Once overlooked in favour of other beachy locales, Rayong is finally earning a bit of international limelight. While most visitors to Thailand flock to the islands of Koh Samui, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, locals have long loved this low-key stretch of beautiful coastline that features more elbow room and fewer selfie sticks.
In addition to pristine sands, Rayong offers a peek at traditional Thai life that is becoming increasingly hard to find in tourist-heavy spots. Many inhabitants here still make a living drying squid, catching fish and living the way their ancestors have for generations — a lifestyle worth seeing for travellers willing to take the time to explore this sleepy seaside.
Visit the magnificent Wat Pa Pradu
This ornately decorated wat — building surrounded by walls often housing a Buddhist temple — is a great find for history buffs and culture-hounds. As an added bonus, it also has far fewer visitors than the grand temples of Bangkok, making it much more enjoyable to explore at your own pace. Built in the Ayutthaya period (between 1351 and 1767), Wat Pa Pradu borrows design from multiple cultures. Inside, you’ll find a Chinese shrine, as well a striking, 12-metre-long Buddha with his head in his left hand, an aesthetic nod to classical European sculptures.
Head to the market
The best time to explore local markets is in the early morning hours, before the sweltering midday heat sends some vendors packing. Evenings are great too — that’s when hawkers offer up all sorts of tasty treats. Snap photos of heaps of rambutans, mangosteens and jackfruits at Tapong Fruit Market, located just off of Sukhumvit Road in Rayong City. Head indoors for snacks and edible souvenirs at Ban Phe Market, set in a small village up the coast from Rayong’s main hub.
Explore the historic area of Yomjinda Road
Situated near a bend in the winding Rayong River, strolling this traditional walking street is like looking into Thai history. In stark contrast to bustling Sukhumvit Road, Yomjinda Road remained underdeveloped for decades, until a group of artists, artisans and businessmen at the turn of the millennium noticed its old-fashioned allure. Revitalisation efforts, including new coffee shops, art galleries and museums, have brought new life to the area without sacrificing its original appeal. Today, travellers will find historic teak buildings, century-old trees and nostalgic ambiance.
Bask in the sun on the beach
It may not be as famous as the islands, but Rayong boasts more than a 100 kilometres of coastline. Check out Haad Mae Ramphueng, a sandy paradise plucked straight from a postcard. Even if you’re staying in the heart of the city at the Holiday Inn & Suites Rayong City Centre, it’s a fairly easy, leisurely trip to perfect day on the beach.
Cycle past stunning scenery
Rayong has more than 70 kilometres of paved trails ideal for avid cyclists. Visitors can hit the road on their own or sign up for a guided tour with Rayong Bike Tours. This amateur cycling club welcomes participants of different skill levels from all over the globe to enjoy the spectacular scenery on two wheels. Die-hard athletes can compete with the team, while novices can join one of their more laid-back nature rides.
Enjoy authentic Thai seafood dishes
With its signature blend of savoury, salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavours, Thai cuisine is as addictive as it is unforgettable. Though there is no shortage of upscale restaurants around, many of the traditional dishes are at their best when made in a humble, family-run hole-in-the-wall.
Like any good port town, Rayong specialises in ocean-fresh fish and shellfish. You can’t go wrong ordering the catch of the day simply grilled with a piquant dipping sauce made from lime and bird’s eye chillies. Or try ordering the classic pla neung manao — a sumptuous whole steamed fish with garlic and citrus — or poo pad pong curry (video recipe), which is stir-fried crab with a mild curry sauce. You’ll find all these staples and more at the frills-free Had Saengchan Seafood Restaurant.
If you’re ready to surprised and enriched by a less common Thailand destination, Rayong is the perfect getaway. From authentic local foods to glances into Thai history, this unexpected region is as fascinating as it is beautiful.