One of the first things we noticed after arriving at Farm Buu Nim was an enormous domesticated boar quietly tied to a post near the restaurant’s bamboo floored kitchen. Sloppily dressed servers stepped over a yipping dog, concentrating to keep their massive platters of boiled crab from tipping. It was just another evening at this quirky, reached-by-boat seafood restaurant in the town of Khlung near Chanthaburi in eastern Thailand.
With its numerous wood decks and walkways built around trees and supported by makeshift stilts over a brackish river near the Chanthaburi coast, Farm Buu Nim (buu nim is Thai for soft shell crab) serves the crab and other seafood harvested daily from its saltwater farm. The place appears to have been entirely twisted and tied together by builders who were boozing as they worked, using only what supplies could be found in the nearby forests. Hammocks made out of fish nets hover above not-so-level bamboo floors and potted plants sit beside old bike tires and fishing poles.
The spacious dining decks are filled with heavy wooden tables, and it’s a wonder they don’t plummet through the floors and into the cloudy waters below. Some decks have roofs to protect diners from Chanthaburi’s notoriously rainy climate. Others sit under the shade of mangrove trees that seem to have poked their ways through the floors. A communal hand-washing sink hangs lopsided in the middle of the largest deck. Laugh now, but after feasting on crab, you’ll be happy it’s there.
Each evening, locals line up to catch the small motorboat that shuttles customers to Farm Buu Nim from a pier in the south part of Khlung. The restaurant can’t be reached by land, but even if it could, who would want to pass on the relaxing (and free) river cruise?
Sufficiently settled in at one of the tables fit for Andre the Giant, we started with an order of buu lon (120 baht), a no-frills bowl of cool soft-shell crab pounded with coconut milk, a couple of different types of chillies, some sort of curry paste and loads of sweet white onion. With a hint of sweetness reminiscent of panang curry, the crab was like candy.
Next, we went for a little more substance in the form of kueng awp wuen sen (140 baht), a country blend of steamed prawns with head, tail and all, along with glass noodles topped with a layer of lightly scrambled egg. The mild dish wasn’t bursting with flavour, although the prawns were as fresh and tender as you would expect. Presented in a steel pot hot off the stove, this is Thai fisherman’s comfort food that's reminiscent of a baked seafood noodle casserole.
Before we could make a dent in the hearty egg-shrimp noodles, the meal’s main event arrived — a full kilo of buu dum (partially cracked hard-shell crabs) for 500 baht. Fresh out of the waters just below where we sat, the meat wa tender and had a good amount of natural sweetness, balanced by a tangy and spicy chilli-lime-garlic sauce on the side.
Although the jumbo claws came pre-cracked and were easy to enjoy, the meat at the base of the legs and within the legs presented more of a challenge. Eating hard-shell crab can be a tad frustrating; the meat is an absolute delicacy so you don’t want to waste any bit of it, but at the base of the legs, the brittle shells splinter and mix with the meat, and it can be a messy fight to get the teeniest bits freed. Needless to say, prerequisites for this sort of meal are patience and the willingness to get your hands dirty.
It took us a couple of hours to work our way through the half dozen or so crabs on our platter, and as we finished up boatloads of locals were arriving to watch the sunset with icy beer and mountains of crab.
While Farm Buu Nim is well known among the locals of eastern Thailand and beyond, the staff were surprised to see a foreigner’s face. There’s no English menu, but if you can remember the word, buu (crab), you’ll probably be fine. Alternately, staff told us that a handful of foreigners have come accompanied by Thai tour guides, and a guide could conceivably be hired in Chanthaburi town, the small resort area of Chao Lao about 30 kilometres further up the coast, or even on Ko Chang.
How to get there
You'll need to first get to Khlung (local buses run throughout the day and into early evening from Chanthaburi, or you can come by motorbike/car) and then find the pier called Tha Reua Buu Nim at the end of Thetsabun 2 Road. We were welcomed to the riverside by an enthusiastic lot of whiskey drinking locals, and after saying "Farm Buu Nim" they quickly led us to the spot where the boat picks up.
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