Text & Photo : Anders Pihl
In the seldom visited region of Kanchanaburi you should not miss a stay at a river hotel on the river Kwai or a tour to the serene Khao Laem dam lake. Kanchanaburi is filled up with natural beauty, captivating history and vivid culture.
When the morning fog slowly lifts over the lake we first think we see a mirage: a temple tower rises directly out of the water. The ”sunken temple” Wat Saam Prasob is one of the major attractions of the Khao Laem dam lake. This temple was already here before the dam lake was created seventy years ago. It is remarkable how the local people never stopped to use the temple. Consequently a raft is tied on a spot beside the tower, filled with flowers, incense and a small altar.
From the underwater temple we return in our boat to Sangkhlaburi, a town very close to the Myanmar border in the rarely visited province of Kanchanaburi. It is a picturesque town with amazing temples and the longest wooden bridge of Thailand, The Mon Bridge, which is connecting the two main parts of Sangkhlaburi.
Sangkhlaburi is a town with two cultures. Half of the population is Thai, the other half Burmese. Close to the bridge we buy textiles and Burmese pancakes to unbelievable low prices. In Sangkhlaburi nobody has heard about such a thing as strangers should pay higher prices.
On the Mon bridge I meet the couple Grace Shaw and Christopher Adams from Brisbane in Australia. They have been traveling in Thailand for two months. I ask them what their best experience in Thailand has been so far.
Around us paces long lines of monks in orange cloths, yellow cheeked Burmese carry goods to the market and small boats go in shuttle service between the stilt houses on the water while a golden pagoda glimmers in the distance.
- It’s no brainer. Just look at this. Kanchanaburi is hands down the highlight of our vacation, Christopher says.
Kanchanaburi has many unexpected things to see. This quite wild part of Thailand has expanses of untouched nature and quiet countryside. Typical for Kanchanaburi are the river hotels you find especially along the famous Kwai river. Spending a night at a river hotel sets you in the best possible position to begin a new day: surrounded by high jungle mountains and with a symphony of birds in your ears your morning coffee will taste delicious.
Some Kanchanaburi highlights:
The Bridge over river Kwai
Supposedly the most famous train bridge in the world. Built under dramatic circumstances by prisoners of war during world war II and later famed by the novel and the legendary movie from 1957. Today the bridge is surrounded by cosy river restaurants.
During World War II the Japanese built the ’Death Railway’ to Burma. They forced prisoners of war to dig Hellfire Pass, the deepest mountain pass created by humans. The museum Hellfire Pass Memorial tells the gruesome story about inhuman treatments that killed almost 100 000 prisoners.
Erawan National Park
In Erawan you find one of the finest waterfalls in south-east Asia. It consists of seven different falls with the lowest level mouthing out in a lovely turquoise-colored lagoon that invites you for a swim.
Wat Ban Tham
A beautiful ancient hill top temple you ascend to through the mouth of a dragon, a few hundred meter long.
The Lawa Cave in Sai Yok National Park
One of four very impressive caves in the park, but go for this one if you not have time for all four. Require a short river boat trip.
The most amazing national parks in Thailand
– Colours of Nature (green)
How many national parks in Thailand have you been to? There are far more unexpected and gorgeous things to see in them than many would believe. The otherworldly scenarios of Khao Sok, the top class reefs outside Similan Islands and the animal life in Khao Yai are just examples on the incredible diversity of the Thai national parks.
Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok accommodates dramatic sceneries that seem to be made for a lavish science fiction-movie. In the center of the national park you find the impressive Cheow Larn lake, which occurred after the construction of the Ratchaprapha dam.
The rainforests in Khao Sok is among oldest in the world. It is home for a thriving animal life, who stars among others elephant, leopard, tiger, tapir, python, and gibbon. The large animals can be seen most easily by the lakeshores when the weather is bad. During sunny weather they tend to hide in the greenery.
Similan Islands Marine National Park
Nine uninhibited islands located 70 kilometers outside the west coast of Thailand. The islands have long been a favorite among divers, who admires the crystal clear waters and corals reefs teeming with life.
Above the surface Similans appeals to friends of nature too. At island Koh Miang, where the headquarter of national park is located, you can see flying squirrels, flying foxes, white headed eagles and giant crabs. Both Koh Miang and largest island Koh Similan have great vantage points and some amazing beaches with white sand remaining of fine chalk dust.
Ang Thong National Marine Park
The lovely sprinkle of forty two green islands in the archipelago of Ang Thong National Marine Park outside Koh Samui might possibly be the most pretty of all national parks in Thailand. All islands are uninhabited and different in form and size. There are hundreds of deserted beaches in this island world as well as deep caves and rock formations with peculiar shapes. A labyrinth of healthy coral reefs is spreading in the shallow waters between the islands. The island of Koh Mae Ko is one of the main attractions of Ang Thong National Marine Park. The middle of the island spots a turquoise shimmering sweet water lake whose underground connection with the sea creates interesting conditions for the marine life.
Ang Thong National Marine Park is a popular day trip from Koh Samui, often with snorkelling, kayaking or climbing.
Khao Yai National Park
Khao Yai is relatively close to Bangkok and enjoys a great popularity among Thai visitors. With 2000 square kilometer it is the second largest national park in Thailand. The scenery consists of dense jungle, several rivers, grass plains and mountains over 1200 meter.
Khao Yai is famous for its water falls, like the 80 meter high Heo Nanok and the grand Heo Suwat, which appear in the movie The Beach. The animal life here is very rich, 320 species of birds, elephants, Black Bear, wild boar, gibbon monkeys, gaur (the largest wild ox in Asia) and also an unknown number very rare tigers. There are over 50 kilometer walking trails and mighty lookout towers by Nong Pak Chee and Mo Sing. Kayaking and rafting are among the activities.
Koh Tarutao National Marine Park
The archipelago of Koh Tarutao lies in the southernmost part of Thailand, just next to the border to Malaysia. Just one decade ago these fifty one jungle clad islands distributed in two groups was a quite unknown part of the country. After the lightning fast success of Koh Lipe, a habit island with many hotels in the middle of the park, Tarutao has become an often visited destination in southern Thailand.
While Tarutao’s nick name ”The Maldives of Thailand” perhaps can be a bit misleading, (Tarutao is not flat like Maldives) it gives the long stretches of white sand and palms across the archipelago sometimes similar impressions.
Book accommodation to most national parks at www.dnp.go.th.