Retreat to Rayong
Mention Rayong and most people think of fruit farms, Ma Tha Put Industrial estate and parties on Samed. But they would be missing out on a province that is a foodie’s paradise with its hectic fish markets, traditional treats and delicious seafood restaurants.
Rayong is home to Thailand’s biggest fishing port and, as the lines of squid boats that speck the Gulf every night testify, seafood is still a big business. If you want to get hold of the catch of the day then your best bet is to eschew the industrial-sized operation at Rayong in favor of the smaller more homespun market at Ban Phe. Turn right once you hit the seafront road and head away from the piers taking the party people to Samed. As the road narrows and narrows you’ll pass an increasing number of quaint looking old shophouses. Park up at the end of the street and then wander back through the many stalls sporting all manner of marine life half-buried under crushed ice. For as little as B120 you can pick up a kilo of squid or hoy kang fresh that day, or for a couple of hundred a whole sea bass or mackerel. The best bit is this market gives you the tools to find the nearest beach and cook it yourself, selling large charcoal burners for just B80 and the charcoal to put in it for an extra B20. If looking at all this seafood gets you hungry then grab a stop gap snack like deep fried soft shell crab or chewy goong thod for just B20 a tray.
If the idea of cooking your own dinner freaks you out, then simply jump in your car and head East from Ban Phe along the main beach road (H3164). After a pleasant twenty-minute drive along mile after mile of pretty empty (if a little dirty) beaches flanked by trees, you’ll reach the beach at Laem Mae Phim. While the beach itself can’t match the golden sands of Samed, across the water its stretch of seafood restaurants that you’d be at pains to match anywhere in Thailand for quality and price. A long term favorite and our personal pick would have to be JoJo Restaurant (038-638-240. Open daily 10:30am-9pm) at the far end of the strip. While the décor is strictly old school, the impressive menu of super fresh fish dishes and delicious crab choices mean it’s always popular and you could have to wait up to thirty minutes for a table. If you’re killing time and want some liquid refreshment or just want to stay up that little bit later, then pop in next door to Phish Café (085-3187-366. Open daily 4pm-2am). The décor is more beach chic than anything else in the area thanks to the hip lamps and heavy driftwood furniture. Kick back and let the friendly staff serve up some strong pitchers of cocktails (starting from B160/glass) while you enjoy the sounds of the waves out on the open deck.
If seafood and the beach really don’t do it for you, then you can always take a step back in time with a journey to Rayong City’s old Chinese quarter which is focused around Yomjindra Road. A quiet and sleepy street of pretty little wooden and stone shophouses during the day, it turns into a bustling little thoroughfare at night with an array of bric-a-brac stores, museums and restaurants to tempt the wallet and the taste buds. Most though, come to chill at the ultra cute cafes and enjoy a traditional tea or soda with favorites including the authentically cluttered Raan Choie (08-6337-7963) with its impressive selection of clocks, or the equally retro but more 60s inspired décor of the fashionable Kafee 122 (081-697-5666. Open daily 1-8pm). Those searching for a weird bargain should check out Jay Yo, a grotto-like store filled with odd antiques, while noodle lovers must pay a visit to the arty Baan Saphanmai (081-429-0920), where you can enjoy a mean gway tiew amid its Americana before checking out the cute frames from John’s Frame Shop opposite or the nice little art gallery upstairs. Just round the corner, down a side alley, is Khun Suparb’s Thai Dessert stall (08-5142-6284) with its countless vats of yummy looking treats from tubtim to sweet sticky rice. If that doesn’t cure your sweet tooth then further up the street, you’ll also find a sister branch in Khun Tum’s Thai desserts (08-5142-6284).
By car. If you are heading to Rayong City take Highway 7 for around an hour coming off at Highway no 36 before Pattaya. It should take around two hours. If you are heading to Mae Laem Phe, take Highway 7 as above, but you can always take the cross country route on H344. It will be around a 2.5-3 hour journey.
By bus. Air-conditioned buses leave every half an hour to Rayong from Ekkamai Southern Bus Terminal. Tickets cost B126 and the journey takes around threee hours.
WHERE TO STAY
While there are plenty of choices of simple resorts those with more aesthetic tastes should check out X2 Rayong Villas by Design (52 Moo 13, Ao Noi, Muang District, 038-657-378. www.x2resorts.com/rayong_resort) which was taken over by the Centara group around a year ago. Sat on a beautiful little cover with a lovely sandy beach, this member of the design hotel group features just 15 minimal but spacious rooms stacked on top of one other and cascading down to the pool and sea via a series of terraces. The overall impression is part ocean-going liner, part Mediterranean coastal village. Rates start from B11,000 a night for a Deluxe room, rising to B30,000 for the Royal Suite, exclusive of breakfast. Through Oct 31. For the latest rates check http://tinyurl.com/3mycprx.
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