Thailand is an incredible location for a family holiday, with the only problem being how to fit everything in. Most trips will include some time in Bangkok before heading south to the islands, so the next big decision is: how to get between the two, making sure that you are not only maximising your time but also minimising the hassle. We may have found the answer in a (relatively) little known gem, midway between Bangkok and Koh Chang – Chanthaburi.
First of all, the location is perfect as a stop-off (about 3.5 hours south of Bangkok and 2.5 hours north of Ko Chang) but more importantly, it’s a fantastic place in its own right; there are some fascinating things to do in Chantaburi.
Getting from Bangkok to Chanthaburi
There are several options to get from Bangkok to Chanthaburi (including taking the comfortable air-con bus from Ekkamai bus station) but we decided to book a private minibus transfer. With our group dynamics (2x parents, 2x grand-parents, 2x under-threes) we decided that this was the best way to go. We ordered the service through our hotel (it might have been cheaper by trawling the travel agencies down Khao San Rd, but life is too short when you are travelling). The next morning, ten minutes early, a comfortable, modern, spacious (ten-seater), clean minibus appeared outside the hotel. Once the driver had helped us to load up the assorted backpacks, suitcases and trunki we were on our way.
We loved the flexibility and control it gave us over the other transport options: if we needed a toilet pit-stop, we could ask. If we wanted to stop and take pictures, it was no problem. About two hours into the trip we stopped for lunch at one of the ubiquitous service stations in Thailand, the ones where the driver is on a small commission if you decide to eat there (which we did and it was amazing and cheap and gave us all chance to stretch our legs). Once we were ready to leave it was simply a case of waving to the driver and getting back on-board – no mad dashes back onto a bus with the horn blasting for us 😉
On the whole, the boys coped well with the trip and we think a lot of that was down to the flexibility of the transport. We used the usual array of tricks and bribes to keep them happy but it helped a lot being able to decide when and where to stop and felt so much easier than taking the bus. Of course, we could have missed Chanthaburi completely and took the plane to Trat and then bus to Ko Chang which would’ve been quicker but you’re probably going to be slightly sick of aeroplanes after the long flight to Thailand so an airport is the last place you’ll want to see. Either way, it said a lot that that we almost didn’t want the journey to end but we pulled into Chanthaburi on time, about four hours after we left Bangkok.
Where to stay in Chantaburi
There are two main accommodation districts in Chanthaburi; the newer part of town with the large, purpose built ‘international’ style hotels and then the more traditional types in the historic part of town. We chose the latter and were delighted with our choice, the Tamajun Hotel.
The hotel is split into two buildings, separated by a quiet road which meanders through the old town. The newer section houses the ‘Hip’ accommodation (their words) – more modern, funky designed rooms which are also slightly more expensive. We decided on the traditional rooms on the other side of the road, contained in the original building which sits on the banks of the river.
They don’t do family rooms here, just doubles. We went for three of them and had each of the boys in with one parent (the grandparents cleverly opted for their own room to ensure a full night’s sleep – remember them?). The rooms were decorated in traditional teak style with en-suite bathroom, air-con and a fridge. One quirk was they didn’t have windows which might sound a negative but we actually quite liked it; it helped keep the room cool and ensured they were pitch dark during afternoon naps. The hotel very kindly provided a water heater which meant we could prepare warm milk for the boys – a nice gesture which they weren’t obliged to offer – very much in keeping with the high level of service we experienced throughout our stay.
The highlight of the hotel though was the communal balcony which looked out over the river. This was an absolute godsend as it allowed the non-kids to sit in comfy chairs, have the occasional beer and watch the river drift by whilst the kids ran around and played. It was perfect.
We were quite lucky that there was no-one else staying at the hotel so we had sole use of the balcony – it might have been a bit different if other guests were trying to relax on the balcony as well. Another bonus was that the rooms opened out onto the balcony so we could sit out there during naptime, safe in the knowledge that we (via the monitors) could keep an eye on the boys, all within actual sight of the rooms.
Things to do in Chanthaburi
Our favourite activity was simply walking around the well-preserved historic part of the town and taking in the sights and atmosphere. The hotel is right in the middle of things and is the perfect base for exploring the narrow winding streets which run alongside the river. It’s here that you’ll find shops, gem markets, restaurants and temples to explore. It helps to get a map from the hotel but in truth it’s fairly difficult to get lost as you’ll always have the river to use as a reference point.
We enjoyed looking around the peaceful Cathedral of Immaculate Conception (the largest in Thailand) on the opposite bank of the river, browsing the gem markets and soaking up the atmosphere of this quirky, authentic Thai town. The tiny shops, hidden temples, wooden houses and chance to observe the traditional way of life provided a constant source of interest and intrigue for the kids.
Elsewhere, the boys had a great time in Wat Bot Muang temple, which was a ten minute walk from the hotel. As with most things in Chanthaburi, it was very quiet with no other tourists around. The boys were able to sit and quietly observe the monks meditating and were even invited to sit next to them and receive a blessing.
The food at our hotel was delicious and fairly reasonably priced so we ate there on the first night but there was no shortage of restaurants hugging the riverbank, all serving tasty Thai food which we all enjoyed. No high-chairs here though and (not unreasonably) no-one spoke much English so the mealtimes were a bit more of a challenge than in Bangkok but we saw it as part of the adventure and, as always, via a mixture of hand gestures, smiles and guesswork we ended up with kind-of what we wanted. Plus, even the boys knew how to say Pad Thai by now.
Namtok Phlio National Park
As much as we were enjoying the town, we decided to head out for a day trip on our second day to Namtok Phlio National Park. For a reasonable price we arranged our own songthaew to take us and once again the boys absolutely loved being in the back and waving to the cars as we sped along. Lots of fun but another one where you needed to hold onto them tight!
The park itself was a real treat, despite the torrential downpour which greeted us upon arrival – but even this turned out to be a highlight as we, plus a hundred Thai tourists, huddled under a wooden roof and waited for the storm to pass. The boys became the centre of attention, becoming the subject of a thousand selfies and cuddles. Even the initially stern looking security guards were soon picking them up and taking photos – proof once again that travelling with children is the perfect ice-breaker.
Once the rain passed we walked down to the waterfall, took some photos and got a close-up view of the hundreds of fish which congregate in the shallows (although no-one in our group was brave enough to take a dip!)
Getting from Chanthaburi to Koh Chang
The three nights in Chanthaburi flew by and we were sad to be leaving but pleased that we had managed to break up the journey so successfully between the city and the beach. We had already booked our accommodation in Ko Chang and arranged a private transfer from Chanthaburi so it was really easy and stress-free again to be greeted at 9am by a driver, ready for our next leg.
There are plenty of options when it comes to heading south from Bangkok towards the islands. We chose Ko Chang partly because we thought it would suit the kids and partly because it was fairly close to Bangkok and meant we didn’t need to worry about another flight and check-in desks and airport security and etc, etc. The private transfer worked out really well for us and gave us some much needed flexibility, something we wouldn’t have got with any other form of transport.
What made it even better of course was Chanthaburi being amazing in its own right. We’re already missing being sat on the balcony, cold drink in hand, kids playing happily around us, with only the sound of the river and laughter filling the air.
We stayed at the Tamajun Hotel in the heart of the old town. A double room here cost £32 and included a very tasty breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the river.
The private minibus transfer from Bangkok to Chanthaburi cost THB3800 which included all road tolls. When we left Chanthaburi to head to Ko Chang, we paid THB2800 for another private transfer and this included all road tolls and the ferry across to the island. As mentioned above, you may find cheaper prices by shopping around but we liked the ease of booking via the hotel. Both transfers literally took us from door to door.
If you’re travelling to Bangkok, check out our blog post: A day in Bangkok with young children.