Don’t miss it
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th June, 2018
Over three centuries, the Chanthaboon riverside community went through periods of growth, uncertainty and decline. Nowadays this photogenic “old town” stands as a success story in historical and cultural preservation—and we think it’s the highlight of Chanthaburi town.
The city’s oldest settlement runs for a full kilometre, following the path of the Chanthaburi River and Sukhapiban Road. At the northern end, Wat Bot Muang’s 19th-century ordination hall and gold-painted chedi tower above the lane—do stroll out on the nearby bridge for a view of them reflecting on the water alongside a cluster of heritage houses.
The narrow lane tugs you in with Sino-European row houses, including many built well over a century ago during Chanthaboon’s days as an important trade centre. Thai farmers, Chinese merchants, French soldiers, Shan gem miners and Vietnamese refugees all contributed something to the area, and, in some cases, the goods that continue to be sold here.
Pause to gaze at original brick-and-mortar textures, patterned tile floors, louvered shutters, grooved pillars and intricate woodcarvings. Exquisite details like these still shine despite never having been restored on many of the houses.
Baan Luang Rajamaitri is the most noticeable out of the few houses that have received major restorations. This gorgeous 150-year-old house now stands as a museum featuring historical documents in English and Thai among antiques and old photos on the ground floor. The rest of the building serves as a “historical inn” offering well-equipped rooms and river views.
About halfway down the lane, it seems as though the heritage quarter suddenly ends as concrete structures built around the 1970s replace the older (and far more attractive) architecture. In fact, these were added after a fire gutted this area. Keep heading south, perhaps after a stop at the old Phokasiri Market for a bite, and the picturesque houses pick up again.
Down at the southern end you’ll find the Community Learning House, a museum exhibiting paintings and photos that celebrate Chanthaboon’s past and its current push for preservation. Across the lane you can climb to the roof of another beautiful old house, Sunchorn Gao Rim Mae Nam, for a view across the river to the towering Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
This 1905-built gothic church stands as a functioning memorial to the area’s community of Vietnamese Catholics. Many Chanthaboon residents also adhere to the Pure Land form of Buddhism as evidenced by a Chinese-style shrine to Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion, towards the northern end of the lane; and the centrally located Vietnamese pagoda, Wat Khetnaboonyaram.
Cafes like Sweet Moon and Yindee offer riverside seating and you’ll find steps running down to the river at a small park within the old town. You could also arrange a river cruise launching from Tha Luang Pier; these cost 600 baht per boat for an hour and we know of two services. The “unseen” boat (T: (061) 595 5866) is advertised at the pier, while a less popular option (T: (093) 375 3992) is also available. Advanced bookings are a good idea and those who don’t speak Thai should probably ask their hotel for assistance.
Adding to the old town ambiance are light posts topped by golden depictions of kinnaree, a handsome half-bird, half-man figure from Thai mythology. Street art tosses in a modern urban edge in places, but we prefer an old Latin-themed “Floradita” ad adorning the last remaining patch of mortar on an otherwise exposed brick wall. It could have been plucked out of 1960s Havana.
Chanthaboon has become fairly popular among Thai tourists and we noticed that a few boutiques and souvenir shops had arrived since our last visit. But unlike other Thai old towns that have become kitsch, Chanthaboon has largely retained its identity. Many families that have been here for generations continue to run the same gem shops and eateries founded by their grandparents.
And for many visitors, tasting the Chinese-Thai soups, Vietnamese dumplings and traditional sweets is a highlight—see the food page for details on eats worth seeking out.
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.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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