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    Cover story : 10 July 05 / Vol. 22 No. 7
  A Half-Day Trip to
      Samut Songkhram

                                              By Witch

     Some locals are sliding their wooden boards
     on the mud flats at Don Hoi Lot to catch hoi lot.

I had thought that the strong sunshine in the afternoon of the summer might diminish the pleasure of my trip to Samut Songkhram, a small province only 63 kilometres to the southwest of Bangkok, but the leisurely lifestyle of the local people and the sight of lush orchards here and there in the province made me forget the crowded city of Bangkok and feel refreshed so much.

Not having many popular tourist attractions, Samut Songkhram may not be appealing to many tourists, but my trip proved that there are still a lot of things and places to explore in this province. The press tour of the province that I joined started at 1 p.m. As we approached the province. I saw many orchards along the way after passing a stretch of salt farms on both sides of the highway.

A salt farm in Samut Songkhram
(By courtesy of TAT)

Our guide, a local teacher in the province, told us that Samut Songkhram, though small, is abundant in fruits, vegetables and aquatic lives for the province is situated near the mouth of the Mae Klong, a major river of the Central Plains. People there lead a simple life. There is thus no need for them to be in a big hurry when doing anything.

Succulent pomelos of
Samut Songkhram

Soon we reached our first destination Wat Phet Samut Worawihan regarded as the most important temple of the province. Enshrined here is the Buddha statue of Luang Pho Ban Laem which is highly venerated among the locals. Inside the temple there is also a museum of Buddha statues and images and some relics of the old days. It is a Thai practice that when visiting a place, the visitors always take an opportunity to pay homage to a Buddha statue in the region in order to ask for the Buddha's blessing and protection for their travel. So the temple served as a suitable first stop of our tour.

For me the highlight of this trip is King Rama II Memorial Park. This small province was the hometown of King Rama II (1809-1824). The King was posthumously honoured by UNESCO in 1968 as one of the Great Personalities of the world who had brilliant attainments in his lifetime as a great poet, warrior, artist, ruler and sculptor. As a tribute to the king, a memorial park was built in Amphawa county on the Mae Klong in 1979.

A group of five magnificent Thai-style wooden houses in a park were in my sight, arousing my curiosity to see what was inside. I learned from the guide that the trees and plants in the park had much more meaning than just decorations to the place. They are those mentioned in several works of Thai literature while many have medicinal properties, too. Four traditional Thai houses serve as a museum where a beautifully carved and painted bed once used by the king and many artistic objects reflecting the lifestyle of Thai people in the old days are on show while the other house is just for recreational activities of children.

Thai-style wooden houses in King Rama II
Memorial Park built as a tribute to King Rama II (1809-1824) who was honoured by UNESCO in 1968as one of the Great Personalities of the world.

The park is located next to the Mae Klong River. We had a chance to gain the impressive view of the river. Sometimes I feel that the difference between a river and the sea is that people have a closer relationship with the river which is like a common thread that ties them together and gives life to everywhere it runs through, closer than the sea which is just their mere acquaintance.
The guide told us that on the other side of the river is located Wat Phummarin Kudi Thong with historical significance related to the Queen of King Rama I. A millionaire who was the father of Khun Nak, the future queen, once went to ask the abbot of Bangli Temple also located next to the river, to foretell the future of Khun Nak.

As the abbot predicted that Khun Nak would become a queen, the millionaire was very glad to hear that and promised that if the prediction came true, he would build a gold house (Kudi Thong in Thai) in the temple compound.

The accuracy of the abbot's prediction was finally proved and the millionaire intended to fulfill his promise. But it was impossible to erect a building of gold, so instead, he built one from golden teakwood (or maisak thong), in which the word thong signifying gold appears in the name.

As time passed, the land of Bangli Temple was severely eroded by the river water, and the bank collapsed. Kudi Thong was thus dismantled and moved to the compound of the nearby Wat Phummarin. The temple is now called Wat Phummarin Kudi Thong. It is a pity that we had no time to visit the temple as we heard that it had a museum exhibiting ancient Buddha statues and some properties of King Rama I and his queen when they were ordinary people.

Mae Phra Bangkoet Church, the oldest and
the most magnificent church of Thailand

To my surprise, besides several places related to Buddhism, Samut Songkhram boasts the oldest and the most magnificent church of Thailand. Mae Phra Bangkoet Church was built in the Gothic style in 1890. There are 14 pieces of stained-glass imported from Italy decorating the windows around the church with attractive pictures depicting important scenes of Jesus Christ's life. It was amazing to find that they were all still in a good condition despite never undergoing any repair.

Inset: One of the 14 pieces of attractive
stained-glass decorating the
windows around the church

Several artistically carved statues are inspirational. Wat Bangkung was our next destination. What is strange about this old temple is that the roots of a bo tree have grown around the temple, supporting it to stand upright. The temple compound was used as an army camp of King Taksin which in 1768 was under siege by Burmese soldiers who were later defeated by the King. Since then the Burmese never attacked Samut Songkhram again.

The striking sunset at Don Hoi Lot

Maybe the most renowned place of this province is Don Hoi Lot, the mud flats at the Mae Klong estuary 6 km to the south of the provincial town. Many locals and tourists go there to catch a kind of shellfish called hoi lot, which are plentiful along the coast and are hidden in the mud when the tide recedes.

Hoi Lot, a kind of shellfish plentiful along
the coast at the Mae Klong estuary,
regarded as a great delicacy among locals.

The shellfish are considered a delicacy by the locals and can fetch a good price to add to the income of poor families. We arrived there in time to witness the striking sunset at Don Hoi Lot. Many restaurants sit along the estuary beckoning people to try their seafood and hoi lot dishes and view the natural scenery. Surely, we did not miss a delicious meal at Don Hoi Lot. When the darkness embraced us, it could not overshadow my memory of the charms of the province.

Villagers' lifestyles and shady orchards

We concluded our tour program with a visit to the Monument of the first Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, who were born with bodies joined together in Samut Songkhram in 1811. They were taken abroad for exhibitions in 1829, travelled extensively in Europe and America for 45 years and finally settled down in the United States and left behind over 1,000 descendants in that country today. It is ironic that unlike the Siamese twins who exerted their great efforts to live together successfully, people in our society struggle to seek for their own benefits from others' suffering. Our trip was completed but it may just be the beginning of my exploration of this wonderful province.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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