On top of beautiful islands, beaches and temples, Thailand offers some of the most intrinsically Thai aspects of its culture – its rural and agricultural traditions and close village communities. Thailand is known as a kingdom of farmers, and its rice, silk and food products are recognised all over the world.
In recognition of this great aspect of Thailand, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports has joined forces with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to promote agro tourism, also known as agritourism. This 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.
According to the Ministries, by exploring these destinations, tourists can gain an appreciation of Thailand’s rural culture, meet with the locals, enjoy homestays and take part in fun activities. Such agro tourism also boosts rural communities looking for new streams of income, which will help ensure their survival.
The nearest agro tourism destination to Bangkok is the community-based tourism area along Khlong Mahasawat, a famous canal in Nakhon Pathom.
The canal is one of many that crisscrosses the province, and was dug 156 years ago to connect Khlong Bangkok Noi with the Nakhon Chaisi River. 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. Agro tours here are by long-tail boats, which visit fruit orchards, lotus farms and orchid plantations.
Khlong Mahasawat’s agro attractions are best seen in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Long-tail boats leave from the local temple, Wat Suwannaram. While you’re waiting for your tour to start, don’t miss the chance to 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.
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.
The lovely lotus ponds at Khlong Mahasawat were also included in the TAT’s Dream Destinations 2015, a calendar of seasonal flowers that bloom in different regions and at different periods throughout the year.
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. As you gather speed among the trees and streams, and look worriedly at the next bend, your driver suddenly flings his three-metre long handlebars to the right or left, throwing his whole body into the movement so you clear corners with ease.
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.The next stop is the rice village of Ban Saladin, where you can try tasty treats; such as, crispy rice crackers covered in pork as well as salted goose eggs, a local speciality. The residents are a mine of information about how local foods are farmed and prepared and are eager to offer samples to try. Most people leave loaded with bags of food to take home.
The last stop on the canal is the orchid farms that grow blooms for export. Thai orchids are famous for their beauty and the kingdom 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. If you’re looking for some blooms to decorate your home, this is the place to come as you can get the loveliest flowers, fresh cut or seedlings for great prices.
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. Their foraging seems easy compared to the long hours and hard work put in by Khlong Mahasawat’s local famers, which is why these agro-tourism trips are interesting and vital – they open visitors’ eyes to the rural soul of the kingdom, so they can experience Thainess in its truest form.
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.
- 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.
By 2017, there will be agro tourism destinations in all 12 Hidden Gems provinces and the eight tourism development clusters throughout the country.