had to build a forest,” explains Tawatchai Kobkaikit, managing director of LAB and lead designer for the Metro Forest. And it was not just meant simply to last, but to thrive. “If you come in 20 or 30 years, this will still be here. In fact, with the growth it will be even more magnificent,” he says.
Entering the grounds, my friends and I are immediately greeted by a couple of roaming hens and a cheery security guard, who shows us the way inside. Almost like drawing back curtains, we step through the outer layer of lowland dipterocarp, and quickly enter a narrow path lined with tall earthen walls. This is the main atrium, cleverly disguised under its green roof garden.
Around it, the project begins in earnest. The flora harkens to a time before the Bangkok we know today: Planted throughout are historical species like the endangered Vatica diospyroides and the Shorea, once native to the area, and an estimated 60,000 seedlings from more than 279 tree species. Botanists and biologists also engineered the backfill clay soil and planted a nutrient-rich soil mix and a stream around the center, which is replenished and balanced by rain and groundwater.
And it’s been pretty successful. Just five years ago when the urban forest first opened, barely any trees on the ground reached 5 meters in height. Three years later, they brush up against the underside of the stilted walkways, which stretch as much as 33 feet above the forest floor. When we visit, the trees are above our heads, and according to LAB estimates, within 25 years the emergent layer will quadruple in height, and the understory, canopy and forest floor will be fully matured and self-sufficient.
In reality, there’s no rush to visit Bangkok’s peculiar Metro Forest experiment because with every passing second, it only gets grander and more impressive, but if you want some respite from the concrete jungle — in a real jungle — there’s no better escape.
Go There: Bangkok’s Metro Forest
- Directions: Near Suvarnabhumi Airport, turn off Highway 9 and head down Sukhapiban 2 Road until you see a forest.
- Cost: Free.
- Pro Tip: Visit at sunset when it’s not too hot and the lighting hits “magic hour.”