Samut Songkhram is home to an array of iconic tourist attractions
Even if you’ve never made a stop in the Thai province of Samut Songkhram—you’ll pass through it on the drive to Hua Hin—you’ve probably heard about several of the attractions that consistently lure tourists to this laid-back district just west of Bangkok. And even after you’ve checked these must-see items off your tourism to-do list, it’s still worthwhile and rewarding to take in the rest of what the province has to offer.
Probably the most visited attraction, and for some the most overrated, is the infamous Amphawa Floating Market. There are countless tours that go here directly from Bangkok, as the journey is just a little over two hours by car, but be aware that it is only open Friday to Sunday (from around noon to 8pm). It’s the 2nd biggest floating market in Thailand, surpassed only by the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which is located in the neighbouring province of Ratchaburi.
The market is located near Wat Amphawan Chetiyaram and is centred around a small canal, where boats laden with goods and boats laden with camera-toting tourists vie for space. This is, literally, the extent of the “floating” part. But as the market has become such a magnet for Thai weekenders and other tourists alike, over the years the food and souvenir stalls have spread out far and wide from the riverbanks, and deep into the surrounding streets—making the whole area one big weekend jamboree.
The main draw, overall, is eating the seafood which is grilled and prepared right on wooden boats moored around the famous central bridge. Diners sit at bench tables that line the upper edge of the sloped sides that hem the narrow canal, happily chomping on an appetizing array of huge prawns, shellfish, and squid, which are brought up the steps from the boats by servers. From noon until late in the evening the smell is tantalizing, but the crowds in these narrow spaces can, for some, be daunting.
The floating market is a lively and colourful sight to see, but there’s other sights along these canals as well, and the numerous touts will dutifully try to get you to take one of their longtail boat tours (about B50 if you join a group trip). The highlight of the cruise is a visit to Wat Bang Kung, a temple entangled in the roots of an immense tree—very Angkor Wat style—with a golden Buddha seated inside.
The main waterway of the province, along which all these attractions are found, is the Mae Klong River. This serpentine stream is also home to an amazingly large population of fireflies that live in the trees along the canal banks. In the evenings, hopping aboard a small boat and heading out onto the river to see them is a huge tourist draw. On a good night you can see hordes of these incandescent insects lighting up the night sky like twinkling Christmas lights.
Samut Songkhram is also home to the oft-videotaped Maeklong Railway Market. The market is unique in that it has a train running through the middle of it several times a day. The stalls sell a variety of fruits, veggies, meats, seafood, as well as sweet snacks, clothing, and flowers, but when the little warning bell goes off, vendors know to quickly pull back their specially designed awnings to make way for the train—which announces its actual arrival with a very loud fog horn blast. The train passes by with about a foot to spare, both beneath and to the sides of the carts, and both visitors and vendors stand daringly close. Once the train has passed, the vendors nonchalantly put everything back into place and continue hawking their wares.
Finally, no visit to the province would be complete without a trip to The Chang-Eng Siamese Twins Memorial (on Ekkachai Rd, around 4 km from City Hall). The twins, named Chang and Eng, were born in Samut Songkhram in 1811 but found international fame in 1829 when an American trader brought them on a sailing voyage to the United States, where they were met by a fascinated public. They died at 63 years of age, having made their nationality, Siamese, synonymous with their condition. In addition to the memorial there is also a museum which is open weekdays from 8am to 4pm, and on weekends from 8am till noon. For information call 03 471 1333.
HOTEL HIGHLIGHT: THE LEGEND MAEKLONG
The best way to explore Samut Songkhram is at a leisurely pace, and booking a room for an overnight stay at The Legend Maeklong definitely fits in with this laid back ideal. This tranquil riverside boutique hotel offers guests 14 different accommodation options, as well as an open-air restaurant, and plenty of peace and quiet. The hotel’s convenient location also makes it a great base from which to explore the many attractions the province has to offer (the Amphawa Floating Market is just a short drive away).
The double-storey main house, built during the reign of King Rama VI, is something of a spooky museum piece itself, with a lobby full of antiques, hunting trophies, colonial era furniture, and plenty of sepia-toned framed photos. There are several rooms here, but the ones on the upper floor overlooking the river are exceptional both for the view and for the beautiful polished wood flooring and walls that have been exquisitely preserved over time. If it weren’t for the air conditioner, refrigerator, and cable TV, you’d feel like you’d been transported back in time a hundred years.
By contrast, the two rooms that straddle the small garden and pond are perfect for couples on a romantic retreat. Room 8 is bathed in white, with a four-poster double bed dominating the interior, while the neighbouring room 9 is dark and mysterious, with a large bed set upon a black lacquered wooden base, and black walls with red Chinese lamps adding a sexy touch.
However, for a real Thai experience the rooms in the resort’s Amphawa House and Bangkhon House really fit the bill. These wooden structures, built in the Rattanakosin period, are visually delightful outside and in. Sitting on raised wooden platforms, these traditional houses—with Thai-style peaked roofs and lots of intricate wood carving on the façade—offer multiple rooms as well as a shared terrace (each is perfect for a large group to rent out as a whole).
Even if you don’t book into the hotel itself, a visit to the excellent on-site Baan Khun Tawee restaurant is highly recommended. The extensive menu offers plenty of Thai dishes to choose from—at very reasonable prices—including a few not so commonly found items. The pork with yellow curry paste (also available with chicken) was a delicious and fiery main course, while the fried coconut milk and chili paste with seafood (we opted for fresh squid) was equally scorching and satisfying. But the real treat was a kilo of fresh kung menam (giant river prawn) which the kitchen staff special ordered for us from the local seafood market that afternoon. Expertly BBQ’d, and served with spicy lime dipping sauce, these oversized crustaceans were more like lobsters and rounded out an excellent evening meal spent lazily feasting by the still waters of the Maeklong River.
The Legend Maeklong
1285 Pathummalai Rd, Tambon Mae Klong
Tel: 034 701 121