Rayong is one of the few provinces in Thailand where the vast majority of travelers skip the provincial capital while flocking to a nearby destination – in this case, Ko Samet. Despite being an hour’s ride east of Pattaya and a mere 20 kilometers west of the Samet ferry piers, Rayong town sees virtually no foreign travelers. If that sounds intriguing, read on.
We reckon that travelers looking to step off the well-trampled track should at least stop by Rayong town on a day trip, if times allows. Venerable wood houses, Chinese shrines, Thai temples and a few gorgeous French-Indochinese buildings line Yomjinda Road in the old part of town. Hit the nearby coast to explore one of the largest fishing centers found this side of Bangkok.
Historically Rayong is best known as a resting point for the general and later king, Taksin, during his quest to rebuild an army that went on to repel Burmese forces from Ayutthaya in the late 1760s. Complete with life-size elephant statues, a shrine is dedicated to King Taksin at Wat Lum Mahachai Chumphon in the old town.
While cars and chemicals are counted among Rayong’s chief industries, fruit and seafood are its most famous local products. Each year during the rainy months, the massive Taping Fruit Market bursts with durian, rambutan, snake fruit and mangosteen to the east of town off Sukhumvit Road. Small fish sauce factories join dozens of colorful boats and a literally breathtaking array of fresh seafood where the Rayong River meets the Gulf of Thailand.
The city’s location towards the west side of the province means that it doesn’t make a great base for exploring mainland beaches that are more easily reached from traveller-friendly Ban Phe. Though it’s only 10 kilometers east of downtown Rayong, the 12-kilometre-long Mae Ramphueng beach stretches beyond a cluster of industrial parks that chokes all traffic onto busy Sukhumvit Road. The city’s own beach, Haad Saeng Chan, is a great place to buy sun-dried fish. For swimming and sunbathing, not so much.
Tourist facilities are scant, English is not widely spoken and foreigners are few and far between in Rayong town. If that sounds awful, then don’t lose any sleep as you watch it slide by through the window of a bus. But if you’re up for venturing beyond your comfort zone to check out a more local-style slice of East Thailand, Rayong might be worth a stop. If you’re deciding between here and Chanthaburi, on the other hand, we’d suggest the latter.