Asia / My Travels / Thailand

Sangkhlaburi: Seeing Beauty With A Cause

 “In this troubled world, it’s refreshing to find someone who still has the time to be kind.
Someone who still has the faith to believe that the more you give, the more you receive.
Someone who’s ready by thought, word, or deed to reach out a hand, in the hour of need.”
 – Helen Steiner Rice

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Floating Village | Sangkhlaburi 2011

Sangkhlaburi is known to be as “The Real Thailand” coz of its picturesque natural simplicity. It is more popular with Thais who want to have a relaxing escape from mass of tourists. It is 5-6 hours drive away from Bangkok at northwest part of Kanchanaburi Province near Myanmar depending on your speed towards a winding road!

The people here are mix and united. There are Thais, Burmese, Mons and Karens. Most of them were refugees from Myanmar (Burma) and I am amazed on how they are still able to keep their culture and traditions. I started to watch documentary films about the on-going civil war in Myanmar to understand and feel how these Karen people have suffered to live a normal and peaceful life.

It’s very humbling that while we are living in the comfort of our home and still thinking we don’t have enough, there are a lot of people in this world that we are not aware that doesn’t just have no home but does not even have a country…

At first, I didn’t know that a lot of tourists come here for volunteer work. I have done volunteer or charitable works in the past but while travelling, that I haven’t experience yet! That gave me an idea to do future travels combining seeing the beauty of the world and servng at the same time. And Sangkhlaburi gave me the chance to start this tradition. I had the privilege to visit some of the orphanage and refugee villages like House of Hope (Church of God World Mission), House of Joy (Baan Unrak Children House-Humanists) and the Baan Unrak Weaving Women.

If you are interested to help or do volunteer works in Sangkhlaburi, see my next entry with my experience along with the important details you need to know, HERE.

If one will think of old Thailand, the picture in their mind will definitely looked like this town! I can still see elephants roaming around and those who do not cater for tourists, I can hear all kinds of animal/insect sounds, it just feels weird that their geckos here sounded like “f*#k you” sometimes or maybe it’s just me :P

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Elephants for means of transportation!

We stayed at Magmai Hotel, the newest hotel in town with a good view of the lake and mountains (sunset!) and just 200m from the Mon Bridge. It is not one of the cheapest but it’s one of the best. I will also suggest P.Guesthouse and Burmese Inn for good accomodation in town as the friends we met here stayed there and saw it too and they are also clean and cozy.

We have tried almost all the restaurants here (beacuse it’s not much :P) and I will say Songkalia River Foodstalls is the best for local food, Baan Unrak Bakery for vegetarian food and of course, Birdland Books (aka Big Jimmy’s House) for its burger and fries! :D For drinks and a nightplace to chill out, definitely Western Bar Garden Home, it was owned by Kai who can speak English so guaranteed you’ll get the drink you really want :P

Here are the few places I visited whilst here:

1. Three Pagodas Pass – It’s a pass on the border between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). It used to be the last station in Thailand of the Death Railway going to Myanmar in the WWII. It was the main route for the Burmese invasion into Thailand, it was probably built at the end of the period as a symbol for PEACE.

Some visitors may find it unimpressive when they don’t know the history behind it. It is only like a pile of stones in about 10-feet high (It’s funny to see it coz in the photos it looks so huge hehe) but the feeling to be there especially hearing a Burmese army song coming from the Myanmar border is just disconcerting especially after you watch documentary films about the civil war going on.

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Usually they allow visitors to enter the border for a one-day visa, but it was close when I was there because of the recent clash (killings). I only made it to Myanmar going to the Karen Village with no checkpoint and through the help of Rolyn (Filipina volunteer in that village). On a lighter side. there are a lot of souvenir shops there especially selling gems which are really cheap! They also have stone and wood carvings and weaved textiles.

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One foot stepping at Thailand, one foot stepping at Myanmar!

2. Mon Bridge – It is also known as “The Bridge of Faith” and is the LONGEST WOODEN BRIDGE IN THAILAND built by hands. It is connecting the Mon Village and the Karen Village separated by the Songkalia River.

3. Wat Saam Prasob (The Sunken Temple) – You can only go here by hiring a boat especially during wet season when the water level is high that you can only see around 1-2 meter high of the temple. The sunken wat is the last remaining vestige of the old town flooded for the creation of Khao Laem Reservoir.

4. Wat Wang Wiwekaram – It was built by the late Phara Uttama, who was one of the most important monks in Thailand, who brought 20 Mon families from Burma to Thailand to have freedom and safe life. He died last 2006 but people of Sangkhlaburi still mourn for his death. The temple was built on the donation of villagers. It is the shrine of Mon’s pride and the most important temple of Sangkhlaburi along the edges the Khao Laem reservoir. It is constructed in an unusual mix of thai,Indian and Burmese Buddhist architectural styles.

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5. Chedi Buddhakaya of Sangkhlaburi is a replication of Chedi Buddhakaya of India. The construction was ordered by late Luang Phor Uttamain 1978 and all funded through donation, topped with golden umbrella built to serve as a keep of buddhist relics from Sri Lanka. It is located opposite Wat Wang Wiwekaram and the golden chedi can be seen from the Khaolem Lake.

6. Songkaria Village – There is cave near the Three Pagodas Pass called Sawan Badan Cave and the Takien Thong Waterfalls that I did not explore anymore coz here in Sangkhlaburi there are no arranged tour for that, and most visitors get lost going there so I decided not to be that adventurous anymore :P

There is a tour package at P.Guesthouse that will take you to the lake to see the Sunken Temple, do elephant trekking/bathing and bamboo rafting, but I skipped this coz I’ve tried it already in Kanchanaburi though they say this is more “raw”. There is also Nature Club here that you can do zorbing, zipline, kayaking etc that I also skipped coz it’s too high-tech adventure hehehe.

It was also great experiencing 2 important festivals in Thailand whilst we were here. It’s the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival. I want to go to Chiang Mai to experience this though someday, because there’s a lot more participants flying the lanterns so the experience will be surely fantastic! I love the cartoons Tangled, so I am looking forward to experience this in the future!

Loi Krathong (floating lights on waters) and Yi Peng (floating lights by the sky) are both celebrated on the full moon of November all over Thailand. It was an ancient practice to give thanks and apologize to Mother nature (water and air specifically) for using them. Nowadays, they do it more for fun!

I still believe that no matter how troubled this world we’re living in, there are still kindness in humanity. I believe that every one has this inner desire  to do good things, even if they do not get anything in return. The people in Sangkhlaburi are one good example of how people will be kind enough to extend their home or country to these people in need. And also those people who fly all the way here to serve these less fortunate people.

One of Laurie’s colleagues is an ex-American Marine, big guy and tough. I thought he doesn’t care about other people or I thought he is not sensitive, and yes I misjudged him. I really admired him the time he came with me to visit these refugees without any hesitation, and gave some donations wholeheartedly even when not asked.

If you are reading this and your inner kindness is telling you to help, I urge you to listen to it. There is nothing more rewarding than helping others ;)

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