“Road to the Sunken City” Western Thailand by Motorcycle
This was never going to be easy. I knew that right off the bat. One hundred fifty miles of remote Thai highway, the wrong side of the street, through the misty mountains of western Thailand, with all of our bags on an unfamiliar bike. We were asking for trouble.
We arrived in Kanchanaburi by train from Thonburi station in Bangkok just past 11. We had left early in the morning and caught the 7:45 ticket out, making the trip just over three hours. Our ticket was only 100 baht per person, just a little over $3 USD. The seats were comfortable, with air con as well as bathrooms in the train car. Next step was to find a ride. Across the street from the train station was a couple of delicious restaurants and a motorcycle dealer, down a little further we found the rentals. There were a couple scrambler style sport duos but with our needs for storage and two seats we opted for a 125cc scooter. There goes my dirt bike dreams but so is life. The highway wasn’t exactly empty as we had been lead to believe. It was pretty crowded with lunch traffic and even in its most remote stretches there was still competition for lanes. Neither Popy or myself felt comfortable with her taking her own rig. At 250 baht per day (under $20 USD) it was very reasonable and I would recommend highly for anyone with competent riding ability to opt for your own two wheels. Keep in mind however there is certainly risk involved. If anything happened to us along the way, the police would be less than impressed with my lack of an international drivers license, insurance and overall lack of legal status to operate said vehicle. I would, I’m told be equally unimpressed with rural doctors ability to set bones and more-so when I get the bill, both in Thailand and again in the states to get it reset (ouch!).
We started our 150 mile journey west on 323 highway toward the Myanmar border. Every turn of the wheel began to look more like the Myanmar and Western Thailand I remembered. Great green hill rolling through the landscape, small mon villages selling gasoline dyed with color representing the octane choices. Red for 95 green for 91. The rain started about half way through and felt like needles. The gas tank only holds about two liters, forcing us to fill up every 50 km with whatever garbage gas we found bottled up along the way. Funny the immaculate stations only seem to appear after we have already fueled with questionable bottles of green sludge from a local villagers roadside kiosk.
Spirits remained high until we realized we had taken a wrong turn over 15 km back (stay right at the fork Thong Pha Phum, or it’s a doosie). That set us back about an hour and the shitty petrol burns twice as fast.
Once we got back on 323 the curves increased and as the road got more perilous, the view rewarded our endeavors. The misty mountains opened up to vistas of lake Samprasob. What a view it was!
Once we finally arrived in Sangkhlaburi we rested our heads in a beautiful bungalow at Somchai Coffee and Guesthouse a bit outside of town. It’s private setting had no downside as we had our own wheels to come and go to town center as we pleased. We loved the efficient hot water heater, mini fridge, air conditioning (although Sangkhlaburi is quite temperate with its higher altitude) and most of all the amazing view from our balcony. For 1,000 baht (just over $30 USD) it wasn’t exactly cheap but you get so much for the money.
The next day we set out for the sunken city. P. Resort and Guesthouse has great rentals for speedboat tours, kayaks, canoes and more. For 500 baht we opted for the three temple tour by speedboat. We needed something we could rely on to safely bring camera and equipment along to shoot. See what we recorded from our journey on this special Spice Vagrant feature in the link below!
We felt the hands-off tour to be just what we wanted, efficient taxi to all the spots we wanted to hit, and enough privacy to nerd out all we wanted. First stop was the sunken city. Our trip being in October, the water was too high to walk around and get inside the structures, but we were able to see the tops and cruise around them a few times. We did want to see a sunken city after all so it seemed appropriate the water was almost ten meters. In the low season, however, the structures are more exposed.
Next was the hilltop ruins from a Mon, Burmese temple. Set atop a forest hill, the overgrown temple is all but abandoned. There is a very ornate and well preserved Buddha inside, with melted candles and a canvas covering the statue from rain. We were the only visitors there and again the privacy was appreciated.
The final stops were a breeze by a hilltop stupa which was more of a drive by visit but with plenty of time to observe. It was set very high and would’ve been another motorbike journey so we felt the view ample.
Not mentioned but included was a trip under and around the Burmese wooden bridge that unites this river village.
Feeling accomplished we set back for P. Guesthouse and rode to return to our bungalow. We spent more time in Snagkhlaburi and after we had our fill we started back for Kanchanaburi. As with most things, it was much easier the second time around. What took us 6 and a half hours there only took 4 hours returning. We stopped only at reputable gas stations, of which there was just enough to not go empty. We even made time to get a glimpse of the many mountain temples along the way!
Upon returning to Kanchanaburi around noon, we went to the bus station and shuttled back for a less comfortable and more expensive, albeit faster, 200 baht ($6) bus ride to Bangkok. This dropped us off a few miles from Hua Lamphong MRT station which we took a taxi for. Then it was just the subway to Lumphini where we stayed at The Corner Food and Shelter for our night before leaving to Phuket!
This journey was one for the books and confirmed several truths for me. Namely I enjoy three things. I enjoy border towns, Western Thailand and motorcycles! If you feel the same and have a few days in Thailand to spare I strongly encourage this trek.