Cheap and healthy: A walk in the park and more

Despite a non-stop fitness evolution, be it T25, flying yoga, aqua cycling and so forth, Lumpini Park is still among the favourite choices for workout enthusiasts looking for cost-effective modes to sweat it out.

The third largest public park in Bangkok — after Suan Luang Rama IX Park and Vachirabenjatas Park (or Suan Rot Fai) — the picture of 92-year-old Lumpini Park today has significantly changed from that seen many years ago, thanks to an urban exercise craze, especially running and cycling.

While it has remained relatively consistent in appearance, Lumpini Park has certainly witnessed one significant change: the number of fitness and health conscious visitors to the park. To some, a walk in the park is a less costly alternative to gym membership. Many people believe a walk or a jog in the park is not all that different from using fitness machines at a gym.

Suthasinee Srisa-ard, head of security at Lumpini, says the increase in visitors to the park has been relatively noticeable. The number of people visiting has increased by approximately 25% from last year.

"Last year, on weekdays, the park used to get about 3-4,000. Now, 5,000 people visit daily," said Suthasinee. The weekends are even busier. The weekend visitors to Lumpini range from 8,000 to 10,000. Most come for jogging or walking, while others come to bike."

At times, the walking lanes in the park are crowded with people. More people means less space for walking or jogging, commented 64-year-old Wilai Tapaneeyangkul, a Lumpini Park regular who has exercised here for over 50 years.

"The number of people is obviously more dense. And I know this may sound absurd but the park needs more space for paths," she said.

However, she also sees a bright side to this.

"I've definitely noticed that there are more young people in the park. Before, you would associate this place with seniors and elders. Now, youths are also regulars here," added Wilai.

One of the perks of Lumpini Park is that it provides parking space for visitors. However, it's always competition when it comes to finding a spot. Perhaps three or four years ago, one could easily expect to find a spot during peak hours. But today is a different story. Parking lots are constantly full, regardless of the day or time.

According to Suthasinee, the ideal times for parking are any time before 6am and 6pm.

"In the afternoon, you're more likely to find space because most people are at work. But since the park opens at 4.30am, you may as well park at that time," she quipped. In addition to walking and biking, those visiting Lumpini Park also make use of the park's several fitness facilities.

These facilities serve as a budget-friendly alternative to fitness centres. Chief among these gyms is the Lumpini Youth Centre. First opened in 2011, membership is only 40 baht per year. Also offered is access to activities like football, basketball and swimming. Maintaining 15,000 members annually, the centre hopes to increase membership by 10% this year.

Outdoor gyms are also becoming more prominent in the park. Highlighted by DIY weight training equipment, Mr Yai's Gym has played host to those looking to make gains for the past 36 years. Chaiwat Deemongkol, the manager, is a former bodybuilder who also uses his own facilities.

"More people have become interested in exercising. You have the people who want to keep fit by walking or jogging and then you have those who want to get muscular. They can accomplish that here in my gym," said Chaiwat, adding that about five or six years ago, the outdoor gym would get about 50 users a day. In the past three years, however, that number has risen to 100. Even foreigners are visiting his gym.

Whether it's a T-shirt or a tank top, a teenager or a pensioner, the people who set foot in Lumpini Park all have one common objective in mind — to get some exercise. Lumpini and commercial gyms are not all that different in terms of enabling the health conscious to achieve their goals. And perhaps the only difference between the two is that Lumpini will certainly save people more money.

Moreover, the park is open to people of all ages and backgrounds. As Lumpini sees increased visitors, a lot more people are beginning to appreciate what the park has to offer.

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