For over five hundred years, the seams of rock rich in sapphires and rubies that streak the hills of eastern Thailand have drawn prospectors and traders of all nationalities to the provincial capital of CHANTHABURI, 80km east of Ban Phe. Many of these hopefuls established permanent homes in the town, particularly the Shans from Burma, the Chinese and the Cambodians. Though the veins of precious stones have now been all but exhausted, Chanthaburi’s reputation as a gem centre has continued to thrive and this is still one of the most famous places in Thailand to trade in gems (most of them now imported from Sri Lanka and elsewhere), not least because Chanthaburi is as respected a cutting centre as Bangkok, and Thai lapidaries are considered among the most skilled – and affordable – in the world. Chanthaburi is also an exceptionally fertile province, renowned for its abundance of orchards, particularly durian, rambutan and mangosteen, which are celebrated with an annual fruit festival in the town, held in May or June.
The town is made for low-key exploration, without being particularly compelling. Similarly, the Chanthaburi coastline is barely developed for tourism, though it’s popular with Thai visitors for its quiet, shady beaches. However, even if you’re not planning a visit to Chanthaburi, you may find yourself stranded here for a couple of hours between buses, as this is a major transit point for east-coast services (including most Rayong–Trat buses) and a handy terminus for buses to and from the northeast.
Most foreigners use the Aranyaprathet–Poipet crossing to get into Cambodia, with access possible by bus via Chanthaburi. There are also two less used crossings in Chanthaburi province, giving access to the Cambodian town of Pailin, just east of the border. Daung Lem Border Crossing at Ban Laem is 88km northeast of Chanthaburi (not served by public transport) and the Phsa Prom border crossing is at Ban Pakkard (aka Chong Phakkat), 72km northeast of Chanthaburi. There’s a minibus service in the morning from Chanthaburi (just south across the bridge from The River Guest House) to Ban Pakkard (1hr; B150). It’s best to arm yourself in advance with an e-visa for Cambodia, but it’s also possible to get a thirty-day visa on arrival at the border; if entering Thailand via this route you’ll probably be obliged to show proof of onward travel from Thailand.