By Korbphuk Phromrekha
The Nation Weekend
A ONE-HOUR drive from Phuket International Airport, the little known Samed Nang Chee viewpoint in Phang Nga’s Takua Thung district, offers scenes of Phang Nga Bay and pristine beaches that take the breath away.
It gets its name from a local folk tale that tells how monks once lived high in the Phra Art Thao and Noom hills. A nun (nang chee in Thai), however, chose to set up her abode on the lowland, meaning she had to fold up (med in the southern dialect) her robe when she walked through the canal.
“I’m a gardener and work in many of the orchards around here. When the land at the foot of a hill was converted into a kids’ playground many years ago, I discovered the vantage point of Samed Nang Chee and wanted to share this impressive experience with the public. Now that it’s become a popular viewpoint, it’s also generating some income for our community,” says Bang Nee.
Samed Nang Chee is a new popular spot to see panoramic views of Phang Nga Bay.
Facing east, Samed Nang Chee is a good spot to watch the sunrise and to marvel at the Milky Way at night. Those wanting to keep away from the full-moon parties so popular on Thai beaches can escape to the quiet boutique accommodation nearby.
As the sun climbs a little higher in the morning sky, we head to nearby Ban Hin Rom pier and board a beautifully decorated boat that takes us along the canal lined with fishermens’ hamlets, the Phra Art Thao and Noom mountain ranges, a lush mangrove forest and umbrella-like rocks.
A small dining table is set up on deck and breakfast is served tiffin style. We ate our appetites with such southern favourites as spicy yellow curry with sea bass, fermented rice noodles paired with crab curry, deep-fried shrimp, spicy shrimp paste dip with vegetables, seasonal fruits and luk choup (mung bean coated with jelly).
Villagers at Ban Tha Din Daeng demonstrate how to sift for tin slag.
Located some 55 kilometres from Phang Nga Bay’s eastern coastline, the old mining village of Ban Tha Din Daeng in Muang district takes visitors back to the days when tin mining was in its heyday.
Hemmed in by verdant mangrove jungle, it once housed two mines though all that can be seen today is a collection of old tools, hoist tracks and the pit, now a huge swamp. Visitors can have a go at mining and sift the sand for the waste deposit known as tin slag.
With the mines long closed, the hamlet has turned its attention to sustainable fishing, using hand-made tools including bamboo traps and nets as well as a unique Mard paddling boat mostly built from takien and teak wood.
Thanks to the clean canals and lush landscapes, this village is home to several kinds of marine creatures, plus floating farms of sea bass, oysters and sea weed. In the aftermath of the tsunami hit this village in 2004, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation stepped in and educated local residents about planting hydroponic vegetables to generate more income.
Hornbills greet visitors during a kayak cruise.
After a pleasant stroll around the area, we climb into kayaks and paddle along Khlong Tai Laem Ma and Khlong Hin Lat amid dense swamp forest. Before long, we reach a mixed of woodland and grassland or savanna that stretches as far as the eye can see. Our local guides tell us that the tsunami formed this landscape and that today it is a popular spot for pre-wedding photo shoots.
Khao Na Yak is another good viewpoint with a private beach that stretches for 15 kilometres.
Our next stop is the Khao Lampi-Hat Thai Muang National Park where we follow a one-kilometre trail to Khao Na Yak and a pristine beach that stretches for 15 kilometres. It was given its name by the Japanese army during World War II, as its shape resembles a giant’s face and it was constantly hidden in the mist, resulting in the Japanese fleet crashing into the rocky outcrops on more than one occasion. Canon fire eventually destroyed the overhang but today it is a good picnic spot with a backdrop of clear Azure waters.
Next morning, we continue our kayak cruise to explore the mystery land of Khlong Sang Neh. Dubbed the Little Amazon, it boasts a verdant ecosystem and a rich diversity of local plants, birds and reptiles.
Dubbed the Little Amazon, Khlong Sang Neh is rich in plant, bird and reptile life.
A 100-year-old towering banyan tree marks the gateway to the home of Asian water monitors that live together with Chinese egrets and little cormorants, while a massive forest of nipa palms and Cerbera odollam – more commonly known as suicide trees because of the toxicity of their seeds – is populated by gold ringed cat snakes, colubrinae and reticulated pythons. As we reach the edge of the jungle, some 30 hornbills come to see us off.
Rommanee Hot Spring offers both indoor and private mineral baths.
Not too far away is Rommanee Hot Spring with natural mineral baths of 65 degrees Celsius, perfect to soothe sore muscles.
Alongside the indoor and outdoor hot pools, stalls offer fresh vegetables, fruits, other agricultural produce and local delicacies.
Back in Takua Pa district that night, we check out the Krua Nong and Bai Toey restaurants recently awarded a Bib Gourmand in the 2019 Michelin Guide Bangkok, plus several chic cafes.
Sri Takua Pa Road is turned into a walking street every Sunday.
After dinner we wander along Sri Takua Pa Road and admire the beautiful Sino-Portuguese architecture. The best time to visit is a Sunday when it is turned into a walking street selling a wide selection of local dishes and sweets as well as rare plants like monkey cups.
The 200-year-old Guan Wu shrine is one of the spots to see a glorious deity procession during the Vegetarian Festival.
Spotting a large crowd, we walk quickly to the corner to find tourists and local pilgrims praying to the 200-year-old Guan Wu shrine for fortune, success and good health.
We’ve already enjoyed good fortune in coming here but a few more prayers can’t hurt, can they?
The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand’ southern region