Sunday, February 22, 2009

Khao Sam Roi Yot

A very beautiful coastal area not that far from the touristic hotspot Hua Hin is the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. The name Khao Sam Roi Yot (เขาสามร้อยยอด) means threehundred mountain peaks, which already gives an idea on the nature of the park. It consists of a group of hills directly at the shore to the Gulf of Thailand, with a plain wetland surrounded by the hills. And even though the park established in 1966 was the first Marine National Park in Thailand, most of the area is in fact on shore - of the total area of 98.08 km² only 20.88 km² is marine.

Though the freshwater marshes surrounded by the hills are the most valuable natural resource, several shrimp farms have been established there, not just destroying the original landscape directly, but also the surroundings from the toxic wastes. If you look at the area with Google Earth you can clearly see all these artificial lakes lacking all the natural green plant cover. A real shame in my opinion.

Wile from a protectionists look these wetlands are the most important landform of the park, for the normal visitor the small sandy beach and the coastal hills are the more interesting views. When we went there - two cars fully packed with Thai people and one Farang - at first they somehow managed to convice the park officer that we are only heading into the park area to buy seafood and thus saved to pay the entrance fee. But then at the fishing village of Bang Pu it has a big parking lot, and from there a food path around one hill to the Sam Phraya beach. The path was only quite steep in some parts and thus quite tiring with the strong sunny, but very well built and easy to walk. While it is also possible to hire a boat to get around the cape, from the path one has much better views on the scenery.

Then from the beach one has to walk up another food path, this one even more steep and along a dry river bed, to reach the highlight of the park. Within a cave with the roof collapsed it has a Sala erected when King Chulalongkorn visited there in 1890. On the cave wall it also has the royal emblems of King Vajiravudh and Bhumibol, who also visited there. The most beautiful photos of that Sala show it illuminated by the sunlight falling through the cave roof, in mine it was already (or still) in the shadow. This Sala is such a significant building it forms the provincial symbol of Prachuap Khiri Khan, but even without it the place would be much worth to visit just by its natural beauty.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bat cave in Ratchaburi

For a change this time a site which was also among the official Unseen Thailand campaign - the bats in Ratchaburi. The most famous place to see them is the Tham Khang Khao (ถ้ำค้างคาว) simply meaning bat cave, located about 20 km north of the town Ratchaburi. Every evening at around sunset the bats stream out of the cave where they have spent the day, and fly to collect their food. And the impressive thing is that they fly in one stream which looks like a column of smoke emerging from the hill.

When we went there we arrived quite early, so had some time to kill before the spectacle started. Right at the parking lot was a market, but that only really started later on when more visitors arrived. At the base of the hill is a temple named Wat Khao Chong Phran (วัดเขาช่องพราน), though it is not really an impressive one. The only thing really special is a Buddha statue within the cave, not because of the statue but because of the bats flying around there. But even more impressive is the floor there - covered with the excrements of the bats and with millions of cockroaches running around. Walking inside is really nothing for people with a weak stomach or scared of these big critters, but actually I haven't stepped on any nor has any walked on my feet.

Much more enjoyable (but of course a bit tiring) is walking up on the hill, passing some monkeys much less naughty than those in Lopburi but still not really scared by humans. From the viewing platform on top one has a nice view over the scenery.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wat Mahathat, Nakhon Si Thammarat

The most important temple of the province Nakhon Si Thammarat is clearly Wat Mahathat, located in the southern part of the town. It is the oldest temple of the whole region, in fact it is the temple chronicle which provides the early history of the kingdom of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

The full name of the temple is Wat Phra Mahathat Woromaha Viharn (วัดพระมหาธาตุวรมหาวิหาร), and the actual age is not really known. Two versions of the temple chronicle exist, however centuries of copying and amending the text turned the oldest parts into something hardly distinguishable from legend. The reason to build a chedi at that site was to enshrine a tooth relic of Buddha, which according to one chronicle happened together with the foundation of the town in the year 1176. Yet both chronicles agree on several reconstructions of the chedi after it fell into disrepair, so the modern 74m high chedi in Sri Lankan style isn't the original one for sure.

The main chedi is surrounded by 173 smaller chedis in the courtyard, and a hall encircling it with many Buddha statues facing in all four directions. On one side of the chedi is the staircase to climb onto a gallery. The hall with this staircase alone is worth seeing, with figures of giants and lions protecting it. On the gallery one can encircle the chedi completely, and the sound of hundreds of small bells moved by the wind give it a great atmosphere.

Also within the temple area is a temple museum, which shows many historical items from the town. As it is already four years ago I can hardly remember any details on the exhibition, except that it seemed to me a bit unsorted - but still definitely worth visiting. South of the temple is a market, which among many other things also sells souvenirs styled after the traditional Lakhon figures used in shadow plays. However as I was traveling with Thai we only bought some snack there.

The town has several more historical places I haven't had the time to visit then - doing it as a day trip from Surat Thani only left some hours, and we spend most of the time in Wat Mahathat. I could at least take a few photos of the city wall, the city pillar shrine and Wat Yak - however though we passed them I missed the two Brahman shrines Hor Phra Isuan and Hor Phra Narai, and most of all the local branch of the National Museum would have been worth a visit.

Only after that trip to Nakhon Si Thammarat I learned about an English book on the history of this town, the visit would have been even more worthwhile if I had read it before and already knew about the significance of the various sites. I just wish it'd have more such books on other regions of Thailand.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Khlongs near Surat Thani

When we looked for some information for our trip to Khao Sok at the Tourism Authority office in Surat Thani, I picked one brochure which advertised an Eco-Tour through the canals in the delta of the Tapi river. Though it was in Thai, I could notice that one stop would be at an old temple, and I simply love temple ruins. Sadly I lost that brochure later on.

So on our next trip to Surat Thani, I suggested to check out the TAT office again to do that trip. Strangely neither the clerk there knew about this tour, nor did it have that brochure anymore. It however had two other offers of a boat tour, and we then did one of that. While it had no temple ruins, it was nevertheless fun and interesting. I now suspect that the old temple was in fact at Khao Phra Anon (เขาพระอานนท์) in neighboring Phunphin district, so this would have been a much longer tour than the one we did.

The day we did the trip it was quite cloudy with a thunderstorm lingering, but it stayed dry during the whole trip taking about 2 hours. The clouds had the advantage that it was not that hot, however within the canals it was so dark that most of my photos got blurred - the boat moving to fast with the longer exposure needed. So sadly no photo of the nipa palms which grow along the canals.

The tour started at the river bank opposite Ko Lamphu, and the first stop was at a river house selling community products. Though this was advertised in the brochure as an OTOP (One Tambon One Product) shop, and also the boat driver called it OTOP, the sign inside does call it simply "Community Manufacturing Product" (ศูนย์ผลิตภัณฑ์ชุมชน). Though just few years old, OTOP has become the synonym for any locally marketed products.

The shop was still at a major river branch, after that it went into the narrow canals. To make sure one does not loose the orientation, there are even "road signs" at each of the intersections. Not sure if these signs are only put in the area close to the town, or if all the canals within the delta have such signs. The canals are usually bordered with palms, which at some parts get so dense that it's rather dark in the narrow canal. Along the tour there were several other attractions, though we did not stop at any.

At first we passed the temple Wat Bang Bai Mai, the central temple of the subdistrict with the same name. We did not stop there as it is not really a special temple, however I noticed on the map in the brochure that right next to the temple it has the office of the subdistrict administration, so I went there a few days later to take a photo of that office building, and of course also of the temple.

Another attraction is a wooden house more than 100 years old, titled "บ้านโบราณ" (Ban Boran), which however passing from the canal did not look anything impressive.

There was one final stop at a home where a vinegar was produced from the juice of the nipa palm, and it was planned to show the production of this. However we failed to find the farmer who would have showed his product, so we returned to the boat. The last part of the tour went past a settlement within the river, which looks quite different from so close than from the town at the other side of the river.

As I had my GPS tracking device with me, the map below shows exactly where we went, within the accuracy of GPS of course.

View Larger Map