I was recently able to participate in SiamRise Travel’s 3 day/2 night tour of Trat, Koh Chang, and Chanthaburi as a part of a blogger familiarization trip. I’d previously experienced their 3 day/2 night excursion exploring Sukhothai, and I was pretty stoked about this trip because SiamRise Travel focuses on two things that are very important to me when I travel: eating good food and supporting the local community.
Though I’m no stranger to Koh Chang and Chanthaburi, this tour showed me some new sides to these places as well as an introduction to the sleepy little town of Khlong Yai (Trat). Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles”, but to really experience that motto you need to travel away from the big cities and visit some of the rural communities. Even with masks on the saying rings true!
If you’re a fan of food and supporting local communities when you travel, this tour is right up your alley. Let me share my experience with you!
Day 1: Bangkok to Trat (Khlong Yai)
Our first day of this adventure began with an early departure from Bangkok. It’s about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Bangkok to the little town bordering Cambodia, Khlong Yai in Trat. That’s nonstop driving. Fortunately, we made plenty of comfort stops along the way and most importantly we stopped along the midway point for an excellent lunch at Chim Cafe.
My kind of road trip grub!
When road tripping in the USA, your dining options are usually fast food (think your large burger chain or bucket o’ chicken establishments) or truck-stop style diners (not so quick, but don’t hold the grease!).
In Thailand, they have fast food joints, but they also have “quick service” restaurants, too. But fast food and quick service food are NOT the same. Though price wise they are about the same, the difference is that with “quick service” you’re getting homecooked unprocessed food that won’t have you nodding off at the wheel 50 kilometers down the road.
Basically the food is already prepared and customers point to the items they want on their plate. Easy, peasy.
After a filling lunch, we proceeded all the way to Khlong Yai (Trat) where we received a warm welcome at our first stop…
Chao Mae Tub Tim Shrine
Khlong Yai is home to Thai nationals of many different ethnic origins: Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian are the most common. This is why when we arrived at the Chao Mae Tub Tim Shrine we were warmly received by ladies in different ethnic garb (the Vietnamese hats really stood out!).
Respected by all locals in the area, this shrine has stood to honor the Chinese descendants for over 100 years.
Of course, no visit to a Chinese shrine or temple would be complete without a lion dance welcome. In our case, we were fortunate to be treated to a dancing exhibition once we arrived and again when we departed. We also had the opportunity to don the lion costume, too!
We received a short briefing about the shrine’s history and then were invited to participate in lighting incense at the various offering points. After making a wish we jumped into some hands-on activities that were more engaging and fun!
Making local things…
One activity was learning how to make beaded bracelets. Since you can’t eat the bracelets it wasn’t really my thing. But many of the other folks had a blast. There’s just something about making things with your hands that put folks at ease no matter the language barriers. Everyone knows what a high-five is, right?
What is my thing? Making snacks! These little roll-ups were made with thin rice tortillas filled with strips of coconut meat. A local treat I liked to eat.
Let me share a secret with you. In Thailand, I’ve found that often when having these community cultural presentations at some point some auntie is going to grab your arm and lead you out to a forming conga line where you find yourself thrust into learning some special cultural moves.
Now it’s been my experience that given several adult beverages and a song I know (usually some 80’s hit) I’ve got more moves than Ex-Lax. Or at least I think I do (sadly I’ve been informed by many friends that I don’t).
Unfortunately, this is not the case when I’m perfectly sober and perfectly aware of how Thai folk music is so dissimilar to Depeche Mode. In this case, I not only get to demonstrate that I am equipped for dancing with not only 2 left feet, but I also get to flash two left hands. Sorry I suck as a dance partner, dear auntie. Thank you for not running away when most would (and probably should).
After our goodbyes to the friendly locals at the shrine, we hit the road again. This time to visit the fishing community of Mai Rood. This community covers both sides of the mouth of the river with the same name and most of the community make their living with what they catch in the surrounding waters.
We arrived just in time for dinner. Can you guess what was on the menu?
It’s a fishing village. Of course dinner would consist of the bounty nearby, that bounty being seafood.
We got our fingers nice and fishy chowing down on fried fish with sticky sweet/spicy sauce, gigantic mantis prawns, and large, meaty crabs.
But my personal favorite was a dish that is popular in the local area. These small black shellfish are found burrowed in the mud banks along the river and cooked in a fiery curry sauce. When I asked what these creatures were called the gentleman who operated the homestay where we were dining laughed and told me that loosely translated from Thai they would be called “suck the butt shellfish“.
You can guess how they’re eaten right?
Mai Rood Community
After dinner, we walked along the canal where we observed many of the locals still hard at work cleaning nets, sorting shrimp, breaking down crabs, or pounding down some beers (that can be work, right?).
We were off for a night boat ride along the upstream area that is well known for 2 different species of fireflies that illuminate the mangrove trees along the river’s edge. What we were not aware of, and what my camera dismally failed to capture, was the incredible bioluminescent plankton in the water.
As we puttered along the river the boat’s front, sides, and long slipstream glowed a bluish-green and most impressive was seeing the dimly lit shapes of fish as they skimmed across the water surface with mouths wide open to feast on the glowing plankton.
My words can’t accurately describe how cool this experience is!
After a long day of driving and adventuring, we spent the night in Trat.
Day 2: Trat to Koh Chang
Our 2nd day began with an easy drive to the Trat City Museum. What was once the former Trat town hall since King Rama VI, this colonial architecture style built with wood and concrete pile now houses exhibitions of the local area’s cultural and archeological history from pre-historic times until today.
I was surprised to learn that Thailand and France faced off in a major naval battle in the sea area of Koh Chang! After this quick education, we headed off for some daytime mangrove forest exploration.
Mangrove forest time!
Ban Tha Ranae is a small fishing village that was nearly ended by the effects of nearby mining. Fortunately, the nearby mangrove forest flourished which aided in restoring the fragile ecosystem. still recovering the villagers have been hard at work supporting nature conservation projects as well as promoting eco-friendly tourism.
One eco-friendly tourism activity is a boat ride to the mangrove forest of Lan Taboon, which literally means “fields of the cannonball mangrove tree”. You can only view the forest floor of intertwining roots during low tides. Which we learned if the boat is at max capacity it can result in some situations where you just gotta roll up your shorts and push.
To preserve the mangrove roots, the villagers have built a raised wooden pathway through the forest. It was really neat to see the biodiversity darting through the twisting roots of the forest floor. Not as neat as finding a swing where I could channel my inner child, though!
After exploring the mangrove forest and working up an appetite pushing the boat when needed, we returned to the village for lunch and to shop from some of the local vendor stalls. Then we were off to the pier to catch our ferry to the island of Koh Chang!
A bit of Venice in Koh Chang?
Koh Chang is one of my favorite island getaways from Bangkok. I’ve been there many times. Though I don’t consider myself an expert on what’s there I’ve always felt that I’ve got a fairly good idea of what the island has to offer. But when we arrived at the island and drove off the ferry we went left.
This is when it hit me. The island has one major road that pretty much goes most of the way around the island (it doesn’t go around the bottom of the island), and when getting off the ferry as most folks do, I’ve always gone to the right.
I guess you could say we took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference. Any Robert Frost fans reading this?
But it was taking that less-traveled route around the island that led us to the Salak Kok community and a bit of Venice in Koh Chang. Okay, it’s not pizzas, Byzantine mosaics, and romantic accordion serenades. But the Salak Kok community does offer gondola style rides through the brackish waters to the sea.
Maybe it’s not quite Venice, but bring some wine, meats, and cheeses with you to enjoy under the parasol anyways. I wish I had. And if you’re with someone special, why not whip out your phone and play this. You’re welcome.
I’ll keep my day job…
The opportunity to try my hand at rowing the gondola presented itself. I wasn’t scared. I tried it. Trust me, these guys are professionals who make it look like a breeze to operate. It isn’t at all easy. In fact, it’s pretty damned hard. It took me several rows just to get the rhythm of how to get the oars in sync. Though I was feeling pretty confident with the rowing I couldn’t quite master steering. Fortunately, I was relieved from duty before we could crash into any of the other gondolas.
I’ve got mad respect for these folks and what they do.
After our gondola experience, we returned to the pier and enjoyed an ice-cold adult beverage at the pier side Salak Kok Seafood. If you find yourself in Koh Chang on your own and want to do something completely different, turn left. Below is the map to the pier to support the Salak Kok Community (meats, cheese, wine, and super romantic Venitian playlist not included).
After our busy day, we checked into our beachside resort and enjoyed some free time swimming before dinner on the beach. I slept pretty well that night!
Day 3: Koh Chang to Chanthaburi (Bangkok return)
Our final day had us crossing back to the mainland and driving to Chanthaburi. Though Chanthaburi is a favorite destination for Thai tourists it’s not well known to foreign tourists and is rarely visited. It’s most famous for its gems and its fruit, especially the “king of fruit” durian. I had the good fortune to be invited a couple of years ago to explore the city by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). If you want to do a deep dive into what there is to do in this “Gem City” you can read about my experience.
On this SiamRise Travel tour, we didn’t focus on the gem aspects of the city but focused mainly on the community and of course, the food!
Our first stop in Chanthaburi was the Chanthaboon Community which sits along the waterfront of the Chanthaburi River. For over 300 years the Chanthaboon Riverside Community has been an active settlement alongside a 1 km stretch of the Chanthaburi River. At one time it was considered the Chinatown of Chanthaburi. However, the community is a melting pot of Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese influences.
We snacked our way along this stretch of road until we got to the Mary Immaculate Conception Cathedral. The Catholic community began when a small group of Vietnamese people fled religious persecution from Indochina around 1700 A.D. The cathedral that stands today is the 5th church construction to service the worshipping needs of the Chanthaburi community. It is also the largest cathedral in Thailand!
I was really excited to learn that our lunch would be at one of my favorite restaurants in Chanthaburi, the Chanthorn Restaurant. For over 58 years this family-run restaurant has been serving famous Chanthaburi dishes to locals and tourists alike.
I don’t care what negative thoughts you might have about durian. If you hate it it’s only because you haven’t tried a Somtum salad made with young crispy durian, or had it stewed with massaman curry (like a sweet potato!).
But for something really special, make sure to try the Thai Pork Curry with Chamuang (Garcinia Cowa) Leaves. These leaves are special to the area and the dish itself tastes very similar to barbacoa. I’ve never experienced anything like it in Thai cuisine and it was a favorite dish at our table.
After lunch, we visited a place I’d never seen before.
The “Blue Church”
Known locally as the “Blue Church“, the Pak Nam Khaem Nu Temple is unique in that it is decorated with beautiful blue tiling. Though at the time it was still being renovated, it was still beautiful to see and obviously quite popular with the locals.
The first floor houses a scene of black Buddha statues and the second floor showcases a large gold Buddha statue and ornately decorated walls depicting religious scenes. My advice, if you want to capture this large temple you’re going to want a camera with a wide lens!
The final stop…
Departing Chanthaburi on the way to Bangkok, our final stop was to the Noen Nang Phaya Scenic Point. It’s a lovely view with some “locks of love” that have been fastened to the safety rails. Viewing these amorous testaments made me realize that true love never dies…it does apparently rust.
It was a whirlwind tour of 3 wonderful destinations. But what I loved about it is that it gave me an opportunity to experience these places in a way that I, a non-Thai speaking person, never would have been able to do on my own. If you want to travel throughout Thailand and have a more “local experience” I highly recommend SiamRise Travel. You can check out their programs here. You’ll love the experience!
Speaking of love, this was a fantastic itinerary put together by SiamRise Travel, but what really made it special was the lovely folks I met who also participated in it. Please take the time to check out their social media channels and/or links to the posts of their experience.
From left to right they are:
- Ting – Our guide from SiamRise Travel
- Joel and Khela – @Adventures While Black (IG)
- Tori – @Toritalks (IG)
- Erik – @Minority Nomad (IG)
- Matthew – @mojomatt (IG) (Read about his experience)
- Mathilde Alice – @Mathilde Alice (IG)
- Kate – @Go Where Kate Goes (IG)
- Pedro – Pedro Medeiros Photography (IG)
- Handsome Me
- Shayan – @Dose of Life (IG) (Read his post about Trat)
I want to hear from you!
Should you decide to experience this tour with SiamRise Travel or if you have some questions or comments about Trat, Koh Chang, or Chanthaburi, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, directly to me, or via message on either the Chow Traveller Facebook page or Chow Traveller Instagram. However you choose, I’d love to hear from you!