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Big, Smoggy Bangkok Gets a Badly Needed Breath of Fresh Air

Big, Smoggy Bangkok Gets a Badly Needed Breath of Fresh Air

For more than half a century, Thailand’s state-owned tobacco monopoly mass-produced cigarettes at a sprawling industrial estate in Bangkok. A steady stream of heavy trucks brought raw tobacco into the heart of the city and hauled millions of cigarettes away.

But now, that cancer-inducing complex has given way to something completely different: green space that has brought a breath of fresh air to Bangkok’s congested, often smoggy center.

The transformation has been a stunning success, creating a 102-acre oasis for city dwellers. The site — an expansion of the existing Benjakitti Park — includes a mile-long elevated walkway, as well as water-purifying wetlands, 8,000 new trees, pickleball and basketball courts, and a dog-walking zone.

The Skywalk, as the walkway is known, has become especially popular with young people. At sunset, as the heat of the day eases, it is often packed with visitors, many posing for selfies.

“Benjakitti Park is at the top of my list for places to take pictures,” said Pongsaton Tatone, a freelance photographer, who was on the Skywalk snapping shots of a group of university graduates cavorting in their gowns. “It is a very popular spot.”

The new section of the park was officially opened in August 2022, to honor the 90th birthday of Queen Sirikit, Thailand’s queen mother. Some attractions are still unfinished, including a museum.

It is unusual for a big city to add significant tracts of new parkland, especially in densely populated Southeast Asia. The $20 million addition is nearly twice the size of the original park, which features a lake and popular jogging path.

Bangkok, which has 11 million residents, needs more places like it. A 2022 report found that the city was falling short of the World Health Organization’s minimum standard of nine square meters (about 97 square feet) of green space per person in urban areas.

Like Central Park in New York, Benjakitti is surrounded by skyscrapers. It is just a few blocks from Sukhumvit Road, one of the city’s most congested thoroughfares. Vehicle exhaust fills the air along Sukhumvit as pedestrians make their way down busy sidewalks, past office towers, hotels, vertical malls, street vendors and the occasional beggar.

Mateusz Tatara, a software product designer from Poland, said he had been surprised to stumble onto a forest park in the middle of a city better known for its magnificent temples, street food, lively entertainment scene and, now, marijuana shops.

“Even now we…

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