Jungles and gems, and raw natural scenic beauty paired with a rich historical past that is incorporated right into the very skeleton of this town; Chanthaburi is an exceptionally curious place. Located in the east of Thailand, there is way too many good stuffs down here to pass up. I found myself utterly lost in the abundance of things that were there to be done. I had to visit so many temples, beaches, jungles and of course I could never miss the delicious traditional food cooked up in the pots of about every street vendor I ran into. But I was mostly interested in the gem stalls that this area is known for.
Let’s talk about those for a bit.
The Chanthaburi is known for its trade in gemstones all over Thailand. Gemstone traders are littering every part of this province from the famous Si Chan road to your local marketplace that stocks gemstones exactly how the fruit would be stocked in a bazaar. It is interesting to know how the gemstone business first started in this place. So as I took it upon myself to ask a Shan trader from Burma about it, here is the story he told me. It all goes back to a couple of centuries ago when a bunch of different gemstones like ruby and sapphires were found in bulk around the rural areas of this place. In the 19th century traders from all over rushed to grab their goodies and make a living off them before anyone else.
But soon when the 20th century loomed closer; these resources of gems started to deplete crazily. As everyone had taken their fair share of them, the sources soon emptied and nowadays there is only one lone mine of yellow sapphire that stands strong. It is what the area is famous for thus it still stands but it still is quite farfetched and situated 10 km to the west of Chanthaburi. However since this province had garnered the attention of the jewelry and gemstone world, it is now set up as an industry. With a constant flow of gemstones including blue sapphire, diamond, and emerald from mines from around the world; Chanthaburi still stands strong. The trade continues still but none of the gemstones showcased in this town belong to the town. They are all brought in from foreign countries.
But soon when the 20th century loomed closer; these resources of gems started to deplete crazily. As everyone had taken their fair share of them, the sources soon emptied and nowadays there is only one lone mine of yellow sapphire that stands strong. It is what the area is famous for thus it still stands but it still is quite farfetched and situated 10 km to the west of Chanthaburi. However since this province had garnered the attention of the jewelry and gemstone world, it is now set up as an industry. With a constant flow of gemstones including blue sapphire, diamond, and emerald from mines from around the world; Chanthaburi still stands strong. The trade continues still but none of the gemstones showcased in this town belong to the town. They are all brought
My Trip to the Gem Market
You would be surprised by how abundant the gemstones are here in Chanthaburi. They are positively flowing out of every shop and stall. Everyone has a bunch of them laid out in front of their shops up for grabs by any interested passerby. The gem stalls are hard to miss in this province as you will find literal rows of shops situated next to one another. You could say gemstones sell here like how clothes sell in a thrift shop.
It was a new and educational experience for me to inspect the gemstones in the various stalls as some shop owners even kept a huge magnifying glass with them to further interest the customers. However, it takes a keen eye to be able to distinguish between colored glass (that, by the way, sparkles just the same) and actual gemstones.
The display of these precious stones particularly shoots up during the weekends and Friday evenings in Trok Kachang. Unset and uncut stones are all up for grabs in every stall that decks the place during that time.
The Chanthaburi Coast
Taking a break from all the lavish gemstones that adorn this province’s every shop, I dropped by the famous Chanthaburi coastline. It is a huge stretch of beach land that stretches out and meets the rivers of Phlio, Wang Tanot, and Chanthaburi. The 3 rivers conjoin to make a huge body of water and the coastline from afar looks like it never ends and just stretches on and on forever. The surroundings around the coastline are beautiful and I found a number of fishing shacks lining the corners.
Fisherman with faces reddened by the sun with their fishing nets, hauling up squirming fish from the sea and flinging them into their baskets. They are pretty friendly (not the fish, the fishermen) and if you catch one of them on a good fishing day they’re prepared to tell you all sorts of amazing stories. Given that you speak their mother tongue. As they don’t have an opportunity to learn or go to school since a young age, they only know of the local tongue.
Besides the coastline and beach-land, there is a whopping 40 km stretch of road that proves the best for cyclists like myself. On my first day visiting the coastline I didn’t plan to brink a bike along, as I was just checking the place out. But upon spending a couple of hours there, I undeniably fell in love with the place. I found myself returning to it every day for the next week or so. It was just too irresistible! After coming back the second time, I had booked a bicycle for the day (they are abundantly available) and cycled a good 5 km with the wind in my hair and the beautiful coastline to my right. However, some people drive cars, motorbikes, scooters, and cycles on the same road so care must be taken in how you drive or ride.
Personally, car rides by the coastline sound like the sweetest deal ever but I am more of a cycle person and getting to feel the experience firsthand. There’s nothing like it, and it is an experience to be remembered for a lifetime.
The Old Town of Chanthaboon
Exactly what its name depicts this old town features buildings and monuments that were built a century ago. The existence of the town started 3 centuries ago and since then it has been a rollercoaster ride for its citizens. I was particularly fascinated with the Wat Bot Muang ordination hall that had a gorgeous gold-painted chedi tower beside it as well. It was truly a sight to behold when the sunlight reflected off the golden color and showered the place with a sun-kissed glow that I can never forget about.
The whole town looked like something straight out of a novel I once read when I was 10. It was staged well in the 17th century and its description matched the Chanthaboon town perfectly. It makes all the difference when you tour the place with someone who knows the history of it, but I was well versed on its past and present. I spotted a row of Sino-European houses which were built over a century ago. They were from Chanthaboon’s trading days as it was once known as a trade center. Funnily enough, the area’s history of trade lives on to this day and I got to see a very diverse and variant flock of merchants, miners and farmers from all different areas of the world. Some French, some Thai and even a bunch of Chinese ones too.
It was a highly educational experience for me to inspect and see the carvings, design, and style of building that was incorporated during the old days. They don’t have any rule against taking photographs, so I was allowed to snap plenty. Possibly the most surprising thing about the place was not the beautiful age-old design techniques but the fact that none of the carvings were restored. They are kept just as they were when they were first made. So, you can see the work of handcrafted décor by the hands of someone who is no longer alive yet their work remains alive. However, this does not apply to all the houses in the area as some have been restored so they can be used as museums and more professional spots.
For instance, the Baan Luang Rajamaitri which has been restored so it can be used as a museum. The restoration of this house is among the few others and for a good purpose. It is marked to be 150 years old and contains memorable items such as historical documents and the oldest photos you will ever see. It also provides the best river view, I speak from experience since I booked a room in it for a night. Yes, the Baan Luang Rajamaitri is an inn as well as a museum for those interested in knowing what it feels like to sleep in the past.
Chanthaburi from a bird’s eye looks to be quite the overlooked place which has some awesome places. Usually pushed to the side and ignored this town is not regarded as highly as other places because it does not boast of prominent city life, bars and clubs like other locations. However, there is a full guarantee that it will bring you the best memories, and one of a kind educational experiences. But if you ask me, the most beautiful thing about this place was the raw, beautiful and simple beach that extended to the coastline. One of the most personal and deeply affecting experiences was the one I had while cycling on the coastline road.