Sangklaburi – Journey through the flooded lands

Day 7

I woke up to the sound of hammering rain. As I’d seen the main highlights of Kanbanchuri already, I saw no point wandering in the wet, I can always return in the dry season.  Mark had told me further west was a cool place, Sangklaburi, right by the Burmese border – so I decided to use the bad weather to travel there.

A wall of jungle

After a deluxe motorcycle taxi ride (this kind had a sidecar frame bench with a polythene cover!), I arrived at Kancanchuri bus station. Then I hopped on a local mini bus. I was given the front seat, privelidges of a broken shoulder/lots of luggage I guess. The rest was filled with Thai people. It only cost 4 quid for around 4 hours up into the hills. A proper monsoon began as we drove, sheets of rain pouring over the windscreen. The roads were in great condition until we got quite high up and then erosion started to show and the driver had to swerve around potholes.

As we got higher the terrain became impressive dense jungle. The hills and cliffs were completely covered.  We passed through a number of army checkpoints where they checked the whole bus and looked at passports. They’re there to stop Burmese immigrants and smuggling, only one guard was interested in the farang with the broken shoulder.

We started to skirt a huge reserviour. This was made in the 80’s and they flooded whole valleys. What’s cool is you can still see the tops of dead trees poking out.  Floating villages are visible from the road. I wondered why they floated – a few days later I learned that in the dry season the water levels drop dramtically so that way they stay level. The views were pretty awesome with cloud covered mountains in the distance. The weather started to clear and the sun came out at last.

The reservoir (this was actually taken on the way back when the weather was better!)

As we reached our destination we drove past some big golden buddahs built above Sangklaburi, and some golden temples glimmering in the distance, poking out of the  jungle. The descent to the town was so steep they have a run off in case of brake failure. On arrival I lugged my stuff towards the guest house area – the only taxis here are motorbikes. I can’t carry my big bag on my back so I can’t use them. The main town is quite small and nothing to look at, just a few blocks of markets and shops. A fat weathered-looking American in a café called out “Welcome to the neighbourhood!”. A long road leads to the river and the guest houses. It hadn’t looked far on the map but it turned out to be about a gruelling half an hour in the searing heat with all my luggage. After my original choice had a building site, I ended up going all the way back up the road to a nice hillside resort which slopes steeply down to the river, called the Burmese Inn.

I went for a super cheap fan room, and you get what you pay for, a rickety row of budget rooms on stilts with wooden walls and exposed to outdoors through many gaps. A lizard the size of a computer keyboard lept away as I entered the toilet! After some lunch in their charming wooden restaurant overlooking the river, I headed out to explore in late afternoon.

The bay, you can see the main footbridge top right.

These houses are only accessible by boat

From the guest house road down the hill is the river and bay leading out into the reservoir. Across the river is a wooden footbridge, leading to a much bigger one which crosses the bay. The side walkways were rotting but the center was ok and seeing the locals happily using the brigdes I knew it would be alright. The views were great and you first notice the floating houses in the bay, connected by floating bamboo walkways to the land. Some of them were half-sunk so I assumed they weren’t used until I saw a girl striding out along them.

Main footbridge

The one on the left doesn’t look too stable right? Well that’s the one the girl merrily hopped along!

Longboats puttered around the bay and the bridges were quite busy as school had finished and uniformed groups of kids headed home. I got quite a few hellos and some boys who were chatting to me agreed to have their photo taken.

I only saw a few westerners walking around, looked like they were in a tour group. I thought I could make it to the impressive temple in the distance before dark and wandered through the Mon village on the other side of the bay. The Mon people are from Burma – but couldn’t get into proper Thailand due to the immigration laws when they arrived . Out in this region there are a number of large refugee camps for Burmese people – Thailand is not part of the international standards for treating refugees. The women have powered faces. Their village is a bit more run-down looking than the other side. I wandered the streets occasionally getting a hello from the locals in their homes. I headed beyond the village and a western woman on a motorbike stopped to say hello and pointed out the correct way to the temple. As it was getting dark I headed back for the guest house.

Typical street scene in towns like these. Most dogs lie in the road nonchalantly with traffic whizzing inches past them.

The streets of Thailand are always riddled with dogs. Some are friendly, some are scared of people, some are aggressive. There’s a lot of strays on this side of the bay and as I was walking back one seemed quite afraid of me so I knelt down and put my hand out which most dogs usually respond well too. Not this one, he barked and growled and all the other dogs started barking too. As I walked away quickly he went for me! I got lucky, he took a chunk out of my raincoat and ran off when I bent over to the ground (you are supposed to throw stuff at them or pretend to, to scare them off). Lesson learnt, be wary around the strays!

As the rains came again I took photos in the dusk of the bridge and headed back. The mossies were eating my feet.  Back at the guesthouse eating dinner the jungle noises were all around and under each side lantern sat a gecko soaking up the heat. My only company in the restaurant was the very friendly hotel dog and occasionally the girls from the guest house. I didn’t get much sleep again thanks to the shoulder and the heat.

People returning home over the footbridge. Youths like to hang out on the bridge, smoking and fishing.

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