Walk in a Nipa Palm Forest
Samut Prakan is the most densely populated province in Thailand. In the city it is a bit like a concrete jungle which is so different to what it must have looked like a hundred or so years ago. I like using Google Earth to find new and potentially interesting areas in my area that are worth exploring. A while ago I spotted a large stretch of forest along the Chao Phraya River that wasn’t far from Sukhumwit Road. When I zoomed in I could make out a path that cut across this green stretch of land. It went from Wat Bang Duan Nok to Wat Bang Nang Kreng. I worked out that the route would be only about 2 kilometers which is a nice afternoon stroll compared to some of my other walks.
I decided that we would start our walk at Wat Bang Duan Nok. The eastern end finished at the Merchant Marine Training Center and I wasn’t clear whether we would be able to pass through there to get to Wat Bang Nang Kreng. I wanted to do a temple to temple walk. Wat Bang Duan Nok is at the far end of a small winding soi. The entrance is on the Old Railway Line Road near the giant three-headed elephant. You can catch a songtaew to the temple from Samrong. Or you could catch it from the top of the soi after visiting The Erawan Museum. In this satellite image. You can clearly see the path that cuts through the forest. The wide road on the far right is Sukhumwit Road.
Before we started our walk, we decided to have a look around Wat Bang Duan Nok. I parked my car under a shelter next to a songtaew that was waiting to make the return journey back to Samrong. Nearby was an old and very dilapidated temple. This was the original ubosot or ordination chapel. According to a friendly monk, it was several hundred years old. A newer ordination chapel had been built on the other side. It used to be traditional to build new temple buildings instead of renovating old ones. People believed that they would make more merit if a new building was erected. This practice started to change within the last 100 years. However, there wasn’t always enough money to renovate. For myself, I prefer these old buildings that haven’t been touched.
To find your starting point for the walk, stand with your back to the old temple building and walk across the parking lot to a water gate on the far side. There is a small shop here if you want to buy something to eat first or a bottle of water to drink. However, the walk is only about an hour or so long and you will find another food shop at the far end. The route you have to take is very clearly marked by a wide path. The forest that I saw on the satellite image turned out to be nipa palm trees. These are common trees found throughout South East Asia along waterways and in swampy areas. There are still large areas in Samut Prakan that are covered in nipa palm trees. These are not like the normal palm trees with tall trunks. These grow up from the ground as you can see from these pictures.
During our walk we had the place to ourselves for the majority of the time. It wasn’t quite dead quiet but the only sounds we could hear were the passing of boats in the distance. There were nipa palms on both sides of the track. I couldn’t really tell how far we were from the Chao Phraya River but there was water on both sides of the path. It was low tide and at a few places I could see tracks leading into the forest. Most of these were muddy but we did eventually find a place where we could get down to the river bank without getting too wet. We didn’t see any boats but on the far side all we could see were more nipa palm trees. No signs of “civilization” at all. Maybe this was similar to the view that the first Europeans saw when they sailed up the Chao Phraya River from Paknam several hundred years ago.
During our walk, we saw a couple of people fishing at a creek but it was mainly local people harvesting the nipa palms. This is a very versatile plant that can be used in many different ways. For example, the leaves can be sewn together to make roofing for houses and even baskets, headware and fish traps. The younger palm leaves can be used as wrappers for tobacco. We saw one many collecting a big bunch of leaves for this. Then a short while later we came across this old many that was cutting out the fruit from the nipa palm. This is translucent in colour and has almost a sweet flavour. He was happy for us to try some. I have actually eaten it before as my favourite yoghurt comes with the nipa palm. Another use of the palm leaves is as a wrapper for the famous local dessert called “khanom jaak”. The word “jaak” is the Thai name for this tree.
After about an hour of walking we had reached a fence. This was the border with the Merchant Marine Training Center. We then had to follow a narrow path along this towards the river and then just skirted around the school until we reached the bridge to take us to our final destination of Wat Bang Nang Kreng. We stopped here to buy some drink and then to sit and admire the views across the river. There was a lot of activity here with both moored ships and container ships heading upriver to the port at Klong Toey. We took a quick look around the temple before making our plans for the return trip. Our original plan was to head back up to Sukhumwit Road and from there catch a taxi back to our starting point. However, we decided to walk back halfway to a place where we had seen an elevated concrete path heading north. This wasn’t visible on the satellite but I had asked a local and they said that we could get back to Wat Bang Duan Nok this way. This turned out rewarding as we passed through a small community where calls of “farang, farang” greeted us.