People often ask where is the nearest beach to Bangkok. Usually I reply Bangsaen and Pattaya to the East or Cha-am and Hua Hin to the South. However, the answer is nearer than expected as Bangkok itself has its own coastline. Though, to be honest, it is only about 5 kilometers wide and it is mainly mangroves and shrimp farms. The Bangkok district of Bang Khun Thian is sandwiched between the provinces of Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan. Linguists believe that it’s name “Thian” comes from a word meaning a wagon pulled by an oxen. Bang Khun Thian used to be a rich and fertile land with vegetable farms, rice fields and orchards. But a combination of being used as drainage for the city, pollution from new factories and land erosion along the coastline, the area today resembles more of a water world than the Garden of Bangkok.
At the weekend I decided to go to Bang Khun Thian in order to try and find some new destinations for Bangkok day trips. My first stop was Wat Hua Krabeu which has become famous as the Buffalo Head Temple [MAP]. According to newspaper reports, it was the aim of the abbot to use these skulls to build a giant shrine. Although it is believed that he has now amassed 8,000 skulls, this isn’t apparently enough to start building. I also remember this temple from another newspaper story about the abbot’s large collection of luxurious cars. The Buddhist Council didn’t take kindly to monks keeping a collection of Mercedes Benz cars. He argued that they were being used for novice monks to learn a skill while they stayed temporarily at the temple. The matter was later dropped. However, judging by the poor condition they are now in, there is no-one to look after the classic cars. The temple was quiet the day that I went there, but I was told that there is a small floating market on Sundays and it is possible to rent boats to explore the nearby canals.
From this temple I drove back out to the main road that runs between Rama II Road and the coast. A short distance south I spotted something strange that looked like a large ship with what looked like a temple on top of it. I decided to stop to take a closer look. It turned out to be a shrine for Prince Chumphon who is regarded as the Father of the Thai Navy [MAP]. The shrine is in the shape of a warship. It is based on the ship Phra Ruang which is now berthed as a permanent memorial at Sairee Beach in Chumphon Province. The replica is 79 meters long and 19 meters wide. On the deck is a replica of a building in Prince Chumphon’s palace. Here there is a museum showing pictures of his life and on the floor above there is a shrine which has a statue of Prince Chumphon and a copy of his naval uniform. I have seen his statue in many coastal areas as I believe it is good luck for fisherman and any seafarers to prayer in front of his statue before going out to sea.
From the shrine I continued driving south down the main road. I must say they have done a good job of beautifying this road. There is even a dedicated bicycle lane for much of the way with some special bridges too to take cyclists over the canals. At the end of the road I turned right at the intersection and a short distanced later I pulled over to visit the Bang Khun Thian Local Museum [MAP]. This is in the grounds of Klong Phitthayalongkorn School. It is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It is located in two old classrooms towards the back of the school but it will be moved to a new building next to the road soon. The museum was actually a lot better than expected. It details the history of the local community as well as showcasing its unique culture. The labels are all bilingual though the English font was a little small. There is a lot to learn here and it is popular with visiting school parties.
While I was looking around the museum, one of the office staff suggested that I rent a bicycle in order to explore the nearby shrimp farms and mangrove forests. This sounded like a great idea. It only cost 20 baht for the day though I did have difficulty finding one big enough for me. They obviously don’t get many foreigners here. The Bicycle Trip [MAP] starts at a small soi on the other side of the road from the school. There is a mini mart here and it is advisable to buy some water first. The path is easy though it sometimes goes over steep bridges that cross canals. Along the way you will pass many shrimp farms before going through a stretch of mangrove forest. After about 45 minutes I came out onto a wooden pier that stretched out into the Gulf of Thailand. There was a wonderful sea breeze here and was really great to have the place to myself even though it was a weekend. There are a couple of shelters here if you want to stop to have a picnic. Some concrete structures in the water reminded me that this area used to be dry land and in the past there were houses and roads here.
A short distance from the school, and back towards the intersection, you will find the Bangkok Seaview Restaurant [MAP]. Though, to be precise, this is the car park and the actual restaurant is some distance away! This district doesn’t have that many roads and most people get around on boats. If they don’t have their own then they will take a taxi boat. From this car park you can take a shuttle boat to the restaurant which is at a location surrounded by the sea [MAP]. You can’t get a better view and sea breeze than that. The return boat ride costs 50 baht and lasts about 15 minutes. They run every day apart from Mondays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You are not obliged to eat anything and can walk around enjoying the sea breeze until the boat returns 30 minutes later. If you decide to eat there is no rush as there are regular boats. Looking out to sea you should spot the demarcation marker for the boundary between Samut Prakan and Bangkok. Another reminder that this used to be on land. You won’t find much English spoken here and the menus are only in Thai. But, a nice spot to enjoy a meal.
Access from Bangkok is via the Rama II Road. There are a number of buses running along this road heading towards Samut Sakhon and beyond. Get off at the first intersection after Big C on your left. From here there are blue songtaews that go up and down the road to the coast. I also saw some empty taxis here but best to arrange your own transport. From Samut Prakan the main road along the coast isn’t finished yet but they have finished the stretch to Samut Sakhon. From Bangkok it is an excellent day out if you like doing boat rides and eating seafood. I last came here five years ago and so was happy to come exploring here again at the weekend. I will certainly be going back again soon to find new attractions in this area. You can follow me live on Twitter @RichardBarrow. The archives for these blogs can be found at the Bangkok Day Trips website. Also check out the Map for Bangkok Day Trips. I go on trips in Thailand most weeks, so do come back for new updates.