Thailand is a country I come back to more and more. It’s a bit like my second home now and I feel that I almost have an obligation towards you, my reader, to show you Thailand that’s real, not spoiled and, as Thais call it themselves, clean. I would love to prove to you that this country is not only about loud parties and obnoxious tourists, but it has a gentle, beautiful side that not many people know of. That’s why today I would like to introduce you to Chanthaburi – the gem of Thailand, a place where you can relax and experience the Thai way of living.
I went to Chanthaburi with Tourism Authority of Thailand that took me on a trip around the east (have a look at my posts about Rayong and Trat as well). We stopped there only for a day, or two, but it was enough for me to completely fall in love with the town and the province. I am now planning to go back there later on this year and hope to bring you even more information on it. But for now, I hope you will enjoy this little write up on Chanthaburi.
About the province
Chanthaburi is a province and town of the same name in the east of Thailand. It’s also called the gem of the country as precious stones, including diamonds and sapphires are cleaned and polished here and then sold to foreign and domestic buyers. The Chanthaburi gems market is one of the most famous places to experience how the trade is done and in the local museum you can find out more about the process.
The main town is also very interesting due to its architecture and different minorities that live in the area.
What to do in Chanthaburi?
There are plenty of activities on offer. Enjoy the wildlife, conservation projects, and history.
The capital of the province is not large. There are only around 30,000 people living here. To me that makes it a great location to explore as the streets are not crowded and the atmosphere is as far away from Bangkok as can be.
The gems market
I have seen a lot of markets in Thailand. I find them all interesting, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are more or less the same. That’s why I wasn’t that keen on visiting this particular market. When I got out of the car I was amazed. I thought it was the coolest market I had ever seen. I found extremely interesting to see how the precious stones are traded. There was something quite old-fashioned and mysterious about it.
The market covers a large area, one long street, and some side streets. There are big shops with tables, where buyers and sellers meet, or the trade is done directly at the street stalls. You can see people from all over the world and hear some exotic languages as well.
I’m not that keen on shopping. I like jewelry, but I don’t really wear it. So, going inside the shops in Chanthaburi wasn’t such a big attraction to me. However, I was lucky enough to see how stones are polished and do it myself. After I appreciated the finished result a bit more.
I am not sure if you can actually do the same and ask one of the owners to polish a stone by yourself, but you can peek inside some of the local establishments and admire the beautiful jewelry.
The Catholic cathedral
Catholic churches are not such a common sight in Thailand, so visiting the one in Chanthaburi is even more of an attraction because of that.
This is the largest church in Thailand, built in the 18th century. It was rebuilt 4 times during the 19th century, finally taking on its current state in 1909.
The church might not be as impressive as some of the Catholic temples we have in Europe, but it’s quite pretty inside and it has a rich history. Notice the statue of St Mary located just by the main altar. It shines with thousands of precious stones, which is a tribute to the town and its inhabitants.
The main streets of Chanthaburi are lined with beautiful, colonial building made out of teak. It really reminded me of Lampang and Lamphun. These houses are owned by Thai people and descendants of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants. They run their family businesses. Among them, you will find some bakeries. Many of them have been using their own recipes for cakes and snacks that have been improved over the years.
If you want to know more about precious stones, then visit the local Gems Museum. Find out how they are excavated, cleaned and polished and then buy something pretty in the shop located inside.
Outside of Chanthaburi
The main town of Chanthaburi is not the only attraction. If you want to escape the noise and the traffic, then take a trip a bit further away.
Sea Farming Demonstration Unit in Kung Krabaen Bay
This particular center is one of the Royal Projects, which helps locals in preserving marine life. Fish and other sea creatures are bred here and released later on to populate the nearby waters.
I had an opportunity to see a live turtle, which was rescued from fishing nets and looked after in the Unit. They also have sharks, which you can come very close to and feed them, but during my visit, they decided not to show up.
Noen Nangphaya Viewpoint
The road from the Kung Krabean Bay to Chanthaburi Town is very pretty. It has a great lane for bicycles and those, who prefer to walk. There’s also a small viewpoint, from which you can see the surrounding area. Sometimes it can get very busy, mostly with locals.
Seafood is very popular in Chanthaburi and oysters are something that you will find almost in every restaurant. They are farmed nearby and some of the farmers can show you how to grow, them and how to eat them properly. I visited Uncle Tom and Auntie Louise’s farm, who also run a small guesthouse.
How to get to Chanthaburi?
If you’re traveling from Bangkok you can take a minivan from Ekkamai to Chanthaburi Bus Station. It takes 4 hours and costs around 300 Baht.
From Rayong, you can take a busRayong, you can take a bus. They depart at 4:00, 8:30, 11:30, 13:00, 14:30 and 18:00 and take 4 hours. You can also take a private taxi, which costs around 4,000 Baht.
How to get around?
You can hire a bicycle in the main city and cycle around the streets. Getting outside of town might be a little bit more complicated, but doable. Hire a scooter and hit the open roads. Just remember to be careful, drive slowly and make sure you have valid travel insurance for Thailand.
For those, who like comfort, there are a few organised trips available and you can buy them in your hostel, or hotel. I also highly recommend Take Me Tour that offers a wide choice of activities in Chanthaburi with local, independent guides.
Where to stay in Chanthaburi?
Sand Dunes Chaolao Beach Resort in Tha Mai district of Chanthaburi – it is not actually in the town, but if you want to combine your sightseeing with some relaxation and stay somewhere nice, I highly recommend this resort. It’s quiet and perfect for couples and families.
D Varee – a great spot if you want to be a bit further away from the noise of the town. You can book a private driver to take you around the town, or rent a bicycle, or a motorbike. Rooms are very spacious and the hotel has a very nice swimming pool with a view over the river.
Bussarakam Place – the cheapest option in town with a good location. Rooms have air conditioning and free wifi.
If you are traveling to the east of Thailand and have some more time, check out my itinerary for Chanthaburi, Rayong, and Trat. I am sure that it will be helpful in planning your trip.