Daily Archives: August 8, 2007

A Thai Temple in the Sea

Wat Khun Samut During a Storm

As each year passes it becomes increasingly more difficult to find new and interesting tourist attractions not far from Bangkok. I have been on some really good day trips for thai-blogs.com that included renting a boat to go dolphin watching, riding a train that literally passes through a market, and the Reclining Buddha image where you can go inside to see the heart. I didn’t think that there would be much more of interest which hadn’t been discovered already. Then I saw a television programme about Wat Khun Samut on the Gulf of Thailand. I first heard about this Thai temple surrounded by the sea in a newspaper article in the Bangkok Post about four years ago. I wanted to go there back then, but there are no roads in that area and the only mode of transport is by boat. It seemed incredibly difficult. So, I just put the name of this temple up on my whiteboard with the other destinations I wanted to visit. Seeing the temple on television last month and then also newspaper reports about land erosion statistics released by the World Bank, prompted me into renewed efforts in finding out how to reach this small community on the coast.

Through some research, I discovered that there was a public boat to Ban Khun Samut Chin leaving the pier at the Paknam Market at about 9.15 a.m. every day. Apparently there is only one boat going and one returning at 3 p.m. I had been warned to take my own food and drinks and to be careful not to miss the only boat to return. There are no hotels or restaurants there so I would have to be self-sufficient. My first two attempts of catching this boat failed miserably. On each occasion the boat left earlier then the scheduled time. On the second time I was there extra early at 8.40 a.m. but had just missed it. Talking to some of the locals there, they suggested that I should catch the passenger ferry to the other side and try and rent a boat from there. They said it would be a lot cheaper than renting one from Paknam Pier. So, that is what I decided to do the following weekend. Though, instead of catching the ferry across the river, I decided it would be easier if we drove over as then we could drive around looking for a place to rent a boat.

The temple is on the spit of land at the bottom of the picture

Looking on the Google Earth satellite pictures of this area, I could see that Wat Khun Samut was directly south of Ban Sakhla which I had visited the other year. The road to this town, in the middle of no-where, had only been paved a couple of years ago. We decided we would take the car there in order to find a boat. But, we only got half-way down this road when we suddenly spotted a sign advertising boats for rent. As there are no roads south of here, local people can only get around by renting a boat. Unless of course, they have their own boat. We were informed that the cost would be 110 baht one way for the boat. This wasn’t bad considering that there were four of us and that the public boat from Paknam Pier would have cost us 40 baht each. We were soon off heading south down a canal lined with short stumpy nipa palms. Here and there we passed isolated houses with their own private jettys. There were also a number of long-tailed boats ferrying people back and forth to various destinations. But overall, not much sign of any kind of activity.

A fisherman on the canal

During our journey they were several sharp turns both left and right. After about ten minutes we reached a small jetty where our boatman told us that we would have to disembark. He said that we would have to continue the remainder of the way on foot. He gave us his mobile phone number and said that we should ring him when we were ready to return. We then scrambled up onto the bank to see our first view of the surrounding countryside. What I had seen earlier on Google Earth made me think that this whole area was covered by neatly laid out rice fields. But, in fact, they were all shrimp “fields”! Basically, long narrow manmade ponds with embankments in-between each of them. There must have been at least a thousand shrimp farms as far as they eye could see in all directions. Greenpeace had conveniently blamed Global Warming for the land erosion along this coastline. I am not an expert in these matters, but I would say that the erosion is probably more to do with the local farmers cutting down the mangrove forests and then inviting the sea to come and fill up their fields!

Locals in ban Khun Samut Chin

After walking for about ten minutes we reached the first house of Ban Khun Samut Chin. This belonged to Khun Samron Kengsamut, who is the head of this community. She wasn’t in at the time but her son kindly opened up the museum for us so that we could see some of the broken crockery and other artifacts that had been discovered in this area. He also showed us some pictures and maps and told us that over the last 20 years or so the sea had encroached on the land by about one kilometer. As we were about to leave, he asked whether he could take our picture. As this was a little strange, because we weren’t celebrities, I asked him exactly how many tourists came this way. He replied that they get at least two or three a week! I guess taking pictures of every visitor will only discontinue once the idea of tourists coming here is no longer a novelty.

Walking down the track, we next passed a building painted in a bright red colour. This houses a Chinese Shrine called Noom Noi Loi Chai which the local fishermen worship. Apparently, this had already been moved once due to land erosion. Walking further we passed a number of wooden shacks. Some of them looked deserted. There were of course no 7-Eleven’s but there were also no shops of any kind. We felt like that we were intruding on this community and we wanted to give something back by buying something. Even if just a bottle of water. But, there just wasn’t anything. Of course, I can see this changing as soon as this location gets into the guidebooks. If I come back here in a year or two, I can just imagine that this dirt track will be paved and every other house will be restaurants and souvenir shops. Much like Koh Kret in northern Bangkok has become today.

A Boardwalk through the Mangroves

We walked along the outskirts of several shrimp fields and then walked on a rickety wooden walkway through a mangrove forest. After about twenty minutes of walking we finally emerged at the edge of the Gulf of Thailand. Straight ahead of us was a new concrete raised walkway with the temple in the distance surrounded by trees. To our right I could see where the locals had planted saplings as part of their reforestation plan. Evidence of the land erosion could be clearly seen by looking out into the Gulf of Thailand. A line of electricity pylons stood testament that there was once a thriving community under these waters. A bit further I spotted the remains of a concrete water tank that used to belong to the local school. I am also told that out there somewhere are the remains of the local clinic.

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Visit ThailandPhotoMap.com for details of this exact location.