A Small Town in North West Thailand
I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travelRosalia De Castro
You may just be on the right road to Sangkhlaburi, a pretty little town nestled around a lake and surrounded by high peaks if you feel you are going nowhere slowly. The town is situated north-west of Thailand near the border of Burma. To get there you need to head out on the highway from Kanchanaburi towards the lush mountainous west on what seems to be a never-ending road to nowhere. Travel distance is around 225 kilometres (133 miles).
There is no shortage of natural as well as historical distractions along the way. One such diversion only 30 kilometres or 18 miles outside Kanchanaburi, is a prehistorical neolithic burial site believed to date back as far as 10,000 years.
A little further on towards Sangkhlaburi is a historical park with several remains of a 13th century Khmer city. And still further up from there are the remnants of what was once Hellfire Pass, a mountain access cut from rock by prisoners forced by the Japanese to build the Death Railway during the World War II.
One of Thailand’s popular waterfalls is at Erawan National Park along the route, albeit on a different road. Close by are two limestone caves and another waterfall with large deep pools. Back on the highway again, you can stop over at Hin Dat Hot Springs, where you can take a welcome rest, soak it up in the pleasant mineral rich waters and have something to eat at a food stall. Thereafter, go visit one of the elephant camps along the way.
Sai Yok National Park
Still further towards Sangkhlaburi is Sai Yok National Park, where a distraction of another kind took place during the Russian roulette scenes that were filmed there for the Hollywood movie The Deer Hunter. Nestling under some soaring mountain peaks is Thong Pha Thum. It’s the last village you come across before you head up a steep, winding ascent to Sangkhlaburi where a combination of limestone peaks and the huge lake Vajiralongkorn make for some quite spectacular views.
Approximately half way from this point is Sunnataram Forest Monastery where one of Thailand’s most charismatic and revered monks was once involved in a series of scandals and subsequently had to flee the country in the mid-1990’s. Posters of the disgraced monk still adorn the walls and you are very welcome to purchase some of his sermons and books. The slightly run-down monastery consists wooden buildings that are spread out around the forest.
Sawan Bundarn Cave
Sawan Bundarn Cave is just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Sangkhlaburi and situated near the Three Pagoda Pass. Inside the cave, you will encounter bats so small that many of them are only about the size of a bumblebee. See if you can spot any! Friendly monks maintain the cave and there is no entrance fee here.
Three Pagodas Pass Border
The outlying area of Sangkhlaburi is host to the Karen and Mon hill tribe villages, a few curious caves and waterfalls in the Khao Laem Wildlife Reserve and the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. A further 25 kilometres (15 miles) north towards the Burmese border you’ll find Three Pagodas Pass.
This became the main overland trade route between Thailand and southern Burma. Although the pass was named after three small pagodas, the ones seen at the site are not the original pagodas as they were submerged by the reservoir as the lake has become known.
There is not much to do here other than to buy a few souvenirs at the busy market. The pass is normally open from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm but tourists are not permitted to cross the border. Local Thai’s are the only people allowed to cross over.
Places of Interest
Taking a leisurely stroll across Mon Bridge, named after the Mon tribes people, is an adventure all on its own and well worth the experience. It is also the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. Just be careful walking across the bridge, though, as it is quite rickety in places and you would need to constantly look where you put your foot next. High heels are definitely not recommended.
The village people who built the bridge, maintain any repairs that are needed. They also know just how to navigate their way across with absolute ease. Once you reach the end, you will come across a small Mon village where you can stop for a cool drink and perhaps sample some of the local cuisines. From here you will be able to view some of the floating houses occupied by the locals.
More Places of Interest
Once you have completed the 400-metre epic journey across the bridge to the Mon village and restored some much-needed energy, then a visit to the nearby Wat Wang Wiwekaram will only add to your excitement. The awe-inspiring and unusual complex is the amalgamation of Thai, Burmese and Indian architecture.
To get there you would need to take a left turn parallel to the lake and walk about 2 kilometres along a concrete road. Take your time as you don’t want to be all hot and sweaty when you get there. Air-conditioning is a luxury here. If you like, why not ask one of the locals with a motorcycle to ferry you there.
On the left, you will see a huge golden Chedi and an interesting daily market in front of it selling mainly Burmese handicrafts including simple wooden carvings and textiles including sarongs. On the right, you will see the main temple buildings which house murals depicting the stages of Buddha’s past and present lives.
Luang Phaw Utama nearby is built in the style of the Mahabodhi stupa of Bodhgaya, India and forms part of the same temple complex. It is a towering gold-topped Chedi that commands an extensive and breathtaking view over the surrounding countryside. Inside the temple complex, you will find Thailand’s largest marble image of Buddha.
Now is the perfect opportunity for you to do some jungle trekking or better still, elephant trekking and perhaps a spot of bamboo rafting as well. A motor boat ride on the lake is also an absolute must. Should you be here during the dry season when the water is fairly low, then there is a good chance you will get to see the sunken ruins of an ancient older town half hidden in the murky waters. If diving is your scene you can explore the underwater treasure from a different angle.