George of the Jungle and the Bangkok Tree House
There’s a kitschy movie playing in the lobby of Lub-d Silom Hostel, George of the Jungle. The antics of the apes and toucan are making me laugh, but also reminding me that a week ago I was happily perched in my own private jungle tree house. Unlike George, I wasn’t in the deepest, darkest heart of Africa; I was on the little-known island of Phra Pradaeng in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand. Across the Chao Phraya River loomed skyscrapers and industrial facilities, but the view from my “nest” – the delightful name for the elevated glass cubicles that serve as rooms at Bangkok Tree House – was of dense mangrove forest where turtles sunned on the banks of canals. Bangkok may have been right across the river, but the hustle and bustle of the city felt a world away.
Bangkok Tree House is the inspiration of Joey Tulyanond, Owner & CGO (Chief Greening Officer) of the unique six-month old guest house. His quest began in 2006 when he read Best Urban Oasis, an article in Time Magazine authored by Andrew Marshall, who thrust a little-known jungle oasis located smack dab in the middle of Bangkok into the limelight. Remarkably, few residents of Bangkok were even aware of the existence of this pristine bit of land. Located in a giant loop of the Chao Phraya River, the only way to visit the island is to make a roundabout drive to one inconveniently located bridge or take a no-frills ferry that makes the crossing every 20 minutes. The inconvenient access had one giant benefit; the land never caught the eye of developers. Today it is criss-crossed by miles of elevated paths that run along mangrove-studded canals shaded by banana trees, where turtles bask in the sun and lizards scurry softly through the underbrush.
Intrigued, Tulyanond began biking around the island that locals called the “green lung of Bangkok.” Realizing it was an undiscovered gem, he approached his family with the idea of building a small hotel on the island and they quickly gave their approval. “It took me two years of biking to find the land, another two years to get the community on board, and two more years to build.” The long lead time was crucial, since Tulyanond was determined to develop the property in a manner that would have the least environmental impact. Sustainable bamboo has been used extensively throughout the property, all outdoor and restaurant lights are powered by wind and solar energy and only the most energy-efficient electrical appliances were installed. Discarded juice cartons insulate the walls, recycled plastic drums were used to build the pier and the elevated walkways were built with reclaimed wood.
Because the land is mangrove forest that floods twice per day with the tides of the Chao Phraya River, all the facilities of the hotel are elevated on pilings, making for some unique architectural features, to say the least. My bathroom, located on the first floor of my two-story “nest,” had a glass floor that looked down on land that was sometimes mud, sometimes gently lapping water. The showers, also on the lower floor, are three-sided wooden cubicles that are open to the environment on the fourth side, though a heavy bamboo curtain can be rolled down for those who don’t care to bare it all to the world. It took a little getting used to, but I found the quirkiness part of the charm of the property. Perhaps the most unique feature of Bangkok Tree House is its “View with a Room,” a 23-foot high open-air bamboo platform with a huge fluffy bed where guests can sleep under the stars – definitely not an option for sleepwalkers or those who suffer from vertigo.
Tulyanond didn’t stop with environmentally friendly construction techniques. “Everything we use is made locally. The lemongrass extract we use for insecticide, our biodegradale soaps and shampoos are all produced in Thailand,” he explains. Tulyanond has also sought ways to partner with residents of the island. All the coconuts used by the hotel’s organic restaurant are purchased at retail price from a neighbor who sells them at the island’s weekend floating market. Another neighbor sells pineapples at the market, but because they are trucked in rather than grown on the island, buying her fruit was not an option. Instead, he began experimenting and discovered that one part pineapple peelings, one part sugar, and one part water, mixed together and left to ferment for a week, makes an excellent detergent. All the hotel and guest laundry is now washed in this solution and the neighbor has a welcome new revenue source.
The Chao Phrya is not the cleanest river in the world and daily tides carry in assorted flotsam and jetsam each day, but even this has been turned into an advantage by the Bangkok Tree House with their vow to remove 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of trash from the river for every booking; as of March 1st they had removed 237 kg (521 pounds). Some of that trash was even recycled into decor. One exterior wall at the hotel is covered in weathered driftwood that washed up on the shore and my room, dubbed the “beehive” nest, featured a giant honeycomb over the bed crafted from bamboo and repurposed driftwood.
Lest guests be concerned that boredom will set in, the island hosts a floating market every weekend and the local Joss factory, Botanical Gardens, Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery, and 200-year old Wat provide plenty to do. Just pedaling around the island on a complimentary bicycle provided by the hotel can occupy a couple of days. But if the goal is utter relaxation, guests need not set foot off the property. The hotel’s alfresco Reflect Restaurant offers mostly organic fare, prepared with herbs grown on site, and a huge gourmet breakfast is included in the price of the room. After dinner, guests can enjoy a movie on a big screen TV on the roof deck or retire to their rooms, where computers provides access to a library of popular movies.
Frankly, the only thing that disrupted this enclave of serenity during my stay was the occasional roar of hopped-up long tail boats plying the river just beyond the restaurant deck but I dismissed it as part of the local flavor of the place. Indeed, the hotel’s website warns that the Tree House is not for everyone and goes on to disclose the following:
- We won’t, don’t, can’t fumigate the area to get rid of insects and other local species. As we are in tropical country, we do have mosquitoes but the gentle river breeze helps makes insects less of a problem.
- We do not have air-conditioners in our public space but instead rely on the natural river breeze. All our nests do have small but efficient air-conditioners so you can sleep in comfort while having minimal impact on the environment.
- We do not have roads for cars leading to the Bangkok Tree House, the only way to access our secluded location is by foot, bike or boat.
Bangkok Tree House may not be for everyone, but it certainly was for me. The only thing I didn’t like about it was leaving.
The hotel is currently offering special soft opening prices that begin at $119 per night, as well as a “Stay for 3 consecutive nights and only pay for 2 nights” promotion, valid for stays until October 31, 2012. Regular Season rates begin at $152 per night.
Getting to Bangkok Tree House:
Bangkok Tree House is only accessible by boat and by foot. Take the Silom line of the BTS (Sky Train) to Bang Na station and then catch a taxi for the last couple of kilometers to Sanpawut Pier. At the river, turn left into the Monastery; the ferry dock is just a few steps inside the gate on the right-hand side. The ferry runs every 20 minutes and costs 4 Baht, the equivalent of about 12 cents (pay when you arrive on the island). Disembark and immediately turn left onto the path that leads along the shoreline. Follow the elevated wooden walkways to the hotel, which is about 10 minutes away. If you prefer, you can call the hotel (082-995-1150) from the Sanpawut Pier and they will send an employee across to guide you and assist with luggage. The ferry runs until around 9 p.m., so if you plan to arrive later the hotel will meet you at the pier and arrange for a private long tail boat to deliver you directly to their small bamboo dock.
Disclosure: Bangkok Tree House kindly hosted the author’s stay, however the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items/services received will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.