Quiet Seaside Hideaway Not far from Bangkok.
By Percy Roxas.
Located approximately 220km from Bangkok, Rayong is a delightful seaside province along Thailand’s eastern coast. Most of the province is marked by mountains interspersed by flat plains and large tracts of fruit plantations and forests but pristine beaches are stretched along its 100km-coastline and scenic waterfalls set amid exotic surroundings abound. Probably one of the most underrated destinations in Thailand, Rayong serves as an alternative hideaway for those who prefer quieter beachside locales than Pattaya or Hua Hin. It’s also a province of historical importance – it is where King Taksin (Phaya Tak) built up his army following the razing of the then capital city by the invading Burmese during the late Ayutthaya period before returning to retrieve Ayutthaya and founding a new capital in Thonburi across the river from modern-day Bangkok.
A popular destination both for tourists and Thais making the three-hour drive from Bangkok during weekends, Rayong is dotted with beaches ideal for a quiet getaway. Rayong town has its own idyllic charm, especially for those who enjoy the local touch and lifestyle. The province has maintained its traditions and customs in the daily local lifestyle. But many tourists by-pass the main town to go to the islands – of which it has a number — such as Koh Samet and Koh Kood, which are now emerging as strong destinations on their own. Rayong is also a renowned producer of seafood and related goods.
WHAT TO SEE
Although quieter than Pattaya or Hua Hin, Rayong has activities to keep visitors entertained. Among the most popular sightseeing landmarks are: The Shrine of King Taksin the Great, a tribute to the king, who folklore says tied his elephant to the tree on-site while leading the troops to Chanthaburi to retrieve the kingdom from Burmese occupation; Wat Pa Pradu, an ancient temple housing a large reclining Buddha image; the City Pillar Shrine, Wat Ban Don Shadow Play Museum, which displays 100 Nang Yai shadow-play characters; Phra Chedi Klang Nam, set in the middle of Rayong River, 2km south of downtown near the mouth of the river, a landmark for sailors to indicate they are reaching Rayong province; Sunthon Phu Monument, built to commemorate Sunthon Phu, a leading poet in the early Rattanakosin era; Wat Saranat Thammaram, which houses a main Buddha image copied from the famous Phra Phuttha Chinnarat in Phitsanulok; and several great beaches such as Hat Laem Charoen, 5km south of downtown, is the nearest beach from Rayong; Hat Saeng Chan, which connects with Laem Charoen Beach and Hat Mae Ramphueng-Ban Kon Ao. And then there are more shrines, waterfalls, beaches, etc…
WHAT TO DO
A visit to Khao Laem Ya-Mu Ko Samet National Park, a 81,875-rai area comprising land, sea, and islands that include Mae Ramphueng Beach, Khao Laem Ya, and Samet Archipelago is popular. Samet island, itself a popular individual destination these days, is home to Ao Wong, which stretches in the shape of an almost-complete circle. Another popular retreat is Khao Wong National Park, famous for its unique terrain of limestone bluffs and caves. Most visit the park on a daytrip and explore the scenery, but it’s also possible to rent bungalows or even campsites inside the park. Other islands are Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin and the fast emerging Koh Kood, famous for its beach and coral reefs. Scuba divers will enjoy Koh Thalu, with a dive site set among coral reefs. Anyone in search of an authentic Thai fishing village will find exactly what they’re looking for at Ban Phe. It’s situated on a cape close to Rayong town, and while it does offer a candid experience off the tourist trail, finding accommodation is more of a challenge. If hotels in Ban Phe are all booked up, it’s still possible to visit on a daytrip from the coastal hotels near Rayong town. Other activities: Golf, horse riding, biking, massage, spa and many others.
STAY & SLEEP
The best accommodation in Rayong town is along the beach, with more than a dozen white-sand beaches that enjoys great year-round weather. Hotel vacancies are hard to come by on weekends and during Thai holidays, when expatriate and domestic tourists flood the market. Some favorite accommodation venues: Ruen Thai Rim Haad Resort (206/5 m.3 Klang, Muang), Novotel Rayong Rim Pae Resort (4/5 Moo 3 Pae Klaeng Kram Road, Chark Pomg, Klaeng), Nice Beach Hotel (81/4 Moo 1, Haad Mae Rumphung, Phe, Muang), Baan Siri On Sea Rayong (151 Moo 3, Chargponse, Klang), Kameo House Hotel Rayong (305/14, Sukhumvit Road, Nernphra, Muang). Other hotels and resorts to consider: Villa Bali Resort & Spa, Chak Phong; P.M.Y. Beach Resort Rayong (Rayong Beach); Ohana Resort Rayong (Rayong Beach); Rayong City Hotel (Rayong City Center); Rayong Lanna Hotel (Rayong City Center); Star Hotel (Phe); Bari Lamai Resort (Phe); Tamnanpar Resort (Taphong); Purimas Beach Hotel & Spa (Rayong Beach); and Hinsuay Namsai Resort (Klaeng).
EAT & DRINK
Rayong produces an abundance of seafood products, such as shrimp paste, fish sauce, and dried seafood, and grows a number of tropical fruits of which rambutan, mangosteen, and durian are the most famous – and their easy accessibility make dining in Rayong any time a pleasure. Some recommended restaurants in Rayong, Chom Thale Seafood; Ngam Prasoet restaurant; Kra Dang Nga restaurant; Kanla Khrang Nueng restaurant popular for night dining; Phloen Ta restaurant; Kasem Photchana restaurant; and Bank Bestfood, also popular for night dining. By the way, preserved seafood is a popular buy; seafood from Rayong make for great souvenir for locals, as well as fruits as Rayong is the “fruit bowl” of Thailand.
By Car – Rayong is the eastern gateway to the north and northeast of Thailand. As such, there are many regular bus services connecting Rayong to Bangkok and other provinces such as Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, and Nong Khai. Buses from Bangkok depart regularly from Ekkamai eastern bus terminal (near BTS Ekkamai) for Rayong. There are specific buses for those who wish to go to Koh Samet with Ban Phe as drop-off point. Tourists will have no problem chartering minivans or even taxis from Bangkok.
By Air – U-Tapao International Airport is the closest facility. It operates domestic routes mainly despite its name. Bangkok Airways operates flights from Phuket and Koh Samui to Rayong/U-Tapao. For more information, contact Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) at 02-265-5555 or visit travel agencies in Rayong.