Chanthaburi, Thailand

Historical chic

Just inland from Thailand’s East coast, Chantaburi is best known for its sapphires. In days gone by, this prosperous town was the haven for Chinese merchants, Indo-Chinese artists and rural Thai aristocrats, creating a community that was wealthy and fun-loving. They built magnificent town-houses of French influence and drinking parlors, reminiscent of their native Shanghai, or Penang, or Hanoi. But in 1990, a huge fire completely devastated the town. A group of visionary Thais have decided to bring it back to life, lovingly restoring the town’s beautiful buildings. Spending a couple of days here is like going back in time. It really has been developed with conservation at its heart, so there’s none of the theme-park vibes that you often get in other heritage towns.