Sangkhlaburi is small, sleepy town near the border with Myanmar (Burma) that was flooded because of the construction of a dam. Temples that were accessible hundreds of years ago, are now completely emerged. These and many other hidden treasures of Sangkhlaburi, are still relatively undiscovered by tourists. Allow us to show you around this remarkable place!
Longest wooden bridge in Thailand
It’s a rainy day in Sangkhlaburi, in the southwestern part of Thailand. Not your typical tourist destination; which is why we thought it would be worth a visit. In Kanchanaburi we talked to an ambitious Thai hotel owner. He told us about a small town in western Thailand where the “Mon” people live, an ethnic group originally from Burma, the old Myanmar. Many of them fled across the border to Thailand because of the violent persecution and disenfranchisement in Myanmar.
They settled in small villages, right across the border; villages like Sangkhlaburi. In Thailand they’re safe and they have been granted ID cards by the government – but that’s all. Many of them live in poverty and work hard for little pay.
In Sangkhlaburi the river Mon separates the area, dividing it into a Thai part and a Mon part. To get to the Mon side you have to cross a long bridge, the Saphan Mon, Thailand’s longest wooden bridge. How long it is exactly, remains unclear to us – some say 440 meters while other say 850 meters.
Unforgettable boat ride
In the 1920’s, the Thai government built a dam in the Sangkhlaburi region. This meant that a big part of the land needed to be flooded; land mostly lived on by the Mon, who had to go higher up. The flooding meant that entire temples are now completely under water. Others have been completely cut off from civilization and overgrown with jungle vegetation.
The only way to reach these temples is by boat – which is precisely what we did.
The underwater temples of Sangkhlaburi
From a distance we saw the Wat Saam Prasob, the biggest under water temple, looming large. Phenomenal! Part of the temple was under water, the other part was accessible. We got off the boat, set foot on the soggy bank and quickly noticed we weren’t alone.
A pack of dogs stood guard at the dilapidated temple, which no longer had a roof. Strewn all over were remnants of what had once been a grand and lively temple. The dogs let us pass. The water damage was immediately visible inside. Under a makeshift awning made of bamboo was a huge Buddha statue surrounded by some plastic flower wreaths and a few burnt-out incense sticks. Scattered along the grass surrounding the temple were some Buddha heads and more rubble still.
One with the jungle
Our boat driver didn’t speak a word of English but wanted to explain everything about what we saw. As best as he could he informed us that the water would be much higher in October. We got back onto the boat. The dogs were still watching us.
Before we knew where we were going, we had already arrived at the next soggy bank. This time all we saw was jungle. The guide gestured us to follow him. The trail led us straight into the jungle. Then we had to climb up a muddy hill, which was quite difficult as we were wearing flip-flops.
Stone steps led us to an old temple that seemed like it was one with the jungle. The entrance had been completely overgrown with vegetation, but was still visible. Inside it was a stunning Buddha statue. Wow!
The sounds of the jungle reverberated through the deserted temple. Walking around the temple, it quickly became clear to us that the jungle ruled here now. A bright green snake fell on a branch right in front of us. We took a few steps back, only to see it slither back into the green foliage.
Leaving this impressive paradise behind us, we made our way back to the boat. What an amazing experience! To top it all off, on the boat ride back, we passed the enormous wooden bridge and saw Sangkhlaburi from a completely different angle. Next to that bridge is another one, made out of bamboo, still used by the traditional Mon. A few hundred meters farther along is a concrete bridge, used only by Thai people…
Getting to Sangkhlaburi
You can get to Sangkhlaburi from Kanchanaburi by bus or minivan. The local bus will take about 4 to 5 hours and leaves three times a day from the bus station. The slightly more comfortable “tourist buses” leave four times a day and take 4 hours to get there. Minivans leave multiple times a day.
There are also direct buses from Bangkok’s northern bus station (Mo Chit). Depending on which one you take, the ride could last anywhere between 5 and 8 hours.