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Sangkhlaburi, Thailand

 Posted by , May 04, 2010 at 13:38:45 :: Thailand

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When travelers dream of Thailand, they picture verdant jungles, sparkling temples and the exotic charm of its rural villages. Sangkhlaburi is home to all this. Located 225km northwest of Kanchanaburi and a mere 24km from the Burmese border at Three Pagodas Pass, Sangkhlaburi's seclusion only adds to its mystique.

Sangkhlaburi is set towards the end of one of Thailand's most spectacular roads, nestled on the low hills edging Vajiralongkorn Lake (previously known as Khao Laem Lake), and is surrounded to the north and east by higher forest-covered limestone ranges. The outlying area hosts Karen and Mon villages, caves, waterfalls, the vast Thung Yai Naresuan wildlife reserve and Khao Laem National Park.

Sangkhlaburi is a sleepy town of 15,000 people from many ethnic backgrounds. There are the Karen, the Mon, Thais, Chinese, Lao and even Arakanese and Bangladeshis. This ethnic diversity makes Sangkhlaburi district unique in Thailand.

Three Pagodas Pass, Sangkhlaburi, Kanchanaburi Province in Thailand

While Sangkhlaburi was traditionally a Karen town, a recent influx of Thais along with numerous Mon and Burmese settlers fleeing problems over the border, has created a culturally and religiously diverse town -- yet another reason to make sure you fit this lovely town into your itinerary.

Historians believe the earliest visitors to the region were the Mons, who entered present-day Thailand sometime around the beginning of the Christian area and later established Dvaravati.

Even today, warfare, political turbulence, and migrations continue to define the ethnic and social landscape of Sangkhlaburi region. Many of the Karens, Mons, and Burmese who have settled in the region over the centuries have become political refugees, unable to obtain Thai passport or permits for residence and work. Most remain stateless individual wanderers - shunned by both Thais and Burmese.

However, Sangkhlaburi has a lot of natural attractions such as waterfalls, rough jungle and the Khao Lam Dam which flooded a valley of Sangkhlaburi and also parts of the old city.

The old half sunken temple is a beautiful scenic area especially at sunset and sunrise. Local hill tribes (Mon) build most of their houses on the water as raft-houses. The people there impress with their charm and their natural kindness.
Sanglkhlaburi is also known for its 400m long wooden bridge that spans across the Vajiralongkorn Lake to connect the Mon village "Wang Kha" with the Thai and Karen parts of the town.

This bridge was constructed in 1993 and has even attracted Thai and foreign movie teams!

The Saphan Mon wooden bridge in Sangkhlaburi city in Thailand

Despite its hundreds of years old history, today's Sangkhlaburi is a new town. When The hydroelectric Vajiralongkorn Dam neared its completion in 1984, old Sangkhlaburi had been demolished and the new town was created on higher grounds. All that remains of the past are the half-submerged structures of the old Mon-Temple and the basements of several buildings. And, the eroded remains of a 400 year old pagoda close to the impressive new Mon temple Wat Wang Wiwekaram which was fouded by the late Abbot Luang Pho Utama.

Wangka (also known as Monside) on the other side of the Bridge is well worth visiting. Watch out for the street dogs (pick up a stone and it should scare them off). The village was founded by Luang Phor Uttama in 1949 after he fled Burma with 60 other Mon Families. Uttama passed away in 2006 and since then, the village has been in mourning. ==Alcohol is not permitted to be drunk in public== and doing so would be hugely disrespectful. This only applies to the Wangka, not Sangkhla. Many of the villagers speak Mon as their first language, so don't be surprised if they cannot understand your Thai. If you eat at a Mon restaurant, an easy word to remember is "Dangoon" for "thankyou".

Sangkhlaburi is an idyllic place and well worth visiting as it is off the tourist trail and thus great for the tourist who wants to see "real thailand". The place is well known to Thais who come here for relaxing weekends away, or alternatively parties on the floating houses.

But violence is not unknown here and the market area in the centre of town is probably best not explored after it closes. There can also be clashes between Mon and Thai youth on the bridge area.

Places to see

- Wat Wang Wiwekaram and Chedi Buddhakhaya: Walk over the bridge to the Mon village, and bear left parallel to the lake. After 2km the concrete road forks. Left goes to the huge golden chedi, with a small Burmese goods market below it, and right goes to the main Wat Wang Wiwekaram. The Wat was built by the late Phara Uttama, who was one of the most important Monks in Thailand, and is still highly revered in the Mon community. There is a large, ornate viharn at the main wat, and in another building there are murals depicting stages of the Buddha's last, and previous, lives. You may wish to hire a taxi as, for some, it might be a long walk to the temple, and it is easy to get lost in Wangka village (although people are happy to point you in the right direction).

- Saphan Mon: The 400m wooden bridge itself is well worth a visit and is the longest handmade wooden bridge in Thailand. There is a small cafe on one end which is a great spot for a drink and a view. Be careful when crossing the bridge though, it is made and repaired in a chaotic manner and you need to be careful of your footing. There are donation boxes at either end which pay for the bridges constant upkeep. So consider donating, as you will receive an amazing photo in return! Local kids like to jump off bridge into lake...

The Sunken Temple in mid-April, when water level is low:
- Wat Saam Prasob (The Sunken Temple): When the water level of the lake is low (usually after winter) you can hire a boat to take you (or hire a canoe from P Guesthouse to paddle yourself out) to see the Sunken temple. The sunken wat is the last remaining vestige of the old town flooded for the creation of Khao Laem Reservoir. (Top 1-2 metres of temple is in view in September.)

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: Coder, Designer, Webmaster and Expert SEO Consulting, Simon Laroche is also a wise traveller and an avid amateur photographer. He created the website Landolia and many others...

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