Tag Archives: Wildlife

Bang Pu Seaside Resort

If you are sick and tired of the traffic and pollution of Bangkok, then you might want to consider heading down to Bang Pu Seaside Resort in Samut Prakan for a bit of bird watching and a sunset dinner. As you enjoy the fresh sea breeze at the end of a lazy afternoon you won’t believe that you are in one of the most densely populated provinces in Thailand with many factories nearby. The Sukta Pier is a popular places for families to go at the weekend during the late afternoon. They go there not only to enjoy the sea breeze but also to feed the literally thousands of migratory seagulls that come there between November and July.

I have been to this pier many times over the years. When I first came here it was just a wooden structure. Now it is a concrete pier with a large seafood restaurant at the end. This area is also of historical importance as Japanese forces landed here less than two hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. According to a plaque at the site, “A small group of brave local forces rushed to form a defensive position just two kilometres north-west of this landmark. This group consisted of police, the army youth corps and civilian volunteers all from Samut Prakarn. Just before the two sides clashed, a last minute accord was reached between the Thai government and Japanese which permitted Japanese military forces to pass through Thai territory unmolested.”

The Bang Poo Seaside Resort is actually owned by the army and is used for a R & R facility for their soldiers. However, the general public can use their grounds and even rent the bungalows along the seafront for as little as 500 baht. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) also has an education centre there for mangrove forest conservation and birdwatching. Schools often send their students to the center to learn first-hand about conservation. Local bird watchers have spotted 66 species of resident birds and 124 species of migrant birds. The most common migratory birds are the brown-headed gulls from Russia and Mongolia. You can also see pained stork, grey heron and purple heron. Other animals include the mudskippers and crabs. They have also spotted 58 species of fish. At peak times of year, an estimated 20,000 birds can be seen here!

The best time to come is about 4.30 p.m. when the hot day starts to cool down. As well as feeding the birds and walking along the pier, you can eat a meal at several of the restaurants. It is worth hanging around for a spectacular sunset. There are also a couple of walks that you can go on along the coastline. Going east you can walk for about 45 minutes to a fishing community at Tum Ru. Going west you can walk for about 90 minutes to Wat Asokaram. Bang Poo Seaside Resort is on Sukhumwit Road. You can come here by taxi from Bangkok which would cost you about 250 baht. There is no need for your taxi to wait for you. By public transport, you need to catch a bus to Samut Prakan then change to a large songtaew heading to Tum Ru or a blue bus heading to Klong Dan. You could take a 36 Songtaew to Ancient City or the Crocodile earlier in the day and then take a larger songtaew or the blue bus to go a few kilometres more to the pier. I have marked Bang Poo Seaside Resort on Google Maps as well as the two walks I have been on there.

Swimming Monkeys in Samut Songkhram

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.

Openbilled Stork Temple

Open-billed stork

A few years back I heard about a temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya River that has an invasion of openbilled storks during our winter months. It has been on my list of places to visit for too long and so I finally decided today that I should go and take a look. Wat Phailom is in Pathum Thani which is a neighbouring province just north of Bangkok. I decided to drive there on the Kanchanaphisek Outer Ringroad. Samut Prakan is on the southernmost section which is still being built. The temple is at the far northern end. In theory it looked like I was going the long way round but due to the good road, I was able to reach the temple area in about an hour and ten minutes. Getting there was the easy part. Working out how to cross the river without a bridge was another matter.

The night before I left home I did my homework. I didn’t want to go all this way just for one temple. I was interested to see what else Pathum Thani had to offer. However, just about all the guidebooks let me down. They had nothing. The Lonely Planet had about two inches of column space on Wat Phailom and nothing else.  So, I decided to Google “pathom thani” on the Internet. Not surprisingly there wasn’t much. I ended up doing a printout from our own website. I then left this morning armed with this and my A-Z of Bangkok and Vicinity (PN Map).

Openbilled stork
Openbilled stork

I decided not to leave the Outer Ring Road at Pathum Thani as I knew from the map that the temple was further north. I decided to leave at the exit for Highway 3111. I headed a short way south until I reached Wat Samakkhiyaram. I parked my car beside the Chao Phraya River. On the other side I could see a temple which I presumed to be Wat Phailom. According to the Lonely Planet I could catch a ferry across. I couldn’t see any boats at all. I wandered around until I found someone I could ask. He confirmed for me that Wat Phailom was indeed on the other side of the river. H said he would take me there for 20 baht. I asked if he would wait but he said “no”. However, he said he would give me his mobile phone number and I could ring him when I was ready. Fair enough. So, I crossed the river in a small long-tailed boat.

He didn’t take me straight across as expected to the big temple building but rather to another jetty a little further downriver. I asked him about this and he said that there were three different temples all next door to each other! Certainly confusing. But, no mistaking that I was heading towards the right direction. Flying overheard were hundreds of Openbilled Storks. I disembarked at the small landing and waved goodbye to my boatman. It looked like I had the place to myself. I walked up a path until I reached the entrance to a boardwalk on my right. A notice in Thai said that this boardwalk is sometimes covered 1–2 metres deep during the floods and is in desparate need of repair. It called for funds. It also called for extra caution as the planks looked very rotten in places.

Openbilled stork

By this time the murmuring of the bird’s chatter started to rise in tempo. I turned a corner and I was immediately in the middle of a set for a Hitchcock movie. You know, that one called The Birds. They were everywhere and they were large. And they were making a lot of noise. There was also a distinct smell of ammonia in the air though it wasn’t overpowering. Up ahead I saw a watchtower and decided I would climb to the top to take a closer look. As I ascended to the tree tops I became mesmerised by the unfolding scene in front of me. There was so much action going on and it was happening 360 degrees around me. I couldn’t believe how close I was and they were just ignoring me. It was such a wonderful experience being up in the tree tops with them and being able to observe them. I thought I would be popping over the river for 20 minutes but I ended up staying more than an hour.

The open-billed storks are so called because of a small curve in their long beaks. When they close them there is a gap inbetween. This helps them to grip onto the freshwater snails which is a favourite food of theirs. They come to Thailand during the Winter months. They are usually here between about November and March. Sometimes as late as June. The storks nearest to me were busy building a nest. Just one tree probably had 20 or more nests. Some of the nests even had eggs. I was just wondering how long it would be before they hatched when I spotted another nest with birds that had already hatched. This was so marvellous. I was seeing everything. From the making of the nests, laying eggs and then finally the freshly hatched eggs. I am not sure the exact number of storks, but there were literally thousands. This was a major habitat for these birds. And here I was, the only person observing them on this Sunday morning.

After I climbed back down from the tower I wandered around the temple a bit. I passed a solitary monk who was watering some plants. I then decided to head back to the river. Apart from the monk I didn’t see anyone else. I rang the boatman and asked him to come and pick me up. While I was waiting for him I made plans for a return trip. I decided that the next time I would come in the late afternoon to get a different light. The colours of the setting sun would be good on the birds. I made it safely back to my car. My day wasn’t over yet though I had already experienced the highlight. My next stop was Wat Chedi Thong a short way up the road. This had a good example of a Mon style pagoda which was over 160 years old. As I was now not too far from the Bang Sai Royal Folks Arts and Crafts Center I decided to go and pay a return visit. I will tell you more about this another day.

The Bat Temple

Bat temple

Today I visited Bang Khla district in Chachoengsao Province. The “Unseen Thailand” attraction here are the thousands of fruit bats (or flying foxes) that inhabit the temple at Wat Pho Bang Khla. This is another one of those unique places that you won’t find in any Western guidebook. In fact, the Lonely Planet doesn’t even mention Chachoengsao Province. This was my third visit here. You may remember me writing before about going on a boat trip to see the dolphins. There is a lot to see in this province and I have only scratched the surface. You do sometimes see foreigners here but they usually come with Thai friends and they only seem to be going to pay homage to Luang Pho Sothon. You never see independent travellers which is surprising as it is only 90 minutes away by train from Bangkok. And the cost of the ticket? I think only 20 baht or so.

Bang Khla is about 23 kms away from Chachoengsao city. You leave the city on highway 304 for about 17 kms. You then turn left onto highway 3121 for a further 6 kms. This area is famous for the mango orchards and they have an annual fair in March. It also marks the spot where King Thaksin stopped briefly with his troops after the fall of Ayutthaya. In the town they have a statue of King Thaksin as well as a memorial on the banks of the Bang Pakong River. However, the star attraction for this district must be the fruit bats. To be honest, I wasn’t too sure whether it would be worth driving out there today. In the Thai guidebook there was a picture that only had one bat! I was thinking that maybe it would be just our luck that the day we visited, that bat would be away or something. But, we weren’t disappointed. There were thousands!

Bat temple

When we arrived at the temple it was the sound that first caught our attention. We then looked up and we could lots of dark things hanging from the trees. Then a huge bat flew over our car and landed in a nearby tree. I was actually quite surprised because I had always presumed that bats were nocturnal creatures and liked dark places during the daytime. But, these were pretty active. We were going to park right there under the tree but then I suddenly remembered my encounter with fruit bats in Australia. The liquid that comes out both ends is pretty foul and makes a mess! So, we parked around the corner and walked back.

Just about every tree in the temple compound had bats hanging from the branches. We asked a monk about the bats and what they ate. He said they ate fruit such as mango, tamarind and guava. They also ate the fruit and young leaves from the sacred boh trees in the temple. This is the tree that Siddharta Gautama became enlightened underneath when he became the Buddha. There is speculation that this has actually affected the bats behaviour. For example, they never touch the mangoes in the orchards of Bang Khla. They always go to a neighbouring district. Also, in 1957, the temple was having a special ceremony for 9 days and 9 nights for a sacred stone. During that entire period the bats just disappeared and weren’t around to bother the local people who had come to make merit. Then, in 1966, a revered abbot at the temple died. For days many of the bats refused to eat and didn’t fly out at night-time. A few days later, some of them started dropping dead out of the trees.

Bat temple

Wat Pho Bang Khla is actually quite an interesting place. The oldest building dates back to 1767. Also, in the compound, there is an array of extremely beautiful Buddha images. These seem to be based on famous Buddha amulets. I took some really good close-ups which I will get blown up and framed. The temple is alongside the Bang Pakong River which also runs through Chachoengsao city. I believe you can hire a longtail boat to bring you here or alternatively you can come by bus. If  you do get a chance then do come to visit this temple before any of the guidebook writers find out about it. Once that happens the place will change. Just don’t tell anyone else about this place! Let it remain in the “Unseen Thailand” category.

Dolphin Watching in Bang Pakong

I have been racking my brains recently trying to think of a good day trip to go on in the Bangkok area. December this year has three long weekends, so I decided I should make the most of this and try and go somewhere new. Most of the other teachers already had plans, like going to see the sunflower fields in Saraburi. Although these fields are very photogenic, I was there last year. Then, one teacher asked if I had been to see the dolphins yet in Bang Pakong. I hadn’t, so that was the start of the idea for this trip.

I had first heard about the Irrwaddy dolphins several years back but had never gotten around to going. Apparently they are seasonal and arrive in the Bang Pakong River in November, at the end of the rainy season. They then stay there a full 120 days until February. Although this had been going on for nearly five years, I couldn’t find any mention in my edition of the Lonely Planet. Yet another omission. I have been finding quite a few recently. So, I set off this morning armed with my Thai language guidebook. They at least had a double page on this area.

I have passed through Bang Pakong many times on the way down to Pattaya, but I have never stopped there before. The city is at the point where the road crosses a high bridge over a river (which I now know to be Bang Pakong River) and then does a sharp right turn and heads south to Chonburi and Pattaya. From my house it doesn’t take long to drive there. In fact, we left at 8.15 a.m. and we were on the boat at 9.30 a.m.! It was quite easy to find as we just followed the dolphin signs as we drove down the Bang Na – Trad highway.

Once we were off the highway, and onto the side road in the Tha Kham area, our first mistake was to follow some handwritten signs for the dolphin boat tours. This took us down a dirt track to a few shacks by the side of the river and a very broken down looking fishing boat. We decided not to linger and just did a u-turn. Our guidebook informed us that we should only use the two tetsaban piers at Moo 1 and Moo 8. Apparently the boat operators there had been properly trained for dolphin watching. Arriving at an intersection we had the choice of turning right to Moo 1 or left to Moo 8. The guidebook didn’t say which was better so we flipped a coin and turned right.

About ten minutes later we arrived at Moo 1 pier. The car park was under water as it was high tide. A guy came out and told us where to park. I must admit I wasn’t really that impressed. It was nothing like the boat jetty I visited for my trip to the beach in Bangkok. This was like in the middle of no-where and pretty run-down. It hadn’t been developed for tourists at all. Our car park attendant doubled as an agent for the boats. He quickly led us down the dock as a boat was about to leave. As we waded through the water, he explained that each boat cost 1,000 baht to take it out to the Gulf of Thailand. As there were now eight of us, it would work out at 125 baht each. Not bad, so we agreed. It looked like that the other people on the boat were waiting to make up the numbers. There were no set times for these trips, the more people you wait for, the cheaper it becomes for you.

Our boat was basically a fishing boat that had been converted into a tourist boat. A couple of simple benches had been nailed to the deck and some garden netting had been stretched over our heads to provide some shade. Not exactly that comfortable but I later found out that we were better off than some people. I later saw some boats that only had some mats for people to sit on! I asked our driver what he did between March and October and he said that the boat was converted back into a fishing vessel. I guess they made good money during the tourist season so it makes sense for them to convert their fishing boats.

From our pier, we slowly made our way down the river towards the Gulf of Thailand. Along the way we passed a number of fishing huts perched on top of stilts. These bamboo poles had nets strung between them so it looked like fisherman stayed in these huts while attending their nets. At some of these places the nets were lowered into the water and other places they were pulled up. In the distance I could see four or five boats out in the Gulf of Thailand. I guessed that they were fishing boats. I was wrong.

As usual, I was taking plenty of pictures of this and that along the riverfront. It became quite funny as every time I lifted my camera to take another pictures, everyone quickly looked up to see where I was pointing. They all thought I had spotted a dolphin. But, they got their own back on my as every now and then they too pointed to something – but it turned out to be only driftwood. I started to prepare myself in the event of not finding any dolphins. I didn’t want to be too disappointed. But, I like boat trips and even if we didn’t see any dolphins it was still a nice trip out on a boat.

About 30 minutes later we had passed out of the river and into the Gulf of Thailand. The boats that I thought were fishermen were actually tour boats like ourselves. There was a circle of them and we could see people excitedly pointing towards the center. It was then that we spotted out first fin. A dolphin! Everyone was so excited (and relieved). Then we spotted another, and then another and another. They seemed to be in groups of about two or more. They didn’t seem to surface that often. They came up and then went straight down with hardly a splash. I suppose I was expecting a few jumps here and there. I think I had seen too many dolphin shows. But of course, this was very different. It was the wild. So, even though we didn’t see dolphins jump out of the water, the fact that the event wasn’t predictable at all, made it by far more exciting.

For nearly an hour, our boatman took us around in circles as we scanned the horizon in different directions. As soon as someone shouted out we swung around to get a good look. We reckoned that there must have been about 6 or 7 dolphins. It was actually quite fun though very hard to get any good pictures. You really had to be quick as they didn’t stay up for long. In the end, it was by far more interesting to sit there and just watch the activity. And also watch the humans in the other boats. By this time there were eight boats circling the dolphins with three more coming our way. Although I wanted to see the dolphins, I was conscious of the fact that I was encouraging the boatmen to keep chasing the dolphins every time they surfaced. As this tourist attraction becomes more popular, I hope they regulate it more. Like number of boats allowed to go and how close they can get to the dolphins. One of the boatmen had a radio blaring music which wasn’t really help. We were all happy to see that boat go.

After we had all seen enough, our boatmen took us back. It had been a really good trip and certainly worth coming. I would recommend it to anyone as a nice day out. In addition to seeing the dolphins, we saw other wildlife like the bats on Bird Island. We also saw the different methods of fishing. Back at the car we decided to drive down to Moo 8 pier to see how it compared. This one was further south and nearer to the Gulf of Thailand. The pier also had a restaurant where we stopped to have some tom yum goong for lunch.

After lunch, I got talking to one of the boat operators. He told me that the price was 1,000 baht per trip the same as at Moo 1 pier. I asked if he also went up to Bird island to see the bats as it was the opposite direction to the Gulf. He said they went to both. The set-up at this pier looked much better so I would probably come here the next time I visited. If you want to come yourself, I would suggest that you would have to come the last part by taxi as there is no public transport. The boat operator said he sometimes gave people a lift back to the main road for a small fee if they didn’t have any transport. But, I guess you could also hitch a lift. So, although it is a bit out of the way, it is possible for you also to come and see the dolphins in Bang Pakong.