Oh boy, I love Thailand. Who doesn’t?
Having visited Thailand a couple of times, I must say that the ‘Land of the Smiles’ offers kaleidoscopic experiences. However, what saddens me is that most of the travelers’ only know Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, and Pattaya. Without doubt, these tourist-heavy places are attractive but isn’t it time that we as responsible travelers take a break from the popular urban whirligig and shift our attention towards charming old towns, unspoiled landscapes and not-so-popular communities? If you are game to embrace a unique side of Thailand, let me acquaint you with the quaintness of Rayong and unpretentiousness of Chanthaburi, two gems of Eastern Thailand.
Rayong and Chanthaburi
A low-key coastline of 100-kms, large orchards of fruit plantations, verdant mountains, balmy plains, picturesque waterfalls, freshest catch from the sea and little fishing villages curate the character of Rayong. Not far away, Chanthaburi has a very subtle and soulful demeanor. While Rayong is the fruit capital of Thailand, Chanthaburi packs a punch by being the largest and liveliest gems center in Thailand and South East Asia. Together, these two gorgeous places offer a unique perspective of Thailand; people and hospitality; art and culture; gastronomy and markets.
Juicy and Fruity Buffet
The tropical fruits of Thailand are undoubtedly one of the most delicious offerings of the country. Interestingly, both, King of fruits, Durian and queen of fruits, Mangosteen are found in abundance in Rayong. On the way to the heart of the city, you just cannot ignore the fruit farmlands. You will love the chance to settle in a tram and go around the orchard to be awestruck at the sight of hundreds of fruit laden trees. While the tour is insightful, the end is memorable. You are welcomed to a fruit party where variety of fruits are laid out for tasting. This is definitely one of the healthiest buffet. I visited the Suan Lamai fruit orchard which had animal farms too.
Some of the Thai fruits to look out for are rakam (salacca), roseapple, starfruit, jackfruit, mangosteen, durian, papaya, mafai (Burmese grape), jackfruit, custard apple and rambutan. These orchards of the eastern provinces are cautious about using only organic methods of farming and are regularly inspected and reviewed.
Kru Kang Museum and Rayong Aquarium
To be evoked with feelings of nostalgia and several emotions, a visit to Kru Kang Museum in Kram Kleong district of Rayong is a must. It is definitely one of the most unique house-cum-museum that I have ever been to. With more than 25000 household items, it is a store-house of memorabilia. The owner is an elderly man and this museum is a result of his love and passion for collecting variety of cutlery, clocks, radio, instruments, currency, coins, metals, guns, cameras, watches, cars, bikes, artefacts and much more. I had a chance to interact with his daughter who was proud about her father’s labor of love of five decades.
Rayong Aquarium is a place of learning for kids as well as adults. It introduces the visitors with an impressive portfolio of sea life. It has a very interesting tunnel with nice variety of fishes, sharks, rays and turtles on display.
Prasae and Ban Phe Market
In the Klaeng Distric of Rayong, the mouth of the Prasae river makes for a small and charming riverfront village. To peep into the life of the locals and to walk on the wooden boardwalk through the mangrove forest, I found my way here. A decommissioned ship by the same name ‘HTMS Prasae’ stands here and is quite popular with the locals. As I walked around and interacted with the local community, I also learned that one cannot miss a ride on the placid waters of Prasae River aboard a rua pra mong, a traditional Thai fishing vessel in the night.
20 kilometers from Rayong town, Ban Phe Market is a photographer’s delight and the aroma of the fresh sea produce pulls you there. The old, wooden and typical Thai houses and many good seafood restaurants got me interested. For durian chips to dried shrimps to squids, people love to come here to bargain and buy local produce.
Gem of a place
Girls love precious stones, don’t they? The first thing that someone tells you about Chantaburi is that it is the hub of gemstones. The idea of looking through blue sapphires, rubies, emeralds and many other real gems at wholesale prices in Thailand brought a gleam in my eye. I couldn’t wait to explore the market. You actually have to be here on a weekend to see how the market shines at the intersection of Si Chan Road and Thetsaban Road and comes alive with loose gemstones, electronic scales, calculators, sellers and buyers.
Affable Chantaboon Riverside Community
Chanthaboon Old Town and the Chantaboon Riverside Community truly surprised me with its exciting mix of ancient houses, local trades, crafts, cultures and various communities (Chinese, Khmer, Vietnamese and Thai). Due to its date with French and Vietnamese culture in the past, the French influence in its architectural designs is unmissable. I was taken over by the old world charms, aroma of Thai quick bites and simplicity of Thai ways of living. The old is beautifully interspersed with the new. The cute cafes, graffiti, regional eateries, bakeries and pretty souvenir shops add to the quirkiness.
During the walk, do explore the narrow old alleys for vibrant street art in the Chanthaburi riverside community. This old town definitely takes you back to the cherubic times. To experience a different perspective of the town, one must take a boat trip on the Chanthaburi River. Chantaboon Learning Centre, a small museum tells you more about the community and the locals.
In Chantaburi, any heritage walk doesn’t hold true until a visit to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception, a heritage structure that was built by the Vietnamese Christian Community that had fled from Vietnam and taken refuge in Eastern Thailand. I also visited Chao Mae Kuan Im Shrine (Chinese Temple) and Wat Bot Muang (Buddhist Shrine).
Chao Lao Beach and Kung Krabaen Bay
For serene ambiance, soft sands and laid-back seaside ambiance, this is a place to look out for. Lack of crowd is an advantage because one can choose a peaceful holiday in any of the seafront accommodations available here. I would definitely suggest a visit to the Kung Krabaen Bay Royal Development Centre, an institute which promotes marine life study and is researching the natural ecosystem in order to find proper ways to develop the coastal areas in Chanthaburi Province.
Some more interesting information!
- Rayong is easily accessible from the capital, Bangkok. Take a minivan or a bus from Mo Chit Bus Terminal, the biggest bus station in Bangkok. It is only 200 kilometers away from the capital and a 3 hours ride via road. The distance between Rayong and Chanthaburi is 92 km and the road distance is 112.9 km.
- Thai fruits, their freshness and exotic tastes are marked by various fruits festivals round the year. Rayong lives to its image of fruit lovers paradise and celebrates one week long Fruit Festival in the month of May or June. The Durian Season is April – July.
- Rayong is the seaside birthplace of Sunthon Phu, the Thai Shakespeare.
- Just 15 kilometers from Ban Phe coastline, Rayong Marriot is one of the most beautiful places to stay and bask in the beauty of the Gulf of Thailand coastline. The main industry of Rayong is fishing, and it is the main producer of Thailand’s fish sauce.
- Chanthaburi, this gem of a place is the traditional center of the colored stone industry of Thailand and is famous for its gems market. It houses the largest Catholic cathedral in Thailand.