How Going back to basics has rekindled authenticity in a canal-side town
Amphawa in Samut Songkhram province returns to the days before tourism as the coronavirus brings the flow of visitors to a halt
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many places to take stock of what’s important and Amphawa, a small district in Samut Songkhram province, is no exception. The well-known agrotourism destination 65 kms west of Bangkok, has found a solution by going back to its origins and that has made it as real and unpretentious as it was before it was even discovered by tourists.
The weekenders, who used to come to Amphawa for a quick dose of rural life and good food, are long gone. Sweet and creamy coconut sugar, once Amphawa’s best-selling and most famous produce, is left sitting on the shelves.
“Amphawa seems to return to where it was 15 or 20 years ago when it didn’t have many visitors,” Tirada Ekkaewnumchai, who manages Baan Rim Klong Homestay in Amphawa, tells Thai PBS World over the phone. “We leave the doors open for visitors. In a week or more, we might see a few visitors turning up.
A 10-minute ride from the famous Amphawa Floating Market, Baan Rim Klong Homestay is an award-winning community enterprise.
More than 20 families got together to promote community-based tourism in the middle of a coconut plantation adjacent to a rustic canal. The farmers serve up a real rural retreat through home-cooked food, riverside cottages and fun activities like making palm sugar and palm-leaf basket.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things.
“Visitors used to come here and indulge in home-cooked food like deep-fried ‘Mae Klong Mackerel, chilli paste and Tom Yum Kung. They would climb into long-tailed boats and sail through the canals at night to watch thousands of fireflies lighting up the dark,” Tirada recalls “Now we cannot afford to offer that much because of the regulations during COVID-19 pandemic. Those who are craving Amphawa home-cooked food will have to wait. We are keeping our business idling along, with bed and breakfast, just to save the jobs of staff who cannot leave for farm or factory jobs.”
There’s never a bad time to visit Amphawa.
In fact, according to Tirada, this is now the best time to visit Amphawa and enjoy what it really is. The district is back in ‘basic mode’ and that makes it feel all the more authentic.
“This is the best time to visit Amphawa if you want to retreat to a riverside cottage, enjoy a long and deep sleep, and wake up to a tranquil river. Instead of jumping into a long-tailed boat to watch the fireflies watch, you have plenty of chances to see them dancing around your cottage,” says Tirada.
With the reduction in water travel and activities like mass firefly watching, the canals are quiet. Nature has healed itself and is now more peaceful than ever. A few steps outside from your riverside cottage in the evening allows you to watch one of life’s most beautiful natural wonders – hundreds of male fireflies flashing their lights to seduce potential mates.
But, if you’re looking for the Amphawa of vibrant floating markets, chill-out cafes and vintage shop-houses selling arty souvenirs, you’ll be disappointed. Some people have posted photos on Amphawa Floating Market’s Facebook page showing the market empty of visitors and vendors. In fact, without the name on the banner, you would be hard pushed to recognize this famous floating market.
“The floating market is open as usual, but it’s a world apart from its heyday. Some grocery and stores are open to locals and any visitors who might come. A few long-tailed boats still roar along the canals, but the only passengers are local residents,” Tirada adds. And just like many places in the continuing pandemic, local hosts in Amphawa may ask guests to show digital vaccination certificates.
“Baan Rim Khlong Home Stay is certified by the TAT for SHA certificate, so the guests can be sure about our safety and health standard,” adds Tirada. “In order to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay, we’ll ask consumers if they’ve been vaccinated and where they’re from. If they pose a risk to our community, we politely decline their request, explaining that it is not the appropriate time to stay at our facilities.”
IF YOU GO
Baan Rim Klong Homestay lets you retreat to a farmer’s cottage or traditional Thai house on the bank of the Pheelok Canal and in the middle of a coconut plantation. Visitors can enjoy hands-on experiences of Thai dessert making and making coconut syrup and sugar. For more information, call (089) 170 2904 or visit www.baanrimklong.net/en/.