Not far from Pattaya is a province known for its gorgeous seafood, delectable durian and fine beaches. Yet despite these attractions, Rayong is unlike Pattaya. It is not as touristy and it even has that sleepy feel to it. Although fine hotels line some of its beaches, the tourists visiting Rayong are mostly locals.
The few foreign tourists who stray into the province mostly proceed to Ban Phe, a busy fishing port and jump-off point to KohSamet, the island with the whitest and squeakiest sand in the kingdom. The island is a 30-minute ferry ride away. It is a favorite among farangs as it has something for everyone — from funfilled beaches with jet skiing and live music to tranquil, secluded spots where one can enjoy sand, sun and sea in complete privacy. But while foreigners find island beaches more exotic, the locals have their own idea of what constitutes a better beach.
Such place doesn’t need to be isolated or off island. In fact, it is just about five kilometers farther down the highway from Ban Phe. This beach, known as the Suan Son Pine Park, is a popular picnic area among locals. It is squeaky clean and as white and sandy as those of Koh Samet, though not as tranquil and isolated. It is in fact busy on weekends when people from other parts of the province, including those from Bangkok, flock to the beach to frolic. Tall casuarinas trees give Suan Son its unique charm.
These trees line each side of the road, which runs along the one-kilometer beach. Interestingly, the crowns of the trees from each side meet above head, making the whole length of the road look like a green tunnel. The area, quite expectedly, teems with food stalls and food shops. And because it is not a farang haunt, food prices are cheap here. Accommodation is also available for those who want to stay overnight. It comes in the form of bungalows or guesthouses, which are reasonably priced.
The venturesome can rent a boat to explore the smaller islands nearby like Koh Kudi, Koh Kham, Koh Platin and Koh Talu. The climate here is typically tropical– hot from March through May, rainy from June through October, and cool from November through February. Average daily temperature throughout the year is 27 degrees Celsius. During the rainy season, rainfall is usually brief and the rest of the day is normally clear and sunny. Traveling around Suan Son can be relaxing because the traffic here is light and the roads are very smooth. The surrounding areas are mostly quaint fishing villages, too laidback that they offer a perfect escape from the bustle of the city.
A stroll along the beach will give you a first-hand look at life in Thailand’s coastal villages. Only a little over an hour from Pattaya (via Sukhumvit Road towards Sattahip) or two hours from Bangkok, Rayong is a popular getaway destination among urban holidaymakers who prefer a more peaceful beach atmosphere than the nearby touristy Pattaya. Those who are continuing on to Koh Samet will also find Rayong the perfect base, as it’s possible to do a bit of sightseeing and shopping before hopping on a speedboat or a ferry at Baan Pae.
Separated from Koh Samet by a 45-minute ferry ride, the city area feels like a world apart. It retains a pleasantly localized atmosphere, where you are more likely to bump into Thai families or groups of young university students than foreign tourists or backpackers. Young urbanites from Bangkok often drive out here to enjoy a great seafood meal or dig their toes into the soft white sand, before heading back with a lung full of clean fresh air.
A launching point for land and sea explorations with long distance bus terminals, ferry piers, food stalls and a lively handicrafts and seafood market, Baan Pae is a hive of activity. Laem Mae Pim, perhaps the second most popular destinations after Baan Pae, is an ideal spot for relaxation, with a lineup of beachside eateries and calm, inviting waters. Other attractions further inland include Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Herbal Park, Sopha Arboretum and the Rayong Aquarium.
More popular for it is lineup of beachside seafood restaurants and shady beaches than for water sports, Rayong beaches are peaceful and relatively free of large crowds. Marine excursions are limited to fishing, snorkeling and diving at nearby islands such as Koh Kruai, Koh Thalu, Koh Pla Tin and Koh Kham. Island hopping is also an attractive option for those in search of a little adventure. Golfers will find a haven among Rayong’s range of well-designed courses, including the 72-par championship course at St. Andrews 2000 Golf and Country Club and Eastern Star Country Club.
Rayong is never short of mouthwatering seafood. In fact, dining is as much an experience for the eyes and ears as the palate, as many restaurants are situated by the beach, with an outdoor deck that juts right into the water. So, dining at these venues almost guarantees a great view. With a bustling seafood market, Baan Pae is one of the best places to go get a serving of freshly caught steamed crab, prawns and the all time favorite sea bass with lime ginger sauce. Finish off a satisfying meal the local style – with a plate of fresh tropical fruits.
Rayong is more famous for its causarina-shaded beaches and translucent blue sea than as a nightlife hotspot. However that’s not to say that there’s none around; a one-km strip Ratbamrung Road, which runs parallel to the main Sukhumvit highway in the city center, houses a large concentration of pubs, bars and nightclubs with stage shows and strip dancers. Getting Around Well connected by an efficient network of buses and songtaews (passenger- carrying trucks), public transport is the best option if you don’t have a car. Within Rayong, several lines of public buses operate between popular tourist destinations. These buses are color-coded and most run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ferries to Koh Samet depart from Baan Pae Pier on an hourly basis from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and drop tourists at major beaches, such as Sai Gaew, Ao Thaptim, Ao Phai, Ao Wong Duen and Ao Wai. The trip takes about 45 minutes, but if you take a chartered speedboat, it’s reduced to 15 minutes.