Chanthaburi's many cultural influences are reflected in its food, making this one of the most enjoyable spots in Thailand for Asian food lovers. The area is also home to some outstanding seafood, which is a must particularly if hitting the beach towns of Laem Singh and Chao Lao.
If you love trying specialty local food, the first thing you should do after arriving in Chan is head to Chantorn Restaurant across Saritdidet Road from Kasemsarn Hotel. Open since 1962, this local institution offers a small but fabulous menu of Thai food specific to the Chanthaburi area to go with a host of local products. Don't miss the pork with chamung leaves (120 baht), a rich but slightly sour curry flavoured by local chamung leaves and slow roasted pork shoulder that melts in the mouth. This is also an excellent place to try pad sen Chan buu (Chanthaburi crab noodles) (80 baht), a sauteed rice noodle dish that resembles pad Thai and pad mee Khorat but is spicier and comes with fresh crab. We also tried an outstanding shrimp chilli paste called san wa that was served with raw strips of lemongrass and other local veggies. Our experience was so good that we couldn't help snag some durian toffees, mangosteen cookies and a few cans of pork with chamung leaves for the road. Chantorn is open 08:00 to 22:00 daily.
Another must for food lovers is a casual stroll through the old town's Sukhapiban Road, where modest shops dish out cheap and memorable eats. Cookies incorporating local fruits like durian and rambutan are popular and can be found on the tables that front many shophouses along with a cluster of bananas or two. Sweet fried lotus buds with sesame seeds was one of our more interesting scores. While these make good snacks for a long bus ride, the homemade ice cream at 60-year-old Rocky Ice Cream Parlour is a more immediate treat -- don't miss flavours like durian, Thai tea and guava.
Not far past Rocky if heading south, keep your eyes peeled for a nameless noodle shop in a charming old teakwood house on the right where an elderly woman serves up crab noodle soup (kwit-tieau buu nahm) along with pad sen Chan buu. The food is outstanding, but the classic ambience of the old house and friendliness of the woman and her family make it truly memorable. Further up Sukhapiban Road, a chilled out cafe serves fresh coffee and Thai iced tea on a pleasant veranda over the river, and just past that don't miss the two-bite size Vietnamese influenced banh mi sandwiches with crab and herbed pork (buy a whole bag of them or you'll regret it later).
Chanthaburi also features some good prepared food markets. While the small Chalerm Jan day market that sets up near Wat Kate Na Boonyaram is the place to go for Thai sweets, Nam Phu market near the fountain in the centre of town offers everything from durian jam to locally made grass mats by day before an array of street carts come out by night and cover the road all the way to the 7-eleven on Soi Suwan 1. We tucked into a steaming and delicious bowl of noodle soup with fresh squid and shrimp that was a steal at 35 baht. After a quick bite at the market, indulge in German chocolate cake and fresh croissants at a fantastic Dutch-Thai run bakery in the narrow alley between Khwang and Si Chan Roads near the fountain.
Similar street food can be found on the other side of the river at Chathuchak night market. Chanthaburi is famous for its durian and other tropical fruits, but while a few large-scale fruit markets are found outside of town along Sukhumvit Road, Chatuchak seemed the best place within town to give durian a try.
You'll also want to head to the Chatuchak market vicinity if looking for Western food. A few steak houses/coffee shops/pizzerias operate out of the same strip mall building that houses Rachan Residence. We were too sidetracked by the great local food to try them, but the burgers and steaks at 49 Steak House looked good, and the fact that it was filled with locals is a good sign. Other interesting options on the more eclectic side of things are the small Japanese sushi house near Kasemsarn Hotel on Saritdidet Rd (with such fresh seafood around we imagine it's some good sushi) and an Indian-Thai style Muslim Restaurant at Si Chan Soi 4.
In the downtown and old town area, coffee is found mostly at hole-in-the-wall shops that often sell clothes or some other product, and at street carts. One exception is the pleasant air-con cafe at Kasemsarn Hotel, which is also a good option for Western-style breakfasts (140 baht). A Doi Chaang shop serving excellent northern Thai coffee along with cakes and cookies is also found across Liap Khop Ang Road from King Taksin the Great Park.
Chanthaburi doesn't exactly boast a booming nightlife scene, but Chanchao Kha near King Taksin the Great Park on Tha Chalaep Road looks to be a solid choice for kicking back with a beer or whiskey and some spicy Thai salads. The bar/restaurant is open late and is located near a large SCB bank -- look for the big brown facade with yellow Thai script.
It seemed that every restaurant in Laem Singh and Chao Lao were clones of one another, each offering a range of seafood and Thai dishes. The locals of Chao Lao recommended Dugong Restaurant towards the east side of the beach, and we concur -- the grilled squid, steamed fish in lime-lemongrass-garlic broth and yum talay spicy seafood salad all hit the spot and were reasonably priced.
If looking for an unusual but delicious food experience, head to the town of Khlung southeast of Chanthaburi and make your way to the pier (ta ruea buu nim), where free boats shuttle diners across an inlet to enjoy freshly caught crab and other seafood on a quirky makeshift patio over the water. There's no English menu and the staff will be surprised to see foreigners, but if you can say puu (crab) you should be fine. Otherwise, guesthouses in Chanthaburi should be able to arrange a local guide to take you here, and we found it to be worth it for both the food and unusual setting.