16 November 2013

  • Kayak trip on the Lopburi River in Central Thailand from Sing Buri until Lop Buri as part of the Lopburi River Kayak Route.
  • Technical data of the trip was as follows: 
    • Part 1 - Total Distance: 10,31 Km; Overall time: 4 Hr 45 Min; Moving time: 2 Hr 15 Min; Stopped time: 2 Hr 30 Min; Overall Speed: 2,2 Km/Hr;  Average Moving Speed: 4,6 Km/Hr; data is corrupted due that we moved the kayaks by motorcycle.
    • Part 2 - Total Distance: 5,03 Km; Overall time: 1 Hr 3 Min; Moving time: 1 Hr 1 Min; Stopped time: 2 Min. Overall Speed: 4,7 Km/Hr;  Average Moving Speed: 4,9 Km/Hr; and Max Speed 6,2 Km/Hr.
  • Number of participants: 2 (Sean & Pat)

After being picked up by Mr Pok in his “song thaeo” (two rows), we left Ayutthaya about 07h00 on a cool overcast morning. Over the last few days the weather had been affected by tropical storm ‘Podul’ and the forecast for the weekend was not good, on the drive up the Asia highway we experienced a few drops of rain, but it looked to be clearing from the east so we hoped the worse was over. We took the turnoff from the Asia highway and followed the river on its bank to the start at Ton Pho Watergate at Bang Phutsa (Sing Buri) near the mouth of the LopBuri River. As we passed our hearts sank a bit as we saw our first challenge of the day, numerous fishing nets straddling the river, a new phenomenon we had not seen before.

We arrived at the Watergate and began preparing our kayaks. Again as per the River Kwae trip, Sean had a problem with his GoPro camera; the cursing could be heard all the way back in Ayutthaya! We launched at the same place as the year before, slightly further down from the Watergate, and after taking a few pictures, set off at 08:00 ICT.

The weather was overcast and cool which helped us ease into the paddling routine, but soon our rhythm was disrupted when we experienced the first of the fishing nets blocking the river. On the way to the bridge of the Asia highway, we experienced 6 or 7 of these, some were easy to pass on the water but others were more difficult, necessitating landing and dragging the kayak around, all of which cost us valuable time this early in the day. As we got to the Asia highway, we noticed that the water had turned a ghastly dark black colour with a sort of oily surface. To our surprise a lot of locals were fishing with small trident type spears with a long handle; some from the banks, others from a boat. They showed us their catches and we really wondered who was going to eat these fish. Maybe the fishermen did not, but sold them on the local market or to a local restaurant. The water was heavily polluted over the whole stretch, after asking the locals, they said it was likely due to the disposal of drainage water from the fields. Fish were gasping for oxygen at the surface, as presumably the drained water contained a lot of pesticides or/and fertilizers. The disposal of household garbage intermixed with the water hyacinth in the stagnant water, produced a smell witch hardly can be compared with French perfume! 

Nearing Wat Phra Prang Mani, we encountered our first water hyacinth obstacle and it was not a little one, this was the first time we had experienced hyacinth this early and the signs were not good. This was confirmed as we landed and climbed up to the road for a better view; round the bend and as far as the eye could see; there was no river visible, just a field of hyacinth! Knowing that we were now facing a race against time, we quickly got to work carrying our kayaks and preparing for the physical and mental challenge ahead. After a few false starts, we finally found a way to comfortably carry the kayaks and set off hunting for the next available stretch of open water.  We endured this, now also in occasional drizzle, until we came upon a noodle shop and decided to take a break and strengthen our physics with a portion of dry noodles. The shop owner told us the river was free from weed at Wat Pak Nam, but added quickly she did not knew for how far. We eventually had to carry the kayaks for about 2.5 kilometers, but finally found a track of water through the weed, stocked on both sides of the banks.

We paddled for a while, but soon encountered a new pack of water hyacinth, history repeats itself, and it was now raining heavily as well! We asked a fisherman on the bank if he knew of any openings but he did not, we got out and walked along the road but could find no opening. We then got into our kayaks and paddled across the river to do portage on the main road on the right hand bank. As we climbed the bank and got to the road we encountered a local couple who kindly offered us a lift with their motorized three-wheeler to the next open spot, we gladly accepted!

We brought our kayaks back in the river and continued our way east to Lopburi. At noon we passed Wat Pho Sri and realized we were already 1.5 hours behind schedule, but still believed we could make it to our arrival point before dark.

But even before reaching Wat Rampharam, Murphy did it again. A sea of water hyacinth was in front of us. We took the kayaks out of the water into a banana field and pushed them up the road. Patrick went scouting to the bridge near Wat Rampharam and returned with the bad news that the river was filled with weed until the horizon. It was here that it suddenly hit us; we were now approaching the physical limit of carrying the kayaks, and even if we had minimal disruption due to hyacinth, given the time available, we would not make it to Lop Buri before dark at about 18h00. As we were stood brainstorming how to get out of this situation, a man in a pick-up passed us by and enquired. We told our story and asked if he knew where we could get a "song thaeo" for hire to transport us to Lopburi. When he heard we would like to go to Wat Phrom Mat, he suddenly offered to transport us to the temple. We loaded the kayaks and were soon on the way to Lopburi.

We got out at Chedi Wat Mani Chonlakhan, an island in the Lopburi River just north of the Narai Rachaniwet Palace. The island was a favourite site, for the Ayutthayan princes to relax far from palace protocol; but no relaxing for us. We ate some pineapple bought on the spot and took some quick photos before re-launching the kayaks at the bottom of the concrete stairs and started paddling to the confluence. We passed by Wat Phrom Mat where some children greeted us at the stairs  as they prepared for Loy Kratong, and we decided to turn east on the river to check the water hyacinth situation. West of Wat Maprang Wan we already found ourselves up against a weed obstruction. Also here the stagnant water was heavily polluted. The river was really filled with weed over 25 kilometers; definitely a serious lack of river maintenance.

The water hyacinth or Eichhornia crassipes is a weed imported by one of King Chulalongkorn’s consorts returning from Indonesia where the flowers were used for medicating the skin of horses. She loved the flowers and planted some cuttings in ponds as decoration. The weed found its way to the river where it has become a hazard to navigation, clogging up canals or floating in enormous clusters down rivers during the monsoon season. The water plants are vigorous growers, known to double their population in a fortnight. Thailand did not yet found a solution to get rid of this pest.

We returned to the river confluence, turned south towards Ayutthaya and continued silently our trip, passing by Wat Choeng Tha, Wat Phra Ngam and Wat Pho Thep Prasit. We reached Wat Khok Mo near the Pho Khao Ton water regulator around 14:45. We turned off our Garmin’s, dragged the kayaks on the floating pavilion and carried them up to the temple grounds. Patrick paid a quick visit to Luang Phor Phichet to request him if we could leave the kayaks on his premises. Thereafter we phoned our transporter Mr. Narong, who brought us speedily to our accommodation for the night. After a well-earned dinner and beer, we went to sleep with mixed feelings about this track; we had never seen the river level so low and the water so polluted since we started this trip the first time in 2010. Thailand’s rivers are getting worse with the years…


Detailed tracks on "Route You" for this event: 

Sing Buri - Lop Buri

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