Many of the best things to do in Rayong get skipped over by the foreign travelers headed directly for Koh Samet, one of the nicest islands near Bangkok. Although Rayong’s beaches can’t be described as pristine, there are numerous other reasons to look around before answering Koh Samet’s alluring call.
Rayong feels far more “local” than tourist oriented. You won’t see as many signs in English, but you will meet plenty of friendly Thai students, couples, and families; many come from Bangkok. Unlike the beaches nearer Bangkok, the few backpackers you encounter won’t be stumbling around hungover from too much Chang.
When to Go: The dry season runs from November to April; September is the rainiest month. Rayong and nearby Koh Samet become noticeably busier on weekends as scores of people flee Bangkok in search of fresher air.
In many ways, Rayong city is relegated to the same fate as Surat Thani and Krabi Town — it’s merely a stopover or hub for travelers on their way to one of Thailand’s many inviting islands.
Koh Samet is one of the best island choices near Bangkok and the most popular in Rayong Province. Travelers who don’t have time to get to the Samui Archipelago, Koh Chang, or the islands on the other side of Thailand often default to Koh Samet.
Most of Koh Samet is designated as a national park. Although rubbish is a problem in the park itself, the cleaned-up beaches are noticeably more pristine than the ones on the mainland. Haad Sai Kaew and Ao Phai are two of the most popular beaches on Koh Samet; however, quieter beaches line the eastern coast. Ao Wai is just one of the many beautiful options.
If enjoying blue water and nice sand are priorities for your trip, the 45-minute ferry over to Koh Samet is a good investment.
Visit the Rayong Aquarium
Most visitors to the Rayong Aquarium go inside with low expectations but leave with big smiles. Sure, it’s a somewhat-limited aquarium compared to the massive operations seen in other cities; however, the 43 tanks and glass tunnel contain just enough underwater wonders.
The Rayong Aquarium doesn’t take long to visit, and the entrance fee of 30 baht (USD $1) is especially reasonable. Families traveling with children should keep the aquarium in mind — particularly for hot or rainy afternoons when going to the beach sounds less appealing.
Officially known as the “Rayong Aquatic Animal Husbandry Station,” the aquarium is open daily (closed on Mondays) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; open an hour later on Saturdays and Sundays.
Go to the Beach
Rayong is blessed with miles and miles of coastline although many of the beaches don’t qualify as the type tourists usually seek.
The many mainland beach choices are good for a quick fix of sea views, however, many are plagued with plastic rubbish. Seasonal tidal surges sometimes displace the soft sand leaving behind a scene of tangled tree roots and grass. That said, many of Rayong’s beaches are still enjoyable for walking and beach combing. An abundance of stalls and restaurants along the coast showcase fresh seafood from the local fishing community.
Haad Saeng Chan is the easiest beach to access from Rayong, but it’s deliberately divided into subsections by man-made walls to break the tides. Much of the coastline south of Rayong city is a saw-toothed beach, making it less ideal for the usual activities of walking, swimming, and sunbathing. Faults aside, Haad Saeng Chan is a good place for eating; you’ll find the highest concentration of fishing boats and seafood opportunities.
If going over to Koh Samet isn’t an option for your beach fix, head to Haad Mae Ramphueng — or better yet, Laem Mae Phim — for a slightly improved day on the sand. Phala Beach and Suan Son, famous for the pine trees, are also decent alternatives.
Celebrate a Thai Poet
Sunthorn Phu (1782-1809) was a celebrated royal poet who has been recognized by UNESCO for his work. If you’ve been to Koh Samet, the bizarre mermaid statues are characters from his epic fantasy, "Phra Aphai Mani " — a 48,700-line masterpiece that took him 22 years to finish!
Sunthorn Phu was a character. He served some jail time, enjoyed alcohol, and was married or involved in scandalous romances many times. Around the same time as Sunthorn Phu, Lord Byron was creating his own scandalous legacy on the other side of the world.
Although Sunthorn was born in Bangkok, his father was from Rayong. The poet’s memorial park with sculptures and landscaped grounds is located around 31 miles (50 kilometers) east of Rayong city. The memorial is a worthwhile stop on the way to the Golden Meadow mangrove park.
Get in the Golden Meadow Mangroves
Serious mangrove and bird enthusiasts should invest the time to drive to the Golden Meadow (Tung Prong Thong) on the eastern edge of Rayong Province. A wooden boardwalk winds through fields of mangroves and the park woos visitors with an otherworldly atmosphere. The canopy appears to glow golden on sunny days.
Don’t expect many signs in English, but you can count on serenity and fresh air free from the drone of motorbikes. Although facilities are well maintained, most of the walkway lacks handrails. Travelers with small children will have to ensure they don’t step off into the swamp. Short boat rides are available.
You pretty well need a vehicle (scooter rental is an option) or driver to reach Tung Prong Thong; it’s over an hour drive east of Rayong city.
Scramble Around a Warship
After visiting Tung Prong Thong, walk (30 minutes) or drive (10 minutes) over to the HTMS Prasae, a retired Royal Thai Navy warship converted into a historical display. You can explore and climb around on your own, but don't expect it to be clean: The ship is decaying and largely unrestored.
The HTMS Prasae was originally commissioned as the USS Gallup and saw action in World War II and the Korean War. In 1951, the ship was transferred to Thailand and served in the Royal Thai Navy as the HTMS Prasae until June 22, 2000.
The HTMS Prasae is open for visitors seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Entrance is free.
See More Mangroves and Climb the Skyview Tower
If going to the Golden Meadow and HTMS Prasae are too much of a commitment, the Mangrove Research Center is only 15 minutes from the city and can be explored in less than an hour. Climbing an 11-story tower rewards you with aerial views of the nature reserve.
Again, don’t expect English translations on signs. Also like Tung Prong Thong, the elevated walkways above the swamp do not have handrails.
Walk Yomjinda Road (Old Town)
The strip of Yomjinda Road that runs parallel to the river has been restored into a charming “old town” of sorts with teak buildings and considerable Chinese influence. Begin your wandering on Yomjinda Road at the King Taksin Shrine, and plan to include the City Pillar and Wat Pa Pradu. Numerous cafes, small museums, and art galleries provide diversions.
See a Reversed Buddha Statue
Wat Pa Pradu is a small, local temple located across Sukhumvit Road from the City Pillar and Yomjinda Road. You may have already hit burnout after seeing so many temples in Thailand, but the reclining Buddha statue in Wat Pa Pradu is unique.
Instead of resting on his right side as is portrayed all over the world, the Buddha here is seen on his left side. Reclining Buddha statues are meant to depict the final moments of Guatama Buddha on earth shortly before he succumbed to what is believed to have been food poisoning.
Visit the King Taksin Shrine
Taksin the Great (1734-1782) is credited with rebuilding Siamese forces after the Burmese attacked and destroyed Ayutthaya. He repelled the invaders, took back Ayutthaya, and established the new capital at what would eventually become Bangkok. For obvious reasons, he’s lauded as a hero in Thai history.
The concrete elephant and tree covered by ribbons mark a spot where Taksin reportedly tied up his elephant. A visit to the Taksin Shrine can be a quick, interesting stop as you wander around Rayong’s Old Town area.
Find the shrine to King Taksin near the Lum Mahachai Temple, a five-minute walk east from the City Pillar.
See the Rayong City Pillar
The Rayong City Pillar Shrine is located on Lak Muang Road just a couple of blocks north of Yomjinda Road. The colorful shrine and ancient pillar are said to embody the spirit of the city. Locals make donations here, say prayers, and burn incense — be respectful and behave the same way you would when visiting a temple.
The Rayong City Pillar Shrine is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; it is an epicenter in Rayong for the Songkran Festival in April.
Enjoy Fruit and Seafood
Rayong Province is celebrated throughout Thailand for the excellent fruit and dried/preserved seafood products. Whether the two go together or not is up to you, but don't leave town before trying some of the best fruit in Thailand! If you’ve ever enjoyed nam pla, Thailand’s devilishly pungent-but-delicious fish sauce, there’s a good chance it came from Rayong.
Dragon fruit and papaya are two exceptions; however, most of the fruit choices are in their prime during Thailand’s rainy season between May and November. Mangosteens, when in season, are healthy and unforgettable. Have a look at the Star Night Bazaar/Market (5-10 p.m.) for the freshest stuff.
During the daytime, check out Thapong Fruit Market or the sprawling Ban Phe Market, the gargantuan building with only writing on the front. The usual rules of shopping in Thai markets apply, and you may need to haggle a bit. Some stalls offer samples.
Rayong produces what is considered Thailand’s best dried squid, shrimp, and fish. Although all the markets will have products for sale, the market by Nuan Thip Pier (the one for getting to Koh Samet) has an exceptional selection.
If you prefer your seafood a little less flat and dried, choose any of the many eateries along Riep Jai Fang Road, the coastal road.