With European homes, quirky cafes, vibrant street art and smiling people, the Chantaboon waterfront community can lure any visitor who loves old world charm.
A smiling old lady welcomes and offers me a local delicacy wrapped in a conically shaped leaf as I enter the one-kilometre stretch of the Chantaboon waterfront community. I politely refuse to accept as I realize that I am not carrying a wallet to offer her money. She is least offended but just smiles and generously shows me other eatables on offer in her shop and asks me to sample a few for free!
As I walk further, I realize that every other shop-house has one or two elderly people sitting behind a desk working on their account books, stock list or waiting for a potential customer with eager eyes and a smile on their lips. The people crisscrossing the street on their bikes bring about a touch of modernity to this otherwise laid back and sleepy street that has been given a new lease of life in recent years.
History of the trading port of Chantaboon
The Thais were originally into farming and agriculture while the Chinese and Vietnamese who passed by this area were traders and merchants. The Vietnamese have been regulars in Chantaburi since the Ayutthaya period. Understanding the interest and requirement of the traders, the locals started trading in peppers, wildlife hides, scented woods and majorly in rubber and timber. Thus, Chantaboon turned into a major trading and transportation hub with many Chinese and Vietnamese traders settling here and living in harmony along with the locals.
As I discovered, Chantaburi is still famous for its pepper and one can find shops selling them in cute little bottles like these…
The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of Chantaboon Waterfront Community
The Chanthaboon waterfront community was formed over three centuries ago during the reign of King Narai along the banks of the River Mae Nam Chantaburi. The community street stretches from Tha Luang Bridge to the Catholic Church and was known as Yaowarat or Chinatown of Chantaburi.
Recognising the importance of this community, King Rama V ordered the construction of the first road in Chanthaburi that passes through the Chantaboon community and is called ‘Sukhapiban Road’.
The French occupied this place in the early 1920s and left behind some European styled buildings as remnants alongside the wooden Thai homes and Vietnamese homes made of bricks. The place had lost its importance in modern times, however, everything started to change for the better in 2009 when the Thai government came up with a plan to preserve the old community of Chanthaboon by allocating a budget for its restoration and preservation.
The Chantaboon Waterfront Community road is adorned with colonial homes, Chinese shrines, cafes and centuries-old shop-homes. I could not visit the church due to a paucity of time but took a stroll along the Sukhapiban Road and visited the Chinese Shrine of ‘Chao Mae Kuan Im‘ capturing the essence of this vintage place.
A Gem of a Town
Another interesting fact is that together with the neighbouring province of Trat and the region around Pailin, across the border in Cambodia, Chanthaburi used to be an important source of gemstones, especially rubies and sapphires.
Taking advantage of its prime location next to the Chanthaburi River, the community gradually grew from a small market into a major commercial hub where one could buy everything including gems and jewellery. I also found a workshop that was involved in Gem-stone cutting in the alleys of the Chantaboon community.
The statue of Mother Mary, which stands within the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary is adorned with hundreds of Rubies and 300,000 Sapphires that has its origins in Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi province as well as Srilanka.
Potpourri of Cultures
As I walked in the bylanes, I realized that the doorways and windows of these colonial buildings speak volumes of a rich multicultural legacy of yore. The best way to discover the town’s Thai, French and Vietnamese influences is to take a stroll along the street, sample local cuisines and savour some bakery treats and coffee in the chic coffee outlets.
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Take a peek into the uber cafes many of which are decorated quirky yet in style.
As I explored, I realized that the shop-homes were not very organized and gave away the laid-back nature of the residents. I guess this is what attracts the tourists who flock the Chantaboon waterfront community in large numbers on weekends from Bangkok and other places.
With the help of the government, pouring tourists and well-wishers in the community, the Chantaboon Waterfront community has become a sustainable tourist town. Located approximately 250 km east of Bangkok and just under 50 km from the Cambodian border, it makes for an ideal stopover destination en route Cambodia from Thailand by road.
Many of the restaurants and shop-homes in Chantaburi preserve and display antique everyday items with pride… You may also want to visit the Kru Kung Museum in the Rayong province if you are fond of vintage items.
I fell in love with the laid-back attitude of the place and it brought back fond memories of my Kerala trip and the stroll along the streets of Fort Kochi which is another melting pot of cultures in India!
The community organizes a three-day event dubbed as “Colours Of Yesteryear In Chanthaboon Waterfront Community” around October each year to show off the rich legacy of this place.This is held along Sukhaphiban Road and features performances and hundreds of stalls that are set up to sell local cuisines and snacks, hand-made products, clothes and fashion accessories.
Hope to visit the Chantaboon Waterfront community again and explore this place of contradictions and stories at leisure!
Leaving you all with some more captures of the Chantaburi province and Chantaboon Waterfront Community…
Hope you liked this photo tour of Chantaboon waterfront community.Do leave your valuable comments 🙂
Disclaimer: My visit to Chantaboon Waterfront community was made possible by TAT Delhi and Amazing Thailand through a Media Trip. However, the views expressed in this article are solely mine. I have tried to share authentic information gathered through research, interactions with locals and my tourist guide, to the best of my knowledge.