(It's a comfortable 3-hour drive north from Samut Prakan to Chainat. The last time we were in this part of Central Thailand was back in August when we took on neighboring Uthai Thani. This will be another chance to tick off a new stadium.)
What's the record like between the two clubs?
Samut Prakan and Chainat have locked horns three times. In 2019 (Samut Prakan City's first season) we did the double over them, winning 1-0 at home and 3-2 away. Chainat were relegated at the end of that campaign and have been down in the second tier ever since. This season, the game at Samut Prakan ended in a 2-2 draw, with Chainat scoring a controversial equaliser in the dying seconds.
How are Chainat Hornbill doing this season?
They are currently in 12th, one place and one point above Samut Prakan. Both teams need a win to pull away from the relegation zone. This game is massive.
Any player connections?
Yes, Samut Prakan's top scorer Padsakorn Sripudpong played for Chainat last season. I'm struggling to find some reliable stats on the net but one source claims he made 20 league appearances and scored three goals. Tun and I have become friends with Padsakorn's mother and father (well, we follow each other on Facebook) and interestingly, they live just a stone's throw from the Samut Prakan Stadium.
Japanese midfielder Sho Shimoji also spent a season with The Hornbills back in 2016 (29 appearances and 6 goals) In fact, we found a large photo of him in his Chainat FC shirt still on display at the Chainat Bird Park.
Let's have a look at the league table before this weekend's games.
With 8 games remaining, I think any of the top 10 clubs could realistically still get promoted. I've got a sneaking suspicion that Nakhon Pathom could grab one of the automatic promotion slots. They seem to be grinding out results while others around them are faltering. But as far as Samut Prakan are concerned, there are now three clubs between us and the drop. With three of our next five games against fellow strugglers, namely Chainat, Rajpracha and Udon Thani, it's like every game is becoming a cup final.
Journey and digs
We left home at 6.30 am, which was unusually early for a football road trip. Tun needed to swing by her regular government hospital to get a second tetanus and rabies jab after being bitten by a cat in Lampang several weeks ago. Thankfully the hospital wasn't too busy and we were on the road to Chainat well before nine.
Our first stop on the road north was at Luang Phu Thuat - a terrific market selling mainly foodstuffs on the outskirts of Ayutthaya. We've strolled around this market once or twice before but it was noticeably busier today with several busloads of Chinese tourists in evidence.
The first of our two temple stop offs in Ang Thong Province was the enchanting Wat Sang Krathai. Ang Thong itself comes across as a soulless, dreary town but it does boast a number of fine temples that are well worth a visit. Wat Sang Krathai, with twisted branches and vines wrapped all around its temple walls, is only the size of a modest parking lot but you can't fail to be impressed, and it was a delight to linger in its shaded areas on such a hot and humid afternoon, especially when you've got the place to yourself.
Just up the road, Wat Muang is home to the largest Buddha statue in Thailand and the sixth largest in the world. If that wasn't impressive enough, the characters that create 'visions from Hell' scenarios in the temple grounds, are the stuff of nightmares. I've never seen so much to look at and admire at a single Thai temple and the people who make a living out of it - the gardeners, the fruit sellers and the security staff - were astonishingly cheerful and welcoming . Don't miss it is all I can say.
Mainly in search of a coffee shop, we hit Chainat about mid-afternoon. After a welcome break down by the river, we decided to drop in at the football stadium seeing as it was on the way to our resort. What I assumed to be the Chainat Hornbill first team squad were out on the pitch going through training drills, under the watchful eyes of the coach and his assistant. When those eyes started to wander inquisitively in our direction, Tun and I began to feel slightly uneasy, so we reeled off a few photos and made our exit. It was a nice-looking stadium though and the sneak peek whet our appetite for the big match ahead.
For accommodation we'd booked three nights at Baan Tonjaeng, a smallish resort complex of detached bungalows about 8 kilometres out of town, that go for 950 baht a night, including breakfast. The rooms were basic but perfectly acceptable, apart from there being no hairdryer (much to Tun's annoyance). The resort was also home to two dogs and nine cats but as much as Tun and I adore animals, it did mean having to pick your way around a stomach-churning 'minefield of shite' every time you walked around the complex.
It's Match Day
With a morning and afternoon to kill before the evening's match, we ticked off Chainat's best known attraction - the Chainat Bird Park. It passed a relatively pleasant hour but Tun summed it up as the kind of attraction your grandfather enjoyed 50 years ago but hasn't seen a lick of paint since. It's obvious that it clearly struggles for council funding.
Tun always likes to see any Thai projects that were implemented and overseen by King Rama 9, so next we paid a short visit to the Chayo Phrya Dam.
From the dam, it's just a short drive to the abandoned and spooky Wat Mahatat. Although the compound is really just a collection of crumblng stupas and headless Buddha statues, and we got mithered by a bunch of ragamuffins begging for money, it's well worth a look.
The old waterfront area of Sapphaya could be fantastic if the locals got their marketing heads on instead of looking as if they've simply given up. They have my sympathy though because attracting Thai tourists to this neck of the woods feels like a tough gig. The highlight is undoubtedly the wonderful old police station that dates back to the Rama 5 era.
By now it was mid-afternoon and we were sweaty and exhausted. Time to head back to our resort and enjoy an hour's relaxation before heading to the football stadium.
Upon arrival at the Chainat Stadium, it was good to see that Samut Prakan had brought plenty of fans. We parked the car near the away section and wandered around to the other side of the ground to purchase tickets. The walk took us past two lengthy rows of food stalls and probably the best selection of snacks and drinks I've seen at a Thai league ground. I mean how often do you see great big plastic cups filled to the brim with ripe strawberries for just 20 baht? What a treat!
Let's get to the game itself, which was played out on an uncomfortably hot and humid evening. Samut Prakan named a cautious 4-5-1 formation, with Yodsakorn playing as the lone striker. His regular strike partner Padsakorn was unfortunately out through injury, but his family were still in attendance and sitting behind us in the stand. Also present were Rob and Simon, my two Chiang Mai FC mates, who were on their way back from seeing their team lose 1-0 at Suphanburi the night before.
The game is just five minutes old when Pathomtat in the Chainat goal hands Samut Prakan a dream start. Under no pressure at all, he flaps at a routine free kick floated into the box, and there is Sho Shomoji to nod the ball into an empty net and score against his old club.
It's turning into an uncomfortable night for goalkeepers as Samut Prakan's Thatpicha almost returns the favour on 12 minutes. His fumble allows Santipap the chance to restore parity but his header is acrobatically cleared off the line by Diawara. The TV replays are inconclusive but I can't help feel VAR would have had a long, hard look at that one.
Yodsakorn has a glorious chance to extend Samut Prakan's lead midway through the half but opts to sidefoot past the keeper instead of going for power. Karn Jorates follows up on the rebound but puts his shot well over the bar.
Chainat equalise on the half hour and the goal had been coming. Brazilian midfielder Wellington, in his second spell at the club and easily their most dangerous player, goes on a mazy run before slipping the ball to Sarayut, who makes no mistake with a powerful shot.
With the home support behind them, the remainder of the half belongs to Chainat. Thatpicha makes at least two fine saves, including one from a direct free kick.
Half-time: Chainat Hornbill 1 Samut Prakan 1
Perhaps it was the excessive heat and humidity, combined with the poor air quality which took its toll on the players, but the second half was a pretty dire watch. Samut Prakan looked to have come for the point and Chainat didn't really getting the rub of the green. Wellington continued to look the most likely match winner and saw a couple of decent efforts saved while several Samut Prakan players were lucky to escape with no more than a yellow card for some hefty challenges, none more so than Captain Kitikai, who really needs to curb his temper when things get a bit physical.
For all Chainat's comparative dominance, Samut Prakan could've stolen the points as the game drew to a close but two attackers both failed to get a toe to a low left wing cross.
The referee's final whistle was a signal for almost every player out there to collapse to to the ground, but it was from sheer exhaustion rather than disappointment. It had been that sort of night.
Full-time: Chainat Hornbill 1 Samut Prakan 1
I'll take a point from that because we certainly didn't deserve any more. But all in all, another very enjoyable football weekend and a great road trip. And I still can't get over the strawberries! I loved Chainat's football ground but can't say I come away with as much enthusiasm for the province.
Tun and I stayed on for another day in Chainat but frankly speaking, we found filling a third full day quite difficult.
The Manorom riverside community is best known for its morning market but unfortunately we got up a little too late to catch it. However, it has some fine street art (20 different works apparently) a gaudy Chinese temple at the end of the main street, an old sailing ship, a patch of riverside land teeming with sunflowers and a couple of cute coffee shops. What it doesn't have is visitors.
From Manarom, it's a somewhat tedious hour's drive to Wat Glai Gan Won (it translates as 'far from worry') but Tun wanted to feed wild deer and this area is where you'll find 'em. And that folks is a wrap on Chainat.
Who's up next?
The games come thick and fast in the first half of March as we take on Ayutthaya United at home this Wednesday (15th March)