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Chanthaburi, Thailand

A selection of photos and description of a few days spent exploring Thailand's Chanthaburi Province

Escaping from Chiang Mai’s seasonal smokey air (a combination of dry-season forest fires and irresponsible farmers burning stubble), we thought we’d head down to the coast at Chanthaburi Province for a change. We do usually favour Koh Chang or Koh Mak for a getaway destination but this coastal province in southeastern Thailand is easy to access and offers plenty of inexpensive resort options.

While the islands are generally popular with foreign visitors Chanthaburi is mainly only known to locals so, unlike Koh Chang in these Covid times, everything was open and indeed during a bank holiday weekend – very busy. (Our last trip was to Krabi’s Koh Jum Island where, while stunning to look at, 75% of resorts and 90% of restaurants and cafes were closed due to the sad lack of tourists.)

When we say busy, everything’s relative

The coast in these parts is a string of sandy beaches interspersed by mangrove-filled bay and estuaries, broken up by rocky outcrops. We randomly chose Chao Lao Beach – some 5 kilometres of shallow sandy shoreline, lined with a selection of mid-range resorts (offering excellent Covid discounts) and cheap and cheerful bungalow set-ups.

Coastline between Chao Lao and Khung Wiman
The coastline between Chao Lao and Khung Wiman. (It’s not Koh Phi Phi but not too shabby either)

Another major advantage (for those without unlimited budgets) was a nearby village and market with plenty of very good, local-style cafes and eateries. Again, on the islands, resorts are currently offering some great accommodation deals but with most local eating and drinking options closed, your seafood barbeque in the resort probably costs as much as your room does!

Chanthaburi, Chao Lao
$12 dinner for 3 in a local cafe.

Now we like a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand as much as anyone, but are certainly not lying around in deckchair people, so happily the area offers plenty of activities – especially after having made contact with an exceptionally friendly, obliging, and inexpensive local tax driver. Fortuitously, a short stroll to the end of the beach brings you to the fascinating Kung Krabean Bay Mangrove Study Centre. where an excellent initiative has seen the construction of over 2 kilometres of wooden board walk – and viewing towers – across an extensive area of protected magroves.

Kung Krabaen Bay
Kung Krabaen Bay – great spot for a stroll

In the other direction, a 30-kilometre ride in a local taxi sees you in the provincial capital of Chanthaburi. An historical and picturesque town with plenty of old wooden buildings remaining in the narrow lanes of the riverbank quarter. There’s a Gallic influence too as during the late 19th-century the French attempted to impose themselves on the region as a result of something of a dispute as to where the Cambodian-Thai border actually lay.

Chanthaburi's impressive Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Chanthaburi’s impressive Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

…and the not so impressive French-built prison to house Thai prisoners that didn’t seem to agree with the new border demarcation.

Khuk Ki Khai, Laem Singh, Chanthaburi
Khuk Ki Khai, Laem Singh, Chanthaburi

The town’s role as an important port stretches way back, as the ruins of 8th-9th-century structures lying just east of the present-day town prove. Several local Buddhist wats house ancient, pre-Angkor, Khmer artefacts, while Wat Thong Tua possesses its own remarkable museum demonstrating Chanthaburi’s important role in early trade routes between the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia. (But more on that in a later post.)

Probably fragment of a 6th-century door lintel housed in Wat Thong Tua.
Probably fragment of a 6th-century door lintel housed in Wat Thong Tua.

Those were just a few of our highlights from a great little trip to an often overlooked, (by foreign visitors at least), section of the Thai coastline and we’d visit again without hesitation. What’s more, we returned to clear blue skies in Chiang Mai after a few days of showers so – a win-win!

We’d say a very worthwhile, outside-of-the-box, idea for a beach extension to any of our currently-listed Thai tours. Recommended!