Suan Phung on the Burmese border is an emerging destination for tourists at pains to venture far from Bangkok

THANIN WEERADET
Bangkok Post
February 14, 2008


Cool climate, scenic sunrise and sunset, and mountains enveloped in a sea of mist carry great appeal for the majority of Thai tourists. For them it is a fad travelling north and camping outdoors to get a feel of nature and its beauty.

These days, however, they need not venture that far. Suan Phung in Ratchaburi Province, just a two-hour drive from Bangkok, boasts similar ambience. Bordering Burma, Suan Phung is experiencing a tourism boom as evident from the new resorts and holiday homes rising in the district. Off-limit to tourists for long periods in the past, it was a refuge for ethnic Burmese fighting the military regime in Rangoon. But cordial relations between Bangkok and Rangoon paved the way for tourism, and these days you can see Thais travelling there in greater numbers, especially on weekends. Meanwhile, the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Central Region I Office that is responsible for the province has some great designs in the pipeline for Suan Phung.

On the way there from Bangkok one morning we visited Pasaya, a shopping outlet specialising in home furnishings - bedding, curtains and tableware, en-route. Equipped with state-of-the-art weaving machines, the buildings here are an architectural wonder. The minimalist concrete blocks sit in the middle of a pond equipped with a waste water treatment plant.


Nearby is a sleek, metallic-glass structure standing on concrete stilts called Octospider. This awe-inspiring architecture, designed by an Italian who was inspired by science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, is actually a canteen for factory staff . Instead of a conventional design, it is a complete break from their workplace where they can sit back and relax. As for visitors, coffee and snacks are available for them at the outlet.


Next stop was Thai Organic Food run by Kaan Ritkhachorn, who pioneered organic farming in Bang Phae district of the province. It produces salad vegetable for supermarkets in Bangkok. He is assisted by his wife who is a graduate of Cordon Bleu School.

It was a year of trial and error before he hit the winning formula, recalled Kaan of his seven-year-old business.

Organic farming relies on efficient use and management of ecosystem rather than on chemical inputs. To run such as a farm one needs a certificate that is hard to obtain since the issuing body in Thailand is accredited to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement that is known to set very stringent quality standards.


His farm grows salad vegetable like cucumber, sweet corn, pumpkin, zucchini, banana and tomato. Organic compost gives vegetables essential nutrients. That does not mean his farm is free of pests. Around the vegetable plots, he grows flowers to divert them and rotates crops. He plants legumes to enrich the soil with nitrogen.

Presently he is experimenting with organic nam pla or fish sauce, which he assured us will hit the market soon, although he is not quite sure how it will fare against the version produced using traditional methods.

For family fun, Kaan's farm organises weekend tours when visitors can watch and feed fish, ducks and earthworm in an organic way, pluck vegetables fresh from the field and take them home. A chef is also on hand to cook for them.

We sampled red and green Rachini tomatoes and they tasted good. After that we were ushered into a building where workers were packing salad vegetables into sealed plastic bags.

"In the evening salad vegetables are loaded on to trucks and by tomorrow morning they will be in supermarkets in Bangkok," Kaan explained.


Next we travelled to Siam Cultural Park in the same district. Owned by Nakhon Pathom-based Thai Imagery Museum, the park was built in 1997 with the aim to create a peaceful place where people could come and rest their minds and find a quiet moment to reflect on their busy lives. The other objective was to foster and promote art, culture and the way of life in a Buddhist society like Thailand.

From the entrance gate a lively green trail leads visitors to the Hall of Fame, a two-storey air-conditioned building showcasing fibre-glass figures of eminent national and international persons at their workplace. The upper level is not open yet but plans are afoot to exhibit the life and works of the Princess Mother there.

The trail runs past manmade cave and waterfall where the life of Phra Vessandara - Lord Buddha in his previous reincarnation - is depicted. Outside, the trail runs past replicas of temple remains with Buddha images from Chiang Saen, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya periods. Other attractions include traditional houses and temples native to the four regions of Thailand.


At one point visitors will see two sculptors working on a statue that is meant to give them an idea of what steps it takes, and how long, to complete a fibre-glass figure, months at a time.

Then we proceeded to Suan Phung town via Highway 4019. From there, it is another nine kilometres to Khao Krajoam on the Thai-Burmese border. The road is narrower and the vegetation more lush as we moved away from town area. We had transferred to a four-wheel drive for this stretch of the dusty road because the climb is uphill and very steep, too.


Half an hour later we were at the summit of Khao Krajoam, 1,000 metres above sea level, where border patrol police are on guard round the clock. The air was crisp and cool, and this was where we would be camping for the night.

When dusk fell it turned chilly but the view of the setting sun was just magnificent. At night it was pitch dark and we saw the sky peppered by stars. By dawn's early light I was awakened by a cacophony of newly-arrived tourists.

Peering out of my tent I spotted these visitors who had chosen to spend the night in town heading my way in four-wheel drives to admire the rising sun. They stayed there for what seemed a few fleeting minutes and once the sun was up, they headed back the way they came.

After breakfast I too headed in the same direction and stopped to call on Surapol Praimanee whose Suan Phung Orchids grows Vanda, Rhynchostylis, Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. In front of his nursery a dozen or so of Cymbidium were in full bloom.

"We are about 300 metres above sea level, an ideal altitude for growing orchids, like Chiang Mai. It's hot and dry in the afternoon and rather cool at night," he said.

We left the nursery in good mood and thought of returning to Suan Phung another time because there were a few more interesting spots that we couldn't visit on this trip.


MORE INFO

Suan Phung in Ratchaburi is about two hours' drive from Bangkok.

Pasaya is located in Bang Phae. Take the Phetkasem Highway and drive past Nong Pho Veterinary Hospital. Before you reach Bang Phae Intersection, you will see a sign leading to the shopping outlet located at Wat Sao It temple.

Rai Plook Rak Organic Farm (081-899-5289, http://www.anotai.com, http://www.thaiorganicfood.com) is located at Bang Phae.

Siam Cultural Park (032-381-401, 032-381-402, http://www.scppark.com) is open daily from 8:30am-5pm.

The drive to Suan Phung is easy but to reach the top of Khao Krajoam you need a four-wheel drive over nine kilometres of dusty road with a steep climb. At the summit there is no accommodation nor restaurants.Suan Phung Orchids (032-711-230) is open to visitors free of charge.

- Attractions in the neighbourhood

Pha Daeng Waterfall.
Bo Klueng Hot Spring.
Queen Sirikit Forest Park.
HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Nature Science Centre.