Off the main road from Bangkok to Nakhon Pathom lies Sampran Riverside, an attraction that’s hard to pin down in few words. Covering a vast area along the Tha Jeen River, it includes a botanical garden, organic farm, Thai cultural park, elephant grounds, market, spa, pagodas, traditional Thai houses, cafes, restaurants and a resort. If you’re seeking a fun day with the family or romantic stop, Sampran is worth keeping in mind.
Formerly known as Rose Garden Riverside, the attraction is now named after the Sam Phran district where it’s located. Sam phran means “three hunters” in Thai, and the area derives its name from a trio of apparently very brave hunters who are said to have warded off a Burmese attack centuries ago. A statue of the three men, chiselled chests and all, stands in the town centre.
Most locals still refer to Sampran Riverside simply as “The Rose Garden”, so we expected to see rolling fields blanketed in every shade of rose imaginable. In fact, only a few small clusters of red and pink rose bushes are dotted around the grounds, though an orchid garden is one of several others that should satisfy flower enthusiasts. With clusters of pandan bushes and thick banyan trees draped over lotus ponds, the botanical garden towards the rear of the grounds is a peaceful enough spot for a stroll.
The park’s centrepiece is a fairly large lake rimmed by casuarina and acacia trees, among many others, more flower gardens and tasteful architecture. Not far from an elegant and elaborate wooden house built in the traditional central Thai style, a large Chinese pagoda stands photogenically as it reflects off the glass-like lake. Boats and bicycles can be rented for exploring.
Sampran Riverside is probably best known for its “Thai village” and elephant grounds set amid well-groomed gardens and ponds just north of the lake. You can ride the elephants, or sit back and watch as they demonstrate the skills that made them vital to logging and warring over the centuries. It’s no Elephant’s World, but it beats the forced dance routines that you’ll find at less classy elephant attractions.
Both adults and kids can have fun at the Thai village, which offers daily workshops in traditional Thai arts and crafts like silk-weaving, pottery, flower garlands, Thai herbs, fruit carving, music and dance. Held twice daily in a large wooden pavilion, what’s claimed to be the longest running cultural show in Thailand draws plenty of tour groups to watchthe sword fighting, Thai dance and muay Thai performed by professional actors.
Located across the river and reachable via a quick boat ride, visitors can wander through Sampran Riverside’s own organic farm. The local fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are available for purchase at a weekend farmers market, and featured at three different restaurants that collectively serve Thai, Japanese and Western cuisines. The most romantic setting is found at the riverside Inn Chan restaurant, which is often occupied on weekends by a hi-so Thai wedding reception. Less formal visitors can enjoy an ice cream and fresh coffee in the inviting Rim Khlong cafe.
In addition to the cultural activities and gardens, Sampran Riverside boasts a four-star resort that includes a rather out-of-place eight-storey hotel block and several beautiful Thai-style houses set around the lake. Prices range from 2,500 baht per night up to well over 10,000 baht for the largest houses. You’ll also find a large ozone-treated swimming pool, fitness centre and what appeared to be a lavish spa.
How to get there
Unless you're keen on glimpsing the three hunters, you won't need to actually go into the unremarkable town of Sam Phran when visiting Sampran Riverside. It's located right off the westbound side of Phetkasem Road (Route 4), around 30 kilometres east of Nakhon Pathom town and 50 kilometres west of central Bangkok. Some of the buses that run to/from Bangkok's Sai Tai Mai (Southern) terminal and minibuses from Victory Monument can drop you here (make sure you ask before buying a ticket), and taxis will also come straight here from Bangkok. Taxis and buses pass by in both directions relatively frequently and can be flagged as they pass, but you may need to cross the large highway by walking over an elevated pedestrian bridge first, depending on which way you're going.