With Thailand’s longest handmade wooden bridge as its principal attraction, Sangkhlaburi doesn’t need to try hard to sell itself as somewhere to unwind – in fact, it could do it half asleep.
Set seven hours from Bangkok, this remote outpost of a small town in western Kanchanaburi province is located just twelve kilometres from the border with neighbouring Myanmar and boasts, amongst other traits, an impressive mix of people from different cultural and national backgrounds who co-exist in a way that other parts of Thailand and beyond can only aspire to.
When in Sangkhlaburi, the order of the day really is relaxation and the simple pleasures– kicking back in a hammock, reading a book or five, tucking into great local, home- cooked food and soaking up the green and glorious beauty of nature at its best.
That said, if all that hammock time gives you itchy feet, Sangkhlaburi also offers plenty of low-key attractions and, after the long trek up from the capital, a visit here wouldn’t really be complete without checking out at least a few of them.
For a start, a walk across that bridge is a must. Spanning the width of the man-made Vajiralongkorn Lake, created when a dam project flooded the old town that stood where the water now is, the bridge connects Sangkhlaburi town with a village of Ethnic
Burmese Mon people on the other side of the lake. At any time you will find children playing on the bridge – and throwing themselves off it into the cool, refreshing water below – but get up early enough and you’ll be treated to a very special view as the sun rises through an atmospheric mist that’s a given when you are at the kind of altitude that Sangkhlaburi is. On the other side of the bridge, the Mon village morning market is well worth a visit, as is Wat Wang Wiwekaram, a glistening golden stunner of a temple that has a uniquely geometric design up close and exudes an infectious sense of calm. The nearby, equally vibrant pagoda can be seen shimmering amongst the green backdrop all the way back from town.
Longtail boats can take you out onto the lake and, depending on the depth of the water – which fluctuates considerably throughout the year – you might catch a look at the eerie sunken temple that remains from the old town, its top poking out above the water or at times so completely exposed that you can pitch up and walk around it.
Near to Sangkhlaburi, small bamboo stilted huts perched over the trickling Songkalia River act as restaurants serving up spicy Thai-style papaya salad and a range of other dishes, and provide the perfect casual spot to while away a few hours and really
chill out. Just under 20km from town, it is easy to get here either by motorbike taxi or by hiring your own wheels from P Guest House, set by the lake in Sangkhlaburi. Takianthong waterfalls are also nearby and, unlike falls elsewhere in Thailand, here you are likely to have the place almost entirely to yourself, with barely another soul in sight.
Sangkhlaburi spouts a feeling of laid-back eco-tourism and, though it remains firmly off the radar for the majority of western tourists, it offers enough facilities to make your stay convenient and comfortable. A number of informal, family-run restaurants serve up excellent freshly cooked food – a favourite is Toy’s Restaurant, just down the hill past the hospital near the minivan and bus station – and the market in the centre of town offers a great choice of snacks, noodle and rice dishes, curries and more. Accommodation options include the ever-popular P Guest House, with its lakeside location, stunning views and rooms from 250 to 990 baht depending on facilities, along with Chuen Jai House, set further out from town but also boasting its own incredibly cute café-come-restaurant-come-gift shop, sporting jewellery that is mostly handmade by the owner herself. Basic double-bedded, fan-cooled, thatched roof bungalows at Chuen Jai House go for 400 baht per night, while another newer option is the Japanese- inspired rooms at Haiku Guesthouse (650 baht per night), which sits behind Graph Café – directly opposite the entrance to P Guest House, it’s a destination in itself for its excellent coffee, relaxed atmosphere and pleasing design.
The perfect place to kick back, switch off your phone and really unwind, Sangkhlaburi deserves at least a few days of your travel schedule – any less than that and you’ll spend too much time on the bus there and back to feel its true value. Minivans from just next to Bangkok’s Victory Monument Skytrain station make the trip to Kanchanaburi in around two and a half hours for 120 baht, where you will need to change for a further three-and-a-half-hour minivan journey (175 baht) up the winding mountain roads to
Sangkhlaburi. A direct bus also leaves Bangkok’s northern Mo Chit bus terminal a few times a day, but at around seven hours it is slower, and there is also a less frequent bus directly from the capital’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport.