Somsak Mining – Home Stay in the Forest

Adventures Trip to Somsak Mining
Dist. Thong Pha Pom, Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand

Somsak Mining – Forest Glade Home (Home Stay in the Forest) is located in Dist Thong Pha Pom, Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand. This was our two days adventures trip. From Bangkok it’s approx 350 KM. (Approx 5 Hours Drive).

The sightseeing around Dist. Thong Pha Pom are:

1. Pilok Market
2. Thong Pha Pom National Park
3. Kutdoihill
4. Ban Thasan
5. Waterfall
6. Mountain Trekking

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When she first arrived four decades ago as a young bride from Australia, it took two days on the back of an elephant to reach the booming but remote mountain settlement. Today, the elephants are gone, Pilok is a virtual ghost town and her beloved husband has died.

But “Auntie Glen,” as everyone calls her, has stayed on to start a small, idyllic resort to help the villagers in this still remote, now impoverished region.

“It’s a privilege to live here,” says Glennis Setabundhu, offering tea with orange, carrot and chocolate cakes she has baked for guests who have negotiated some of Thailand’s roughest roads to reach her Forest Glade Home.

In Thailand’s increasingly commercialized tourist industry, Forest Glade is an endangered species, one protected by the owner – “It’s not really a resort, just my home,” Glennis says – and its isolated location off a road to nowhere.

From the lowlands of Kanchanaburi in western Thailand, a narrow route, frequently blocked by landslides, twists through limestone mountains until it dead-ends at the Myanmar border. The frontier crossing at Pilok is closed due to tensions between the neighboring countries and even when open, beyond in Myanmar lies a rugged, wild, sparsely populated region.

Off this road, along a trail only 4-wheel drive vehicles can survive, first time visitors are invariably amazed to discover charming cottages suddenly popping up in a lush jungled valley, and the smiling face or a welcoming Westerner surrounded by what Glennis calls her “ready-made family.”

It all began, she explains, on a badminton court where she met Somsak, a handsome young Thai studying at the school of mines in her hometown of Kalgoorlie. Glennis arrived in Thailand in 1966 and Somsak took his wife to the tin mining concession that had been in his family’s hands for some 100 years.

Pilok was then a prosperous community. Cross-border trade flourished and the mines attracted workers from Myanmar, also known as Burma, many of whom settled in the area. Somsak was by all accounts a popular and kindhearted man, and Glennis integrated seamlessly, learning fluent Thai and local ways.

“Look at that photograph. He had the most soulful eyes,” Glennis says, pointing to one of many photographs of her husband on the walls of her home, the converted mining company warehouse. “He was one of nature’s true gentlemen.”

Somsak succumbed to cancer in 1994, a year after mining was halted at Pilok in wake of a worldwide slump in tin prices. Young people left to seek jobs elsewhere. Those who remain eke out a living among ramshackle buildings and forest huts. Glennis, now 65, decided to remain. She had grown to love the tranquility, and the presence of her husband, of whom she speaks often with moist eyes, was everywhere in the valley. Perhaps most importantly, she says, his now jobless workers and family retainers, some of who had served the family for decades, badly needed help.

Some 240 of Somsak’s former employees remain in the area, among them five families and a Myanmar Buddhist monk who live in neat, flower-decked houses around Forest Glade All are Myanmar migrants, unable to return to their military-run homeland and afforded no legal status in Thailand. Glennis estimated she would need about 100,000 baht (US$2,400) each month to maintain herself and support the five families with extra food, medicine and other necessities.

So she started her homey resort, two long bungalows in the forest and the converted warehouse for dining and lounging and lounging, all imbued with a tropical atmosphere mingling with ceramic bunny rabbits, pastel colored duck-lings, doilies and other Australian Victoriana. There are no telephones and electric power runs just five hours a day.

Sometimes Glennis will take Thai and foreign guests, many of them regular visitors, for swimming in pools under tumbling waterfalls and to Pilok where everyone from the local police chief to market vendors greet her like a close relative. Or one can simply dream away on the verandah perched on stilts above a natural pool of mountain green water, listening to birdsong and the ghostly creak of bamboo bending to breeze.

“It is so removed from everything here that my Thai friends ask me, ‘Aunte, if Mr Bush starts a war with Iraq, can we come up and stay with you?” Glennis quiqs.

Evenings are spent in conversation over wonderful, mostly Thai, meals as members of her cozy community gather around the warehouse to watch Myanmar movies or work on embroidery, brooms, mosquito nets and other items sold to supplement incomes. Organic vegetables and fruits are grown around the homesteads.

“Please don’t call me a Mother Teresa or anything like that,” Glennis says when explaining the need for more self-help projects “so when there is nobody around to consider their cause they will be able to help themselves.”

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