Chanthaburi is proof that all that glitters is not gold. Here, gemstones do the sparkling, attracting international traders, including Southeast Asians and Africans, dealing in sapphires, rubies, jade and other coloured stones. Thanks to the gem trade and its multicultural history (French, Vietnamese and Chinese), the so-called ‘City of the Moon’ is surprisingly diverse for a typical Thai town and worth visiting for an appreciation of the economic and religious sanctuary Thailand has long provided in the region.
The old city (also known as the Chantaboon Waterfront community) is the best place to chart the course of immigration and international involvement in the city. The Vietnamese began arriving in the 19th century when Christian refugees escaped religious and political persecution in Cochin China (southern Vietnam). A second wave of Vietnamese refugees followed in the 1920s and 1940s, fleeing French rule, and a third arrived after the 1975 communist takeover of southern Vietnam. The French occupied Chanthaburi from 1893 to 1905, while disputing with Siam over the borders of Indochina.