After rather reluctantly leaving our beautiful Chansumut homestay in the Prasae Community (you can read about it here), we left Rayong and drove to the next Province, Chanthaburi which is famous for it’s “magnificent waterfalls, fruit, peppercorns, gems, the Chanthaboon mat, nature and King Taksin the Great’s liberation army”. Chanthaburi has borders with Cambodia and I’m fairly sure that I must have briefly driven through Chanthaburi and Rayong when I did a trip to Vietnam & Cambodia but to be honest we were racing the traffic to catch a flight home from Bangkok and I somehow missed where we were.
Our first stop was Kung Krabaen Bay, and the Royal Development Study Centre. With a cool sea breeze taking away some of the humidity and making the weather much more comfortable for us, we spent a really interesting couple of hours learning about some of the great things done at the Centre from the small team involved in the project.
Our visit started by us learning about how the team are working on increasing the number of crabs in the sea so that they continue to have fresh crabs (and a livelihood) from the industry for years to come. The solution, stumbled on a number of years ago) is actually quite simple, female crabs with their eggs used to go straight to the market where they were sold and the eggs lost and crab numbers were in decline. Now before the crabs go to the market the eggs are removed using a brush, a simple and repeatable method which doesn’t damage the crab but allows thousands and thousands of baby crabs to be hatched and released back into the bay.
The next project was where we learnt how to make an artificial fish house by shredding rope until it became thin threads and thus would provide shelter for fish, plus we learnt how to make E-Pae which are strings used to collect oysters both of which help to support the marine life in the protected pristine mangrove waters and to provide sustainable ways of living to the local residents.
A quick walk around the reserve saw us feeding some giant turtles who had been rescued and and were being rehabilitated for release back into the sea, as well as some baby sharks and other marine life.
Our next stop was to Nang Phaya Hill Scenic Point, where we spent a good half an hour eating crunchy fruit crisps including Durian chips which were beautifully tasty and healthy as well as taking in a rather famous scene of a winding road alongside the sea and indulging in my favourite pastime, people watching whilst sipping great coffee.
Lunch was a a streetside restaurant called J Pen Restaurant, who are famous for their signature dish of Yen Ta Fo noodle which is a bright pink noodle dish (it’s bright pink because of the fermented red bean curd used) frankly the colour did not appeal to me, and once I got to know the ingredients, including octopus tentacles and coagulated blood, prawns and other seafood – I clicked a photo of my dish, passed it along to some of my traveller pals who were tucking in with gusto, and moved onto my fabulous skewers of tasty and succulent lamb – yes I’m a wuss I admit it ! Whilst the noodles were not to my taste, the cluttered tables inside where you might struggle to find a seat, the street front cooking which was nothing more than a wok of hot oil and a basic BBQ grill and the general hustle and bustle of the busy and simple restaurant did appeal to me.
Anyone knows that after a carb fuelled lunch, all you want to do is take a nap and snooze away the carb induced slumber, not so for us, we were off to the Chanthaboon Handicraft Centre to do some weaving ! The Centre is mainly run by women, who have set up a communal area where they site and weave mats from reeds which are grown amongst the local rice paddy’s. We work on a very small mat and the work is intricate and tricky but could be quite therapeutic as you weave the intricate patterns with natural and dyed reeds. The proper work however is done on a large weaving platform and whilst the output is beautiful it’s easy to see that this is hard labour intensive work not for the faint hearted and so full credit goes to the industrious ladies who work on these projects to sustain their family life. (ohhh we might have done some shopping here too … )
Our final stop of the day is to the Chantabun Riverside Community where we are staying at Baan Luang Rajamaitri History Inn. We cause a bit of a stir when we arrive as our mini buses are almost the entire width of the high street and once parked, there’s only just enough room to get out and step around the van without stepping into the lounge and cooking area of the house opposite our hotel where a lady is diligently frying up some amazing food over a hot wok, she does this without batting an eyelid at us as she is deep in concentration whilst cooking.
Our home for the night, Baan Luang Rajamaitri Historic Inn, is a heritage boutique homestay and museum on the banks of the river which has been listed in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation and this, along with last nights homestay is one of the big highlights of our trip for me as we keep on discovering ‘hidden’ parts of Thailand. Once again we take over the entire Inn which is pretty cool. Each room is styled differently, some are located on the riverside, some with terraces, others are duplex, and others more simple style rooms but with street views perfect for people watching. We explore the Inn with each of us peering into the rooms of others to see how perfectly this house has been preserved. Whilst it’s well preserved they have some modern touches including A/C, Great showers, WiFi and thankfully a power socket close to the bed essential for powering up all of the gadgets and gizmos I take travelling with me (sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference)
After settling in and about the fifth shower of the day, as it’s pretty humid, we take a quick walk through Chanthaboon Waterfront which we find out is 300 years old and has a really mixed community of people from Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Thailand. The buildings her are old and being preserved with a really good choice of dining options including plenty of street food, restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops, in fact we end up sheltering in a riverside coffee shop during a downpour of rain and sample some delicious snacks of thick toast covered in condensed milk and banana – simple food, but darn good. There was plenty to see on our walk, from old historic buildings, temples, markets along with a great deal of people watching, including watching the neighbour across the streets TV from the comfort of the open hotel reception, or peering into an open fronted sewing busines:)
I loved the unexpected modern graffiti which we kept stumbling across from someone called #TeeChan who knows maybe they will be famous in the future !
Dinner is served later in a restaurant next to our hotel, we dine next to the river, in a bustling restaurant eating numerous authentic thai dishes including some fabulous crab cakes and some spicy pork dishes which I love, all washed down with a glass or two of Thai beer and we are then treated to a special celebration as we get to witness loi krathongs (small baskets filled with flowers and candles) which floated past us along the river as we dined. This was part of a bigger celebration which marked the end of a thirty day vegetarian festival and which we witnessed in front of our hotel as we returned to bed, it was such a special evening and a special treat to be part of the celebration.
As I lie in bed that evening, listening to the sounds of traffic in the background, to be honest I don’t expect to sleep well, but by about 11 pm the sounds die down and I fall into a deep sleep waking next morning for more exploration which you can read about here.