A taste of local fishing culture
Few foreign travellers visit the seacoast just south of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province, where you won’t find idyllic beaches, snorkel-worthy seascapes or luxury resorts. But for a temple surrounded by sea to go with a taste of coastal fishing culture, the Baan Sakhla village and Wat Khun Samut Chin are definitely worth a day trip.
Tiny Baan Sakhla sits at the dead end of a narrow road set amid shrimp farms — converted from salt farms — that help define this flat and eerily desolate part of Thailand. Crisscrossed by canals and within walking distance of the Gulf of Thailand, most of the village’s modest wooden houses stand clustered on stilts, a setup reminiscent of Ko Chang’s Salak Phet and parts of Krabi’s Ko Klang.
Visiting the isolated village feels like stepping back 70 years in time; it’s hard to believe that central Bangkok is only 25 kilometres away as the crow flies. A stroll around the raised footpaths took us past old noodle shops run out of open-sided homes where children helped their grandmas to clean the morning’s catch. While a weekend market attracts a handful of Thai daytrippers, Baan Sakhla remains largely unknown and is a good alternative to the more touristy floating markets.
The local specialty is kuung yiat, a sweetened variety of dried shrimp that can be eaten head, legs and all. You’ll find it sold out of small shops and street carts alongside fresh seafood and handmade shrimp paste.
The village is anchored by Wat Sakhla, a colourful temple known for its Khmer-style prang that leans sharply to the south. Flooding is common in this low-lying area, explaining why, in the mid 2000s, the ordination hall was raised over a metre above the point where it was built.
This project uncovered a slew of treasures dating back several centuries — perhaps to when the village took its name from local female warriors who are said to have stood up to Burmese invaders. Now the temple’s underbelly hosts a lot of quirky statuary, including a plaster elephant that visitors have to duck beneath in order to get through. Upstairs, a small museum occupies a Thai-style teakwood house.
Walk east along the road that fronts the temple (the only real road in town), then take a right down a raised footpath next to the canal, and you’ll see a brown sign with white Thai script pointing down a side lane. A few steps further will take you to Baan Boran, a dim shop/museum specialising in taxidermied fish and reptiles caught in the area.
After an hour or two in Baan Sakhla, head back east for a couple of kilometres until you come to a canal bridge near an archway with Thai-style gable roofs. Below the bridge is a small pier, where a longtail boat can whiz you to an only-reachable-by-water village near an old temple: Wat Khun Samut Chin.
Khun Samut Chin village has moved inland more than once to escape the substantial coastal erosion, leaving only the one-time village temple and some old telephone poles as evidence of its original locale. Traversed by concrete walkways raised over silt that becomes submerged at high tide, the temple complex is now surrounded by the Gulf of Thailand.
In addition to this one-of-a-kind location, Wat Khun Samut Chin also includes a roughly century-old ordination hall that stands partly underwater at high tide. Inside, the floor and shrine have been raised more than a metre above their original positions, making for one of the more unusual temple interiors we’ve come across.
You’ll also find a much newer Chinese shrine near a large standing Buddha with two palms raised, which in this case stands for “repelling the ocean.” Symbolising something similar, there’s also a happy-looking seated Buddha image shown holding a lotus leaf over its head.
Though somewhat of an eyesoar, the concrete footpaths make it easy to explore the grounds and take in the sea views from a few different vantage points. Mangroves reach high above the silt in many places, providing shade for monks and kingfishers. Near the entrance, friendly folks in a tiny shack serve steamed shellfish to a few outdoor tables.
We also stopped at the nearby Phra Chulachomklao Fort (aka Pon Pa Jun) near the mouth of the Chao Phraya. Established by King Rama V in the late 1800s, it features seven cement pits connected by tunnels and outfitted with Armstrong canons. These were purchased from the British and used, unsuccessfully, to defend against French forces during the Pak Nam Incident.
You’ll also find a World War II-era gunship, a mangrove walkway, a gazebo with good views of the river and a collection of old canons, torpedos and machine guns that the local monkeys like to climb on. We’d advise skipping the fort if you’re tight on time, unless you have a particular interest in weapons (or monkeys). If you do want to visit, dark-blue songthaews can take you here from the main road near Phra Samut Chedi (tell the driver “Pon Pa Jun”).
Baan Sakhla, Wat Khun Samut Chin and Phra Culachomklao Fort can all be combined with a day trip to Pak Nam Market and Phra Samut Chedi. A homestay is located near the Wat Khun Samut Chin pier and another in the same-named village, but there are no English signs and the owners speak mininal, if any, English.
Thanks to Richard Barrow for showing us around this part of his home province and sharing his knowledge.
There are a few ways to reach the Baan Sakhla area, part of Na Kluea district, which will be a challenge (though not insurmountable) to explore if you don't speak any Thai and are using public transport.
If coming from the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, you could take the BTS skytrain to Bearing station and then catch a taxi or local bus 10 kilometres south to Pak Nam market (Talad Pak Nam). From here, a four-baht-per-head local ferry can take you across the river to Phra Samut Chedi; walk a few hundred metres west from the chedi and you should see a few dark-blue songthaews. One of these runs regularly to/from Baan Sakhla for around 10 baht per person.
On the way to Baan Sakhla, these songthaews pass the pier for Wat Khun Samut Chin, where we paid 40 baht per person, one way, for the ride to a second pier that puts you within walking distance of the temple. Head straight south from this pier along the concrete walkway and you'll reach the temple gates after 20 to 30 minutes. We took the boatman's phone number in case we needed a lift back, but this didn't prove necessary thanks to another boatman waiting when we returned. Songthaews should pass by along the main road at least once an hour.
If you don't mind paying more, you could potentially hire a taxi for around 1,000 baht in Bangkok for a round trip, though we wouldn't expect all central Bangkok cabbies to know about Baan Sakhla. The better option would be to first take a taxi to Phra Samut Chedi, which is also worth a quick visit, and then walk about a kilometre west to the local market, where tuk tuks and motorbike taxis are readily available. Expect them to ask for 300 to 500 baht for a round trip to Baan Sakhla, including a reasonable amount of waiting time.
If coming with your own wheels, head to the west side of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok and then cruise south along Route 303 to Phra Samut Chedi, where you can continue south on 3243 before cutting west towards Baan Sakhla on Suk Sawat-Wat Sakhla Road. This map should help.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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