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Central Eastern Isan Islands Northern Southern
Chanthaburi l Pattaya l Rayong l Trat


The Eastern Gulf of Thailand is rich in both gems and island beaches. To know more, make use of the attractive local tourism office in the busy market town of Rayong, located 220 km (140 miles) from Bangkok. It is well stocked with information on the East Coast as well as distant towns as far as the Cambodian borders.

While visiting Rayong, kill two birds with one stone. Utilize the tourism office and visit the old (but industrious) fishing village that occupies the land between the beach and the estuary. Rayong is famed for its nam plaa, or fish sauce, which is the source of salt in Thai diets and the sine qua non of Thai condiments. Nam plaa is made from a small silver fish that fills the Gulf. It is decomposed for about seven months to produce a ruddy liquid, which is filtered and bottled on the spot.

Twenty kilometers (15 miles) past Rayong is a turn-off to Ban Phe on the coast. This busy fishing port is sheltered on the west by a rocky outcrop and by the 6-kilometer-long island of Ko Samet to the south. Ban Phe introduces women dressed in their weathered black shirts, straw hats and sarongs drying shrimp in the sun.

Ko Samet, on the other hand, is an island that is reputed to be a real beauty with the finest sands in Thailand. The island has gained popularity as a superb resort for its pristine waters and cozy coves. However, development in recent times has slightly marred the beauty of the place.

A popular picnic spot with Thai tourists and locals would be the Ban Phe Phrae National Park, a refreshing change in scenery from the scrubland preceding it. While the 10 km (6 miles) stretch between Wang Kaew to the peninsula of Laern Mae Phim offers attractive resorts. Suan Wang Kaew is a landscaped garden on a hill stretching into the sea and a favorite Thai picnic spot as well. It has bungalows and rooms for rent on the west side. There are also a few good restaurants jutting out to the sea that provide views of the long stretch of sand in front. This stretch of coast deserves special mention as it remains almost untouched by the development that seems to engulf most Thai resorts these days. There are no vendors offering cheap goods and no traditional massages. But visitors would have the whole beach to themselves when weekend vacationers from Bangkok depart. It would have been perfect if the beach had been a little cleaner.

For a scrumptious time, try the excellent seafood Thailand has to offer. Just further up from Laern Mae Phim is the popular Thai resort where superb seafood restaurants line the top end of the beach. Go a little further and enjoy the charming, non-touristy fishing village of Ao Khai - a calm and restful place to watch the loading and unloading of all sorts of fish from old, gaily colored wooden fishing boats. Just offshore are a number of islands where you can spend the day. There is also one specially reserved for turtles.

The journey on to Chanthaburi introduces the village of Ban Krum, which presents a small park dedicated to the poet Sunthorn Phu. It is filled with statues of the poet and some of his most famous works.

There is also a quiet yet busy town called Klaeng, its streets lined with many attractive old-style Thai wooden houses. The majestic Wat Saranat Thammaran is located at the market. The new double-lane highway will lead to Chonburi and Bangkok while the Khao Charnao National Park is located approximately 12 km (8 miles) to the north of Klaeng off Route 3. A long waterfall with eight levels(!) will steal your breath away at this National Park. Special bridges and walkways make the ascent easier while Soro brook carp cluster in the pools by the hundreds to further embellish the park.

The Khao Wong caves are located nearby. There is a total of 60 caves in which most are occupied by Buddhist monks. One of the caves has been turned into a shrine with a replica of Buddha's footprints.

Further down the coast is the Wat Khao Sukim, a large meditation temple high up in the mountains where one can savor the stunning views and enjoy tranquil shady spots. There are also lifelike wax figures of Buddhist monks as well as displays of fine jade, furniture and antiques. The energetic folks may try walking up the hundreds of steps on stairways lined with two colorfully decorated stone-and-ceramic serpents. Alternatively, there is always the funicular!

The journey from Wat Khao Sukim to Chanthaburi offers nothing of much interest except for an understated, official looking sign that states "Paradise", which is an invitation that may be hard to pass up. "Paradise" is actually a Catholic religious retreat, with a church and small bungalows clustered around a small lake and waterfall.

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