Well worth a day trip
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th June, 2018
Chanthaburi province’s coastline reveals mangrove-lined bays, fishing shacks standing above hidden inlets, breathtaking viewpoints and empty beaches stretching to the horizon. Most foreign travellers overlook this splendid scenery, but we think it’s well worth a side trip.
A trio of rivers—the Chanthaburi, the Wang Tanot and the Phlio—branch into a confusion of fingers reaching down to the Gulf of Thailand to the south and west of Chanthaburi town. Chalerm Burapa Chollathit Road runs alongside or close to the coast for some 40 kilometres and is ideal for cruising by car, motorbike or bicycle, with plenty of worthwhile stops along the way.
You could pick out a few of the attractions covered below or spend a full day (or more) hitting as much as you can before dark. The coast makes for a fine day trip from Chanthaburi town, but if you have the time, it’s also great for a few days of down time. Affordable resorts are available at all beaches and while we’ve mentioned a few of them by name, the area is conducive to just setting out and seeing where the breeze takes you.
Heading south from Chanthaburi town for eight kilometres on Highway 3348 takes you to Nong Bua, a languid town that’s a good place to start the journey. Attractive wooden houses and street murals line the main riverside lane, where a market specialising in traditional Thai sweets materialises on weekend mornings.
On any day you could pop into Khanom Baan Jor, a shop in Nong Bua that’s locally famous for its tang mae nam (cane-sugar caramel), khanom khao tork popcorn-like balls of sweet sticky rice and delicious maprao kua boran (coconut butter), which is sort of like peanut butter but with a lot more flavour and none of the nutrition. The owner also cooks up candied fruits and many other types of sweets, all of it made from scratch right here in town.
You could then chart a course south to the village of Bang Sa Kao on back roads passing soft-shell crab and prawn farms. Both of these products join locally produced herbs and sun-dried seafood in the village market, where vendors will be surprised to see foreign faces. They also sell sturdy mats woven by hand with kok (a type of local grass) that grows along the roadsides.
On the way south out of Bang Sa Kao you’ll cross a bridge affording views of the Phlio River—do pull off to see the fishing shacks, boats, and bamboo racks strung with oysters reaching towards the mangroves.
From there it’s a seven-kilometre cruise down to Laem Singh Beach, where pine-like son trees line an exceptionally wide stretch of soft tan beside a public park. This vicinity hosts a pair of strange buildings built by the French in the late 19th century, both of them for holding prisoners. Tuek Daeng is a rundown crimson structure, while the rectangular Khuk Khi Khai looks like a medieval dungeon with narrow slits built into the bricks. We’d not be surprised to find an old guillotine lying around here.
We sidetracked east down the coastal road from the park, passing small resorts that draw mostly Thai families on quiet, inexpensive getaways. Across from Laemsing View Resort we settled into a seaside sala at Suan Amphorn for fabulous buu nim gratiem prik Thai (deep-fried soft-shell crab with garlic and pepper), enjoyed with an outlook to the isle of Ko Chula. This is one of many spots dishing out seafood, fresh and cheap, all throughout the coast.
West of Laem Singh Beach you’ll want to pull off on the bridge for a vista of the Chanthaburi River meeting the Gulf beyond a cluster of stilted houses. Cross the bridge and you’ll be on Laem Singh, a cape with a lane on its eastern shore leading to another park where you can climb a hill for a tremendous view of Laem Singh Beach and beyond. In this area you’ll also find a lighthouse, an old fort and Ao Krathing, one of the most tranquil beaches in the area.
Backtracking up the cape, turn left (west) and either keep heading straight, if you’re short on time, or hang another left to Ao Yang, a small but pretty beach with a forgotten feel on the western shore of Laem Singh. We once enjoyed the outlook to uninhabited Ko Nom Sao after spending a comfortable night at Baan Sukhita, one of a few little resorts found here.
From Laem Singh, the seaside road runs west for 15 kilometres on a stretch with little more than a couple of villages facing an ugly brown-sand beach. Erase this distance and you’ll arrive at yet another scenic bridge, this one spanning the Wang Tanot River, with another cape on its western bank. Here you’ll find Hin Chompoo (Pink Stone), a small park covering pinkish-hued rocks and sand below a hill at the tip of the cape. If that sounds thrilling you could pay to enter the park, though we were satisfied enough by the beautiful easterly vista from the car park.
After a hairpin turn the road bends back west into Chao Lao, the most popular beach town in Chanthaburi province. The coastal road skirts this four-kilometre expanse of khaki sand, with 500-baht rooms readily available on the inland side and pricier resorts dotting the beach. Baan Imm Sook is one solid choice starting at around 1,300 baht.
We like Chao Lao’s low-key setting that comes with a bunch of seafood restaurants, a good market near the western end and shops renting out motorbikes and bicycles. Most visitors are Thai but we always notice a few foreign travellers as well.
Follow Chao Lao Beach to its western end and you’ll arrive at Ao Kung Krabaen, a sheltered bay measuring four kilometres across. Busloads of Thais flock here to traverse a network of wood walkways piercing into dense mangrove forest that opens in places to afford broad views over the bay. With a lot of luck, you might spot an endangered dugong at high tide.
This vicinity also hosts the Kung Krabaen Aquarium, worth a stop to step into a glass-walled tunnel where fish, eel and sharks swim above and all around—part of a series of tanks and exhibits that were more interesting than we expected. Just west of that you can check out more sharks, turtles and other marine life at the Sea Farming Demonstration centre. All of the attractions at Kung Krabaen are free of charge.
If covering all of the above in a single day we reckon that by now you’ll be ready to head back to the hotel, but before you do, we highly recommend continuing west around the backside of Kung Krabaen Bay. Hang a left (south) after a few kilometres to reach Haad Kung Wiman, another quiet beach where Peggy’s Cove Resort appeared to be a decent spot to spend a night.
And now for the end-of-day highlight: head southeast along the shore from Kung Wiman and the road curves uphill beside cliffs in a scene that reminded us of some of Northern California’s coastal highways. At the top of the hill sits Nang Phaya Viewpoint, boasting a vista that arguably beats all of those seen so far. Couples might bring a pair of padlocks and secure them together on the railing, a quirky ritual signifying an eternal bond.
From Chanthaburi town it’s a 20-kilometre cruise south to Laem Singh Beach, and 30 kilometres southwest to Chao Lao Beach. There are no direct routes from town so you’ll need to take small highways and back roads, but once you reach the coast it’s easy to get from one attraction to the next (most are signposted in English). Private vehicles are best for this type of trip, though you could arrange a songthaew in Chanthaburi town—expect to pay 800 to 1,000 baht for a round trip to either of the main beaches and up to 1,500 baht for a full-day trip covering various sites.
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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