Thursday, 25 June 2009

Get to know Saraburi, Thailand (สระบุรี)

Few people know that my hometown in Thailand is Saraburi (สระบุรี). To those at home I live "just outside Bangkok".

Those living in Thailand have at least heard of Saraburi but generally it is a place they pass when travelling between Bangkok and the north of Thailand by bus, train or the motorway.

Saraburi doesn't make the cut of most travel guides, where it does the description is incredibly brief yet it has a lot going for it.So, without further ado, here’s my introductory guide to my home town formerly know as The Place Just Outside Bangkok.

For many Saraburi is just another town on a road sign [Credit]

I like Saraburi, whilst I realise I'm duty bound to say this, it is the truth. The city and its people are friendly and welcoming to foreigners as there are so few non-Thais living here. They are often genuinely interested in speaking to you in English, or better still Thai.

For a young family, like mine, the town offers an urban lifestyle without the constant hustle and bustle of a big city, like Bangkok. The city itself has ample shopping malls, sports centres, schools, superstores alongside more traditional Thai authenticities such as markets, temples, large scale festivals (like Songkran, Loy Krathong) and fantastic local cuisine.

Bangkok is close enough to commute so heading into the big smoke to visit the embassy, for work, for pleasure or to meet friends is entirely possible and easily done.

Away from the main city is a province filled with excitement and adventure, a visit to the Saraburi province is an ideal trip for anyone with an interest in nature or a desire to escape Bangkok and explore authentic Thailand.

SaraburiSaraburi is in central Thailand roughly 106km north of Bangkok. Thailand’s capital city is, in layman’s terms, a 90 minutes bus ride although the sprawling Rangsit suburb, with shopping malls, temples and Thammasat University, can be reached inside an hour.

Saraburi is thought to have been built in the 16th century, growing from a main road used by the Khmer for transporting goods and produce. The modern city’s importance is still linked to transportation, Highway Route 1, which begins in Bangkok, passing through the heart of the city on its way north to Chiang Rai and Highway Route 2 runs from Saraburi to Nong Khai, Issan, in the north.

Thankfully there is more to Saraburi than just transport links and closeness to the capital city, otherwise I might as well head back to Croydon.

Attractions

The province is best known for its glorious sunflower fields (in season) and it’s for this reason that the sunflower is the province's symbol.

Saraburi sunflowers in bloom

Saraburi city and its province were important towns in the past so the region is rich with historical architecture and Buddhist temples, Wats.

The most notable temple is Wat Phra Buddha Bat which houses one of Thailand's most notable Buddha footprints. The temple is a recommended visit as it is rarely overrun by tourists, instead maintaining its authenticity and a fascinating and calm insight into everyday Buddhism and a typical Thai temple.

The Buddha footprint at Wat Phra Buddha Bat [Credit]

Further north of Saraburi city, the venturing traveller will find quintessential Thailand, and with it vineries, highlands, national parks, waterfalls - Namtok Chet Sao, the seven sisters waterfall, is typical of the area.
Namtok Chet Sao Noi is a small waterfall at Tambon Muak Lek, on the same route as Namtok Muak Lek and continue on for another 9 kilometres on an asphalt road. The waterfall flows along a stream and has 7 levels. The height of each level is 4 metres and offers a spacious shady swimming area.


After almost eight months here I’m still exploring and learning more about the province, but I love that authentic culture and adventure are so close to my door. I certainly recommend the wider province, in particular northern areas, for anyone seeking authentic Thai culture and an excuse to escape Bangkok.

The province is also famous for its marble and stone quarries, products are supposedly available at the lowest rates in all of Thailand. Though how you get a slab of marble back through customs without exceeding the baggage limit, I’m not entirely sure.

A nice concise list of major attractions can be found here.

Detractions

Reasonable real-estate prices and the city’s close proximity to Bangkok encourage businesses to locate warehouses and factories in the province. For us locals, this brings a daily deluge of lorries and trucks hurtling down the highway and local roads and, sadly, added pollution.

Well paid job opportunities are limited in the city. There are foreigners in town that are not employed as a teachers in the many local schools. Native residents aspiring greatness and financial wealth are likely to move to Bangkok, or take up one of the few high-flying, well paid positions at a local cement factory or legal firms.

Nightlife

Saraburi does have a bar street and a number of nightclubs but it’s unlikely to make anyone in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai or Phuket move over anytime soon. Half a dozen late night bars and a handful of clubs make up the town’s nightlife area. Don’t expect to find go-go bars here,Whitehouse is the stand out bar with its young, attractive bar staff, just don't expect prompt customer service here.

One major one benefit/problem (depending on personal preference) of a lack of farang is that foreigners stick out easily. Expect to receive plenty of attention from the locals when out partying.

Sport

Saraburi FC is the city’s semi-professional football side, a newcomer to Thailand’s Division Two (the third tier of the national football league, which is divided into five regions based on geography). Competing in the Central & Eastern region, the team is sitting in 6th place, very respectable considering this is the team’s maiden season.

Away from the glitz and glamour of Saraburi FC, locals head to the city’s sports centre for a kick-about most days of the week. Locals are welcoming to rare foreign visitors.

The sports centre is also host to mass daily aerobics sessions, a number of gyms, a swimming pool and various other sporting pursuits. You can find more information in this post.

Sports centres are a feature of any major towns/cities in Thailand

Local grub

Curry puffs were born in Saraburi, first made by a local teacher looking to supplement her income. The delicacy, which looks like a small Cornish pasty, is available across Thailand and is usually filled with taro, chicken or pineapple.

Curry puffs are native to Saraburi [credit]

The puffs come highly recommended and definitely are worth a try although, like much of the culinary temptation in Thailand, excessive consumption will affect the waistline.

Likelihood of farang encounters

Low – non-Thais are officially 0.6% of the population.

Travellers seeking the sight of farang residents are advised to make for the city’s Tesco Lotus superstore where the curious creature can be observed.

14 comments:

Martyn said...

I passed through Saraburi on the train to Udon Thani and I dare say on the bus heading back to Suvarnabhumi, next time I promise to take more notice. The city has a lot to offer and the Buddha footprint must draw a lot of visitors. For me the attraction would be the waterfall at Tambon Muak Lek and back in the city a visit to the home of Saraburi FC and the chance to see some football would also appeal. I've tried the curry puffs on many occasions and they are very tasty when eaten hot though they can leave quite a few crumbs scattered around the front seat of the car. Best wishes from a very warm and sunny UK.

Mike said...

Jon what an enjoyable post.

Like you I enjoy my off the beaten track lifestyle where the locals still find me a novelty!

I rarely see farang other than the odd tourist who is lost!

Catherine said...

The sunflowers are beautiful. Now I know where to go when they are in season.

Btw - did you recently revamp your blog theme? Very nice. Slick and clean.

Michael said...

Enjoyed the post. It's not often one gets a good picture of life in an otherwise unremarkable (to western eyes)Thai provincial town. Sounds like a nice place.

Jon said...

Martyn - yeah I think your experiences are typical of most, but then Saraburi is just another town. But that is what makes it home to me.

Mike - sounds exactly like my existence. That's how I like it most of the time although it brings frustrations but that's a new post in the making.

Catherine - yes, yes, all change. I spent a long while searching for a new theme...already got itching feet for a new one though. The sunflowers here are a site to behold, thorough recommendation from me.

Michael - my visitors get funny looks when they say they are visiting Saraburi - noone sees that response coming.

Niamh Griffin said...

Curry puffs! I miss those! So trye about finding things to do in even the smallest of places. I didn't spend much time in Saraburi, more up further into Isan round Ubon but it's so fun!

Kenneth said...

Great blog. I may soon become one of those rare homosapien falangs in Saraburi. Have been searching for information as I have a potential job offer and this blog has been very helpful.

Jon said...

Hi Kenneth,

Glad to hear I have been able to help. If you have any other questions, my email address is visible on the site, feel free to get in touch using it.

All the best & good luck.

Ajarn Loki said...

I know too much about this ceasepit already. I need to get to unknow Saraburi

Richie said...

Hi Jon

I'm living in Bangkok but often drive up North / NE at weekends. I am going to come to Saraburi next week with a friend - can you recommend a cheap clean hotel in the city centre (with car parking) and more importantly, any idea of a thai-style bar i.e. live music, sit and eat outside preferably, chilled out type place? I speak Thai so that's no problem!

Any help / guidance would be great. We are playing golf the next day at Adisorn just outside the city...

Richie

Jon said...

Hi Richie,

Not sure about hotels - never needed to use one funnily enough - but if I were you I'd go for the Saraburi Inn. Isn't in middle of town, but is best quality.

As for bars - there are some. Send me an email to jmarussell (at) gmail (dot) com for more.

Paul said...

I can't say I agree with you in that people from Saraburi like farang (foreigners). In fact, I would say the complete opposite, and I've been here for 3 years. I have lived in many provinces in Thailand and Saraburi, with due regard to foreigners, is probably the most unfriendly. Having said that, that is little detraction from Saraburi itself.
There is an unwarranted dislike of farang in Saraburi by a majority; and I have checked this out with not only most of the Thai's from Nong Khae and to the north, Sao Hai etc. Most farang I talk with don't exactly feel welcomed either.

I live here also, and I too do, indeed, like it. But I have to disagree with your 'being friendly and liking foreigners' lines.

Kmcguinness42 said...

Hello im going to saraburi tomorrow for about a week take a few photos, was reading your discription you say there is a bar street in saraburi but didnt mention its name ???? can anyway fill me in on this one thanks

Anonymous said...

I just got back from Thailand, I spent a few days with a family in Saraburi and it was awesome. It was the best part of my near 2months over there.
I dont know the exact location I was in, there were def no Tesco or shopping malls. I didnt see another farang in my time there. I certainly found the people incredibly welcoming and hospitable, and just ambling along in town at the food market or swimming down in the river with the locals was the best.
Thanks for your post it will make me look further into this area as a possible place to stay again in future.