Thailand has various destinations to discover and explore: cities, islands, national parks but how about something remote and less well known? I wanted to discover something different, unusual and new. So I went on a Lake House adventure trip to Khao Laem Lake in Sangkhlaburi, hosted by Go Beyond Asia. The company that for 20 years has inspired travellers to choose less travelled destinations in Asia.
For more than 3 years I have been living in Thailand and travelling around the country. I have experienced many extraordinary trips and stays in cosy hotels but this time it was different. Have you ever been in a trip when you constantly get surprised by the things you see? Then, you know what I’m talking about.
The journey from Bangkok to Sangkhlaburi, where the adventure starts, took nearly 7 hours by minivan. On the way, we had lunch in a local restaurant near Sai Yok Noi waterfall and a couple of stops to stretch the legs.
Approaching Sangkhlaburi, the way led into serpentine roads as we drove deeper into the mountains; the view started to change. I guess, you have never heard of this town so let me tell you about it. Sangkhlaburi is a quiet town with no more than 15, 000 residents located 230-km north-west of Kanchanaburi. The uniqueness of the town is its diverse population consisting of Karen, Mon, Burmese, Lao and Thai people living together. This destination is more popular among Thai tourists, visiting town at the weekends and a relatively small number of western tourists. As you arrive you will see how much the place is untouched by tourists.
We reached Khao Laem Lake, where I spent days living in a floating House. The Lake House provides a perfect hideaway escape from a city buzz surrounded by peaceful, beautiful and constantly changing landscapes of floating islands, green and rocky hills and submersed Mon temples. Yes, depending on the season, the temples are underwater.
On entering, the cheerful staff served refreshments and provided a guide around the house. Soon, I realized that Lake House started to move (pulled by a boat) and the scenery starting to change. I didn’t expect it to move! Now, you have time in your hands to enjoy the view sitting in front of the bar, lying on sunbathing chairs, swinging in a hammock, or staying in your private wooden room. On the boat there are various card and board games such as Jenga and Uno. The cosy French balcony, located in private rooms, is a perfect place to read a book or to lay back and chat with your companion. It’s perfect for families and couples.
Before dinner, the Lake House anchored for the night near the big tree standing in the middle of the lake. You have plenty of time to swim or just float on the water admiring the sunset. If you are adventurous (I wasn’t) you can jump from the top of the big tree (approximate 5 metres height). The bar serves various drinks and cocktails and if you play the guitar you can do that too!
In the morning I woke up and found Lake House moving again. The breeze and the quiet lapping of the water will allow you to relax and forget your worries. After a full breakfast, the guides invited us to tour the nearby caves by kayak. You don’t know how to kayak or afraid to drop yourself or camera in to the water? If so, I know exactly how you feel. At first I was scared and had no idea how to row a kayak, but friendly guides provided me a life jacket, dry bag for my belongings and even taught me how to row! I confidently handled kayak boat and headed to the bat cave.
In the rainy season the water floods half of the caves allowing you to either kayak inside the cave or if you like – dive. The tour guides told us that huge catfish lurk in the cave and you can spot them underwater. We visited in low season, when the water was below the caves entrance, so we were able to walk inside in cave. With a spotlight illuminating the way into the blindly black depths, dozens of bats flew high above my head. I felt so much like a character in a book, travelling into the underworld. Beside bats, I spotted many stalactites and stalagmites in the cave. Some of them were in the middle of formation.
And that’s not it. The adventure just has started! Lake House takes you further down the vast lake to various islands, steep cliffs, jungle visiting fishing villages and submerged Mon temples buried in time beneath the surface.
On the way back to Sangkhlaburi, on the shore of the lake lays an old Mon’s temple ruins. It depends on the season (rainy or dry) how will you explore it. In the dry season the temple is reached on foot and in the rainy season by kayak. The long tail boat transported our group from the Lake House to the shore near the first temple. Even though the temple is in ruins and doesn’t have a roof, people still come to pray. Inside, Buddhist relics, images, burning incenses and candles are placed above ground on a platform made from gravel and are never removed as water doesn’t reach them. If you want to make an offering yourself, you can buy flowers and incense from local children.
The other side of the lake has another magnificent Mon temple hidden in the forest, which many locals doesn’t know exists. This temple never gets underwater as it’s located on the hill. After climbing higher into the forest, the ancient temple soon appeared in front of your eyes. If you look carefully, the temple’s walls still have Burmese style decorations remained and some colours are not faded away from the walls. Big Buddha statue is placed inside the temple, where again, you can take your time, pray or make an offering. The secret temple’s facade and windows are overgrown by Bodhi Tree roots, a sacred Buddhist tree, which makes environment even more mystical.
Whenever you go, you will find friendly locals smiling at you. If you know a little bit of Thai you can hold short conversations and locals willingly will tell you more about the place or take a picture with you.
The other famous attractions in the heart of Sangkhlaburi are a 400m wooden bridge hand built by Mon people and the Mon market. It’s the longest wooden bridge in Thailand and the second longest in the world. The bridge was originally built to connect three ethnic communities: Thai Karen and Mon living on the different side of the Mae Nam Kwae Noi River.
The Mon market is located on the top of the hill. You can find many wooden crafts and jewellery being sold there, as well as Thanaka tree mask, which is very popular among Mon and Burmese people. Tip: It’s an easy way to distinguish between ethnicities as mainly Burmese people cover their cheeks and face with Thanaka tree mask.
On the way back to Bangkok I was overwhelmed with emotions. I had a great time exploring the unknown corners of Thailand, relaxing and visiting local minorities but there was something deeper than that. Sangkhlaburi and Lake House have a charm you cannot simply express in words. You need to experience it all by yourself.
You can find more details about the Lake House adventure tour visiting their website http://www.lakehouseadventure.com/.