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Walk Across Thailand in a Day
By Steve Van Beek

Traverse Thailand in a single day?

The genesis for the trip occurred in 1994 after a chance comment by Thiva Supajanya, a geology professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

‘My home is at the narrowest part of Thailand. At Wang Duan, just south of Prachuap Khiri Khan, it is only 10.96 kilometres from the sea to the Burmese border.’

The idea lay dormant until many years later when I rang Thiva, inviting him to join me. ‘But I’m 65!’ he said. After a moment’s thought, he added, ‘Why not? I’ve never done it.’

Wang Duan (‘Lagoon’), is a railway station without a town, dating from the days when wood-burning locomotives required refuelling and watering stops every seven to eight kilometres. It is also the starting point for a beautiful walk across Thailand’s topography and economy: coastal fishermen, marshlands with a reed- and duck-filled lagoon, farmlands growing dozens of crops, and forested hills filled with birds and other wildlife. You might want to hire a guide (see Directions & Tips, below).

Although the straight-line distance is 10.96 kilometres, expect to walk 15 to 18 kilometres. Watch squid fishermen unload their catches in the predawn light. Then, with the rising sun at your back walk past the lagoon to the train station. Turn left down a paved road that runs through coconut plantations, virtually the only crop that will grow in the sandy soil. The fronds are sliced into broom straws.

Along the way are kilns firing charcoal for cooking fires, and tall termite mounds in whose moist interiors, termites cultivate mushrooms, the mycelium serving as nutritious food. The hardy, thorny trees are the ’Ton Gate’ after which the nearby town is named.

Grazing among the trees are black-and-white cows, the core of a small dairy industry. Silver containers along the road await pick-up by a Prachuap pasteurising plant. Your nose will tell you when you pass the ‘kapi’ (fermented shrimp paste) factory on the left.

Once past the Petchkasem Highway, the main Thai arterial to Malaysia, head down a dusty 3.5 km road that carries you through Thailand’s agricultural heartland. At a small factory on the left a few hundred metres later, pearls of “sakoo” (sago) dry in the sun.

As you continue on, wander off the road to see the surprising variety of crops farmers cultivate: sugar cane, eggplants, Chinese radish, chilies, string beans, cucumbers, corn, and pineapple. Farther on is a turn-off to Nam Jon reservoir—perfect for a swim.

Kapok trees appear from time to time. Their seed pods, resembling hanging bats, hold a cottony fluff that is stuffed into mattresses and pillows. The trees themselves were once cut as firewood for the wood-burning locomotives. Listen for the mournful gibbonlike whoops of coucals, or ‘Crow Pheasants’. At the top of the rise, turn back for a view of the sea.

Some 400 metres farther on, the road enters the Namtok Huai Yang National Park at 148 metres (487 feet) elevation. The scents are muted but occasionally a fragrant flower will release its perfume. It is the monsoon that will bring freshness to the air.

The climb up the narrow path is demanding but at the top (situated at 447 metres, or 1,467 feet) you will enter a cool, shaded forest. The trail intersects a north-south swath running along the ridgetop. This marks the border and the completion of the walk across Thailand.

On the homeward-bound journey, turn left and descend from the ridgeline border through a beautiful bamboo forest.

Directions & Tips

GETTING THERE

The train (third-class ticket: 58 baht) leaves Bangkok Noi station at 7.20 a.m. Although scheduled to arrive at Wang Duan at 1.13 p.m., it is often delayed.

Or, ride the express train to Prachuap Khiri Khan and stay overnight at Yuthichai hotel (cheap and clean at 160 baht/night) at 115 Kong-Kiat Road. Around the corner is Phithakchat Road where the long-distance buses -- another travel option -- leave for Bangkok’s southern bus station. Warning: the orange buses stop at virtually every tree so take a baht bus from here to Wang Duan.

Or, take the bus from Bangkok’s southern station directly to Ton Gate on the Phetkasem Highway and hire a baht bus to Wang Duan.

CAMPING FACILITIES

Trains from Bangkok arrive at Wang Duan mid-afternoon, too late to start the walk. Instead, camp on the beach or near the lagoon (no toilets or showers), or walk south one kilometre to the coastal Hat Wanakon National Park. Start your cross-Thailand walk the next morning.

GUIDES

Ms Nitima in Wang Duan (mobile: 01 880 0051) can arrange an inexpensive guide and a truck to pick you up at the end of the walk. The railway station has a telephone booth.

THE ROUTE

Start at a beachside pavilion (the printable map includes Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates for owners of such units). As there are no restaurants on the route, bring food from Bangkok, or walk south to Wang Som restaurant. It can pack Thai dishes for your journey and provide bottled water. Carry two litres of water and buy two more at the small shop near the halfway point.

Although a trail is being cut up the final steep slope, you might want to hire a guide to walk with you or to join you at the ’Y’ for the final ascent to the border.

Walk from the beach to the railway station. Turn left. After two kilometers cross the Phetkasem Highway and turn left. After 700 metres turn right onto a gravelled road marked by a green-roofed spirit house. On the right, after one kilometre, is a soft drinks shop.

This section ends at a T-junction marked on the left by a large balancing rock. The ridge directly ahead is the Burmese border. Turn left and follow the road to a four-way intersection. Turn right onto the paved road and after 300 metres turn left onto another dusty road. About 1.2 kilometres farther on, you can turn left down a short road leading to the Nam Jon reservoir.

Otherwise, climb 600 metres up the knoll for a sea view. Another 400 metres and past a pineapple field, enter the woods. The ’Y intersection is marked on the right by a crude spirit house; the right fork is a double track suitable for a 4WD vehicle; follow it.

Climb the narrow path to the shady forest at the top. The trail intersects a ridgetop swath that marks the border, completing your walk across Thailand. Either retrace your steps or arrange with your guide to have a truck pick you up at Khao Mai Luak, reached by walking south along the border, then descending for a pleasant three-kilometre walk through a beautiful bamboo forest.

NOTE

This trip can be demanding, especially from March to June when the sun scorches the landscape. The journey should be attempted only by fit walkers. Carry ample water (as suggested above). There are no restaurants, telephones, or public restrooms along the way.

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