I suppose I didn’t really choose the best of weekends to go to Sangkhlaburi. Most of the time it is half deserted. You won’t have any trouble finding a room for a few days. But, we went on a long weekend so we found the place fully booked. At least we drove up there on Friday afternoon as most people from Bangkok didn’t arrive until Saturday. We spent the first night at the Burmese Inn but had to check out the following day. As I had already planned two days on this beautiful lake I got up early the next day to try and find another hotel. We must have checked at least half a dozen hotels the night before but with no luck. However, the first hotel I checked in the morning had one room left. This was at the Songkalia River Hut & Resort by the concrete bridge. We got a nice air-conditioned room for 800 baht. The picture above shows you the nice location it has. However, our room was around the back.
One of the main reasons I like staying at guesthouses instead of hotels is that it is easier to chat with fellow travellers. Also, in the dining room area, there is usually a lot of information available about what there is to see in the area. That is what was good about the Burmese Inn. When I eventually get around to building my own guesthouse, I will make certain that it has the best information center in the country. Anyway, I digress. In Sangkhlaburi it looked like you could book yourself on day long tours which include bamboo rafting and elephant rides. I guess much the same I had done the other year in Kanchanaburi but probably with better scenery. They could also arrange longer trips which include hiking and overnight stays at Karen villages.
What we decided we would do was the boat trip on the lake. A poster said that a one and a half hour trip would cost 400 baht per boat for 1–3 people. More people would cost 500 baht per boat. They advertised you would see the wooden bridge (I had already walked on this for free), a Mon Village (I would walk through this later), the submerged Wat Sam Prasop temple (a bit too far to swim) and some beautiful cliffs. I had actually already been down to the bridge early in the morning to check things out. As soon as I stepped on the bridge I was approached by someone who wanted to rent a boat for 300 baht. The trip would last 30 minutes they said. I decided we would pay a bit more and go for the longer trip. A mistake on two counts.
Our boat arrived at the Burmese Inn to pick us up. A Thai couple joined us which now made the boat trip only 100 baht each. Much better value for money. However, the boat was flat bottomed and had no seats! It didn’t look very sturdy. You should have seen the look on the face of the Thai girl. She was scared it would capsize. Then you should have seen my face. I was carrying a lot of expensive camera equipment and didn’t fancy going for a swim. However, once we got in we were pleasantly surprised how sturdy it felt. We sat down cross-legged on our mats and our boatman took us out onto the lake. He first took us under the wooden bridge and then out to the newer concrete bridge which is for the local vehicular traffic. Here we got a fine view of our next hotel. Our boatmen then took us back and out into the middle of the lake.
This massive lake was created in the 1980’s after a damn was built across a nearby river. The old Sangkhlaburi town used to be in this valley and the inhabitants, who were mainly Mon refugees, had to move to higher ground. As most of their houses were made of wood, they were able to salvage much of the material in order to build new houses. However, only the roofing of the Wat Sam Prasop temple was saved. This has now become a kind of eery tourist attraction. We spotted the spire of the bell tower first and then a bit further was what was left of the main chapel. The top was only a few metres above the water. Our boatman took us right up to the wall of the temple and we could stand up and look inside. On the walls, we could see dozens of small Buddha images carved into niches. According to Carl Parkes in his Thailand Handbook, the water level goes down so much in the dry season that you can actually walk around and inside the temple. We went there at the end of December when the dry season had only just started. I guess you would have to go in April to see more of the temple.
Although we had some really beautiful scenery, I was starting to get a sore bottom. While we were looking at the temple, another tour boat came up and I could see that they had comfortable seats! Not only that, they circled around the temple a few times and then headed back. We had nearly an hour to go! Who said it was best to get value for money?! I remember making the same mistake a few years back by booking the tour that gave you a longer ride on the elephant as it trekked through the jungle. Believe me, ten minutes on the back of an elephant is more than enough. But, like I said, the beautiful surroundings did its best to make up for the uncomfortable journey. We passed a number of floating fishermen houses. These were basically a small hut on a platform that also had a giant net attached to a swinging contraption. This was lowered into the water and then a short while later, in theory, it is lifted back up with lots of fish inside! Our boatmen also took us along some cliffs which were also stunning in their beauty but he kept pausing for us to take a closer look. Finally he turned around and we headed back to our hotel.
Yes, it had been a good boat trip, but I made a mental note that if I brought anyone here in the future I would choose a boat by the bridge and I would make sure that the trip was less than an hour! We were pretty sore when we reached out hotel and our legs were shaky as we wobbled out of the boat. In the next part of this series, I will tell you about the tourist attractions we visited which included not only the famous bridge but also what looked like a pregnant Buddha! Anyway, until next time….