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TOP PLACES IN CHANTHABURI, KOH MAK ISLAND & TRAT – GUIDE & 11 DAYS ITINERARY! OFFBEAT THAILAND!
This detailed guide and 11 days itinerary on the “The Legend of Eastern Gems” of Thailand viz. Chanthaburi, Koh Mak, Trat is based upon my trip which started on 31st May and ended on 2nd June. There are many more places in this offbeat region of East Thailand, which I am adding at the end. Located just 5 hours drive and less than 1 hour flight from Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, Chanthaburi is waiting to be explored. Untouristy, unpretentious, eco- friendly and laidback are some of the adjectives which sum up the Chanthaburi, Koh Mak and Trat Experience. Let’s see what this offbeat South Eastern region of Thailand which borders with Cambodia offers!
DAY 1 BANGKOK TO CHANTHABURI – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
I arrived groggy eyed early morning (5 a.m.) at the Suvarnabhumi airport of Bangkok. Short flights and long layovers had kept me sleepless since 2 p.m. the previous day. The 7 hours long transit was compensated for by the lovely service of Air India flight attendants.
They also served drinks and nice vegetarian food. I took around 4 Air India flights on this trip and was impressed by their service and food, both of which are becoming increasingly rare.
We were supposed to have meetings at the Tourism Authority of Thailand Head Office, New Phetchaburi Road but we had to skip due to lack of time.
07.00 Leave for Chanthaburi by van
As soon as we arrived, Mr. Gaew, who was our representative and interpreter from Ookbee Travel received us. After doing a little shopping at the Seven Eleven grocery store (Sim Card, small snacks etc) at the impressive Suvarnabhumi airport, we hopped on to the van for Chanthaburi. Chanthaburi is approximately 4 hours away from the Suvarnabhumi airport via a smooth road trip.
I was delighted to see vegetarian Thai breakfast ready for me in the van. It was a mix of rice flavoured with mushrooms, vegetables and spices along-with salad and cashews. We made quick stops near some very clean public toilets and cafes en route.
11.00 Arrival at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception
Our first stop on this trip was to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Located at a walking distance from the lovely Chanthaburi waterfront, this imposing cathedral was built in Gothic style akin to the well known Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris in France, which was recently in news.
Needless to say, Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is one of the finest cathedrals in Thailand with an awe-inspiring architecture. The stained glass work depicting different Christian saints inside the cathedral, the glittering statue of Mother Mary which is made out of jewels donated out of faith by the locals, the calm and the understated grandeur of the cathedral makes it a must visit place in East Thailand. Cathedral of Immaculate Conception is located west of Chanthaburi River and very close to the Chanthabun Old Town aka Chanthaburi riverside.
A bridge connects the cathedral to the Chanthabun Old Town, though you will come across many heritage houses near the cathedral as well. A local guide told us about the salient features and history of the cathedral which Mr. Gaew translated to us instantly.
11.30 Strolling through Chanthabun Old Town aka Chanthaburi riverside
I had been to Chanthabun Old Town aka Chanthabun Waterfront before. It was my second visit and I was still hooked. The 300 years old district which has a mixed population of Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese diaspora since early Rattanakosin Kingdom, is unlike any other touristy destinations of Thailand. Off late, discerning travelers are waking upto the charms of the sleepy Chanthabun Old Town.
As I walked on the Wat Chan Bridge towards Talad Lang, the Chanthabun Old Old Town won my heart again with its heritage homes, community shops, museums, shrines, guesthouses, restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops and what not.
I would ideally want to stay here for at least one day. It reminded me of Pondicherry in India and Galle in Sri Lanka. You can immerse yourself in the local culture and sights. And learn more about Chanthabun Old Town at the Baan Boran Museum
12.00 Lunch at Chan Pochana Restaurant
Chan Pochana Restaurant aka Chanthron restaurant at Chanthaburi also serves very nice vegan and vegetarian meals. I particularly loved their Thai salads, Phad Thai and salacca in sugary cold water as dessert. I have been to this restaurant 2 times and both were great experiences.
13.00 Visit Chanthaburi Gem and Jewelry Museum
I had no idea that Chanthaburi is also known for its gems and precious stones until I visited The Chanthaburi Gem and Jewelry Center. Not only can you learn about Thai Gemstones and jewelry here but you can also buy many beautifully designed jewelleries.
You can learn not only about the origin of gemstones but also about the jewel production process like jewelry design, jewel processing, heat treatment and polishing etc.
With constant quality development to match international standards and dedication, this gem and jewelry center became Thailand’s center of gem and jewelry trade.
Activities to do at Chanthaburi Gem and Jewelry Museum:
- Visit the museum
- You can see a video presentation on the history of Chanthaburi gem mining
- Indulge in the Gem and jewelry shopping at the huge shopping space at the end of the museum.
14.00 Visit Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center
Next, we visited the Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center which was a short drive away from the gems museum. A visit to the Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center gives you a better understanding of the original Chantaburi way of life. The miners and their supervisors demonstrated the process of finding real ancient gems from the mud piles.
What makes Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center different is the fact that unlike any other place in Chanthaburi, they allow you to get your hands on every process of mining from scooping, sifting, washing, shaping and creating beautiful gemstones.
The supervisor had invited me to 4 m. deep pit to do it myself but I chickened out. Also, because I was busy shooting the same! It was a wonderful activity based experience.
Sample fruits at Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center
Next, we had, what my Thai co traveler, joked, a ‘fruit-party!’ Only organic fruits are grown at the Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center. We plucked organic fruits straight from the tree and sample it along with the healthy rosella juice. I could easily make out the difference in the taste. The typical Thai fruits were more fleshy and juicier than what we get on streets commonly.
My first taste of Durian!!!
I also had my first taste of Durian. I had both raw and ripe one. I really loved the ripe Durian. I have no idea that why people say it smells and tastes very bad. Mine didn’t. I was told since the Durian I ate was organic so it tasted and smelled better. I am not sure. This is not how I had imagined my first Durian ‘adventure’. I had anticipated drama but none of it happened!
Activities to do at Bo Ploy Lek Petch Community Learning Center
- You can indulge in mining in a 4 m. deep pit (clothes are provided by the center!)
- You can sifting and wash the precious stones from mud.
- Gem shaping demonstration
- Visit the fruit garden. I tasted many organic Thai fruits such as Rambutan, Mangosteen, Durian, Salacca, Longkong aka Langsat etc.
- You can even pluck the fruits from the tree. But do this only after permission and under supervision.
- A stroll in the fruit garden.
17.00 Check-in at Baan Rim Ao Hotel, Chanthaburi
It was a wonderful stay at the 4 star property, Baan Rim Ao Hotel in Chanthaburi. All the ground level rooms have a private balcony which can be accessed from then room. The luxurious property had a beautiful outdoor swimming pool overlooking the gorgeous sea.
It is a mere 10 km ride away from The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception.
Activity to do at Baan Rim Ao Hotel, Chanthaburi:
- The sunset from the hotel is not to be missed!
- You can hire a Kayak for sightseeing.
- It is also great for the cycling enthusiasts
- Check out more nearby attractions here.
18.00 Dinner at Bang Ma Nao Restaurant during Sunset
I had a spicy and delicious Tom Yum Soup at dinner here.
Day 2 CHANTHABURI TO KOH MAK VIA TRAT – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
09.00 a.m. – We left for Trat after the leisurely breakfast at the hotel.
Being a vegetarian, I had lots of assorted Thai fruits, cornflakes in soya milk at the breakfast at hotel restaurant – Bang Ma Nao
It took us around 1 hr. to reach Trat from the hotel by van. The roads were smooth and free of any traffic.
10.00 a.m. Arrive at Laem Ngop Pier in Trat!
We arrived at Laem Ngop Pier in Trat. It is the gateway to access 52 big and small islands in the Trat region. Scores of makeshift stalls selling fruits and snacks lined the streets along-with the local tourists and residents. I saw a heavy Muslim presence here. We travelled by speedboat to Koh Mak, one of the most well maintained island of this region. It took us approximately 1 hour to reach Koh Mak Island from the Laem Ngop Pier at Trat. As soon as we arrived at Koh Mak island, it reminded me of the Elephanta Caves and Alibagh, both in Maharashtra, India. It is indeed similar and yet so different in character.
Trat is the third largest island of Thailand. Phuket and Samui are the largest!
11.00 Arrival at Ao Nid, Koh Mak / Visit Koh Mak Museum
Koh Mak, means koh (island) and mak (betel tree) because long ago, betel palms used to grow on this island in abundance. We started our visit to Koh Mak Island with the Koh Mak Museum which is home to many antique telephones, typewriters, household machines, furnitures, tablewares, crockery, and even a television. My favourite were the old black and white pictures of royal family and the first tourists (Germans) who arrived at Koh Mak aeon ago! I loved the first floor exhibits. The Koh Mak Museum is housed in the ancient residence of the Royal Family built as per the old Thai architectural style. The austere building is 80 years old and offers amazing views of the sea as it is built on water. This time capsule of a museum is a must visit when in Koh Mak Island.
The Koh Mak Museum built across 2 floors takes anything from 10 minutes to 30 minutes depending upon your inclination. A local guide helped us enhance our understanding of the exhibits as well as the history and ‘Eco Friendly’ status of the Koh Mak Island.
Look out for the owner, Khun Tarin, who is a descendant of Luang Prompakdee for more information on the Koh Mak Island and museum.
The Koh Mak Museum is the perfect place to understand the collective cultural heritage, lifestyle, unique traditions and the local values of the original inhabitants of Koh Mak Island. The Koh Mak Museum serves as a wonderful platform if you want to acquaint yourself with the history, literature, arts and crafts of the people who lived on this island since time immemorial. Being true to the low carbon status of the Koh Mak Island, the Koh Mak museum operates by solar energy.
12.00 Vegan Lunch at Koh Mak Seafood Restaurant
A lovely garden surrounds the Koh Mak Museum. One of the buildings in the vicinity is popular for its seafood. Though, I am a vegetarian, the restaurant was able to serve me a fantastic fried rice with roasted cashew-nuts and small chunks of pineapple. Their vegetarian Tom Yum soup was also good. It was one of my best meals in Thailand. Even my non vegetarian friends loved the taste.
We left for the Seavana Koh Mak Beach Resort after lunch. We rode on a cool Songthaew, a Thai vehicle for public transport
13.30 Check-in at Seavana Koh Mak Beach Resort
The Seavana Koh Mak Beach Resort was the most picturesque property we stayed at on this trip. Not only did each room have a private open air Jacuzzi, but they also have a huge private balcony ahead of each Jacuzzi tub. The rooms had huge windows with constant views of sea!
We rested here for a while before embarking upon the afternoon LOW CARBON activities.
15.45 Cycling in Koh Mak Island!
The Songthaew took us to the bicycle shop. The team began cycling which is termed as Koh Mak LOW CARBON Activity We started around 16.00 hrs.
The team cycled through nature and acquainted themselves with the Koh Mak lifestyle. The team passed through the dense rubber plantations and other viewpoints.
We made a quick pit stop at the Koh Mak Buddhist temple and the Organic Garden for refreshments. The local guide explained to us the organic farming practiced by the locals at the Koh Mak Island. They also served us organic fruits, honey and a drink made with lemongrass.
17.30 – That Instagrammable Cocoscape Bridge
It was about to get dark when the team arrived at the Cococape bridge, which looked like it was built for the Instagram. While others had beer at the cool café at the end of the Cococape bridge, I chose to have fresh coconut water. The sunset I experienced here was surreal and so was the landscape. It is not an overstatement to call Trat the Maldives of Thailand!
I sat for a long time on the Cococape bridge. My heart skipped a beat when a large white fish with black spots whizzed past my legs dangling on the Cococape bridge.
18.00 Submit the cycles!
We left our cycles at the Cococape bridge and proceeded for Dinner by Songthaew.
We had our dinner at Table Tales Restaurant. I made sure I had coconut ice cream, which was nice.
20.30 Off to the hotel!
We left for The Seavana Koh Mak Beach Resort. I had lot of conversations with my co-traveller Amrita Sen for many hours after we reached the hotel. By the beach, that is!
Activities to do in Koh Mak Island:
- Visit Koh Mak Museum
- Visit the Koh Mak Temple
- Visit Rubber Plantations
- Visit Organic garden
- Instagram break (Oops!) at the Cococape bridge during sunset!
DAY 3 KOH MAK ISLAND TO BANGKOK VIA TRAT- 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBBBEAT EAST THAILAND
We had our Breakfast at the restaurant of The Seavana Koh Mak Beach Resort.
We arrived at Ao Nid Pier (Very Instagrammable!) to catch our speedboat to Trat
10.00 Off to Laem Ngop Pier
We boarded the spacious speedboat to Laem Ngop Pier
11.00 – Trat National Museum
It was time to visit the interesting Town of Trat National Museum. It is approximately 30 mins from Laem Ngop Pier. It is a very interesting museum, which houses interesting information about the people, temples, history of Trat along-with a quirky dish named after the male genitals.
The Town of Trat National Museum is treasure trove of history, culture and the lifestyle of Trat. The Trat museum is built in colonial style on the old provincial hall built in the reign of King Rama VI. Its wooden structure was built with cement pillars, raised platform and Panya roof.
I had Vegan Thai lunch at Saeng Fah Restaurant.
I had delicious vegetarian versions of Thai food viz. Tom Yum Soup and a Tofu based dish with rice. These dishes were 100 % vegan.
14.30 Depart to Tha Ranae community
Tha Ranae “eco-museum”, Nong Khan Song, Trat is one of the eco-tourism attractions that has implemented a unique management system. It focuses on creating attractions that sustainably improve local lives, by encouraging tourists to become givers rather than takers.
Evening Activities to do in Trat:
- We witnessed Canonball mangrove tie-dyed cloth demonstration. I am very bad with handling textiles so I preferred watching how others were learning to make a tie-dyed piece of cloth. The good part was that only natural ingredients were used to create the designs. The team members took away the pieces they created while I took away their pictures.
- I loved the Bang Tabun Mangrove Forest boat tour. The mangrove forests were very dense and dramatic. Their roots so large, it looked like a different planet. I had never seen such thick and large roots of mangroves jutting out of the water body like (harmless) monsters. We even stopped at the place, every inch of which was covered with sturdy and often slippery mangrove roots. We even played bowling with a local fruit. I won at the second attempt!
- The memorable boat ride was followed by a tea Break at a nearby place– We savoured special menus, which included fried mangrove leaves and fried mangrove apples. We were told that it is not easy to find both the delicacies!
16.30 Off to Trat Airport
We left for Trat Airport.
17.30 Check in
We checked-in at Bangkok Airways counter, Trat Airport. It was a small and cute airport!
18.30 Flight to Bangkok from Trat airport
We left for Bangkok via Bangkok Airways flight.
19.30 Final Departure
We arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport at Bangkok and everyone left for their respective destinations.
MORE IDEAS YOU CAN ADD TO YOUR ITINERARY
I followed the exact above itinerary but it left me begging for more. So if you have extra time and money at your disposal, please include the below plans in your itinerary as well! It will be worth it!
DAY 4 – PLEASE STAY AT CHANTHABURI WATERFRONT! – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
In the above plan add one more day to the lovely Chanthaburi waterfront.
Stay at Chanthaburi waterfront for 1 day just exploring its many cafes, restaurants, street food and of course the many temples. On both my trips, I wondered how Chanthaburi waterfront felt like after dark. Very charming, I imagine! I have always spent only few hours in Chanthaburi and both the time, I was craving for a deeper and longer experience.
DAY 5 and DAY 6 – KOH CHANG ISLAND, KOH KOOD OR KOH KRADAT, ANYONE? – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
You can add more islands to your itinerary from Koh Mak (I loved it!). If I had time and resources, I would have added those extra days exploring other islands!
You can also visit the nearby Koh Chang Island which is the largest island in Trat. You can catch a ferry from Ao Thammachat or Centerpoint Pier to reach Koh Chang. In Koh Chang, the ferry stops at Ao Sapparot Pier. The good news is that the ferries are available every 45 minutes.
Other islands such as Koh Kood and Koh Kradat Islands are also a good option.
Day 7: TEMPLE TRAIL IN TRAT – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
You can keep an extra day visiting the old and new temples of Trat. Most of the tourists and travelers to Thailand skip the temples, but I highly recommend it especially if you are a first time traveler to Thailand!
Day 8 & 9: PATTAYA – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
You can also extend your stay like I did and travel in Pattaya. 2 days in Pattaya are enough. It is just 2 hours comfortable bus ride away from Bangkok airport. I caught the bus from Suvarnabhoomi airport, Bangkok to Pattaya from the Suvarnabhoomi airport itself from gate number 8 on the first floor. The bus ticket from Suvarnabhoomi airport to Pattaya is priced at just 130 Baht only. It is a spacious and comfortable bus and took around 1 hour 45 minutes to reach Pattaya from Suvarnabhoomi airport.
Pattaya is a vibrant beach city with lots of cafes, restaurants and other attractions.
Day 10 & 11: BANGKOK SIGHTSEEING – 11 DAYS ITINERARY OF OFFBEAT EAST THAILAND
Since you are starting and ending your trip at Bangkok, why not include at least 2 days to see the best of Bangkok. It is possible to see all the major attractions of Bangkok in just two days if you plan well in advance and avoid a lazy brunch! You may keep Bangkok at the end of your trip so that you don’t worry about missing your flight while returning!
HOW TO REACH CHANTHABURI FROM BANGKOK,THAILAND
It takes just 2 hours on road to arrive at Chanthaburi from Suvarnabhoomi airport, Bangkok. En route there are many clean toilets and small cafes and take aways.
HOW TO REACH TRAT FROM CHANTHABURI, THAILAND
You can continue in the same cab for Trat. It takes around 1 hour to make the 60 kilometer long journey between Trat and Chanthaburi.
HOW TO REACH BANGKOK FROM TRAT, THAILAND
We boarded a cute little flight from Trat airport which took less than one hour and around 1 hour for check in, security checks and waiting time. Bangkok to Trat is around 318 kilometers.
By road you can reach Bangkok from Trat in just 5 hours.
HOW TO REACH KOH MAK FROM TRAT,THAILAND
Koh Mak Island to Trat is approximately 46 kilometers and takes around 1 hour to reach via speedboat. There are also many public ferries running throughout the day from Trat.
BEST TIME TO VISIT EAST THAILAND – CHANTHABURI, KOH MAK AND TRAT
It is a year round destination. Although avoid the rain months. We went during the peak of monsoon. Luckily it was not raining when we visited Chanthaburi, Koh Mak and Trat.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHANTHABURI, KOH MAK AND TRAT,THAILAND
Seavana Koh Mak Beach Resort at Koh Mak Island was one of my finest stay ever. Do look them up online. I loved that they had a huge balcony with al fresco bathtub. Also the two walls of the room were entirely made up of transparent glass with clear views of the sea and gardens.
Baan Rim Ao Hotel in Chanthaburi is a picturesque 4 star property with personal balconies overlooking the sea in all the rooms.
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