The Thai province of Chanthaburi is located along the western edge of the Gulf of Thailand. As well as sharing borders with other Thai provinces, it also has Cambodia as a neighbour.
Famous for its bustling gem trade that sees experts and traders travelling from far and wide, the province also boasts some pretty beaches, interesting architecture, and a wealth of cultural and natural attractions. It is also known for its wealth of juicy and sweet fruits.
Here are five terrific things to enjoy in Chanthaburi:
1. Relax on sandy beaches and dine on fresh local seafood
You’ll find some nice beaches along Chanthaburi’s stretch of coastline, great for a few hours of sunbathing and swimming. Sure, they aren’t anything to rival the glorious beaches of the south, but they are generally clean with decent facilities for visitors, ideal for a little down time and relaxation.
The small Hat Ao Yang is close to the main provincial town and within a short drive, you can reach other popular spots such as Hat Chao Lao, Hat Khung Kraben, and Hat Laem Sadet.
Hat Chao Lao is the busiest of Chanthaburi’s beaches and you can arrange to take a trip out into the sea onboard a lovely glass-bottomed boat. This is a terrific way to see the abundance of sea life that lives around the corals without needing to get a single toe wet!
You might notice small fishing boats out on the waves … a variety of locally caught fish and seafood dishes are available, with several restaurants operating right on the edges of the beach. Relax on a wooden deckchair, inhale the salty air, enjoy the welcome shade under a parasol, and tuck into delicacies like crab, mussels, and cockles.
2. Visit the luxurious gem malls and be dazzled by the shining jewellery
Chanthaburi is the gem capital of Thailand and there are several gleaming, if somewhat sterile, centres dedicated to selling an impressive assortment of beautiful jewellery set with stunning precious and semi-precious stones. Whether you want to make a purchase or simply browse, head to one of the malls and be prepared to be blown away!
Whilst you can find some cheaper items, the amount of zeros on many of the price tags might make you back away! As well as regular items of jewellery, such as earrings, necklaces, bangles, and brooches, you’ll also see some highly ornate traditional Thai accessories like the bejewelled headdresses that are often seen at cultural shows.
Photography isn’t really allowed in the stores, but you can probably get away with a few shots from the doorway. Don’t loom over the sparkling glass display cabinets with your camera in hand though!
3. Discover a world of glittering jewels at the lively gem markets
Once you’ve enjoyed the glamour and air-conditioned comfort of the gem malls, experience a livelier trade scene at the markets. Small stores have loose stones for sale, with emeralds, rubies, diamonds, jade, sapphires, quartz, and more all winking in the sunlight and screaming for attention. Some stores also have pre-made items and there are also those that will set your choice of stone just how you want it.
Although you can visit some of the small stores on any day of the week, the market is at its busiest at the weekends, when people travel here especially to deal in valuable stones. It is so well-known within trade circles that it attracts dealers, jewellers, and specialists from overseas as well as from within Thailand.
If you are interested in making a purchase, you can take a seat and a seller will be only too happy to talk you through their gleaming goodies. Don’t be tempted by incredibly low prices though – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is! Scams do take place. Unless you really know your gems, you are better sticking to buying from the malls.
4. Gaze upon the biggest church in all of Thailand
Chanthaburi has a large Roman Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A grand building constructed in the Gothic style, it is the biggest Christian cathedral in the whole country. The twin spires reach up towards the heavens and a colourful statue of the Virgin Mary stands serenely in front of the attractive building. There are numerous other religious statues and pictures around the well-kept grounds. The cathedral building is kept locked most of the time outside of services, but peering through the windows from the outside you will quickly realize that the façade is much more impressive than the fairly plain pale pink interiors anyway!
5. Enjoy wandering the charming streets and seeing a mix of architecture and culture
Take a stroll alongside the river and meander through the small lanes that branch off the main thoroughfares and you can admire a lovely blend of architectural styles. Traditional Thai wooden homes on stilts stand next to Chinese-style shop houses, which in turn stand next to French-inspired buildings.
Many people coming to Chanthaburi to try to make it big on the gem scene has created an interesting blended culture too … this is perhaps the most noticeable at mealtimes when you will encounter a tasty variety of cuisine that is difficult to find elsewhere in the country. With elements from Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, Chinese, Burmese, Mon, and others, the province is a wonderful melting pot of people!
Other Chanthaburi attractions for a brilliant varied break
Nature lovers will enjoy visiting pretty cascading waterfalls, such as the free to enjoy Khlong Narai Waterfall and Thok Nong and Phliu Waterfalls, each of which costs 200 THB (approximately 5.50 USD) for non-Thai visitors. A top tip is to visit each on the same day, as one ticket covers both. If you go on different days, however, you must pay again!
Go to the top of Khao Laem Sing for great ocean views, and get a taste of the area’s history at places like the ancient city of Khai Noen Wong, the Khmer-style temple of Wat Thong Thua, and the revered statue of former Thai King, Taksin the Great.
Many of Chanthaburi’s main attractions are free to enjoy and it is a lovely place to spend a few days exploring. Plan your visit to Chanthaburi and enjoy another side of the Land of Smiles.
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