Rayong province is situated to the North of the Gulf of Thailand, bordered by Chon Buri and Chantaburi. It consists mainly of low coastal plains, with hills to the North, and is incorporates several islands which sit peacefully in the Gulf, including Ko Sanet, Ko Mun and Ko Kodi, all popular tourist destinations which have experienced a rapid development over recent decades.
Rayong City is the capital of the province, and boasts a population of around 55 thousand. Its main industry is fishing, and it is the main producer of Thailand’s fish sauce, whilst also being a centre for the automotive and chemical industries.
Rayong has origins in antiquity. Back in 1500 in the Buddhist Era the Khmer settled the area. Thailand was in a constant state of defending itself against the Burmese army. The old capital, Ayutthaya was burned by invading soldiers in 2309 BE. The ruling Thai king at the time Praya Vajiraprakan, fled south with his entourage and supporters.
Later, during his journey to Chantaburi in the east, he made a stop at Rayong to gather reinforcements. He was given a great welcome by the citizens of Rayong who conferred on him the title of Phra Chao Taksin or the King of Thonburi.
With a bolstered army and naval force, Praya Vajiraprakan returned to Ayutthaya where he was successful in regaining independence. The landmark victory was marked by constructing a new capital city at Thonburi. The people of Rayong had their own commemoration of the victory, building a shrine to the king’s memory which still attracts devotees every day, centuries on.
It was during the Ayutthaya era that the oldest Buddhist temple of Rayong was built, and still houses a huge statue of a reclining Buddha, which is no less than 12 metres long.
There is other, more recent military history that makes up the story of Rayong. During the Vietnam War, Sattahip was used as an American base and the forces enjoyed the region for their recreational and relaxation time when not fighting. They didn’t leave much of a mark on Rayong but it led to the growth of modern Pattaya.
Another landmark of Thai history at Rayong is the statue of Sunthorn Phu. One of Thailand’s most revered and celebrated poets, he wrote what is adjudged to be the finest example of Thai literature in Rayong 200 years ago during the Ratanakosin era.
Despite this colourful history, however, most travellers spend little time in the city, but will instead take the chance to explore the wider province’s rich geography, or hop on a bus and head straight for Pan Phe, the port. From here you can take further transport along the coast to small and unsophisticated resort towns including Hat Mae Rampeung, Laem Mae Phim, Hat Sai Thong and Laem Charoen. Ferries from nearby Ban Phe take visitors to private resorts on the secluded islands of Ko Man Klang and Ko Man Nok, as well as the more popular tourist islands.
The weather is consistently all year round, only falling below 80 degrees around December and January, and rising to its hottest point around May. Rainfall is at its most likely in September.
Things to see and do
Walk in the Park
The Khao Laem Ya/Mu Ko Samet National Park, links the mainland with the islands. Here you can find sandy stretches of beach, easy going hiking trails and clear water for snorkelling. The Sopha Botanical Park is full of trees and Thai flora, and three 100-year old traditional Thai houses on stilts exhibit ceramics and prehistoric pottery.
Turn Turtle. The park is also home to the Rayong Turtle Conservation Centre, a breeding place for endangered sea turtles. Volunteers are welcome at the centre. Typical activities include the monitoring the progress of the turtles, releasing young turtles into the ocean and explaining the project to tourists on day trips. Accommodation is in a fishing village, and every day you’ll go to work in a speedboat.
The Rayong Aquarium in the Eastern Marine Fisheries Research and Development Centre houses plenty of beautiful fish and sea plants, whilst conducting study, research and testing of marine biology and behaviour.
The best diving around Ko Samet is at Hin Pholeung. It’s an isolated spot and free from disruptive boat traffic. There’s two impressive underwater rock pinnacles with excellent visibility and a great assortment of marine life, such as barracuda, rays, sharks and, on occasion whale sharks.
As with most of Thailand, the landscape is dotted with shrines and temples. According to legend King Taksin tethered his elephant to a tree whilst leading his troops to Chanthaburi to defeat the Burmese. Now it’s a shrine, with a statue of the King himself.
At Kaochamao Rayong, there are lots of wonderful shrine buildings which house statues of Kings and priests, and there is also a coins and antiques museum. Another temple worth a visit is Wat Pa Pradu, which dates back to the Ayutthaya period.
Look and Learn
The Wat Ban Don Shadow Play Museum is home to one hundred traditional shadow-play characters, or Nang Yai, which are made from large carved and painted leathers.
Worship the sun
Most travellers to Rayong do so for the beaches. The nearest is Hat Laem Charoen which is close to where the Rayong River meets the sea. A little further away is the sandy stretch of Hat Saeng Chan and Hat Mae Ramphueng – Ban Kon Ao is about11 kilometres from Rayong town. See sunsets and island views from Khao Laem Ya or enjoy the shade of pine trees on Suan Son, roughly four kilometres from Ban Phe.
This is what many people come here for. The most famous these days is Ko Samet. This is believed to be the inspiration for Thai classical writer Sunthon Phu’s ‘miracle island’. Nearby, look for Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin, approximately 600 metres north of Ko Kudi, dive the coral reefs of Ko Kidi, Ko Kut, or Ko Thalu. One of the best for swimming is Laem Mae Phim, 48k from Rayong town.
The Supattra Land Orchard opens to the public. There’s huge variety of local fruits such as the infamous durian along with star fruit, mango, rambutan, grape, and longan.
Experience a Waterfall
The Namtok Khao Chamao waterfall has seven levels, and stretches for three kilometres. The largest pond is called Wang Matcha and is home to brook carp. The small Namtok Khlong Hin Phoeng waterfall can be found 10 kilometers from Rayong, in Chanthaburi province. Water flows all year round, amidst limestone mountains and fascinating caves.
Eat, sleep and drink
As a seaside town, Rayong offers a fabulous seafood menu, usually at budget-friendly prices. Restaurants offer everything from street specialities, to fine dining, barbecues or more traditional Thai cooking, and almost every restaurant or bar has a fabulous view of the sea . The most popular places to eat are located along the beaches and waterfronts of Laem Mae Phim, Saeng Chan and Had Mae Rumpheung.
Just a bit further out from the town center, Laem Charoen beach, is also a wonderful dining out spot. In all these you’ll find a whole line of waterfront establishments to choose from, many of which are part of resorts or guesthouses. There are even barbecues on the sand in many places, just turn up and join in. For those on a budget or who want to get down with the locals, there are noodle bars on every street corner.
From high end continental dining in 5-star hotels, and German, Italian or Indian cuisine, to hawkers of dim sum and local delicacies on the beach, there’s something for everyone.
For a pre or post-dinner drink, there are plenty of bars, often attached to restaurants of small hotels Keep an ear to the ground for the latest happening joint, and head for the sound. Many revellers hang out around the Naga Bungalows in Ko Samet, but as it’s difficult to know where one bar ends and another begins, just pick one you like the look of. Nightlife is lively and sometimes crowded but there are some great deals on drinks right on through late into the evening.
Many try their luck at the popular coin toss where there’s a 50/50 chance of winning a free drink. Lots of resorts and hotels offer live music, and there’s usually a gig going on somewhere.
The area produces fine fruit and this is showcased in many fairs and festivals, mainly in May and June. Pineapple is particularly special and there’s the dedicated Pluak Daeng Pineapple Festival but fruit has a starring role in many events including the Buffalo Racing festival each October.
When it comes to where to stay, it’s worth remembering that it can get pretty hectic at the weekends, so if you’re travelling day-to-day, you might want to start looking for somewhere to sleep in Rayong in the middle of the week. The islands in particular are very popular with Thais, foreign visitors and expats from Bangkok, and Rayong itself, so there’s usually a good cultural mix amongst the guests. Watch out for weekend price hikes, they can rise by as much as 60%. Contrary to popular opinion, sleeping on the beach is permitted, but this isn’t for the more wary traveller.
The East coast of Ko Samet is the most popular place to stay, with its wealth of beaches, restaurants and bars. However for a quieter life, there is upscale seclusion to be found at the bijou west coast beach. The nightlife is far more limited, but the sunsets over the sea are a popular attraction. Up in the North of the island, a just a small number of guesthouses cling to the shoreline, for near-perfect peace.
Map of Rayong
Map of Rayong