When it comes to locally produced food, tiny Samut Songkhram punches far above its weight. The province’s inland reaches are studded with fruit and veggie farms, and the coast churns out a bounty of fresh seafood and related products like salt, fish sauce and shrimp paste. For a taste of all of the above and more, head down to Don Hoi Lot.
Located just south of Samut Songkhram town at the muddy mouth of the Mae Khlong River, Don Hoi Lot is named after the tubular shellfish, known as razor clams or “worm shells” in English, which are caught here by the basket load when the tide is low. The area’s vast and squishy sand flats reveal several other edible molluscs, including scallops, venus clams and cockles, to name just a few.
The roads into Don Hoi Lot take you past endless salt flats that resemble an alien landscape, colourful seaside fishing villages and protected mangrove forests with monkeys who laze until a fishy meal can be plucked from the sediment at low tide. Visitors who don’t mind getting their hands and feet dirty can pay a longtail boat driver to take them digging for shellfish.
While foraging in the mud for worm shells is a guaranteed day of excitement, most come for Don Hoi Lot’s impressive seaside market and restaurants. On weekends, a sizable stretch of coastal road is transformed into a dizzying spread of fresh and prepared seafood, packaged local products, fresh fruit, Thai sweets and a few Don Hoi Lot T-shirts for good measure.
Many vendors sell fresh local mackerel and other fish by the kilo, but the majority specialise in grilled, steamed or dried seafood that can be enjoyed on the spot. Not surprising given the fierce competition, the seafood is as fresh as can be and sold at a fraction of what you’ll pay inland.
Choose between boxes of whole steamed saltwater crab, skewers of grilled squid, barbecued scallops brushed with garlic and chilli, giant horseshoe crabs that brim with delectable yellow eggs, decadent deep-fried oysters, giant tiger prawns, piles of steamed cockles and curried fish cakes that are stuffed into coconut husks and grilled over old-school charcoal stoves.
Of course, a visit to Don Hoi Lot would not be complete without a taste of hoi lot itself. The ubiquitous deep-orange, sun-dried razor clams might resemble grilled slugs on a stick, but we promise they’ll taste better. If you don’t feel like munching on the go, try the fiery stir-fry known as hoi lot patcha, which can be endured with rice and cold beer at several seaside restaurants offering front-row seats of the clam-diggers at work.
A large portion of the market is also dedicated to the abundant dry goods produced in the province. Sample Thai sweets as you peruse the sun-drying fish, chewy dried squid, bags of briny sea salt, bottles of Hoi Lot brand fish sauce, mounds of handmade shrimp paste and miniscule deep-fried sardines that can be snacked on like potato chips. They make great gifts.
The famously good-humoured locals joke and haggle with weekending city folk while giggling at the lone foreigner (hi there) who snaps photos between bites. Virtually all Thai visitors break to pay respects to a gold-leaf covered statue of Prince Chumphon, an early 20th century sailor who is known as the father of the modern Thai navy. Various other concrete statues of roosters and crabs add to an overall quirky atmosphere.
Don Hoi Lot is worthwhile excursion for seafood enthusiasts or anyone looking to sidestep the usual tourist trail. While the restaurants are open daily, the market runs only on Saturdays and Sundays from early morning to mid-afternoon. A small midrange resort offers air-conditioned rooms if you feel like sticking around for a night.
How to get there
Don Hoi Lot is the name for the area of Mae Khlong river delta that's located in the village of Baan Chu Chi, which is a few kilometres south of Samut Songkhram town and some 90 kilometres southwest of Bangkok. Songthaews run to Don Hoi Lot regularly from near Mae Khlong market (aka the "train market") and the centre of town, and there's never a shortage of tuk tuks ready to take you there and back. Samut Songkhram town can be reached by minibuses, regular buses, trains or taxis from Bangkok; see the Amphawa transport section for detailed info.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 20th April, 2014.