Journey to the Remote World of Three Pagodas Pass
Lying at an elevation of 282 meters, Three Pagodas Pass in the Tenasserim Hills is a pass on the border between Thailand and Myanmar that in ancient times was a popular trading route to Thailand. Even today, it still sees a trickle of trade back and forth between the local communities of this rugged, mountainous region.
During the Ayutthaya period (1351 to 1767), the pass was the main invasion route for the Burmese, who eventually destroyed the city of Ayutthaya in 1767, bringing the Kingdom’s power and influence to an abrupt end.
Many centuries later during World War II, it became the route for the infamous Death Railway, built by the Japanese to invade Burma – then a colony under British rule. A memorial at the pass still commemorates the many POWs who died as forced laborers in construction of the railway.
The pass and surrounding region is also home to numerous ethnic hill tribes, including the Karen and Mon. In their struggle to end military rule in Myanmar, ethnic separatist armies have at times tried to capture the pass from Burmese control. Ethnic Mons had effective control over the pass until 1990, after which it was recaptured by Burmese troops.
Named after three small stupas or chedis situated there, the pass today is a peaceful, isolated spot with a lively market offering all sorts of interesting and unusual products and artefacts that have found their way to the market to for local barter and trade.
Located about 230 km northwest of Kanchanaburi town, the trip to Three Pagodas Pass takes you along the beautiful winding Route 323 through some of the remotest jungle wilderness in Thailand – only to arrive unexpectedly in Sangkhla Buri, the district’s provincial town.
We recommend that you overnight in Sangkhla Buri which has a wide variety of accommodation choices, including some clean and comfortable guesthouse situated around Khao Laem Reservoir, a vast, beautiful artificial lake that covers most of the Sangkhla Buri district.
Sangkhla Buri, which is very much off the tourist trail, is a true frontier town located among magnificent mountain peaks, with the pristine Khao Laem Reservoir a stunning highlight of this isolated region. Home to Thai, Mon, Burmese, Karen and Lao peoples, the town is divided by the lake into two parts, known locally as the ‘Thai side’ and ‘Mon side’.
A long wooden bridge purported to be the longest wooden bridge in Thailand separates the two sides and their cultures. The bridge was seriously damaged in 2013 by three days of flash floods and heavy rains, but it’s importance to the two communities meant is was quickly repaired soon after.
In addition to the amazing mountain scenery, there are all sorts of local attractions in Sangkhla Buri within easy walking distance – such as the Burmese-style Wat Wang Wiwekaram temple and the 400-meter-long wooden bridge itself. For those with diving experience, it’s even possible to dive into the depths of the lake and visit Wat Saam Prasob, a submerged temple that was inundated when the reservoir began to fill in 1984!
From time to time, foreign tourists can also venture to the Myanmar side of Three Pagodas Pass on a special day pass and explore the fascinating town of Payathonsu and its market in Kayin State.
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