(Click here to read about the boat trip to Sakhla)
Sakhla Village (ban sakhla), in Phra Samut Chedi District of Samut Prakan, dates back to the late Sukhothai period. Its original name was “Ban Sao Kla” which refers to the women of the area that bravely fought off the Burmese invaders. The local people were originally rice farmers but switched to salt farming about 40 years ago. The name if this sub-district is Na Klua which means “salt farms”. However, after the drop in price for salt, the local people decided to change to shrimp farming and general fishing. The sweetened stretched shrimp (kung yiat) from this area is a popular dessert. Other popular products from Sakhla include dried shrimp and shrimp paste. If you study a satellite image of this area you will notice that there is only one road into this isolated town. It is surrounded by shrimp farms and the only means of transportation is by boat.
The main vocal point of any visit to Ban Sakhla is the temple. The few tourists that come this way head towards the temple first to make merit. One unusual feature here is a leaning prang, a kind of local version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is pretty nondescript and probably would have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the fact that it is leaning. It is about 130 years old. Land subsidence has caused it to lean over the years. There is now a cement base which I presume has been put there to stop it toppling over. But, it is only a matter of time. The temple itself has also suffered from floods over the years. About five years ago they decided to raise the main chapel to several meters above ground level. During construction work for this they discovered some old Buddha images under the temple floor.
It is worth taking your time to explore the temple complex as there is plenty to see. Despite the threats from flooding, they have built shrines under the main chapel. These include some of the Buddha images that they found and also the sacred boundary stones from the old temple. Since my last visit, they have also now created wax models of famous monks which local people can pay respect to. Actually, these are not really made of wax as they would melt in the heat. They use fibre glass to make them and they are very realistic. I met two local kids here who asked me a dozen questions once they realized that I could speak Thai. They gave me a brief tour.
The temple also has an interesting museum containing many old artefacts found locally as well as many tools used for agriculture and aquaculture. Entrance is free and it is worth looking around though you won’t find any explanations in English. Next door there is a traditional Thai style wooden building on stilts. Inside there is another shrine. After walking around the temple I decided to explore down a path behind the main buildings. I didn’t know where it went but thought it was worth taking a look. There is a small community here. I followed the path for a while until it finally disappeared after about a kilometer at a shrimp farm. In fact most farming around here is shrimp farming and there are many large ponds.
Back at the temple, I crossed a bridge over the canal and went into the town to find something to eat. It is a fair sized community but it is the kind of place where everyone knows each other and out-of-towners stand out. Of course, being a white-faced foreigner my presence did cause a little stir. Though I didn’t understand at first why most people knew who I was already. I could hear them talking about me as I walked by. I then realized that the two boys had gone on ahead and warned the townspeople that there was a farang coming. I kept walking along the narrow pathway until I found a foodshop with something to eat.
It is really a good idea to find time to explore the narrow lanes of the town on both sides of the canal. They do stretch out far though you will find that some lanes have a dead end when it reaches a branch of the canal. There doesn’t seem to be too many bridges. If you are shy about all the attention you will get then maybe this isn’t the place for you. Everything you will do will be observed and notes will be taken for future gossip. However, the local people are very kind and it is easy to break the ice with them by giving a smile. Obviously it would also be good if you can buy food and drinks from the shops here so that you help the local economy.
I spent about an hour or so in the town. I have been here a number of times before so if you go for the first time then you might want to spend longer. Once I was finished I then had to work out how to get back home. But, it didn’t turn out to be too difficult. I just walked out of the town a short distance where there was a large blue songtaew waiting. This then took me to Phra Samut Chedi where I caught a ferryboat back to Paknam. The return trip was slightly cheaper at 8 baht for the songtaew and 3.5 baht for the ferry boat. However, there wasn’t much in it as far as the time it took for the journey. Although it would have been nice to have gone back by boat, it is good sometimes to have variety.
I have posted some more pictures as well as a map and more detailed travel information over at the Samut Prakan Forums. If you do take this trip then please let us know know how you got on. This blog was also posted at www.paknam.com which is our weekly online magazine for Samut Prakan. Even if you don’t live in Samut Prakan you should find this website interesting for a slice of life in a typical Thai province.