12 August 2014

  • Kayak trip on the Bang Pakong River in East Thailand from Tha Sa-An until Tha Kham in Bang Pakong district as part of the Bang Pakong River Kayak Route.
  • Technical data:
    • We launched our kayaks on the fourth day from the Viva Villa Bang Pakong in Tha Sa An and ended the day at the Ban Pla Loma Resort in Tha Kham.
    • The weather was partly sunny and cloudy. Maximum temperature was around 28 C (Humidex: 30 C) with a WNW wind of 5 Km/Hr. Humidity was 66 % (Source: VTBS).
    • Technical data of the trip was as follows: Total Distance: 17.84 Km; Moving Average: 6.1 Km/Hr; Overall Average: 6 Km/Hr; Maximum Speed: 12.2 Km/Hr; Moving time: 2 Hr 56 Min; Stopped Time: 3 Min; Total Time: 2 Hr 59 Min.
  • Number of participants: 2 (Sean & Pat)
The alarm went off and Sean was woken out of a deep comfortable sleep. He prepared his stuff then went downstairs to the poolside overlooking the river, the gardener was raking the sand along the riverside as the sun shone brightly on the river; the pool was motionless reflecting the palm trees overhead. Looking up he saw that Patrick was fully kitted sitting in his apartment watching TV. Sean was in a bit of a lazy mood still in T-Shirt and shorts; it was the last day of the trip, and due to the scheduling we only had a short paddle to do. It was the feeling you had on the last day of school when you break up at lunchtime, all the hard work was behind and this was the last bit of fun, to be savored. He went over to where the breakfast laid prepared, the resort had no kitchen but they had manage to outsource a good spread; fired eggs, sausages and toast. Rambutan, watermelon and bananas as well as fruit juice and coffee. He sat down and started his meal and shortly was joined by Patrick. They chatted about the day ahead most notably the tide. The evening before they had seen how forcefully it had flowed up river and Patrick was concerned that today we might encounter the same in the opposite direction with the real risk of being swept out into the Gulf of Thailand. This jolted Sean out of his holiday mood and forced him to refocus on the task at hand; this was not over yet, there was still work to be done. He swigged down the last of his coffee then went to his room to get changed and prepare his things.

 

As he came back downstairs he met Patrick talking with Khun Wee who offered to drive us and our luggage to Wat Tha Sa An, where our kayaks were waiting. We did not decline and shortly after, arrived at the Wat to find our kayaks still in good shape after being left in good care. We carried them back to the landing beside the river and prepared them while talking to Khun Wee, finally we said farewell, took some pictures and promised to keep in touch to do kayaking or meet in a Boeing over the Indian Ocean sometime. At 07h35 we set off and paddled the few 100m to the front of our resort, there we said farewell to the staff and then pushed on passing the restaurant and the market place where we took lunch and dinner the day before. On the first bend we came across a large rice factory, the biggest sign of industry we had seen on over 100km of paddling, thereafter we hit a long straight stretch of river, we paddled in the middle until the wind started to blow and then decided to keep the left bank. In the distance we again saw one of our major points of interest, the large Bang Pakong Power Plant with four chimneys reaching to the sky, as well as the hills of Chon Buri, now very close. Large packs of water hyacinth together with household garbage were twisted between the mangroves and the Nipa palms; not at all a very nice sight. Thailand should do an effort to get rid of this weed.

We then entered a long sweeping bend and the elevated Bang Na-Chon Buri highway came into sight, the bend then took us away from the sea in a SE direction as we found ourselves heading towards the power station. It was just before this that we stopped for our first break, here we also noticed that on the river bank there was now less Nipa Palm and more mangrove trees as we approached the sea.

After the break we carried on and reached the 4.384 Mw power plant at about 08h45. As we passed the station Sean, who was paddling ahead, noticed a large stream of wastewater discharging from the Power Station that created an area of very turbulent water as it joined the fast flowing river. He indicated to Patrick that they should immediately head to the middle of the river to avoid it but even so, they still encountered some steep waves as they passed. Another thing that convened Sean was the tide. After the mornings conversation he had been regularly monitoring the GPS to see if there was any noticeable change to their speed. All had been within range but as they had entered this long sweeping bend, with the addition of the waste water flow and concrete walls on all sides, he had got the real feeling that they had speeded up a lot and that indeed, they could realistically be swept out to sea. It took a couple of further checks of the GPS as the water calmed down around the bend for him to verify they were still within the normal speed range and that all was ok.

As we rounded the last quarter of the endless bend, the Bang Pakong Twin Towers, a landmark which can be observed from great distance inland became visible and we were soon passing under the Bang Na - Chonburi Expressway Bridge where we stumbled on a new world. Gone was the mangroves and green vegetation replace by old rusty ships; fish farms and factories. The smell of fish filled our noses, we had reached the industrialized section of the river just before the sea. We paddled by the fish farms and noticed that the tide had exposed the river banks, something that would be significant soon but which we did not realize at the time. Further down we passed our first escape point, Wat Khongkharam; this is where we would have ended the trip if the outgoing tide had been too strong, however it was now still manageable so we pressed on to reach the second point near the mouth and a few km further on. We continued and at 09h40 , with the town of Bang Pakong visible on the right bank, we rounded the southern cape to the left in front of Birds Island, apparently a home for about fifty species and more of 100.000 birds. We passed down a long channel with the island on the left and after a few 100m were out in the open river again.

Although now it no longer looked like a river. It opened out considerably and in the center there were large LPG ships anchored. In addition, in the distance there was a wide open section with a horizon of water and what looked like offshore islands, the Gulf of Thailand. We were here, we had finally entered the last stretch, the mouth of the river, now we just needed to navigate to our end point, Klong Thamru and the Bang Pla Loma resort. It was still some distance away but we decided if we kept to the left bank we would eventually come across the entrance to the khlong. We hugged the concrete wall lining the river, keeping about 10-15 m away; in the near distance was the walls of a marina with a lighthouse on the end of the jetty. On our right hand side we saw stakes sticking out of the water, which we thought were indicators for fish traps. After paddling about 20m, Pat, paddling behind Sean, noticed that every time Sean's paddle went in the water a dark brown circle bubbled up. Pat looked at his paddle and noticed that there was mud sticking to it as well. He alerted Sean who stopped and looked down at his paddles, it then dawned on us that we were paddling on a mudflat. Suddenly Patrick's kayak hit the bottom, but luckily he could pull the boat lose. It now turned out that indeed the outgoing tide DID pose a risk at the end of our journey, but it was not one of being washed out to sea, it was one of being aground in thick sticky mud 100’s of meters from shore with no way to get out until the tide rose again in a few hour. We had no time to waste so immediately started to paddle our kayaks back to the middle of the river in the direction of the wooden poles which we now realized were depth markers! Once we passed the poles we found that we were indeed in deeper water and had averted the grounding problem for now, the next task was to find somewhere where we could get out.

Sean pointed to the yacht harbour entry, believing there would be a channel which yachts could use to get in and out of the marina. We paddled along parallel to the bank looking but alas, Patrick noticed that in the front of the harbour entrance a white water bird stood in the water; it was obviously not that deep. The marina entry with all its expensive yachts - believe it or not - stood landlocked.

We went back to our original plan of reaching Khlong Tamru. Looking further down the river we saw one final loading jetty, the Bang Pakong Terminal with a Government vessel alongside then at a distance of about 1.5 Km away we saw a kind of signal tower, where we presumed the mouth of the canal should be, and beyond that just mangrove and then the open sea. We started paddling further looking for the entrance to our klong, as Pat paddled he recalled that every year from November to February, a school of Irrawaddy dolphins numbering 20 to 25, critical endangered species, stay in the estuary of the Bang Pakong River to feed on the abundant striped sea catfish in the brackish waters; a seasonal phenomena. The dolphins tend to live in groups of three, maximum six individuals. Unfortunately we were there at the wrong time and only had the company of ourselves and a lone fisherman traversing the river in his boat gathering in his net. Shortly we passed the ship at the jetty, the Chao Tha H.10, and at about 20m past came across a beached boat and what looked like a canal filled with stones. Concerned that this was our sacred canal, we enquired with one of the worker who told us that it was still open and a bit further on. We paddled on now with only the white signal tower, green mangroves and open sea visible. After 150 meters, just before the white beacon we found a vertical beam in the water indicating the entrance to the Thamru canal. The water at the confluence was not very deep, but we saw a boat coming down and were immediately reassured we would make the last 300 meters up the canal towards our arrival point. 

We had arrived and completed the journey! After taking some pictures we entered the canal and shortly after 10h30 we arrived at the landing of the Ban Pla Loma Resort. We pulled our kayaks up and brought them up to the parking lot. We stripped off our wet gear in the sunshine and while waiting for our driver for pick-up to arrive, had a coffee along the quiet canal in silence, quietly celebrating the end of another epic kayak trip. High five, mission accomplished.

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