Indulging the senses in the mangrove forest

We always need to go back to nature, no matter how far our urban lives lead us away from it. And a perfect place to do just that is a community eco-tourism project in Koh Lanta.

Not only do the surroundings reflect the man-nature bond that city life tends to rupture, but a tour of the mangroves of Tung Yee Peng Village on the island’s version of a Gondola with a local guide reconnects the visitor with the sights and sounds for which we subconsciously long.

“You come here to listen to the sound of rowing when the oars hit the water. The sound is just beautiful and peaceful. It’s a healing sound that people love listening to on YouTube,” said our guide Narathon Hongthong, a native of Tung Yee Peng who initiated this ecotourism service.

Guide Narathon Hongthong. (Photo by Veena Thoopkajae)

The sound of rowing when the oars touch and move in the water is surprisingly beautiful, so it’s little wonder that the sound-healing applications are doing so well among city-dwellers from Thailand and around the globe.

The rowing boats the Tung Yee Peng Gondolas – replaced the long-tail boats eight years ago, bringing an end to pollution and promoting the community’s pursuit of lowcarbon tourism.

The community enterprise is now the proud owner of 8 Gondolas – all newly built and decorated by the residents.

Tung Yee Peng enterprise owns 8 Gondolas. (Photo By Veena Thoopkrajae)

In addition to the surprisingly beautiful sound of rowing, passengers enjoy the natural voices of the forestsinging birds and chattering monkeys in particular and feasting their eyes on the greenery of the mangrove and the blue sky. And it’s all perfectly natural … nothing is staged.

“We divide our tours into timeframes, and the dawn tour is the most popular among tourists. About 90% of tourists choose this time slot. It’s the best time for the tour,” said Narathon.

He too is passionate about the sunrise tour of the mangrove, which starts around 5.30am. The boat sails on completely dark water and the songs of the birds are amazing. The sky is spectacular just before the sun rises. “It happens in seconds but the colors are beyond words.”

View from the Gondola. (Photo By Veena thoopkrajae)

Serious birdwatchers will revel in spotting species that include the Mangrove Pitta, the Mangrove Whistler, the Fly eater, the Brown-winged Kingfisher, the Ruddy Kingfisher, and more.

We opted for the late morning tour, which is not as popular as other timeslots because it can get too hot. We were lucky that the day was cool thanks to a rain shower earlier in the morning. The Pimalai Resort & Spa van took us to the Tung Yee Peng village where the oarsman, our guide, and his little grandson were waiting to take us to the forest.

To go to Tung Yee Peng, most local tourists drive to the pier following the directions onGoogle Map. Alternatively, you can buy the tour with hotel pickup. For example, the sunrise tour costs 750 baht per person but with the hotel pickup, it rises to around 1,300 baht.

Oarsman row back as trip ends. (Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

Ultimate goal is the “Green Step” village

The idea for the tours started 20 years ago when the Tung Yee Peng community decided to develop their own eco-tourism based on the natural treasures surrounding them. They asked themselves what they already had and how they could develop the community in a sustainable way. “We’ve set a goal to become a Green Step village. By offering eco-tourism and promoting our genuine way of life and nature, we are moving towards our goal,” said Narathon.

Snack and Herbal Lampeng Tea. (Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

Tung Yee Peng is a Muslim ethnic community named after the settlement’s founding father Toh Yee Peng. it later evolved to become Tung Yee Peng but nothing else in the community changed. It is still blessed by unique charactersthe mangrove forest, wildlife and rich culture.

The oarsman took us through the waterways and joined our guide in telling us about the families of the mangroves and the wildlife, Our time slot didn’t give us much of a chance to see beautiful birds but we did spot a number of monkey families in the trees who looked down at us as the boat glided silently by.

The village also highlights their culture through its food. The sunrise tour comes with a traditional breakfast of sticky rice with dried fish caught in the area. Initially, we served rice soup. Then we thought, why don’t we serve them what the locals really eat in the morning?” said the tour guide.

On other rounds, one can enjoy local snacks served with the village’s Lam Peng tea brewed from local leaves. We had a number of sweets such as “Kanom Tom Chang” made in the area and we refreshed thanks to the fresh coconut and palm sugar.

Narathon is very careful about selecting food with environment-friendly packaging, especially banana leaves. A snack and tea is served on the sunset tour but tourists can request a fresh seafood meal if they’d like to have dinner on the boat. It is important to remember that any kind of alcohol is a no-on in this Muslim community and the residents’ wishes must be respected.

Forest bathing

While you are listening to the nature and enjoying the calmness and “stillness” of the surroundings, you are actually enjoying forest bathing or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, which is a common practice there. Forest bathing helps reduce stress, improves your mood and frees up your creativity and also boosts your immune system, and reduces high blood pressure.

With our eyes resting on the horizon, the waterway, and the sky, and our minds focused on the chantlike rowing sound, we felt relaxed and refreshed while enjoying the well-conserved forest. After about one and a half hours, our conclusion was an obvious one. Nothing beats Mother Nature.  No matter how far the Tung Yee Peng is from Bangkok, we’d love to indulge ourselves in nature in Koh Lanta’s mangrove forest again.

Entrace to Tung Yee Peng Gondola service. (Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

If you go:

Tung Yee Peng Gondola tour

190 moo4 saladan

Koh lanta krabi (thailand) 81150

Tel (66)-895909173

Lantagondola.com

Trip

Sunrise: 5.30am to 8ams

Evening Trip: 4.30pm to 6pm

During the day (you can choose your own timeslot)

By Veena Thoopkrajae