Chanthaburi: Gem of a Province

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Known as a center of gemstones as well as the kingdom’s “fruit bowl,” Chanthaburi is located in the east of Thailand, bordering Cambodia’s Battambang and Pailin districts and the Gulf of Thailand. Together with neighboring Trat, Chanthaburi is the center of gemstone mining, especially rubies and sapphires. Tropical fruits are also among its main products, and in 2000, the province produced nearly 380,000 tons of durian, which was 45.57% of Thailand’s durian production and approximately 27% of the world’s production.

Obscured by eastern neighbors, such as Rayong, Trat, and Chonburi — which are relatively more popular as tourism destinations — Chanthaburi is actually a place of discovery, especially for those who have seen many of the country’s major destinations already.

The French colonists occupied Chanthaburi in 1893, returning it only in 1905 when Thailand gave up ownership of western Cambodia. Also, a significant minority of its citizens here traces their roots to native Vietnamese, which makes its general atmosphere somewhat different from other Thai towns.

Chanthaburi is also probably the most “Christianized” part of Thailand, but it still is very Asian, very Thai.

WHY GO

Chantaburi’s melting pot of cultures has kept it distinct from many other Thai provinces. This uniqueness enhances a visitor’s experience, especially those keen to enjoy the local touch. Chanthaburi town has that quaint charm, which makes it appealing to those in search of something new and different in Thailand.

Nature lovers will also have a heyday in the province as its geography has ensured it of mountainous terrains and verdant virgin forests, enclosed in a number of protected national parks; waterfalls, hot springs, rivers, beaches, and islands, that are less touristy that even those in Trat, Rayong, or Chonburi.

There is even an area where prehistoric relics were excavated, for those interested. Gem mining is not extensive now as it used to be but Chanthaburi remains a major center for gem dealings with stones from neighboring countries and abroad being bought and sold.

Of course, there are numerous Buddhist temples and shrines wherever you go, for those into religious tourism and study.

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Sights are a-plenty. Even if you skip the King Taksin the Great Shrine,the King Taksin the Great Monument, and the several wats (temples) there’s a variety of sights and activities to keep you busy. Boran Sathan Mueang Phaniat is one. It is assumed that this monument might be the original settlement of Chanthaburi City in an early age, about a thousand years ago.

Nowadays, only a ruined sandstone wall and an unidentified earth mound with a height of about 1-3 meters remains. The Catholic Church of Chanthaburi is a popular program. According to history, construction of this old, large, and beautiufl — Gothic inspired — Catholic Church took 275 years to complete. A visit to Si Chan Road, the commercial area and center of gem business, is a must.

Archaeological wealth is evident in the visits to the King Taksin Shipyard where several rectangular dock-like areas were found along the shore as well as parts of an old ship believed to be a three-masted Chinese junk using a rudder and measuring 24m- long and 5m- wide, the Boran Sathan Khai Noen Wong where you can find a storage of artifacts and pottery taken from the Australian Tide Ship, which allegedly trespassed Thailand’s waters in the Gulf of Thailand to illegally transport antiques out of the country, and the Panichnavee National Museum.

But they are nothing compared to “Manut Boran” archaeological excavation site located 25km from Amphoe Pong Nam Ron. Prehistoric human skeletons, stone tools, artifacts, pottery and ornaments of some 4,000-years-old, now removed from the pits, were unearthed.

Treks to Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, which covers a total land and marine area of 9,500 rai, may be interesting to some. Khao Laem Sing is a small hill 172m above sea level, with a pile of rocks that look like a crouching lion at the front and that gave it its name, which means “hill of a lion cape.”

The park includes dry evergreen forest and beach forest, which are home to important flora and fauna.Khao Chamao–Khao Wong National Park, the headwater of Lam Nam Prasae–Rayong’s principal river, and others, are also special.

A very interesting sight is the Tham Khao Wong, which is a habitat of Chan Pha (Dracaena loureiri Gagnep), an endangered species of wild animal. More than 80 caves have been discovered in this area with a complex of some 20 connected caves divided into 3 zones.

Try also to visit the waterfalls (namtok), such as Namtok Krathing, a large 13-tiered waterfall originating from the Khitchakut Range. There are bamboo forests and various plant species along the way, with a blanket of moss and ferns on both sides;

Khlong Chang Se with its circular nature trail; and Khlong Krasan, a large waterfall amid shady surroundings located near Safeguard Unit 2 (Khlong Phaibun) 8km from the national park’s headquarters. Hin Dat, the 12-tiered waterfall is surrounded by an intact evergreen forest. The 9th-12th tiers are especially breathtaking.

Most visitors also go to the Chong Phakkat Thai-Cambodian Border Market in Ban Khlong Yai, 30km from Pong Nam Ron District Office, 20km from Pailin and 68km from Preah Tabong in Cambodia; and the Ban Laem Thai-Cambodian Border Market before they leave.

If you’re traveling with family and kids, make sure you drop by Oasis Sea World, a place where dolphins in Chanthaburi’s watercourses are conserved and reproduce.

SLEEP

Major international hotels have yet to invade Chantaburi but don’t worry because there are a couple of relatively outstanding locally run hotels to meet your requirements.

Some world-class amenities may be lacking but the local Thai hospitality makes up for what they lack. Service is generally friendlier and more polite.

Among them are Maneechan Resort (039-343-777), Rachan Residence (039-327-102), K.P Grand Hotel Chanthaburi (039-323-201); Eastern Hotel (039-311-726); Caribou Highlands Hotel (039-321-584), and Chanthaburi Riverside (039-323-201/13). Of course, there are others.

EAT

For quality and fresh local Thai food, try the Chanthorn Restaurant. The Pho So 2462 Restaurant is also noted for “Great food at an amazing location.” Try also the Krua Tah Luang, and Farm Pu Nim.

Eating at local restaurants add to the overall experience, and I remember going to a crowded seafood restaurant, which name unforunately, I forgot.

A must-try is the Sen Chan Noodle, a symbolic product of Chantaburi, favored for its soft and glutinous quality and available only here. As well, sample tropical fruits such as rambutan, durian, mangosteen, Rakam and Sala varieties of zalacca, santol, and others, which are abundant during May-June.

Longans are abundant too, particularly during April and May. Langsat Chamkho, sweet and not too large in size, grown in Tambon Chamkho, Amphoe Tha Mai, are in peak season May–September.

BUY

Gems are among the province’s renowned economic products and you will find lots of elaborately cut gemstones made by experienced craftsmen. Khlum Woven Products a crafted work promoted by the Chanthaburi Provincial Skill Development Center are great buys too; and so are Soi Dao Paper, made from the pulp of weed that grow in abundance in Chanthaburi’s evergreen forests.

If you want more handicrafts as souvenirs before you leave, drop by the Ban Samet Ngam Chanthabun Mat Weaving Center at Tambon Nong Bua, Amphoe Mueang; the Bang Sa Kao Mat Weaving Village at Tambon Bang Sa Kao, Amphoe Laem Sing; and the Ban Suan Som Furniture Market for its wooden furniture such as living room suite, wardrobe, dining table, wall clock, etc.

Oh, maybe you could buy a pack of Preserved Durian, which is the province’s famous processed product with a mildly sweet taste and aroma typical to each of the durian varieties.

How to get there:
By Car – You can take the Sukhumvit No. 3 Route — Bangkok-Chonburi-Pattaya-Ban Chang-Rayong-Chanthaburi (291km); or the Highway No. 36 Route: Bangkok-Chonburi-Sriracha-Rayong- Chanthaburi (254km), or the Highway No. 344 Route: Bangkok-Chonburi-Klaeng- Chanthaburi (245km).

By Bus – Both air and non air-conditioned buses leave from the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) The rate for non air-conditioned buses is Bt93 only but may be a bit inconvenient. Air-conditioned buses leave every hour, starting from 5 a.m. till midnight. The fare is Bt130 (Tel. 02-3912504, 391-8097); From the Morchit Bus Terminal, air-conditioned buses from leave Bangkok at 7.30 a.m., 8.30 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. One-way fare is Bt135. The trip takes about three hours and 10 minutes.

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