Rayong in Thailand appeals to nature lovers who love the ocean, beaches and nature as well as good food. Stroll along Rayong's first street and snack on market goodies, sit back and enjoy a coffee at a gorgeous café or eat at a restaurant owned by a Thai MasterChef star. Spend the days in the Botanical garden (with a very unique experience) and don't forget to visit the Floating Pagoda too!
For a glimpse into history head to Rayong's Old Town and Yomjinda Walking Street. Yomjinda was Rayong's first street and many of the building retain their original antique look. It is also the best spot for people watching and for snacks. I tune out the persistent hum of tinny motorbikes passing traditional stores with fourth generation vendors and coffee shops.
Slurp Coffee Specialist is a gorgeous locally owned little coffee shop that specialises in tea and coffee. There are several places to take a seat - take a reclining chair facing the river, on the breezy rooftop or just cool down in the air conditioning inside.
On Saturdays Yomjinda Street is closed off to cars and street stalls line both sides of the street for markets. We love the retro feel of the shops and storefronts that provide a backdrop to the lively markets. The market really starts to get into the swing of things by 5:30pm and it is a very popular tourist stop in Rayong.
Along this street you can also visit the Chinese shrine of Mazu, a sea goddess. The street art around the shrine is designed for selfies with interactive displays. There is an incredible amount of choice of food to choose from sweet to savoury with stalls selling noodle soups, fried chicken, rice stuffed bamboo, fried pork belly, cakes, sausages and perfect looking fresh fruit. Rayong is known for both its fruit and seafood.
One vendor sees us curiously looking at her stall that includes crickets, larvae and frog and offers me a taste of frog. She takes a few small, already cooked frogs and fries them with pandan leaves for a couple of minutes. Then she serves it up on a paper plate. I take a bite and it's absolutely delicious and similar to a deliciously seasoned tiny quail leg. Another writer shares her crickets with me. Again the seasoning makes them taste like delicious little chips.
For dinner, Restaurant Krua Ban Ban by Jamlong is set in a lush garden outdoor setting with a pond. For smaller groups there are pink and white tents set up but there is also a large undercover section for the main restaurant area. The restaurant is very popular with local Thai people for the food as well as the chef Jum Long who appeared on Thai MasterChef. The menu is only in Thai but there is a small one page picture menu. You can also use google translate for the larger menu if you want more options.
The menu features their specials like a fluffy steamed egg omelette in a large pot with surimi on top.
My favourite item is the soft shell crab in yellow curry with scrambled fluffy eggs. The crab is so crunchy and the yellow curry adds a wonderful mildly spicy flavour to it. The prices are very reasonable with a large platter with a whole fish and salad costing 349THB/$15AUD.
Early in the morning head to Rayong Botanical Gardens. These wetlands are teeming with diverse biodiversity with over 400 species of plants native to the eastern region, including rare and endangered varieties of orchids. The whole area spans over 6.08 square kilometers.
One of the most unique experiences is on a covered motorboat tour of the wetlands. We pass lotus blossoms where a heron flutters its wings and takes flight. One of the stops on this tour is to experience what locals call "Dog Skin Raft". We don a pair of gum boots and step foot on the long grass that sits on a base from 50cm/1.6feet to 1 metre/3.2feet that floats on the water. The sensation of walking on this grass is similar to stepping on a waterbed. If you dare to jump, the floor undulates up and down but never "breaks" - provided you are not all gathered in the one spot.
We pass numerous Samet or paperbark trees with soft white paperbark trunks protruding out of the water. These trees are over 100 years old. You can also kayak on the water which is a more peaceful experience than the noisy motorboat but this is best reserved for early morning as the afternoon sun is very strong. The morning is also the best time to see the birds come to life and the water lily flowers in full bloom.
Our last stop in Rayong is at Phra Chedi Klang Nam (Samut Chedi) or the Floating Pagoda, a landmark of historical and spiritual significance located 2kms from Rayong's centre. The bell shaped stupa is situated at the heart of the islet where the Rayong River converges and was built in 1873. The pagoda's exact origin remains a mystery. Rising approximately 10 metres in height, the myth surrounding its creation suggests that sailors of the past regarded it as a pivotal marker, signaling their arrival in Rayong.
There are mangrove forests and a boardwalk trail as well as picnic areas. It is best seen in the early morning or early evening where the locals see it as an enduring symbol of Rayong.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever been to Rayong? Would you be interested in what it has to offer?
NQN visited Thailand as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand but all opinions remain her own.