Mad about Mud in Thailand’s Samut Songkhram
Adventures in mud. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Adventures in mud. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Stomping in the mud. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Monkeys in the mud. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Sliding in the mud. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Fun in the mud. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Rustic architecture. Photo by Chris Wotton.
Few foreign tourists know about the muddy banks of the Mekong river in Thailand’s Samut Songkhram, or about the fun in store for those who make the trip to visit. For the time being largely the domain of domestic Thai tourists, a friend and I first found out about these crazy shenanigans thanks to the Thai TV show Farang Pok Pok, in which a westerner travels the country exploring areas usually off the well-trodden tourist trail.
For the eco-tourism addict, these mud banks offer it all – and for everyone else, they are simply a whole lot of fun and a great example of how Thais really love to let their hair down and enjoy themselves in a totally playful, innocent way. The Mae Khlong district of Samut Songkhram province, just 80km from the capital Bangkok, mostly gets its fame for the ‘mud skiing’ antics that go on here.
This being Thailand, there is clearly no snow involved; and equally, no actual skis come into play either.
Instead, the owners of ‘home grataengs’, which are essentially homestay huts raised on stilts over the river, take out their guests in a longtail boat to the muddy edges of the river, give them a surfboard and set them loose. The idea is to ski as far as you can on the mud – easier said than done when it becomes clear that, while you might be able to slide quite easily, controlling where you are going is another matter.Whether you manage to get anywhere with the skiing or not, just flailing about in the mud is a heap of fun in itself.
After a while all that remains to do is lay down and soak up its goodness, rolling around, throwing it at friends, massaging it into your skin, making a DIY face mask and so on.
The salty, plasticine-like perfume of the mud might not be entirely pleasant, but is addictive all the same, and impossible not to get a taste of (whether you want to or not!) both on the boat ride here, as pieces fly through the air in the chop and spray of the water, and right here as you lie in it. But this stuff also cakes itself to your skin like no-one’s business, and taking a dip in the comparatively clean and flowing water of the river itself is refreshing, though it’s still no mean feat to get the mud off. There is also the chance for proper jet skiing on the back of the longtail boat (though still reusing that same surfboard!), and you might have more luck cleaning that way!
Further appeal in visiting the area comes from taking part in some voluntourism by helping replant some of the depleted stocks of mangrove trees on the river’s muddy banks. The mangrove trees help to provide a canopy of vegetation along the banks, and offer an important habitat to much of the area’s marine life. Yet, with the arrival of shrimp farming in the area some thirty years ago, many of the province’s mangrove forests were depleted, and within just a few short years only one per cent of the original stock remained.
The planting process is a rough one – dig a small hole, shove the root in and smear some mud over with your hand (or foot – far less messy!) to seal. Do this a few times and you are done and ready to move on to the next stop – but not so fast…the real challenge (and the real fun!) here is in even getting out of the boat and standing up on this quicksand-like mud, let alone planting trees, without sinking and losing yourself to its murky depths.
All the while, a troop of crafty-looking monkeys on the opposite side of the water is eyeing you up, and secretly laughing at your failed attempts to keep yourself steady in the mud. Eyeing you up, that is, when they are not fighting with each other and tossing their friends out of the trees! Back on the boat, it is time to check out the local sites for seafood harvesting – expect clams, prawns, mussels and oysters, and if you are lucky you will get to try a freshly caught, still wriggling prawn straight from the water. It’s not for everyone, and a friend of mine spat his straight out, but I found mine delicious!
A stay in Mae Khlong has a chilled atmosphere to it that just can’t be beaten – it’s a winning combination of laidback, innocent fun and a back-to-nature environment that guarantees a great time. You haven’t experienced the genuinely Thai way of letting go and enjoying yourself until you’ve been here!
Home grataeng Ruen Rim Lay charges 800 baht ($26) per person, including basic overnight accommodation in a stilted wooden house, two meals, boat transfers to and from the pier, and all activities. Call 0066 (0) 89 932 7193 to book. To get there by public transport, take the train from Bangkok’s Wongwian Yai station to Mahachai for 10 baht ($0.33). Jump off, take the 3 baht ($0.10) ferry across the river and hop on another 10 baht ($0.33) train from Baan Laem to Mae Khlong. From here you’ll need to grab a local songthaew (a cattle truck converted into an open-backed bus) to Khlong Khone – ask someone on board to give you a nudge when you need to get off! Then call the homestay, who will come to pick you up at the boat pier where the songthaew drops you off.
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