Highlights of Chanthaburi province
First published 20th January, 2013
Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, Phuket and ... Chanthaburi? This coastal province in southeastern Thailand isn't usually listed among the kingdom's premier destinations, but maybe it should be. With waterfalls, a coastline full of surprises, fabulous regional food and a dreamy old riverfront district influenced by the Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and French, Chanthaburi offers a wealth of good stuff in one accessible package.
Chanthaburi town -- known as 'Chan' to locals -- is nestled along the Chanthaburi river some 20 kilometres from the Gulf of Thailand, a two- to four-hour's drive from Bangkok, Pattaya, Ko Samet, Ko Chang and either of two border crossings to Cambodia. Overshadowed by these better known destinations, Chan is often viewed as a convenient one-day stopover, but the province offers enough to keep you excited for a week. If we had that much time in the City of the Moon and surrounds, here's where we'd spend it.
Just a snackie.
Chanthaburi Old Town
Officially known as the Chanthabun Waterfront District, the old quarter's sleepy streets and alleyways meander alongside the river and are lined with attractive, if dilapidated old shophouses. The province fell under French control for 12 years following the 1893 Franco-Siamese War, and the French left their mark in the form of two-storey homes with photogenic French-colonial shutters and balconies. The architecture may be pleasing to the eye, but it's the mix of locals who bring the old town to life.
Even the rain can't take away the charm.
Thousands of Chinese and Vietnamese have made their homes in Chantaburi over the past few centuries, evidenced by a clutch of Chinese shrines and temples, and the Gothic-style Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The cathedral is Thailand's largest, and it continues to function under a predominantly Vietnamese-Catholic congregation.
Adding to Chan's historic allure, Siamese general-turned-king Taksin, himself half-Chinese, regrouped here after the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese in 1767 . He rallied thousands of men from Chanthaburi to join the army that ultimately repelled enemy forces once and for all. A memorial to him stands just north of the old quarter and is a sacred place for many Chinese-Thai residents.
The best way to soak up the town's quaint and artistic air is on a casual stroll with numerous stops to stuff yourself. Don't miss roasted pork shoulder with chaweng leaf curry at the 50-year old Chantorn Restaurant; fresh rambutan and durian (Thailand's best are grown here); the ubiquitous pad sen Chan buu, a sauteed rice noodle dish with fresh local crab; or durian, guava and Thai tea flavoured ice cream at 60 year-old Rocky Ice Cream Parlour.
Top it off with a strong coffee on a patio overlooking the river and the Moon City will have cast its spell. But be warned -- entranced travellers have been known to spend a bundle in Chanthaburi's trove of gem shops.
A manageable motorbike or songthaew ride to the southeast of town takes you to one of Thailand's most popular national parks (at least among Thais): Namtok Phlio. The park was named after a waterfall that roars over sheer cliffs, but don't forget to purchase long string beans to feed the fish that burst from a crystal clear water stream here.
Plenty of moss at Namtok Phlio.
The park also features a moss-covered hilltop chedi built to memorialise a queen of King Rama V and a series of steep hiking trails that take the adventurous high above the falls on Khao Sabap mountain. On the way back to town, don't miss the dazzling Chinese temple Wat Mong Gorn Phupharam.
If wanting to delve deeper into the wild, head up to Khao Kitchakut National Park 30 kilometres north of town. Bigger, more beastly and remote than Namtok Phlio, Khao Kitchakut's highlight is a 13-tier waterfall that can be viewed in several stages along a challenging hiking trail that winds up Khao Phra Bat mountain.
This 1,000 metre peak is home to some 53 bird species and is the source of the Chanthaburi river. Locals believe the streams to possess cleansing powers, and if visiting on a weekend you might follow Thai pilgrims as they trek to a Buddha footprint and meditation cave on the cool and often misty mountaintop. If you're taken with the Buddhist pilgrimage thing, make a detour to Wat Khao Sukim.
Beaches and coastline
If Chanthaburi's beaches were comparable to the stretches of white sand and emerald water of nearby Ko Samet, Ko Chang or Ko Maak, the province would unquestionably be a marquee tourism hotspot. Its coast does boast expansive beaches as far as the eye can see, some of which are worthy of a nice long lounge, but generally the water is on the murky side. The beaches are still lovely by more down-to-earth standards; they're just nothing to write home about if you've been to the islands. Even so, the Chantaburi coast is one of the most rewarding seaside areas in Thailand to explore thanks to its many inlets, bays, peninsulas, viewpoints and fishing villages.
With its long stretch of golden sand, Chao Lao village is the province's only beach area developed for tourism to any notable degree, though it's still a laidback affair, perfect for those seeking a quiet beach holiday. While in Chao Lao, don't miss the outstanding twin attractions -- Khun Krabaen aquarium and mangrove trail. Both are free, and you might even spot an endangered dugong in one of the salty inland tributaries.
Wander the mangroves.
The best way to approach the Chan coast is to rent a motorbike or charter a songthaew and set off on a loosely planned adventure. Empty beaches and family-run bungalows at the tips of this or that peninsula are too numerous to name, so just sit back and let the sea breezes take you where they will. Practically every restaurant along the coast serves seafood fresh from the bay, but for a quirky dining experience, head to Farm Buu Nim in the unassuming coastal town of Khlung to the east.
Just chill out.
Perhaps Chanthaburi's relatively light tourism numbers are due to it lacking any one single all-star attraction that screams "if you miss it you'll never forgive yourself!" Yet it's the mosaic of culture, history, food, mountains, waterfalls and beaches that places Chanthaburi among our favourite Thai destinations. Wander through the old streets and temples, be dampened by the mist of a waterfall, lose yourself on an off-the-map peninsula and bite into the most pungent durian in Thailand. After all of that, if you still don't think Chanthaburi is as as great as we do, then hey, the islands are just two hours away.
Related readingA weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
Ayutthaya temple tour
How to do Khao Yai National Park
Thailand's Mae Khlong market
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (4)
- Burma (3)
- Cambodia (19)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (14)
- All stories
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (6)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (58)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (29)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (18)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (14)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (14)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.