If you can imagine the side profile of an elephant's head as a the shape of Thailand, Ratchaburi province sits at the top of the trunk, acting as a buffer between Burma and Bangkok, and between the capital and the long peninsula that extends all the way down to Malaysia and Singapore.
This strategic positioning has seen the province change hands many times in the past -- it was a provincial centre of the Angkorian kingdom and formed the thoroughfare for a number of Burmese invasions during the Ayutthaya period. There is still a large army base on the north side of the Mae Khlong River and a strong military presence about the same-named capital city.
Also known as Ratburi, Ratchaburi isn't what you'd call a potpourri of tourist delights, but it's a good base for exploring the region's nooks and crannies -- just don't be surprised if you're the only foreigner you see during your stay.
Ratchaburi leapt into international headlines in January 2000, when it attracted the unwanted attention of a group of Burmese rebels from the God's Army group. The rebels crossed the border, stormed Ratchaburi Hospital and took about 500 patients and staff hostage.
The Thai authorities, wanting to take a strong stance, attacked the compound, killing nine of the rebels. It subsequently emerged that some of the rebels had had their hands tied behind their back before being executed with a shot to the back of the head. Despite the extrajudicial killings, the Thai government garnered tremendous domestic support for its actions. To understand why is to understand the intensity of the centuries-old animosity between these two neighbours.
But getting back to tourism...
While we think it's a complete tourist trap, you can visit the Damnoen Saduak floating market from Ratchaburi, although you're better off staying in nearby Damnoen Saduak as you'll get to the market even earlier and have a better chance of beating the crowds.
Ratchaburi is around 70 kilometres north of Phetchaburi, a bit over 40 kilometres south of Nakhon Pathom and around 101 kilometres from Bangkok.
The area of most interest is blocked off by the north-south running railway and parallel Rotfai Road to the east, the riverside boardwalk along the Mae Khlong River to the north, Kraipetch Road to the south and the diagonal-running Si Suriyawong to the west. Within this area you'll find most of the hotels, plenty of places to eat and the Ratchaburi Musuem -- everything is within easy walking distance.
The post office is on Si Suriyawong Road near the intersection with Ammarin Road and international access ATMs can be found all over town. We found one internet cafe on Rotfai Road between the bridge and the main train station, but the 3G signal is fine from TRUE and the Numsin Hotel has WiFi (for a surcharge).
The police station is on Ammarin Road, opposite the night market and Ratchaburi Hospital is towards the south of town on Sombunkun Road.
By Stuart McDonald.