Our new kayaks arrived on Friday late afternoon from Bangkok. Last year we did the Lopburi River descent with our "Moken" kayaks, which are close to 4 meter long and weigh 35 Kg; they are stable on the water but a bit rigid and certainly not made for turbulent waters. This time we would test the "Nomad" another boat “Made in Thailand” from “Feelfree”. The "Nomad" is one meter shorter and weights only 21 Kg, so we were really looking forward to how this boat would behave on the river.

Day 1

Sean arrived the following morning at 0730 Hr and made first contact with his beauty, however the acquaintance was short as we ran out of time. We hastily fixed the kayaks onto the roof of the jeep, helped by Dawit our man-do-it-all and driver. After a cup of coffee and having checked all our gear, we left Ayutthaya around 0820 Hr. The car trip to the mouth of the Lopburi River took us less than an hour. We decided to drop the kayaks in the water at the Ton Pho water regulator in Mueang Sing Buri district. We prepared our river horses, lowered them down the concrete slope of the dam and set off shortly after 0930 Hr; a bit late to depart for this first 31 Km track.

Departing at Ton Pho head regulator

Departing at Ton Pho head regulator 

The weather was fine, a cool wind blowing from the north east. Though the four gates of the Ton Pho head regulator - controlling the incoming waters of the Chao Phraya River - were opened, there was hardly any current. Paddling smoothly we passed a few Chinese fishing nets set up along the river banks and soon we arrived under the Asian Highway bridge, where we took our first short break in the shadow of the concrete construction. Just after the highway, the Lopburi River becomes the administrative border - between the Province of Sing Buri and Lopburi - for a short stretch in Bang Na sub-district nearly until Wat Sri Pho. 

A few minutes later we met our first obstruction, a floating bank of water hyacinth. The bank was too large to pass through so we decided to take the kayaks out - bypassing the green mass of leaves by carrying our horses - instead of them us - and putting the boats back in the water. The task was quickly performed, and five minutes later we were back on the river. We dived under the two bridges near Wat Phra Prang Muni. Floating water hyacinth was everywhere part of the waterway. 

At 1050 Hr we hit a new impenetrable water hyacinth bank shortly before the bridge supporting Rd 3033 and leading to the Rd 311 direction Lopburi and Tha Wung. We again beached our kayaks, pulled them along the steep slope and hauled them upon the road longing the west bank. 

We positioned the kayaks next to each other, fixed the paddles, lifted boats and gear in one move and marched forward. Every 50 meter we changed position forth and backwards, a routine in which we would be very professional nearing the end of the trip. We lost some time as we had to cross Rd 3033 and near the spot we wanted to drop our kayaks, the locals had just started to make a large fire with cut-off branches. We lowered the kayaks in a kind off "Apocalypse Now"-styled theater, nearly breaking our necks over the sandbags blocked drainage gate. The whole area was polluted with filthy garbage, plastic bags and other indescribable rotten objects. Beside the bridge in the immediate vicinity, a waterfall of garbage dropped down into the river. All the time I see people fishing in the river and I could never understand why people would like to eat fish from such a contaminated environment; but likely the fisherman doesn't care too much as he just sells the fish to his countrymen; "mai pen rai, pla sot". We left the bank of water hyacinth intertwined with smelly garbage behind us and continued our trip. 

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky 

After passing the foot bridge which leads to Wat Phrom Buri, a temple situated close to the Asian Highway, we met a new patch of water hyacinth. We managed to struggle through to finally arrive at our first planned rest point at Wat Pho Sri, shortly after noon. We parked our river horses along the stairs leading to the temple premises. This monastery was normally planned as being the place to take our breakfast, but due to the fact that we started off late, and we moved slowly because of the north eastern head wind, it became our place for lunch.  

I went shopping some drinks and then walked to the road behind the temple to buy our lunch; four small plastic bags with dry noodles and fish balls - "kuai tiao" in Thai. After joking around a bit I even received two sets of fork and spoon, which I promised to frame after our trip. I hurried back with my trophies.

Sean swallowed his noodles faster than I could sip from my drink. I honestly had to struggle a bit with my second portion and finally decided to help out the local temple dog. I think we were lazy, a bit taken by the conditions of the first track; the muscles quite sore as we started this river trip without training. An hour later we hit the water again and we realized we had to hurry up if we wanted to reach our destination before dark.

Our progress was slowed down by the fishing nets spread from bank to bank and by the crossing ropes stabilizing the Chinese fishing nets. It was a sport trying to get underneath it without getting entangled all the time. The fishing lines got regularly caught in between the hull and the kayak’s skeg.

We arrived at Wat Rampharam. Last year this was a narrow space as there was a new bridge in construction. The bridge was now in use. Twenty-five minutes later we hit a large patch of water hyacinth which we battled through. Shortly before 1500 Hr we hit a serious blockade under the bridge near Wat Pinyo Samoson. We took the kayaks out, carried them to the other side of the bridge and lowered them again into the river; an operation we were able to do now in just a couple of minutes. 

We were in a hurry now as time was catching up with us. We dived under the Tha Wung yellow foot bridge and passed swiftly Wat Tha Rat. Again the river was against us; the Wat Sua Bridge stood at same level with the waterway. We paddled straight to the southern entry of the bridge, threw the kayaks out and quickly put them back in the water at the other side. Most of these bridges, having different heights, are built by the local community with the only purpose to get to the other side, without much consideration for navigation on the river. The structures are built so low that they block off the river completely in the rainy season. It is a oversight that we observed also at the water regulators on the Lopburi River; none is equipped with a navigation lock, an issue that was well considered for example on the Noi River. The Lopburi as thus is not navigable anymore, with the result of becoming more and more silted and slowly turning in an open sewer over time.

Fifteen minutes later, after having taken the bridge obstacle and passed under the Pho Talat Kaeo Bridge, we arrived at Wat Sanam Chai. This was our second rest point, where we initially planned to take lunch. It was now close to 1700 Hr, less than an hour from sunset and we still had to make it through track 3, a short track of 8 Km to Wat Khok Mo. 

The Lopburi River in all her beauty

The Lopburi River in all her beauty 

At this point we realized that the only way we could make it to our destination before dusk was if we did not encounter any more obstacles. For this reason we only took a short break and less than 10 minutes later we were back on track. We saw the evening falling over the river; the shadows of the trees as long fingers covering the waterway. We hurried, but we were not spared. As water warriors we fought water hyacinth in a couple of places, passing Wat Thong Thaeng, Wat Sing, Wat Pho Rahat and Wat Klang. 

At Wat Amphowan we got our final deathblow; a huge hyacinth bank mixed with garbage made further travel impossible. We checked if we could get around, but it was blocked by buildings on both sides, with no road or path to bypass it. We were trapped as rats in a rat-trap, water rats in this case.

It was now close to 1800 Hr and dusk started its way in. We were stranded just a kilometer before the city of Lopburi and about three kilometers from our planned arrival point. No way to continue; time and obstacles were our fate. We called up the logistic support car which was waiting at Wat Khok Mo. We took the kayaks out of the water and readied them for transport. The car arrived quickly at the temple premises and Dawit fixed the kayaks on top of the jeep. He dropped us at the Hotel Lopburi Residence in Lopburi City and went storing our river horses at Wat Khok Mo. At the Lopburi Residence, we took a quick shower, changed, and went to the Full Bar, opposite the hotel for a late diner & beer; we relaxed listening to the live band and reviewed the day’s events. First track done, but what will it be tomorrow! Recalling the track from Bang Phutsa to Lopburi afterwards, we can only feel sad about the river’s pollution, the bad maintenance and careless building of river infrastructure.

Day 2 

We had a Thai-styled breakfast at 0630 Hr and shortly after 0700 Hr left the hotel bound for Wat Khok Mo in a “song thaeo” arranged by the hotel staff. At the temple we planned to perform a small commemoration session for our deceased friend Harald Busser, who accompanied us on the same trip the year before. Upon arrival at the temple, we had to wait for the head monk, Luang Phor Phichet and we used the time to prepare our kayaks. Once the head monk arrived, we offered a "Sangkha tan" to make merit for Harald, providing him with an auspicious rebirth. 

As the five gates of the Pho Kao Ton water regulator were not completely opened, Luang Phor Phichet offered a pickup to transport us & the kayaks the short distance to the other side of the dam. Upon arrival south of the dam, we were dropped off at - what it looked like - a beach location. The river was still so swollen that river and land met each other just as the sea meets the beach.

At 0900 Hr we hit the Lopburi River again, ready for the 34 Km long track. All the weed and garbage was blocked north of the water regulator, so we should have had a trip without too much obstacles, at least in the morning. We paddled swift and passed Wat Bua and Wat Thammikawat; went under the road 311, continued to Wat Suwanaram, Wat Yang Na Rangsi, Wat Khok Pho Khun Chon and Wat Pho Loi, keeping all the time Rd 3196 on our left side. Finally we arrived at Wat Ban Dab, our first resting point at 1100 Hr. Monks were cleaning the premises of the temple, where the water just had receded. We steered our kayaks into the still flooded sala and got out easy after a 14 Km trip. Keeping the feet out of the water we reinforced our bodies with a snack. 

The Lopburi River in all her beauty

Exotic Lopburi River 

After a short half an hour we started the second part of the day, a track of a bit more than 10 Km with as arrival point Wat Sam Phaniang. Five minutes after our departure we hit the first obstacle of the day. The bridge near Wat Tako was constructed far too low and was still half hanging in the water. It blocked off a bank of water hyacinth, banana stumps and garbage. We landed the kayaks, waded through the mud dragging our river horses and returned into the water at the other side of the bridge. We had hardly started off again when the same story repeated itself. The next bridge was hanging again in the water and sliding underneath was no option. Kayaks out - kayaks in; a common routine on this trip. Next we passed the still flooded Wat Yan Sen and we crossed the provincial border into Ayutthaya province. The next bridge, close to the Ban Phraek Hospital on the eastern bank, was again constructed too low, but we managed in stretched position to go underneath. Our kayaks are sporty and as thus not that stable, so our heart beat went up a bit. It was a "go or die" as once in front of "the mouth", the current swept us between the pillars. One wrong move and we were fish.

We continued longing the meander around Ban Phraek and passed under the bridge between Wat Bot and Wat Khian Lai, to meet another low bridge. We took the kayaks out, carried them through the streets, crossing the bridge. We stopped close to a space between two houses where locals pointed out a place where it was possible for us to put our kayaks back in the water. We dropped our kayaks and went for a short reconnaissance. Two women nicely dressed in a luxury car came close to driving over our kayaks, even though the street was wide enough for both. Lowering her window I heard one of them asking the bystanders if we were "farangs" who came to spot the flooded people. Sean and I, we were both flooded in Ayutthaya province and I even a second time in Pathum Thani. The upstart lady with her poisonous talk was probably having a bad day, so we did not pay too much attention to her impolite aggression and concentrated on how to get our river horses back in the river. The locals were very friendly, helped us with our boats and offered us some water to drink. We lowered the kayaks via some stairs into the water and there we stood waist deep with our machines at chest level, blocked between two houses. Have you ever tried to jump into a kayak from this position? Real sport, I guarantee you. We used partly the stairs and a step up via a stand of flowerpots to get in our kayaks; in the end it did not go that bad. It was now 1300 Hr. 

Fifteen minutes later after having passed a scenic area with beautiful high trees we passed Wat Luang Phor Khiau. We continued further to arrive at our second rest point - Wat Sam Phaniang - at 1330 Hr. Sean went buying noodles and we ate them above the stairs leading to the monk's dormitories. Children and a black and white patched cat, past by a few times to admire our kayaks. 

I cannot recall exactly when we took off again, but it should have been about 45 minutes after our arrival. The waterway between Wat Sam Phaniang and Wat Chao Pluk is windy and most vulnerable to concentrations of bamboo and water hyacinth. We progressed well and thought we were lucky, but then we were blocked by a huge bank of water hyacinth a few hundred meters long. We decided to take the kayaks out on the east bank. We paddled through some gardens and around homes to arrive at Rd 3196. There we tried to find a transport to get us to Wat Krajom Thong, but though there was a light truck parked in the nearby premises of a house, there was no driver available. The locals indicated to us the irrigation canal running parallel to the road. We picked up our kayaks and threw them into the klong. There were quite a few obstacles, which we could take quite easily and after a kilometer or so we arrived at the road sign indicating Wat Krajom Thong. We walked the kayaks over the road into the path leading to the still flooded temple premises. There we lowered them back in the river and continued our trip. 

The peace of a paddler

The peace of a paddler 

The next section was also windy, but last year we had a close to free ride to Chao Pluk, with exception of an short exit at Wat Suni Thong. Ten minutes after our departure - I believe it was the first windy curve, we found ourselves entangled in a hyacinth bank. We steered aside bypassing the river via the flooded rice fields. This we had to do a second time until Wat Nak in Phit Phian area. Just behind Wat Suni Thong we again found a bridge which was constructed too low. The bridge held back a large pack of water hyacinth and we were once again forced to take the kayaks out whereupon we did a short reconnaissance to see where we could re-enter the river. The locals however warned us about more obstructions on the last stretch towards Wat Chao Pluk. The family living opposite the temple offered us a pickup ride to Wat Chao Pluk nearby, and a bit knocked-out by all the obstructions, we reluctantly accepted the lift for the last two kilometer. Shortly after having being dropped off near the gate of the temple premises, our logistic support car arrived to take us back to Ayutthaya for the overnight.

Day 3

The next morning we departed before 0800 Hr with the kayaks still loaded on the jeep. Unfortunately once at Wat Chao Pluk we found out that we forgot our kayak seats, which we put to dry in the back of another car. The logistic support car had to drive back to pick up the seats, so we departed with a bit of delay for this last track at 0925 Hr. We were waved out by the locals living in the vicinity of the temple. We paddled under the Rd 3247 and went into a meander encircling Wat Khlong Bu. Just after having past the monastery we hit a water hyacinth bank. Sean took the lead and wrestled himself through; I followed his stern. Suddenly we found ourselves in between two hyacinth banks. There was no solution other than go back the way we came from. We landed our kayaks, checked the premises and decided to carry the kayaks across to the adjacent flooded field. 

Sean in front of Wat Khlong Bu

Sean in front of Wat Khlong Bu 

We set off in the water covered paddy field and after a few hundred meters we could turn back on the Lopburi River. We passed Wat Nam Tao and continued until we were blocked again by a bridge built too low at Wat Umong. Here we took the kayaks out and transported them for about 75 meters to the other side of the bridge. Wat Umong stands in fact at the crossing of another waterway linking the Chao Phraya River in the north at Chaiyo with the Pa Sak River in the south at Nakhon Luang. We were again blocked by a low bridge at the junction and had to land our kayaks again. A few meters further we brought them back in the water in the vicinity of some fishermen and we continued our route passing Wat Wang. A bit further the road was cut open to release the water caught in the surrounding fields. The Lopburi River had seriously undermined the road to Hua Phai. We passed Wat Pak Khlong and the confluence of the Lopburi River and the Bang Kaeo Canal in Hua Phai shortly after 1130 Hr. The Bang Kaeo canal has its mouth at the Chao Phraya River and the cross regulator there controls the water influx of the main river into the Lopburi River.

There was hardly any current at the confluence and we steadily continued our way south. Just passed noon we paddled under the bridge near Wat Thang Klang followed a half hour later by Wat Sao Thong Mai. Close to 1300 Hr we arrived at the Bang Nang Ra water regulator in Bang Pahan. The five gates were open but completely blocked off by floating garbage and water hyacinth. We went out on the east side, carrying our kayaks over the dam to the other side - an operation which took us twenty minutes - and continuing our way to Ayutthaya. Now the waterway lay open and the rest of the trip was only pure routine. Our favorite restaurant north of Wat Sala Daeng was largely damaged by the flooding and still closed. We went across to Wat Tong and parked our horses on the beach of the temple. Sean went to buy some noodles and drinks and we ate silently in the sala built on the western river bank. We had a view right onto the bridge linking the two sides and observed some flooded people still living in tents on the bridge. 

Phong Phet Islet

Phong Phet Islet 

Around 1445 Hr we left Wat Tong and paddled in the direction of Phong Phet Islet what we passed about twenty-five minutes later. Thereafter it was a straight run down at good speed passing Wat Ton Satu and the border of Bang Pahan district; paddling by Wat Sawang Arom and Wat Borommawong to take a scenic stop for a photograph with the elephants near the Elephant Kraal. A few paddle strokes later we arrived at Wat Tong Pu situated at the confluence of the Lopburi and the Pa Sak River near 1610 Hr. We harbored our kayaks, drew them out of the water and went for a toast on the good termination of the 96 Km long trip. The bottle of sparkling fruit juice popped open as a real bottle of champagne and the fluid flowed easily through our throats - fresh and fruity; the end of a good trip. 

Salute to a nice trip

Salute to a nice trip 

Ayutthaya, 5 December 2011  

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