10 Jun 2016

Return to Sangkhlaburi II: the Mon village

Despite being overshadowed by Saphan Mon (as I showed in the previous post), Sangkhlaburi has actually many other interesting places that are well worth a visit and that are just a few minutes walk (or boat ride) away. One of them stands out in particular for its eerie location and the circumstances that surround it: the sunken temple, called Wat Saam Prasob. The temple (although in fact there are 3 different buildings), submerged partially under the waters when construction of the Vajiralongkorn Dam (formerly known as Khao Laem Dam) was completed in 1984, is the only remaining proof of the old Sangkhlaburi town that spread around it. Depending on the time of the year, the temple emerges from the waters completely (such as it was now, in the dry season) or just barely (after the end of the monsoon season, as in my previous visit).

The hole, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
A sunken temple emerges, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Meander, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Then there is the Mon village itself (Baan Wangka), which stretches on the slope of the hill, across Saphan Mon. Almost everyone living in this part of town is Burmese of Mon ethnicity, and walking its narrow, steep streets is a trip to another culture altogether. Life flows at a much slower pace here and, in the sunny hours of the afternoon, a sedated calm permeates the streets and bridges, the huts and houses, as if no one was living there at all. But there are always traces of human presence left behind, and a stroll around the winding roads at this fierce hours is an exercise on loneliness and limited encounters, feelings I also experienced while walking at night through the deserted, dimly lit roads.

Noon desertion, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Forgotten, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Animal audience, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Trash collectors I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Trash collectors II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Boss or customer?, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There are, however, 2 groups of people that seem to populate the village in copious numbers and it's not difficult to cross paths with any of them while walking aimlessly through town: monks/nuns and kids. Pink and saffron robes appear and disappear faster than one would expect in any direction, giving color and character to the village, and reminding us how deeply ingrained Buddhism is in the people and cultures of Thailand and Myanmar.

Pink ensemble, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Banister rest, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Mundane chores, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Kids are seemingly everywhere you go in Mon Village: climbing trees or playing in the sun while everyone else is dozing, laying at the doors of the temple or eating in the shade of a porch, chasing chicken or watching loud TV, doing chores or getting ready to earn some money to support their families. Yet all of them have something in common that greets the traveler as soon as he or she enters their visual field of view: an innocent curiosity and a pure smile that stays in the mind longer than any photograph.

At home, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The swing, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Siblings, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The gong ringer, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Charming shyness, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Thanaka painters, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Brotherly love, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
But a trip to Sangkhlaburi is never complete without visiting its most renowned temple: Wat Wang Wiwekaram, which sits atop the hill, far past the village and surrounded by a conspicuous forest. This was my second incursion in the temple grounds after my first visit, two years back, but it felt as it I had never been there before, for I had the luck to see a scene that I did not witness in my first visit and that totally grabbed my attention: the temple dormitory, totally deserted last time I was there, was this time brimming with kids, all grouped by age in different corners of the long, dark hall, attending lessons by the monks, who commanded respect and attention and kept the whole building ordered and quiet. Only a few novices, older than the others, escaped this control, and gathered, hidden in the nooks of the vast building, chitchatting, eating, checking their phones, smoking. I tried to disturb as little as I could while absorbing everything that was happening around me, and time flew as fast that, all of a sudden, I realized I hadn't had lunch yet and afternoon soon would become evening, so I slowly walked away while the tunes of the students faded in the distance, refusing to let go of me. 

Lessons in the temple I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Taking attendance, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Lessons in the temple II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Playful silhouette, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The light shines in I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The light shines in II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm


  1. As ever I visit your blog, I receive amazing photos and interesting background stories. Thanks Gonzalo for taking me to that journey!

    1. Thanks a lot for keeping coming back, it's a pleasure to be able to make other people travel to the places I have visited through my images!

  2. As Peacecastle wrote it's a joy to visit your site.
    Fantastic photos.
    This time "the light shines in 1" was my favorit.

    1. Thank you very much Heinrich. That scene was definitely magical and I stayed there for quite some time trying to capture it!