Over the years, at www.bangkok-daytrips.com, I have written about many of the day trips that I have been on in the Bangkok area. I have long since been to all of the major tourist attractions and now I spend most of my time looking for new attractions within driving distance of Bangkok. The other day I found a new one just 90 minutes away from Bangkok in Samut Songkhram Province. Along the coastline, at a small community called Klong Khone, I found a group of homestays which provide various activities for mainly Thai visitors from Bangkok. These include boat tours where people could see up close the life and work of local fishermen. However, the highlight of these tours is the visit to see the so called sea monkeys who live along the coastline.
Samut Songkhram Province is fast becoming a popular eco-tourism destination for people living in Bangkok. I first went there on the Maeklong Railway trip where the train passes through the market on the tracks. Then on another visit I went to the emerging floating market at Amphawa. When I went back again last year I discovered literally dozens of new places around the market that were advertising homestay and various activities such as giving alms to the monks who passed the homestay early in the morning paddling a boat. It is possible to also join boat tours here and along the coastline at Don Hoi Lot. This is a popular destination for families to come to eat seafood and relax in the shade of the trees. If you continue on Highway 35 for about another 8 kms then you will reach the turn-off for Tambon Klong Khone.
Although this area is relatively unknown to independent foreign travellers, it has become popular with Thai people who come here with their university or company to take part in various activities such as planting mangrove saplings. At the main turn-off, there was a large bilingual sign pointing out places such as the Conservation Mangrove Center and various homestays. However, apart from that, there was very little in the way of English signs to show you where to go. The only clues we had were colourful signs advertising numerous homestays. Hardly any of them had any English, but many had pictures of the sea monkeys swimming in the water. We decided to follow the sign for “Baan Khlong Clone Resort” mainly because it also advertised their own dot com website.
On our arrival we were greeted by the resort manager. He ushered us to a large dining area over a pond where he showed us various photo albums of people who had already enjoyed their stay at the resort. He told me that about 60% of them were students from universities. The resort has a number of bungalow type buildings where you can sleep four people comfortably for 2,000 baht. He said that they would put in an extra mattress for 300 baht per person. For bigger groups he also had the options of renting out a large dormitory for 4,000 baht or people could sleep in tents. I have posted more pictures of this resort over at our ThailandQA.com Forums. Although I was tempted to stay the night, what we had mainly come to do was to join a boat tour to see the sea monkeys.
The manager told us that it would cost us about 700 baht to rent a boat for a trip that would last one or two hours. He seemed quite vague when he was giving me prices of the accommodation and various activities. It wasn’t like he was trying to cheat me, but rather he wasn’t sure how much he could get away with charging. While we were looking through the photo albums a Thai couple came and he told them the same price of 700 baht for the boat trip. It did seem to be on the expensive side but as you can get up to five people in one boat it could be good value for money if you take advantage of that. So, we agreed to rent a boat straight away. We were given a lifejacket, a large farmers style hat with a wide brim, and a cold bottle of water. Before we set off, I double checked that we would indeed see the monkeys. The other side trips of “jet skiing” and observing fishermen activities were of incidental value to me. We were assured that we would indeed see monkeys. And as it turned out, we saw literally hundreds.
I have said many times before that I really like doing boat trips as it is a great way to experience natural air-conditioning as you whizz down rivers and canals. The boat wasn’t too comfortable as we were basically sitting on a low stool with no backs to lean onto. The boat also didn’t have a canopy so make sure that you put on sunscreen and a hat. About ten minutes after we had left the homestay resort the boatman slowed down and then cut the engine. As we drifted towards the bank we quickly spotted the monkeys that were racing to greet us. I counted about 30 monkeys. Some were young babies being carried by their mothers. Many were on the banks while others were in the trees. Then we heard a splash as one had jumped down into the water to swim out to us.
It is a funny, I had always thought that monkeys were scared of water. But, here we were watching monkeys swimming in the canal. Not only that, but they were diving too. One of them had spotted some fruit floating on the water, and then after grabbing it, the monkey dived under the water and swam for 2 or 3 meters before coming back up for air close to the bank. Our boatman told us that on hot days that the monkeys would play in the water in order to cool off. They would hang from the branches of the trees and dive bomb into the water. As there were only the two of us on the boat, there was no pressure to move on and the boatman said that we could stay as long as we liked. However, as we didn’t have any food to give the monkeys they quickly grew bored of us and just sat still on the banks.
After a while, we continued on with our boat tour. We soon left behind us the mangrove forest and we were taken out to sea. He showed us some of the many fishermen huts that were built on stilts over the water. In Thai these are apparently called “krateng”. He then took us further down the coast and then up another estuary to a small fishing community. Along the way we stopped at a few spots to observe the monkeys. We passed about 4 or 5 other tour boats though for most of the time we were alone. Some of these tourists had come prepared with bananas for the monkeys. In other boats I could see that they had mangrove saplings so I presumed that they were going to help replant the mangrove forests. Many of these had been cut down to make way for shrimp farms. They now realized that this was causing land erosion so the community were desperately replanting. But, it takes time.
Our boat went up as far as Wat Klong Khone before turning around for the return trip the same way. We stopped again to see the monkeys on the way back. By the time we had returned to the homestay resort nearly two hours had passed. We hadn’t seen much about the way of life of fishermen. They were probably sleeping inside to escape the midday heat. However, seeing the monkeys swimming in the water was alone worth the trip. If you are feeling adventurous, there is an opportunity to do the local version of “jet skiing”. This involved a wooden plank shaped a bit like a surfboard and a long piece of rope tied to the end of the boat. The boatman then offered to pull us along at high speed. We declined. This surfboard is really used by the local people at low tide to skim across the surface of the mud as they look for sea creatures. They knelt on these boards and then pushed themselves along with the feet.
Before we left, we decided to check out another homestay in order to compare prices and activities. We next decided to follow the signs for Home Krateng. I had seen a report about this one on a Thai language blog. On arrival we were again greeted by the manager and then showed around. The homestay here seemed cheaper at 1,200 baht but I soon realized that this price was per person and not for the room! However, it was a package price. If you arrived at noon, you would be given, lunch, dinner and breakfast. You could also have one of the meals on their krateng out in the sea. Some people also opt to sleep here at night. This price also includes the boat tour similar to the one we had already been on. You would need to have a minimum of four people sharing the room. If there was only two of you then you would need to pay more per person. Like the other resort, these people also seemed to be unsure of prices as I grilled them. They kept saying “about”. When I asked about children they had to have a discussion between themselves first on how much the discount should be.
Home Krateng also offer boat tours if you don’t want to stay the night. However, at 1,000 baht for the boat it was more expensive than Baan Khlong Clone Resort. But, the seats looked more comfortable with backs and there was also a canopy shading you from the sun. The pictures of the tour that they showed me also looked a bit more interesting than our own tour as they took you to a mussel farm where you can see various shellfish stuck to poles in the sea. Some of the pictures also showed foreigners. Apparently a popular Thai tour guide called Tong has been bringing groups of foreigners to this location for the last few years. However, the homestay manager told me that it was very rare for foreign independent travellers to come here. I really want to come back here again. Maybe bring Nong Grace as well as she would love to see the monkeys. However, to make it economical you would need at least four or five people in your group. Nothing I had seen so far was for independent travellers.
Tambon Klong Khone is not easy to reach by public transport. On the way out I did see some songtaews that had come from the nearby town of Samut Songkhram. But the sign on the front was only in Thai. As the place is also spread out then you would need to choose a homestay before you arrive if you don’t have the luxury of a car. During the weekend and on public holidays you would need to book in advance if you intend to stay the night. Like I said before, there are hardly any road signs in English and no-one seemed to be able to speak English. It is a bit adventurous but certainly worth the effort. Follow this link to our forums at ThailandQA.com where I have posted pictures of road signs and more instructions on how to find this location. Don’t forget to also post your experiences if you go to see the monkeys.