Three months had passed between my visits to Sangkhlaburi. I was last here in April and, returning at the start of July, the contrasts could not have been starker. The cool, dry season that was coming to an end then was now well and truly gone, the crisp brown roadside growth now a lush green, and the water in the lake had dropped to about half its previous level, leaving floating rafthouses looking more like derelict shacks belonging in a south Asian slum.
It wasn’t just the weather that had changed, though – the pace of development in this small outpost of a town is really quite scary. Bars and restaurants that in April were in just the first few weeks of operation have since been joined by numerous other joints, and more seem to be opening every week. I have so far visited Sangkhlaburi three times on this trip, making a total of four visits since April, and even in the fortnights between these visits new cafés, bars, restaurants and hotels have sprung up to add to the mix – first the Graph Café near the entrance to P Guest House, whose owner is always up for a chat and makes a mean lemon shake, even if he takes a while to do it; then the Magmai Resort just outside of town, a nice new hotel setting with good Thai fare; and most recently the Sangkalia Inn, on the main lakeside stretch just along from the market, which has been under construction for quite some time, and is now just about ready to fling open its doors.
I have written before, and said over and over to so many people, that Sangkhlaburi is bound to be a ‘next big thing’ kind of place, and that’s something I stand by. For now, farang remain few and far between, though their trickle is bolstered by the ever-strong legion of do-good volunteers who turn up to teach and strut their stuff around the town (I don’t count the gap-year tourists in this category, and there are certainly many well-intentioned longer-term volunteers about too; just an irritating legion who think they’re somehow better than everyone else, too). Thai tourists still flock in by the busload at weekends – trying to get a room at the gorgeous Chuen Jai House around Thai mothers’ day is testament to that if you want it – but for the most part Sangkhlaburi remains off the beaten track.
Now, we just have to hope it stays that way.