A trip into old-style Thailand
Published/Last edited or updated: 24th June, 2017
A day trip from Phetchaburi to the coastal towns of Baan Laem and Bang Tabun reveals old-style Central Thai scenes of salt farms, rice paddies, riverside temples and crab-fishing huts dotting the ocean to the horizon and beyond. Very few foreigners come this way, but those with a car or scooter who are up for something different should consider giving it a shot.
Starting at Haad Chao Samran, we motored north beside the coast on Highway 4028. Vast salt flats defined the landscape, mirror-like squares of shallow water rimmed by “flower of the sea” salt collected in neat mounds by the workers. Galvanised metal roofs of log-and-bamboo barns reflected on the water, the Tenassarim Mountains rising in the west.
While most of the salt is packaged and shipped, some of the finest stays in the Laem Phak Bia area for use in sea salt spas offering facials and body scrubs. Ruen Sabai Spa at I-Tara Resort provides hour-long treatments in the 900 to 1,500 baht range, though you’ll also find smaller spas operating out of humble houses and most of these sell local products if you’d prefer to bring your salt scrub home. In Laem Phak Bia, you could also take a stroll through a mangrove forest to check out the mud crabs and birds.
In the village of Pak Thale we stopped to peep colourful fishing boats lining a slender canal as the scent of homemade shrimp paste and sun-drying fish grabbed the air. We also passed Chinese shrines, mosques and temples, including an enormous boat-shaped wihaan at Wat Nok Talay that was under construction when we passed through.
Further up the road we arrived at Baan Laem, a small but bustling seaside town with markets, temples and old houses clustered around the mouth of the Phetchaburi River. Here we turned onto Highway 4012 to continue north—if travelling by motorbike you can use a narrow bridge in the old part of town near the Gulf to the east, but if by car you’ll have to cut west towards the hospital and use the larger bridge.
On the way out of Baan Laem you could stop at Wat Nai Klang, a late Ayutthaya-period temple built by order of King Taksin, whose mother was born in the area. You could also take a detour west for a few kilometres to Wat Khao Takrao, a large cave temple housing a Buddha image that, according to legend, was miraculously found floating in the sea by a local fisherman. Complete with a cable car running to the top of a hill, it’s a popular draw for Thai tourists.
After crossing the river it’s an eight-kilometre ride up to Bang Tabun, a charming fishing village set at the mouth of the Bang Tabun River. Pull off just south of the river at Wat Pak Ao and stroll out on to the bridge for a vista of countless wooden shacks built on stilts over the Gulf, which local fishers use for rest and meals.
Though most of the drivers don’t speak English, longtail boats can be arranged at a pier in front of the municipal office near Wat Pak Ao, with an hour-long trip to the crab shacks fetching 800 baht (per boat, not per person). If you’re lucky, you might get a chance to watch the fishers dive to catch crabs with their bare hands before joining them for a bite on one of the wooden decks above the sea. The longtails can also take you inland to other fishing communities along the river.
On the northern bank, we pulled off at a dirt parking lot marked by an Est Soda sign, just before a red Chinese gate, and wandered down a lane across the street stuffed with stalls selling fresh rambutan, dried shrimp and chakram, a type of local seaweed used in soups and salads. At a shop called Jae Jun we watched a family steam crabs before buying a 400-baht kilo of blue crab and rock crab—de-shelled, ready to eat and caught that same morning. This was enough for us, but you could grab a larger meal at any of several restaurants found on both banks of the river.
Bang Tabun is also the main jumping off point for boat trips to watch Bryde’s whales (wan brudha in Thai) from May to December, with August being prime time for whale watching. While you could just turn up and try to charter a boat for around 5,000 baht, Wild Encounter Thailand specialises in group whale watching excursions for 2,000 baht per person.
If you’re looking to overnight in Bang Tabun, the small Rarin Resort has modern rooms for around 800 baht on the north side of the river. In that case you could catch one of the village’s legendary sunrises before heading north to Amphawa and other floating markets and fishing villages in nearby Samut Songkhram province.
On the way back to Phetchaburi we cut west in Baan Laem on Highway 3176, which had more surprises in store. It runs along the west bank of the Phetchaburi River, passing rice paddies, old teak houses and craft shops. Several roadside stalls sell khao lam, sweetened sticky rice grilled within pieces of bamboo.
A few kilometres north of Phetchaburi we pulled off to stroll across Saphan Rat Rangsan, a footbridge built in 1940 to access a small temple called Wat Sutthawas. In the late light we watched an old man gently row a wooden sampan as wood houses and trees draped over the river in a scene that could have been from 19th-century Siam, at least if weren’t for the rock music thumping from the village. To find the temple, look for a hand-painted blue sign with white Thai script along the road, and the bridge just beyond.
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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