In terms of geography and climate, few Thai provinces are as well endowed for food production as Chanthaburi. Local products include pepper and other spices, all sorts of seafood and fruits such as durian and coconut, both of which feature in a dizzying array of sweets. Throw in the many cultural influences and you have a fantastic area for food enthusiasts.
Open since 1962, Chanthorn Pochana is a culinary star. The open-sided dining room fills up with locals craving gaeng muu chamuang, a rich and mild “curry” of tender pork in a dark stew featuring the mildly sour tones of chamuang leaf. Other local specialties prepared expertly here include pad chaa krawan, a savoury fish stir-fry made with fresh Siam cardamom stems; soft-shell crab deep-fried with pepper and garlic; and the wok-fried rice noodles with crab known as pad sen Chan buu. When in season, massaman and som tam are made with durian rather than the usual potato and green papaya. The durian is not quite ripe, so not overpoweringly sweet and stinky, and we were floored by how good both of these dishes were. All portions are family size and priced from 100 to 250 baht on a menu with English descriptions. Also check out the pre-packaged products such as Chanthaburi pepper and durian cookies.
In Chanthaboon old town, a bunch of modest food shops open from morning to late afternoon and a few do business for the dinner crowd. Starting at the northern end of Sukhapiban Road and heading south, look left to find khanom pak mor, Vietnamese-style pork and chive dumplings wrapped in thin rice flour. Continuing south, Rocket Ice Cream is hard to resist for flavours like durian and Thai iced tea in house 255/3. You’ll then pass the Chinese-style Kuan Im Shrine on the right, and abutting its alley is the old wooden house where Ba Mai has churned out pad sen Chan and kuay chab for decades. Done in the Chinese-Thai rather than Vietnamese style, Ba Mai’s 40-baht bowls of kuay chab feature fried pork belly, pork liver, boiled egg, fried tofu “skin” and rolled rice noodles in a dark broth with a hint of simmered pork blood.
Keep walking down Sukhapiban to find grilled bananas and fresh fruits like salak, mangosteen and durian (when in season) before popping into house 233 for khanom thian kaew. For decades the proprietor has crafted these mini triangles of rice flour wrapped around sweetened coconut meat, folded into banana leaves and steamed by the street. From there, sweet tooths could head down to Mae Kim Chia in house 162 for a wider range of traditional Thai sweets, including the mix of coconut cream and rice flour flavoured by pandan or butterfly pea known as khanom luem gluen. The name translates as “forgot to swallow” because these bite-size treats are just that tasty.
If you’re up for noodle soup with seafood, look for the white frontage of Tom Yum Sen towards the southern end of Sukhapiban. Here we had an excellent bowl of tom yum broth with fresh squid, prawn and fish with egg-wheat noodles. A portion fetches 60 baht and the staffer who served us spoke fluent English, offering a few other dishes on an English menu. From there you might pop across the lane for a slice of cheesecake or tiramisu to go with an espresso or milky Thai tea on the riverside terrace at Sweet Moon.
Chan hosts a couple of ahaan jay (Chinese-Thai vegatarian food) shops marked by the usual yellow banners and serving curries and stir-fries with rice and a range of meat substitutes for just 20 to 30 baht per item. One of them sits just south of Wat Khetnaboonyaram and the old Phokasiri Market, while another is found near the gem shops on Si Chan Road, just west of Soi 8. Though we haven’t tried it, Si Chan also hosts a popular Muslim Restaurant serving dishes like biryani rice with mutton, oxtail soup and beef kema in an air-con dining room.
Food enthusiasts should also wander through the provincial fresh market, Talad Thetsaban, which continues west and north into a maze of alleys and smaller markets, such as Talad Nam Phu, all the way up to Amphawa Road. You’ll see vendors pressing coconut milk and setting out piles of fresh prawn, vegetables and fruits like mango and durian, sold with or without coconut sticky rice. While Chanthaburi lacks a single main night market, the centre of Chatuchak Market hosts a food court with a full range of cheap street-style dishes on the east side of the river. Themed after the famous weekend market in Bangkok, but much, much smaller, it’s also a fun place to browse the trendy wears.
A good option for a relaxed night out is Koff House, a large and modern spot with booths in a river-view sunroom and more tables joining a long bar in the main hall, where a live band often performs. Hoegaarden and Stella Artois are poured on draught and you’ll find a bunch of other European beer imports to go with cocktails, fresh coffee, fresh juices and a fairly pricey menu mixing up Thai and Western selections. We didn’t try the food but a pizza at a neighbouring table looked decent enough to cure a craving. If you don’t feel like leaving the old town, Tamajun Restaurant is another atmospheric spot for drinks, Thai food and, often, live music by the river.
Those looking to venture deeper into Chan’s seafood world should consider daytripping to the coast. Out east in Klung district, Farm Buu Nim is a locally famous spot accessible only by (free) boat, but seafood eateries are plentiful along the beaches of Laem Singh, Chao Lao and Kung Wiman as well. The Thai sweets prepared down in Nong Bua also deserve a mention; a few shops serve them all week but the day market held on weekends brings out the best of it. From there you could head to the market that comes to life beside Wat Phlap on Tuesdays and Thursdays near the Khai Noen Wong historical site. Among other unusual dishes and ingredients, stir-fried monitor lizard was on offer there when we last passed through.
If you want to peruse durian, longan, rambutan and other fruits still on the vine and sold along highways, head up-province to explore the rural districts of Khao Kitchakut, Pong Nam Ron and Soi Dao. The road leading to Wat Khao Sukim to the west of Khao Kitchakut National Park, for one, is almost entirely draped in beautiful old trees bearing the full range of Chanthaburi’s fruit offerings. The best time for fruit tasting is May through September. It’s a big business here—Chinese billionaire Jack Ma of Alibaba helicoptered in to pick up 20,000 kilos (no, that is not a typo) of durian just prior to our last visit.
Ba Mai 247/2 Sukhapiban Rd; T: (084) 653 7780; Morning to late afternoon.
Chanthorn Pochana 102/5-8 Benchamarachutit Rd; T: (039) 312 339; Mo–Su: 09:00-21:00.
Chatuchak Market Off Sukhumvit Rd next to Robinson shopping centre; Mo–Su: 17:00-22:00.
Koff House Bar and Eatery Trirat Soi 2 (across the bridge from The River Guest House); T: (083) 649 3995; Mo–Su: 10:00-24:00.
Mae Kim Chia Sukhapiban Rd (orange shop with sign in Thai towards south end of street); T: (085) 155 5344; .
Muslim Restaurant Si Chan Rd across from Si Chan Soi 5; T: (081) 353 5174; Tu–Su: 09:30-18:00.
Rocket Ice Cream 255-7 Sukhapiban Rd; T: (039) 311 216; Mo–Su: 07:00-20:00.
Sweet Moon 200 Sukhapiban Rd; T: (085) 088 8919; Mo–Su: 10:00-20:00.
Talad Thetsaban West of the traffic circle across from west end of Sri Rung Muang Rd; Early morning to afternoon.
Tamajun Restaurant At Tamajun Hotel, Sukhapiban Rd; T: (098) 968 611; .
Tom Yum Sen Sukhapiban Rd; T: (097) 072 3026; Mo–Su: 09:30-17:00.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.