Bikers and hikers' heaven


Rubber tread mountain bikes are being used to lure tourists to the rubber plantation district of Thung Song




We rode through the tranquil park under the shade of the rubber plantation. Once in a while, we biked past green rice fields, the simple houses of the local residents, shops and a small dam.


Along the way, we passed varying conditions that made the cycling trip all the more interesting. Sometimes we rode over smooth concrete roads.


Other times, we encountered a surface I imagined to be similar to that on the moon.



We were trying out a new mountain biking programme in the Thung Song district of Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south of Thailand.

Nan Pliew waterfall, the most stunning waterfall in Yong Waterfall National Park.


``There are several routes perfect for mountain biking here,'' said Wiwat Piamjitsakul, regional marketing manager of Andaman Discovery Travel, a tour operator specialising in southern Andaman sea tours.


Mention Thung Song and most would not think of it as a tourist destination.


But from now on, a certain group of tourists, especially mountain biking enthusiasts, plan to put this city of rubber plantations on every cyclists' list.


Mountain biking through the park in the shade of trees offers respite from the heat.


Both the public and private sectors are getting involved to promote tourism activities in Thung Song and mountain biking is a major highlight.




A survey has been undertaken and a bilingual travel manual has been compiled to introduce five major possible mountain biking routes in Tung Song.


According to Lt Colonel Pariwat Udomsakdhi, the mayor of Thung Song district, the plan to promote tourism in Thung Song was pursued because the district has an abundance of natural resources, intriguing culture and a rich history.


In its heyday, Thung Song was a major port and a commercial hub in the region.


Buddha images in caves at Wat Paknam

It served as a prominent car and rail junction in the southern province.




Its economic importance goes back a long way: during the early development of banking in Thailand (during the reign of King Rama V), the second branch of the Siam Commercial bank (the first bank in Thailand) was opened in Thung Song.


King Rama V also chose Thung Song as a major southern rail junction.


As for natural resources, it is home to a large and mountainous evergreen forest that covers the Nakhon Si Thammarat mountain range.

Tourist are well advised to sample delicious Dim Sum, a culinary delight of Thung Song


Thung Song residents have a long and varied association with the land.


The major employer for Thung Song residents are the rubber plantations, which are highly developed and sophisticated.


``Rubber plantation is a particular thing that intrigues most foreign tourists that we show around this area,'' said Wiwat of Andaman Discovery Travel.


Today, the district is a bustling town with people migrating from many areas to work there.

``Being a rail and car junction, it's a pity that most people just overlook Thung Song.


``It has many hidden charms that are waiting to be discovered,'' the mayor of Thung Song district said.


The plan to promote tourism in Thung Song took shape last year, followed by the official creation of the Thung Song tourism committee.


Now the district has earned considerable support from the Tourism Authority of Thailand to undertake tourism promotion activities.


The proposal is to apply for a budget allocation of over 200 million baht to develop the tourism infrastructure.


One concrete consequence of tourism development is the proposed construction of the Suan Preuksa Sirindhorn or Sirindhorn Botanical Garden.


Currently, the garden is a new recreational area and the home of the Tourist Information Centre of Thung Song. It is poised to be the main nucleas of tourism activity in the district as well.


Dr Pariwat said: ``Thung Song can appeal to nature lovers as the area boasts a number of beautiful waterfalls, caves and rare fauna. Some activities for tourists include camping, mountain biking and trekking.''

The `Kuan Im' statue in Thung Song is one of the biggest in Thailand. It is highly respected by Chinese descendants in Thung Song and other nearby southern provinces.



Mountain biking is currently the foremost activity used to promote Thung Song tourism, mainly because of the diverse road conditions that can appeal to bikers, said Dr Pariwat.



Thung Song Municipality officials have designed five possible routes for mountain biking.


They cater for mountain bikers of different levels of ability


The five biking routes initially follow the same route for 6.6-km from Sirindhorn Botanical Garden to the Khao Cham, Sam Por Kong shrine.


It was a beautiful day in mid-December when our group experimented with a route that would take us to Nan Tak Pha and Nan Pliew waterfalls.


From the botanical garden, we crossed the concrete road and were soon back on a black asphalt road.


Our first stop was at Sam Por Kong foundation where a replica of the highly respected ``Luang Pho To'' stands.


Beside it was the vihara of Luang Por To, the largest Goddess of Mercy. Erected in 1996, on the auspicious occasion of the Golden Jubilee of HM the King's accession to the throne, the statue is 19 metres high, making it among the tallest Kuan Im statues in Thailand.


This place is a centre of faith for Chinese descendants in Thung Song and nearby districts.


Next stop was the Paknam temple. Here we climbed to see statues of Buddha images.


Thung Song also has culinary delights to be experienced.


Our tour organiser led us to taste dim sum and dumpling at Kho Khiang, a shop famous among local residents.


This shop is said to have been in business for over 30 years, and it still remains just as popular now.


The major highlight of our Thung Song exploration was its natural wonder.


The foremost natural attraction is the Nam Tok Yong (Yong waterfall) National Park, located in the Khao Luang mountain range.


The park is mostly covered with mountainous and moist evergreen forest and it boasts numerous waterfalls inside the park.


These include Nan Toey, Nan Tak Pha, Nan Pliew, Nan Chon and Wang Pling.


The most beautiful waterfall there was Nan Pliew but we couldn't reach it by bike.


Our next task was to set out on foot to reach this attraction hidden in the lush, dense jungle undergrowth. This takes a few hours of trekking into the evergreen trails of the virgin forests.


Visitors could reach Nan Pliew within a day but for those who want to have a homestay experience, local people are more than welcome to provide simple shelter and prepare meals for visitors on request.


We tried the homestay experience, so that we could get a taste of local culture and also prepare ourselves for the trek to Nan Pliew waterfall


As the waterfall is still relatively unknown, the route there isn't marked out. Dam, a native of Thung Song, was our guide who led our group to the attraction. Dam was originally employed in the rubber plantations, but now he also works as a guide.


We stopped for a while at Nan Tak Pha before we continued our trekking. As we came near to the waterfall, we had to climb a cliff covered in plants. We had to be very cautious as one false move could have led to disaster.


After hours of tiring trekking we were rewarded by the wonderful sight of the Nan Pliew waterfall. It was really refreshing and provided an antidote to our exhaustion.


``It would be nice if more people got to see this natural wonder in Thung Song,'' said Dam.


Apparently, the local people in the area are gradually learning to open their doors to tourism.


Dam said ``We are glad to have tourists coming to see the good things we have in our hometown. And we are now ready to welcome many more visitors.''


That night, Dam's wife served us some delicious local food.


Apart from the natural wonders we experienced, the culinary delights provided by the people of Thung Song not only filled our stomachs, but also our hearts. Their sincerity and simplicity made this a trip to remember.


Travel tips


Getting there: Tung Song is 766 kilometers from Bangkok and can be reached by car, train and plane.
By car: Take Highway No 4, passing Petchaburi and Prachuap Khirikhan to Chumporn. Then, take Highway No 41 to Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Drive past Tung Yai and Na Bon districts to reach Tungsong. It takes about 8-9 hours to get there.


By train: As an important rail junction of the south, many speed and express trains pass through Thung Song. More details can be obtained from the State Railway Authority of Thailand, tel: 1690.


By plane: Thai Airways International (tel: 02-628-1254) has one daily flight to Nakhon Si Thammarat. Upon arrival, take a bus to Thung Song. You may also fly to Surat Thani and then take a bus to Thung Song.


Note: Tourists don't have to bring their own bike as there are high-quality mountain bikes and other cycling equipment for rent at Sirindhorn Botanical Garden. The cost for renting a bike is 150 baht per day.


- As tourism in Thung Song in still in its infancy, it may be confusing for visitors to tour Thung Song on their own. If you are interested, it's better to join an organised trip. Currently, Andaman Discovery Travel Co Ltd is the only tour operator offering a mountain bike tour in Thung Song.
Tel: 01-728-8317, 075-217-530 for more details.


- For information about tourism in Thung Song, browse the website: