The eastern province of Chanthaburi, with its riverside living and cultural treasures is a cradle of Thainess and well worth exploring. But the further you head away from the traditional tourist routes of this lovely region, the more gems you’ll discover and the more unique experiences you’ll enjoy.
Wat Mangkon Buppharam (Wat Leng Hua Yi)
One such shining gem is Wat Mangkon Buppharam, also known as Wat Leng Hua Yi. This Sino-Buddhist temple is highly revered by locals of Chinese decent in Chanthaburi in the same way that Yaowarat’s Wat Leng Noei Yi is an important focal point for the Chinese community in Bangkok. There are three of these temples in Thailand and the Chanthaburi one, (built in 1977), is perhaps the most stunning.
There is an interesting tale behind the building of Wat Leng Hua Yi – it actually symbolises the tail of a dragon. And what a mighty dragon this must be, for its head is represented by Bangkok’s Wat Leng Noei Yi while Wat Mangkon Watsana in Chachoengsao province represents the body. Each of these three temples is a showcase of Chinese art and architecture worth seeing in its own right.
The art at Wat Leng Hua Yi tells the story of Mahayana Buddhism, the teachings of which came to Thailand centuries ago when Chinese immigrants first began to settle here. In Chanthaburi, Mahayana Buddhism is as influential as Theravada Buddhism, which dominates in the rest of Thailand. So this temple is a sacred place of worship for the Chinese who come here to pay respect to their ancestors.
Visitors are welcome to join and ask for blessings of prosperity, fortune and good health from the temple deities by making offerings. But don’t forget to admire the Sri Araya Maitreya Bodhisattva or the gorgeous mosaic tile patterns that come alive as the Thai sunlight shines upon them.
Wat Chak Yai, Laem Sing district
If the temple of Wat Leng Hua Yi whets your appetite to learn more about Theravada Buddhism and the pivotal role it plays in the “Thainess” of Thailand’s gentle people, you should head for the tranquil environs of Wat Chak Yai in Laem Sing district. Here you’ll find a wonderful, if little known, park that tells the story of the Buddha’s life and Thai religiosity in a series of exquisitely rendered sculptures scattered among the trees.
Follow the colourful displays chronologically and the whole tale of the Buddha’s life, from his birth, up to the time he achieved enlightenment and later entered Nirvana, is told. This tranquil park is the perfect setting for this story of love and compassion.
The largest display is the colossal Buddha image surrounded by statues of hundreds of monks, listening with rapt concentration. This scene represents the occasion at Sarnath when the Lord Buddha passed on his teachings to 1,250 enlightened followers who had turned up to learn without being summoned – an event celebrated to this day on Makha Puja.
Laem Sing Beach
Of course, it isn’t only the temples of Chantaburi that offer experiences of tranquility and the chance to meditate on life. The province is home to stunning national parks and pristine beaches on the Gulf of Thailand.The beaches of Laem Sing, Chao Lao, Kung Wiman and Kung Kraben are the most beautiful. Best of all, they are not well-known so if you go there midweek you can have the whole stretch of sand to yourself. They are a little busier on weekends and holidays of course, but hardly crowded.
Namtok Phlio National Park
If you prefer fresh water bathing to salt, visit Namtok Phlio National Park, 14 kilometres from Chantaburi town. The Park is best known for its three-level waterfall that plunges into a clear pool of wonderfully-invigorating water. There’s no better way to feel at one with nature than by jumping into a jungle pool, bobbing on your back and finding yourself surrounded by the curious “pluang” fish.On a hot day, when you’re floating under the trees with jungle fish swimming below you’ll have to agree, Chantaburi is an extremely nice place to be – a real gem of a province!
By Car: Chanthaburi is 245km from Bangkok. To get there, take Highway No. 34 (Bang Na-Trat) or the Motorway to ChonBuri, then use Highway No. 344 (Ban Bung-Klaeng) and proceed to Chanthaburi along Highway No. 3.
By Bus:Air-conditioned buses leave the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai) to Chanthaburi every hour from 4 a.m.-midnight. There are also minibuses,which depart hourly from Bangkok’s Victory Monument.