The small wooden boat bobs around precariously as the three of us clamour aboard. The engine is revved, we each sit back on our little flat bench and we’re off, exploring the narrow khlongs of Samut Songkhram in search of the resident fireflies.
It’s a full moon, so the night sky is naturally bright, and casts the waving palms lining the canals in beautiful, luminous relief. There’s a gentle breeze, it’s cooler than Bangkok, and the air is so fresh – crisp even – we’re all gulping it down. The driver expertly navigates the crisscrossing canals mostly by moonlight; this is all rather exhilarating, particularly after a marathon effort to get this province, which should just be a mere hop, skip and a jump from Bangkok.
It was the two-and-a-half-hour taxi ride from Sukhumvit to Sai Tai bus terminal that did it. But we made the bus to Damnoen Saduak in the nick of time and stayed on it as far as Maeklong, where we jumped off and just managed to catch the last bus to Pak Tor. We stayed on this second bus as far as Wat Kookket, from where it was just a short motorcycle taxi ride away to Baan Song Thai, in the village of Moobaan Kookket, our destination at last. Normally the trip should take around three hours.
Baan Song Thai was set up by village headman Kamnan Thawat Boonpat with the intention of encouraging people to appreciate older Thai architecture and ways of life. People are encouraged to visit for the day, or to stay overnight to experience a way of life that is gradually disappearing. Around a thousand people live in the small waterside village of Moobaan Kookket in 200 houses. Some are relatively new, others, like the Kamnan Thawat’s stunning 110-year-old teak house, and his aunt’s nearby 210 years plus house, are not.
But we’re yet to see the village by daylight. Instead we’re busy gaping at the tiny living lights winking in the trees overhanging our boat. The engine is cut, and it’s just us, the lapping of the khlong water against the boat, and those little lights. Mostly there’s just glorious silence.
Yet in the distance, there’s a cement bridge spanning the canal – I can just make out the red and white traffic lights passing over it. It seems you really don’t have to go far off those monstrous highways leading out of Bangkok to get somewhere peaceful and, well, full of bugs.
Heading back to the house – we’re staying in Kamnan Thawat’s home for the night – the occasional bat seems to head straight for my at great speed, only to swoop away at the last nanosecond. We’re welcomed with a homecooked dinner of local and Thai specialties: tom yam pla thu, pla thu thoot, khai thiaw, nam phrik phak jim and phat pak, eaten on the house’s sprawling verandah while the rest of the family busy themselves for bed.
We take some mattresses under a big mosquito net in the loungeroom. As for that good old rustic silence: as soon as the lights are turned out, it seems that the thousands of insects in the surrounding trees and shrubs come to life. But it’s a lulling, rhythmic sound that sends us off quickly to sleep.
In the morning, we awake with the birds and sit in the sala by the khlong, watching the world start the day. Food and flowers are set out on a mat for the monks from Wat Kookkret, who soon come paddling by in their boats. The village is known for its pomelos and coconuts; a few boats laden with coconuts come sweeping past, scaring the fat ducks who rush to get out of their way.
After a hot breakfast including khao tom, pla khem thoot and hua chaipo phat kha, we too decide to take to the water using only oar-power, and discover, after nearly demolishing a few unstable poles in the water, and crashing clumsily into the banks several times, that this water navigational stuff is a pretty challenging skill to develop.
There aren’t many other activities at Moobaan Kookket. Visit the nearby 210 year-old teak house and say hello to Kamnan Thawat’s aunt, Paa Thorngdam. Wander around the tended gardens featuring vividly coloured flowers and lush trees; take a moment out of life in the big smoke to experience the knowledge that life doesn’t always have to be lived in a hurry, or be isolated from nature.
If you’re not the relaxing type, tie in a trip to Moobaan Kookket with a visit to nearby Doon Hoi Lot, where from March to May you can eat fresh hoi lot (finger shaped shellfish), the floating market Tha Kha (rent a boat from the village to get there), or Rama II Park. You can also take a trip to see people making sugar from coconuts via a boat from the village, or head to Baan Benjarong to see some orchid gardens. Just try to time your trip to Sai Tai with good traffic.
* Homestays at Baan Song Thai cost Bt350 per evening at Baan Song Thai, and include dinner and breakfast. No English is spoken. Call 01 403 7907 to arrange a visit.