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Beyond the beaches… exploring Thailand’s countryside

Beyond Thailand’s beautiful islands, beaches and temples, there are many aspects of Thai culture that are well worth exploring, and one of these that is fast-growing in popularity is Thailand’s rich agricultural heritage. Welcome to Agro-tourism.

Thailand is after all, a kingdom of farmers, famous for its rice, silk and food products the world over.

Recognising a growing interest for immersive experiences, the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports has joined forces with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to promote a new tourism category: agro-tourism.

The collaboration was kicked start in August 2015 with four pilot destinations: Khlong Mahasawat in Nakhon Pathom; Pak Phanang in Nakhon Si Thammarat; Ban Khok Muang in Buri Ram, and Khao Kho in Phetchabun.

Khlong Mahasawat local food

This is a great new opportunity to learn about Thailand’s rural culture, meet the locals, experience a homestay and at the same time – support these rural communities looking for new streams of income, which will help ensure their survival.

The closest of these to Bangkok is the area along Khlong Mahasawat, a famous canal in Nakhon Pathom. The canal is one of many that criss-crosses the province, and was dug 156 years ago to connect Khlong Bangkok Noi with the Nakhon Chaisi River.

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The construction, from 1860-1862, was ordered by King Rama IV, and when the waterway opened it made accessible nearly 20,000 rai (32 sq km) of fertile farmland.

Tours here are best done in the morning, to avoid the heat of the day, and you’ll traverse the canals on a long-tail boat visiting orchards, lotus farms and orchid plantations along the way.

The tours depart from the local temple, Wat Suwannaram, and while your waiting, you can feed the canal’s catfish, (all the nearby vendors sell bags of fish food). Just cast a few pellets into the water and instantly the water churns and froths as the fish fight to fill their bellies. These river monsters are so abundant that with enough pellets of food it seems you could walk over the water on a bridge of thrashing, silvery bodies.

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The first canal stop is the local lotus farms. Anyone who spends time in Thailand knows the lotus to be a devotional flower and a symbol of spiritual purity. But lotus flowers have their uses in food and medicine and grow all year round making them a useful crop for local farmers.

A rowboat will take you right into the lotus ponds where the morning dew runs off the huge leaves like shining mercury as pickers harvest the lotus buds. The local ponds specialise in pink and white blossoms, which are exported around Asia.

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Mangos, guava, massive jackfruit and award-winning pomelo grow in abundance along the banks of Khlong Mahasawat, and you get the chance to admire them from a tractor-trailer commanded by a wannabe Grand Prix driver. It’s a strange exhilarating ride to experience in a sleepy orchard, and you’ll be glad of the chance to sit down at the end and enjoy some of the sweet local produce.

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The next stop is the rice village of Ban Saladin, where you can try a few tasty treats like crispy rice crackers covered in pork or salted goose eggs, a local speciality. Most people leave loaded with bags of food to take home.

The last stop on the canal is the orchid farms. Thai orchids are famous for their beauty, the country is the biggest exporter of these flowers in the world. They only require a good supply of water to grow and many are seeded in coconut husks or are simply suspended in baskets.

All that’s left for the day is to enjoy the boat ride back to Wat Suwannaram, and watch the storks hunting in the pondweed for food.

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Getting there

By Car: Khlong Mahasawat is around 50 km from Bangkok, and is easily reached by the Nakhon Chaisi Motorway. Look for Mahidol University’s Salaya Campus, and the canal is signposted at the end of Putthamonthon Sai 4.

By Train: Trains stop directly at Wat Suwannaram and run on the Thon Buri Lang Suan Line.

Travel tips

  • Many of the landing piers along Khlong Mahasawat can be steep, rickety or slippery. As a result, less able-bodied visitors may find it hard to get in and out of the boats. Travellers with children should also take extra care and request life jackets if needed.
  • Whatever time of year you visit, make sure you protect yourself from the sun with a hat and sunscreen.
  • Boats can be rented at Wat Suwannaram and can carry 5-6 passengers for around 500 Baht per boat. The farm tour costs 80 Baht a person and includes samples of the local fruit.

More to come

In 2016, nine more agro tourism destinations will be introduced in other “12 Hidden Gems” provinces, including Lampang, Nan, Samut Songkram, Ratchaburi, Chanthaburi, Trat, Loei, Chumphon, and Trang.

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