Samut sakhon has never been a big tourist destination. People only stop by for snacks, food and a toilet break on their way to more popular spots like Amphawa and Hua Hin. But the small town hugged by the Ta Chin River in the north and the Gulf of Thailand in the south packs a lot of charm for a destination so near to the capital.
A popular little temple tour begins at Pantai Norasing Shrine (End of Road No. 3243, Pantai Norasing, Muang, Samutsakhon, sanpantainorasing.org) near Khok Kham Canal, some 15km from Samut Sakhon town center. The story goes that the canal was very curvy like a snake and the stream very swift. When Pantai Norasing, a royal soldier during the late Ayuthaya era, steered a royal barge into the canal, the boat’s prow was broken. The king forgave his soldier’s mistake but Pantai Norasing insisted on receiving the death penalty for it, in accordance with ancient laws. The canal was later bypassed to avoid such accidents, but the king ordered a shrine where Pantai died, to commemorate his faithful servant.
On your way back to the town center, pay a visit to Wat Krok Krak, one of Thailand’s “Unseen Destinations” listed by the TAT a few years ago. It’s home to Thailand’s one and only Buddha image wearing sunglasses. Named Luang Por Puu, the Buddha image was being transported along the Ta Chin River. Facing a storm, the people decided to move the image up onto the bank for a while, but afterwards they were unable to get the image back to the boat, so they decided to just station it there. One day, conjunctivitis was spreading throughout the community so locals vowed to attach gold leaves to the image’s eyes if the Buddha could cure the epidemic. The villagers were cured and began applying gold leaves on the eyes. The gold grew so thick that the chief monk decided to put sunglasses on the Buddha to hide the unsightly bulges, which made the Buddha look like a monster.
Not only a transportation hub, Mahachai Market, at the heart of Samut Sakhon, is a mecca for seafood caught fresh each morning, from squid and oysters to crabs and mackerel, all available at much better prices than in Bangkok.
If you’re not keen on cooking or grilling the seafood yourself, head to the food bazaars in town. Though there are a number of such places in Samut Sakhon, the most popular is in front of Samut Sakhon Burana School, near the Fountain Circle (open daily 4pm till late). Can’t-miss dishes include kiew pla ta chalom (deep-fried dumplings that use ground fish instead of wheat flour, B20/7 pieces), fried oysters and squid at Joy Hoi Tod (from B30), Thai desserts at Poom Khanom Wan (B15/item) and vanilla ice cream topped with fresh egg yolk (B20) at the 60-year-old Jae Fai Ice Cream.
Cross the river from Mahachai Market (B3/trip) and you’ll arrive at Ta Chalom, which was the first sukhaphiban (sub district) outside Bangkok. One of the highlights here is Tawai Road, which was named and officially opened by King Rama V in 1905. Lining both sides of the street are vintage Thai and colonial-style shop houses, which have the charm of bygone days.
Not far away is Saint Anna Church (Soi Wat Chong Lom), a Catholic church in the middle of the Buddhist community on the Ta Chin riverbank. The statue located atop the pier here is Asia’s largest of Saint Anna (the patron saint of grandmothers).Translated by Top Koaysomboon
If you drive from Bangkok, head along Rama 2 Road until you reach Mahachai Market. It should be less than an hour from downtown. If you don’t drive, catch a (slow) train from Wongwian Yai to Mahachai Market where you can hire a local samlor (three-wheeled taxi) to nearby locations.
Where to stay
You can do Samut Sakhon in a day. But if you are too tired to go back, here are some lodging options: Central Place Hotel (B1,070, Ekachai Rd., 034-412 816/8), Khok Kham Fishing Boat Homestay (B500/person, Muang, 084-800-6042) and Krua Chaitalay Homestay (B4,000/15 people, Ban Bor, Muang, 085-181-7717)