Sangkhlaburi is a picturesque and multi-cultural Thai town, situated in the north-west of Kanchanaburi Province and close to the border with Burma / Myanmar. Whilst Kanchanaburi town is a very popular tourist destination, few international tourists continue the long trek of around 230 kilometres (143 miles) to Sangkhlaburi.
Far from the typical tourist trail, it’s a beautiful place to experience the blended local culture, enjoy nature, admire interesting architecture, and meet locals with diverse ethnicities, including Thai, Mon, Burmese, and Karen. Indeed, Sangkhlaburi is home to Thailand’s largest groups of diverse ethnic communities.
Here are five highlights of Sangkhlaburi to inspire you to pay a visit:
1. Visit the Three Pagodas Pass
Located around a 30-minute drive from the heart of town (and accessible by public transport), the Three Pagodas Pass marks what was once the main crossing point between Thailand and Burma / Myanmar. Whilst the border is no longer operational, people with a Thai passport can obtain a one-day visa to skip over the border and take a peek inside Burma / Myanmar. Other international visitors will have to be content with posing for pictures in front of a large sign and peering beyond the border guards and barriers.
A sleepy place today, this was the route used by Burmese forces when they decided to capture the ancient Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya. It was also a busy area for traders in times gone by.
The area takes its name from three fairly small and simple pagodas that stand close to the border. Gleaming white and draped in saffron-coloured sashes, the pagodas would be quite unremarkable if seen anywhere else in the country.
You can also see an old section of the Thai-Burma Railway, see a shrine that promotes peace between Thailand and Japan, and wander through the small border market. Vendors come from local communities and from across the border to sell an array of local goods, including Burmese beers and whiskies, handicrafts, gemstones, and herbal remedies.
2. Walk across and boat under the Mon Bridge
Known in Thai as Saphan Mon, the Mon Bridge is said to be the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. Spanning around 400 metres (1,312 feet), it is one of Sangkhlaburi’s major attractions. It crosses the reservoir to connect the main part of town and the Mon village. Severely damaged in 2013, there are still parts of the bridge that are undergoing repair works and maintenance. Watch your step if crossing by foot!
Boat trips around the reservoir generally take you underneath the bridge, allowing you a closer look at all the wooden supports that keep the bridge in place.
3. Discover the sunken temple of Wat Wang Wiwekaram
Before Khao Laem Dam was built in the 1980s, there was a large Mon village where the reservoir is today. People moved their homes before flooding commenced, but there are still several buildings underneath. The top of the old Wat Wang Wiwekaram can still be seen rising up out of the murky green waters, and a boat ride through the submerged remains is really quite eerie. Depending on the time of year, you can drift through the holes in the walls to see a shrine adorned with images of the King of Thailand and flowers left as offerings. Several establishments rent kayaks, or you can charter a motor boat.
If you visit during the driest months (March and April) when the water level is at its lowest, even more of the temple is revealed; it might also be possible to walk through the temple on dry land.
4. Visit the new temple of Wat Wang Wiwekaram
Wat Wang Wiwekaram was relocated after the building of the dam. Whilst the old building spends most of the year underneath water, the newer temple is built firmly on dry land. The most important Buddhist temple in Sangkhlaburi, Buddhists from different ethnic backgrounds join together here to pray and make merit.
Sometimes also referred to as Wat Mon, the temple was built under the supervision of the area’s most revered monk, Luang Pho Uttama. The temple houses an incredibly life-like wax figure of the esteemed monk, as well as many images and statues of the Lord Buddha. You might notice that the shrines are a bit different to others you have seen in other parts of the country; built in the Mon style, the altars and shrines are elaborate and ornate.
The main temple building is a beautiful vision of glimmering gold, with a tiered roof and tiles that glint in the sunlight. The nearby Buddhagaya Chedi is also well-worth a visit.
There is no charge to visit Wat Wang Wiwekaram, although donations are gratefully received. Visitors should remember to dress modestly, with shoulders and knees covered.
5. Explore the depths of Sawan Bundarn Cave
The drive to the Sawan Bundarn Cave is a beautiful introduction to the interesting caves, with rubber trees, rice fields, and verdant forest on either side of the road. You will need to either charter a songthaew (converted pickup truck) or rent a scooter to visit the cave unless you already have your own transportation; there is no public transport running to the cave.
The large cave is home to many bats – don’t be surprised if one whooshes right past your head! There are several cool rock formations, but do remember to take a torch to fully make the most of the cave. You are also advised to wear sturdy footwear (not flip flops!) as there is a fair bit of climbing and scrambling involved.
There is no admission fee to enter the cave, although you may find that local children want to “guide” you through the cave in return for a tip. Quite adept at getting people to agree, they will likely follow you, pointing things out, whether you want them to or not. A ward of caution – as much as I hate to say this, do keep a close hold of, and a watchful eye on, your possessions whilst in the cave. Nimble little fingers can easily take things without you noticing. I found a little hand trying to unzip my bag, and my partner was relieved of his camera case (luckily, he had his camera in his hands).
Other delights to enjoy in Sangkhlaburi
Walk along the top of the Khao Laem Dam and admire the views along the reservoir. A troop of mischievous monkeys lives on top of the dam, and their antics might make you chuckle. Do pay heed to the warning signs though and don’t get too close to the monkeys – they can be quite aggressive.
Several operators can arrange guided treks through the surrounding dense jungles, and if you enjoy natural attractions there are several nice waterfalls you can visit. Kroengkrawia Waterfall is easy to access, located just a few metres from the edge of the road. It is also one of the area’s prettiest waterfalls, despite being fairly small.
Give back to the local community with a trip to the bakery and bookstore operated by the Baan Unrak Foundation. The foundation operates Baan Unrak Children’s Home and runs a number of projects aimed at promoting sustainable living and assisting displaced persons from Burma / Myanmar.
Arrange your trip to Sangkhlaburi for a magical time whilst experiencing a charming side of Thailand that often eludes foreign visitors.
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