Close to the Burmese border, magical Sangkhlaburi spreads out on both sides of the Songkalia River. Connected by what is said to be Thailand’s longest wooden bridge Sangkhlaburi also unites the ethnic communities on each side of the river to live in peace and mutual understanding. When the bridge collapsed in 2014 the Mon, Karen and Thai people joined forces and built a temporary floating Bamboo Bridge.
These days Sangkhlaburi is a thriving city that has kept its village feel intact. During the weekend Thai tourists flock in to walk the bridge and stay on floating houses along the riverbank. During the weekdays, the city is sleepy and you will have it more or less to yourself. Not many travellers find their way there, so if you are looking for remoteness, local living and a plethora of off-road adventures, then Sangkhlaburi will be a godsend.
Peace. Sunset over the tranquil lake in Sangkhlaburi
Places to Stay in Sangkhlaburi
Sangkhlaburi’s main street runs parallel to the Songkalia River and it is along or between these two thoroughfares that you will want to find your bed for the night. A popular and good value choice is P Guesthouse located along the riverbanks with magnificent views and laid back ambience. If the hostel vibe is more your kind of thing, go for Oh Dee’s in the centre of town. Friendly vibe, communal kitchen and nice dorm rooms.
Recommended guesthouse - Oh Dee! (Oh good!)
Things to Do
- Temple going: As anywhere in Thailand, you will find a fair share of temples, stupas and Buddhas in and around the city. The Mon side of the river consists of pure temple ground where the locals rent a plot or a house. The newly built temple here is magnificent, golden and almost Indian in style. On the Karen side, you’ll find Wat Somdej just outside the city. Big golden Buddhas are dotted along the road, seated, reclining and precious in their own right.
- Wooden Bridge: In more than one sense, the wooden bridge is marvellous. The mere sight of it tells of the effort, manpower, nurture and willpower that went into its construction. While at the same time it symbolises the marvellous “bridge” between three diverse cultures with the Thai-Karen on one side and the Mon on the other.
- Monk Alms in the morning: Every morning around 06:00 the monks from the temple on the Mon side walk in one long row to the Karen side to collect their alms. The mere sight of the orange draped monks in the sacred early morning mist is well worth getting up for.
- Three Pagoda Pass: Greatly hyped despite being nothing more than a border passing point to Myanmar with three small pagodas and a couple of small scale vendors. The road to here is fine, you might consider biking the approx. 15 K. If nothing else, the landscape is magnificent. Note that it is not possible for foreigners to cross into Myanmar through this border post.
- Waterfalls: There are a couple of waterfalls worth visiting in the outskirts of Sangkhlaburi. But before you take to the road, ask about the water level at your guesthouse. The area is very much dependent on the rainy season bringing water to the area and some years the dry season starts earlier than others.
- Temple Cave: A small local temple (Wat Tham Sawan Bandan) in the outskirts of Sangkhlaburi is home to a magnificent cave which you can explore via three routes: Heaven, Crocodile and Deep Underground. Monks use the caves still for solitude and meditation and you will find Buddha figures and meditation platforms scattered in the corners. To go here make a right turn before reaching three pagodas pass and stop at the temple.
- Adventure Trekking and Biking: Sangkhlaburi has an abundance of unexplored jungle, local villages, trails and riverbanks. So ripe for trekking or biking it is a wonder that it hasn’t been explored more!
- Khao Laem Lake: When the government built a dam in Tae Pae the water level increased in the river and the Khao Laem Lake was born. Submerging a number of Mon Villages, temples and big trees in the process. You can still see bold trees rising from the water surface and the Mon temple that is either covered below water or fully accessible depending on the water level.
- Saturday Night Walking Market: As is the case for any Thai city with self-respect, Sangkhlaburi offers a Saturday night walking market. A couple of streets in the central part of the city are closed off. There you will find a long row of street stalls serving a mouth-watering range of local delicacies from fried black sticky rice to the local version of tasty hot pot served around a big bowl inserted in the table. All with the backdrop of the local musicians giving a concert and perhaps a classical dance performance.
- From Bangkok: Either go to the Mo Chit Northern Bus Station and catch the public bus to Sangkhlaburi (sometimes via Kanchanaburi). Or go to Victory Monument and opt for one of the minivans to Kanchanaburi (THB 120). Then change to another minivan to Sangkhlaburi (THB 175). A good option is to depart at 07:00 from Victory Monument and connect with the 09:30 bus in Kanchanaburi. You’ll then arrive in Sangkhlaburi around 13:30.
- Can I get to Myanmar? Though Sangkhlaburi is a real border town, you cannot cross either into or from Burma into Thailand here (unless you hold an ASEAN passport). Better go via Mae Sot in the North.
Where to go next?
- Kanchanaburi: (3-4 hours journey) Home to a plethora of history including the River Kwai, Hellfire Pass, the war museum and cemetery. Catch a minivan from Sangkhlaburi bus station (THB 175, 4 hours).
- Bangkok: (5-6 hours journey) Cosmopolitan and grandiose, ancient and local. Provoking, poking and playing with your senses. Go behind the façade of the city and into the heart and soul of Thailand and street kitchens by biting into the “Flavours of Nighttime Chinatown”.
This destination guide was written by Berit Bonde.