At only three hours drive out of Bangkok, Chantaburi makes a good weekend getaway if you’re keen on doing a bit of exploring. But let me be honest: none of the individual sites in Chantaburi are worth the trip alone.
Combine all the sites together in a two-day trip, however, and you have yourself a destination worthy of sending postcards back to Bangkok about. Or you would, if someone there would make some to sell you.
Famed for its gem-trading, noodles and fruits, Chantaburi province borders Cambodia and has been influenced variously by the French, Vietnamese and Chinese. If someone was to make a postcard to depict the symbol of Chantaburi, it may well be the Catholic cathedral, the largest church in Thailand, which towers over the eastern bank of the Chantaburi River.
Chantaburi might also win the prize for the biggest mangosteen in Thailand. Located at Oasis Seaworld 25 km south of town, the mangosteen has a big rambutan to keep it company (and paddleboats on the unnatural lake – you get the picture). We actually went to see the dolphins, for whom the huge park was originally established to encourage breeding. There’s also a neat butterfly enclosure, an aviary and a few other caged surprises.
While you’re out that way check out Kook Khee Kai, ‘Chicken Shit Building’, a relic from French colonial times (Chantaburi was occupied by the French from 1893 to 1904). The building, with a wire roof on which chickens were kept, was used to house what the French considered to be unsavoury Thai nationals.
Nam Tok Phliu, the fourth most popular waterfall in Thailand, is worth a peek for the loads of carp as well as the cool shade. Khao Phloi Waen, a hill a few kms north of town with a Sri Lankan-style chedi on top, gives a great view of surrounding orchards, and if you’re still into big, try the cannons at Khai Nern Wong, a preserved fort King Taksin retreated to after the fall of Ayutthaya.
A sundown stroll past the crumbling old shophouses by the river, maybe a beer at the unnamed bar next to the Chantra Hotel followed by dinner back at the Chanthron Pochana restaurant underneath Kasemsan 1 Hotel (where we stayed in immaculate rooms at 200 baht a night) is a relaxing end to a day.
Make that two beers. You won’t have any postcards to write.