My Australian friend (Tim) who comes to Thailand twice a year to spend a few months there took the opportunity of his son’s (Mondo) trip to Bangkok to show him around and offer him a scuba dive on an island in the south of the country for his birthday. He dived in the most renowned dive spots in Thailand, Koh Tao, Koh Samui, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Similan Island, and asked me if I knew another destination. Without hesitation, I recommended the island of Koh Lipe in Satun, a province I know very well and showed them around including some Satun geopark sites registered as a UNESCO World Heritage (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ).
Where is Satun?
The name Satun is from the Malay Setul (Santol/ wild mangosteen tree). 980Km from Bangkok, located at the southwestern tip of the country still off-the tourists beaten-track. A small and “sleepy” province that is full of charm and interest, the motto is “peaceful, clean and pristine nature”.
One and a half hours flight from Bangkok to Hat Yai, a friend had arranged the trip from the airport to Satun city (90km). We stopped for lunch on the recommendation of my friend at a small local restaurant, good homemade food. We arrived in Satun at 4:10 pm. After introducing Tim and Mondo to the whole family, they moved into the homestay. Later we had a walk around the small city and had dinner at the Goho restaurant.
Tammalang Pier, Shells, and the Brahminy kite red-back-sea-eagle
The first day with a relaxed program, so we took our time for the first local breakfast, full of small Thai cakes. A short distance from Satun to Tammalang which is a small fishing port that was once an important trading post in the South. The name comes from the Malay language, “Tamma” which means tying and “lang” sea eagle. In the past, Indonesian boats used eagles to help them find shoals of fish, and when they traded to prevent them from escaping, they tied them to the trees in the village, and the local people called the place by that name. It is from here that tourists can take the regular ferry to Langkawi Island in Malaysia.
I can say that most everyone knows each other. We met a fisherman an old acquaintance of our friend and whose boat had just returned from 3 days of fishing and was unloading. Of course, the conversation about fishing was interesting and allowed me to learn a little more about this very important activity here in Satun.
Thailand is the world’s third largest seafood exporter, which for three and a half years, the European Union has threatened to ban its imports due to non-compliance with European regulations. In December 2018, the government decided to introduce these norms which had an immediate impact on many local fishermen in 22 of the 24 coastal provinces, and many of them had to cease their activities. The fisherman explained to us that before he made a profit and could make a living from his fishing, nowadays because of the new norms he has to sell 1.2 million baht/month to only survive, below this figure in a short period, he will have to stop his activity.
The change is considerable, everything is controlled, the size of the baskets, weighing, sorting, hygiene, work organization, safety, are added to these requirements, health and social rights. Everything is recorded on a computer and transmitted to the authorities in Bangkok, there is even a policeman (armed) on duty to monitor. The 61-year-old gentleman we talked to say that because of the new regulations he has to use 2 boats, a small one with toilets (one for four people) and a larger one for fishing and storage, but also toilets and rest cabins. A boat can only accommodate 30 to 32 sailors depending on its tonnage.
His daughter, who was an international business student, had to drop out of the university to take care of the administration that he could not have done himself, even if only by using a computer. He no longer goes to sea and must use an experienced Tai kong (captain in Chinese) who takes 40% of the income from fishing.
More than 600,000 people, including about 300,000 legal migrants, Burmese/Cambodian people work in the fishing and seafood processing sector. This industry generates approximately US$6 billion in Thai exports.
Thailand ratifies Work in Fishing Convention becoming the first country in Asia and the fourteenth to ratify it.
A daily fresh seafood market, Satun is a paradise for seafood lovers.
Shells in the Klong
After this long stop at the port, we used a long tail boat to go pick up shells from the klong. During low tide, many sandbanks in different parts and every day, locals go there to picking up hundreds and then sell them on the market. 2 ladies covered from head to toe due to immersion and exposure to the sun for hours, one told me that at that time of the day it was harder to find many but that she would collect about five kilos. Some use a small shovel to dig in the sand, some other garden hoes. A laborious and not very lucrative activity, 40 baht for 1 kg.
Each of us seemed to be busy and having a good time on this sandbank in the middle of the klong, but none has shown a real skill for picking the (oy krao) white shells in the sand. We didn’t see the time pass and we left for what was the purpose of this stroll, to see the Brahminy Kite and our pilot guaranteed that they would be there, and they were. One appeared and a few minutes later many of them were dancing in the sky and diving into the klong, once again a beautiful spectacle that nature offered us. It was time to get down to serious stuff and we went to lunch in a “restaurant” on the klong, where our friend had already ordered squid salads, fried fish and unexpected fresh mussels. All delicious and generously served.
We spent some time quietly observing life along the klong then back to Tammalang we went for a walk in the mangrove park (Satun urban forest), interesting with many signs in English describing species and fauna. There is a hidden tower with a magnificent view of the whole park and the coast.
Allow me to make a brief parenthesis on mangroves
- Extended along much of the province’s coastline, they demonstrated their importance during the 2004 tsunami by protecting it from the worst consequences. In fact, since then the locals have become aware of the important role of mangroves, there are always many signs in the region to discourage villagers from clearing mangroves and they are respected. However, there are still shrimp farms that, despite these warnings, make some inroad into the back mangrove swamp.
In the evening, we went to taste the inevitable Satun roti. In Thailand, is similar to the flatbread of India maida paratha known in Indonesia as roti maryam, roti canai in Malaysia, and in Singapore as roti prata. It is usually served as a snack topped with white sugar, bananas, and condensed milk and sugar, gourmands add chocolate to it. They are also served with curry in the South, the most popular is called “mataba” stuffed with curry meat and vegetables. In Satun, there are restaurants that only serve roti and are very popular at dinner time. A banana roti (Without condensed milk) with a good coffee or hot chocolate is my favorite for breakfast.
Thung Wa Geopark
A Good night sleep and after a hearty breakfast at home we left to visit the Le Stegodon Sea Cave located in Thung Wa District, about an hour drive from Satun. For a weekday to my great surprise, there were fifteen Thai visitors some from Bangkok and the Northeast, which shows the impact since UNESCO declared Satun Geopark a geological park in April 2018, the first in Thailand. The tour is organized and begins with the small museum managed by the community, a film recounting the history of the fossils that have been found in the area and the prosperous past of Thung Wa. In old days its port was popular among traders with ships plying between Penang and Satun and was known as Little Penang. The geopark cover 4 areas, Thung Wa, Manang, La Ngu, and parts of Satun city.
Tam Le Stegodon Cave
In 2008, a villager was fishing in the cave then called Wang Kluay which is the name of the mountain (palace banana), a large cave crossed by the Khlong River of the same name. He found an object that seemed unusual to him and took care to pick it up and give it to the authorities then the news spread that the rock could be a fossil and a team of experts went on site for an official inspection. As a result of this one, it turned out to be an elephant jaw of Stegodon, which lived in the region about 2 million years ago.
A collection of instructive resources on the relationship between humans and elephants from their exploitation, transportation, war, religious and daily life. It also displays fossils of Stegodon elephants that disappeared 1.8 million years ago, as well as rhino and other Paleozoic era fossils from 242 to 545 million years ago.
Kayaking In the Cave
After visiting the museum, we were driven in a small songtaew truck (song-two; taew-bench) to the cave, which took 15 minutes. Before going to explore the cave, we must wear life jackets and protective helmets. Thai people love to take pictures of themselves wherever they go, and before we got to the entrance of the cave we had the mandatory photo session with the elephant sculptures in the park. After everyone settled in their kayak we left for the visit of the longest cave in the country, 4km, which is still called “Tham Le” by the locals, which means the cave that is connected to the sea. Each kayak can carry two persons and a local paddle guide (which most of them are working at a rubber plantation when there are no visitors), who paddles/overcome obstacles for more than 2 hours. Only one visit/day, the cave is subject to tides and can only be made at low tide. Of course, it is dark inside, but the guide and all visitors carry a headlamp.
The cave can be visited at any time of the year, including during the rainy season, except when it rains heavily because the river flows are too fast. Several times we had to walk, which in itself is not bad because 2-3 hours sitting in a kayak can cause leg or back pain to some people. At one moment the guides asked us to switch off the lights, we were in a total darkness and I couldn’t even see my own hand, just hear the silence of life of the cave, the “plouc, ploc” of water drops, I think everybody was thinking about the boys and their coach who spent 13 days in the cave in Chiang Rai in June 2018, emotional and scary.
At the exit of the cave, there is a short kayak ride on the Klong, what a beautiful gift that nature offers us, then a long tail boat and again the truck to return to the museum where we had left the car. We went for lunch and drive to La Ngu to have a coffee at Tim’s request, then back home, where in the evening we had dinner.
Bo Chet Look 7 wells village, Temple of Thousand Peaks
One of my favorite villages in Satun. Bo Chet Look is a small Muslim fishermen’s village, beaches without tourists, a peaceful place and the locals are very friendly. This is also my starting point for Ko khao Yai’s visit (Big Hill Island). A 30-minute boat trip to Koh Linti Island where there are many fossils, a short stopover to see, then 15 minutes to Prasat Hin Panyod. We sailed along an open heart-shaped rock where people believe that if you go through it you will find love, we didn’t do it.
Prasat Hin Panyod “Temple of the Thousand Peaks” is probably the most important Geosite in the Geopark. The exceptional geological features of this site are characterized by a spectacular pinnacle karst landscape. What is nice is the access by kayak through a small cave to a small lagoon and a small beach in the middle of this magnificent site. Then we went to a deserted beach to relax, the guide had brought watermelons and after slicing them up, a surprise visitor appeared. After swimming, we went back After swimming, we returned to Bo Chet Look and had the chance to be at low tide to stop at the place where the sea separates, the locals name it the Dragon’s Back. When we arrived in the village, a magnificent seafood menu awaited us.
Before going to Pak Bara to buy the boat tickets to go to Koh Lipe the next day, we stopped at the place of the 7 wells, to understand why this name.
- It is commonly known among the inhabitants of La Ngu as ban laga tuyo which means “seven wells” in Malay (laga, well and tuyo seven). According to legend, this place was inhabited. Seeking to establish themselves, the sea gypsies have migrated here. In search of drinking water, they dug a well but only saw their efforts rewarded on the seventh. Later the village was named Bo Chet Look (Bo, well, Chet look, 7 units).
On our way back to Satun we went to the Petra Park for a coffee, then we walked along a vast and open bay called Ao Nun in the Petra park’s headquarters. We have for the last evening, dinner at home
To Koh Lipe
The next morning, after attending the Thai dance class at home to young girls by Professor Mrs.Tiew, we left to Pak Bara to take the boat to Koh Lipe (Paper Island in Sea Gypsies or Moken/Chao Le language). The speedboat left at 11.30am, one stop at Koh Khai island and we get there at 2 pm. Called the “Thai Maldives”, famous for its white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, coral reefs, and is reputed for snorkeling and scuba diving. Koh Lipe is located in Tarutao National Marine Park, which is part of the Satun Geopark. Resorts, bars, restaurants everywhere, a lively pedestrian street with souvenirs shops, grocery stores, and massage parlors. Don’t get me wrong, Lipe is still a diamond, but I think the development has been too hasty, and to avoid a situation similar to that of Koh Phi Phi, it is becoming urgent to worry about the environment, such as the issue of waste, and who need a scooter on a so small island? Prices of food and drinks are not too expensive. Three beaches, Pattaya, Sunrise and sunset, and for convenience, Tim had booked rooms at the nice and reasonably priced Satun diving resort on the sunrise beach.
I am not a diver, so I didn’t go with them and took the boat back the next day. A few days later we met at the airport to return to Bangkok and Tim told me that he didn’t expect much from diving in Lipe, but that he had been pleasantly surprised and that he will come again.
A Green Destination in the Making
Satun, except Koh Lipe, is still a province without mass tourism, but the visibility and development efforts of local authorities will bring about changes in this area. Nevertheless, I believe that it will remain a “green” and a sustainable development destination.
Satun is not affected by the unrest in the Southeast provinces and is a quiet and welcoming area to visit safely.
A few Years Ago
That was a few years ago, unfortunately, I closed this resort
Almost inconspicuous, this five-room resort is ideally located and offers visitors the opportunity to explore Satun’s jungles, waterfalls, and its pristine limestone rock and cave formations that thus far haven’t been easily accessible to the general tourist. The resort should appeal to travelers who love nature and are prepared to forsake the comforts of modern lifestyle available elsewhere but deliberately left out here. While a lot of travelers head for Tarutao and its satellite islands, the rest of Satun remains out of tourists’ way. At least, that is what Joel Desmoulins found out when he first arrived in Satun more than ten years ago. This year he decided to settle down and bring to the fore the latent charms of the province. Source
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