5 March 2013

  • Kayak trip on the Khwae Noi River in Central Thailand (Kanchanaburi area) from Ban Kao until Kamchanaburi as part of the Khwae Noi River Kayak Route.
  • Technical data:
    • We started off from the Botanic Garden Park Resort at 0830 Hr. There was a good current estimated at 5 Km/Hr, but nearing Kanchanaburi it dropped to 1-2 Km/Hr. There were no obstructions on the river. We arrived at Wat Chai Mongkhon Chana Songkhram on the Khwae Yai River at 1555 Hr.
    • The weather was overcast. A bit of rain fell in the morning just before departure. Max. Temperature was 32 C and we got very strong head wind blowing from the southeast.
    • Technical data of the trip was as follows: Total Distance: 49.3 Km; Moving Average: 7.0 Km/Hr; Overall Average: 6.6 Km/Hr; Maximum Speed: 11.1 Km/Hr; Moving time: 7 Hr 5 Min; Stopped Time: 20 Min; Total Time: 7 Hr 25 Min. We made no lunch stop along this track.
  • Number of participants: 2 (Pat & Sean) 

It was early morning on the Khwae Noi River; Patrick looked through the window of his house raft into the darkness, he heard the current shaving the floaters of the raft, it sounded strong. After the flow problem of the day before we thought the dam would reduce the release of water during the night, but now it seemed that this was not a hard and fast rule, rather it was a bit as a lottery. We prepared and went up to the restaurant for breakfast at 07h00, the sky was overcast and all of a sudden it began to rain, not very strong, a bit like mosquito piss. Unfortunately the clouds were high, so it did not last long, and as soon as it had started it was over; the only rain we encountered on the four days.  After a good breakfast, the best of the trip, we went down to our house raft to prepare our kit and kayaks. Just after 08h00, we launched as planned, in between the bank and the rafts, and plunged into the current behind the last house raft. 

Today, the final leg was 50 Km through the open plains surrounding Kanchanaburi. For Sean it was also the first time he would paddle 4 days in a row (Patrick had done it two years before on the Pa Sak River), however he had had a good sleep and rest and his body felt up for it. After 15 minutes we met the first fish farm on the river. Floating plastic barrels supported the cages for raising the fish with bags of fish food on top and, above the pens, night lighting; identical pens can be found on most other rivers in Thailand and the most common fish raised is the Nile Tilapia or Pla Thapthim. In March 2007 thousands of such pens were affected in Ang Thong and Ayutthaya area due to polluted water in the Chao Phraya River, millions of fish died. 

We made good progress as we followed the river in a south easterly direction in the Chorake Phueak region, but our immediate surroundings were bland, and the natural wonder was slowly giving way to more and more development, there were however limestone mountains visible on the horizon on all sides. After about 2 hours we came to what looked like a fork in the river, Patrick pointed out that it was a shortcut that rejoined the river further on. We started to go down it, but it seemed to be heading away from the river, and Sean, concerned that it would be leading them to a dead end, suggested that they turn back before it was too late. Patrick, uncertain if it was in fact the shortcut, agreed and they started to paddle back to the main river. However the flow was very strong as it channeled down the narrow track and it took a lot of effort to get back to the main river! A few minutes later, we did pass the actual outlet of the shortcut, so Patrick had been correct and we had wasted a lot of energy for nothing! 

After a short break to recover, we took stock of our situation and noticed that our speed and thus the river flow had again reduced; we surmised that this was either due to the dam being closed, or to us now being on the plain and the river spreading out and becoming wider. At 11h30 we arrived in the area of Klon Do, the end of the seventh track and the start of the final leg. It was with great satisfaction that Sean turned over his map to see the ultimate destination of Kanchanburi visible for the first time; we were on the home straight; 26 Km to go – only two times around Ayutthaya island, and it was still morning; we could be in Kanchanaburi for a late lunch. However once again, as we were to find out, the river and Mother Nature had other ideas….

At Klong Do the river changed direction to flow in a north easterly direction, just after the bend we passed a big sand mine; it looked like a desert, in stark contrast to the luscious jungle we had passed the days before. The environmental impact of man was becoming more visible; the banks were eroded and this section of river had been widened by the sand mining activity. Around the next bend we found a nice beach with a couple of big hills as a backdrop, we stopped here to have a mid day break and stretch our legs. Rested, we pushed our river horses back into the water for the final track. By now however the wind had started to really get up we had to contend with waves that built up on the long stretches of water that further slowed our speed towards the destination. 

We pushed onwards, the hills we had stopped below still visible, but changing perspective with each bend in the river until they were eventually out of sight. But, now to the east a new range of hills became visible, the ones we knew were in the vicinity of our destination of Kanchanaburi, the end was in sight. At this stage however we had one final trial to test us, ‘The Bend from Hell’. This was a long sweeping right hand bend that went on for 10 km. It was also wide and exposed to the wind which caused the waves to be even higher; we had to hug very close to the reed covered banks and many fish farms to find protection and make progress. Eventually however we were past and found two relatively protected sections to make good progress. It was here that we first encountered the strange floating karaoke platforms; they consisted of restaurant platforms on which patrons sang, ate and drank all the while being pulled by a long tail boat.  

By mid afternoon we arrived at the penultimate bend in the river, on which Wat Khao Pun was situated. In order to get to the monastery one has to cross the Death Railway and at the crossing on the right hand side a massive cutting excavated by the prisoners of war is visible. The Japanese Army had a hospital at the rear of the temple during World War II an there is an old temple called the Monastery of the Limestone Cave famous for its reclining Buddha. The temple became defamed after the murder on British tourist by a monk in 1995. 

We were now on the last main stretch of water before the town of Kanchanaburi, however along this section the wind was at its most vicious, the sky became overcast and grey and we were paddling into white capped waves; we also had to contend with waves generated by high speed small boats ferrying passengers up and down the river. It was almost as if the Gods were determined to stop us completing the trip! Sean also nearly lost another hat as his light farmer’s hat was lifted high into the air then dropped in the water behind. Luckily though, it floated and he was able to retrieve it.

Twenty minutes later we passed the Chung Kai War Cemetery on the left bank. The cemetery is situated on the original site of Chung Kai Prisoner of War Camp and in exactly the same site as used for POW burials between 1943 and 1945. This second cemetery contains some 1,740 remains of prisoners; 1384 British, 313 Dutch, 37 Malayan and 6 Indian. The day before we had planned to end our trip here, as we did not know what the situation would be like at the confluence of the rivers Khwae Yai and the Khwae Noi in the town centre. However our pick-up party was not allowed to come down to the river bank to collect us and returned to Kanchanaburi to wait for us at the backup landing site,  Wat Chai Chumphon Chana Songkhram, just south of the confluence, where they assured us that there was a safe place to land. 

We passed the cemetery and continued to Kanchanaburi and as we got closer to the now visible confluence the river swarmed with floating karaoke platforms and fast speed boats; at times we had to stop our progress to allow them to safely pass before proceeding, we also  noticed many dead Tilapia belly up in the water; rotting in the sun. Finally we arrived at the confluence, suddenly the wind dropped and the boiling whirlpools we expected as the two rivers met were not there, it was all calm and quiet. We had done it; we had kayaked the River Khwae Noi. In an almost anti climatic state, we took pictures of each other while the staff at the nearby floating restaurants looked on in bemusement. We then steered our kayaks onto the River Khwae Yai and headed south the few hundred meters to the arrival point. The water was calm and to the south the sun shone on the hills, we came alongside the raft at the temple, perfect for landing the kayaks, tied off and got out; a piece of cake compared to the previous three days. We took some more photos and looked at the river one final time, the seeds of the next trip already forming in our minds… 

In conclusion:

The Khwae Noi River was, for us, the nicest river paddled in Thailand to date. Initially the trip was designed to be done in eight days, which would have meant just over 30 km per day and would have allowed time in the afternoon to visit the tourist spots in the vicinity of our accommodation. However, as the time available was limited, we were forced to compress the eight tracks in four days; thus it became more of a trial of endurance rather than a relaxing paddling trip on the river.

We booked all our overnight accommodation in advance, normally via the internet, with the exception of the resort at Thong Pha Phum, where we checked in on arrival.  We believe it would have been rather difficult in some places to find accommodation if we had not done this as most of the resorts were empty when we passed them and we assume only opened if they had pre-booked customers. We were dropped at Thong Pha Phum and picked-up four days later at Kanchanaburi, and we carried all the gear to support us on the kayaks.

We learned that most of the raft houses are situated in outside bends of the river. Being in the outside bends, the current is stronger, while the rafts were water obstacles themselves that created extra flow and turbulence. This was important to bear in mind when landing the kayaks at the raft houses.

During the trip we paddled with the visible flow and mainly used the outside bends of the river. On the inside bends, the water whirled mostly in reverse, which reduced ones speed and had the added risk of unbalancing the kayak. We used Sit-On-Top kayaks, which made it easier to land at the rafts, we presume it would be much more difficult with cockpit kayaks to get out upon the rafts; and in this case beaching might be the only possibility. The latter would then require transport to go to the designated accommodation or camping in situ.

After Sean’s experience, a reserve hat should be definitely part of one’s gear. And after Patrick’s experience, one should follow the instructions on waterproof bags and execute them exactly as it is written (four time wrap is not a three time wrap, believe me).

In terms of maps and location, do not trust everything on the internet or Google maps. It is important to get everything double checked and confirmed.

On this trip Sean increased his number of continuous paddling days from 3 to 4 and we both increased our longest distance performed in a day from 50+ Km to 70+ Km. 

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