It was almost nightfall but the sun was nowhere to be found. We slowly chugged along the placid waters of Prasae River aboard a rua pra mong, a traditional Thai fishing vessel quite common at this town know for fishing and ship-building. I went to the prow, a can of Chang beer in tow, looking for the great ball of fire on the horizon, but all I saw were thick mangrove forests accenting the edge of the river and the twilit sky.
|RAYONG’S VERY PROVINCIAL FEEL|
Our day started out from the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. The TBEX Asia conference has just ended and we’ve just checked out of Siam@Siam, our home for the last three days in the city. Choosing the Rayong-Chanthaburi trip for the Post-BEX tours, we boarded our van, said our goodbyes to fellow TBEXers who’re doing other tours, and were soon zipping through the highway en route to Rayong Province.
|AN OLD LADY MENDING NETS IN TAMBON PRASAE IN RAYONG|
Rayong is located on the east coast of Thailand, almost 200 kilometers away from Bangkok or approximately three hours by bus from the Bangkok Northern Bus Terminal. It is a popular weekend destination for Bangkok residents with its many island beaches and laid back destinations—but you can hardly see any foreign backpackers visiting the place. And that, I guess, adds to the charm of Rayong.
|THE MAN-MADE FOREST OF TAMNANPAR RESTAURANT|
Noontime found us still on the road to our destination, the subdistrict of Prasae in the town of Klaeng. A quick stop at TAMNANPAR RESTAURANT [167/6 MOO 7, PHE, RAYONG, THAILAND | (038) 652884 | TAMNANPAR_RESORT@HOTMAIL.COM | GPS MAP 12.636308, 101.404994] made our grumbling tummies quite happy.
The restaurant is set on a man-made tropical rainforest complete with waterfalls and ponds. Wending our way through a zigzagging path, we finally ended up at the open-aired dining hall made from stone and wood. It even has a central garden where a spray of water trickles down through the trees, giving the place a very rainforest-like ambience.
|SPELL MONSTER PRAWNS!!!|
Trays of delectable Thai dishes were immediately slid onto our table as soon as we took seat; roasted ducks with honey, stir fried veggies, fried chicken with herbs, chili paste with crab eggs, steamed crab legs, morning glory salad and gigantic baked prawns.
|A FEAST OF THAI DISHES AT TAMNANPAR RESTAURANT|
It was quite a feast! After our cameras stopped snapping, we started raiding the table. Everything was good, but the very crispy fried chicken, the succulent crab legs and the giant prawns were the ones that made lasting impressions on me (and my tummy).
|TRAPPING RIVER WATER FOR IRRIGATION + CAUGHT A DUCK LAYING EGGS|
With no time for siesta, we boarded our van again and spilled out to the SONGSALUENG NATURAL AGRICULTURAL CENTRE [322/2 MU 8, SONG SALUENG, KLAENG, RAYONG | +6681-982-2404 | GPS MAP 12.723638, 101.559350] . There we met Mr. Somsak Khruewan, the farm owner, who guided us around. He is a beneficiary of the Royal Project and we saw how successful he was in maximizing his land.
|MR. SOMSAK KHRUEWAN, THE OWNER OF THE FARM, IS A PRETTY FUNNY GUY|
|TEAK WOOD TREES AT THE SONGSALUENG FARM|
From his piggery, to his fishponds, to his orchards—everything is interconnected. The waste from one area is utilized on another, making a very tight ecosystem of sorts where nothing is wasted. This is how every farm should be run.
|RIDING A SALENG, WHICH LITERALLY TRANSLATES TO THREE WHEELS|
Finally entering the town of Prasae, we boarded a saleng—Rayong’s own version of a tricycle—and roared to TUNG PRONG THONG [PAK NAM KRASAE, KLAENG, RAYONG | GPS MAP 12.707546, 101.716317], a mangrove forest at the Khao Laem Yai National Park.
|A SEA OF YELLOW MANGROVES AT TUNG PRONG THONG|
This is one of the largest, if not the largest, mangrove forest in the province of Rayong. It spreads over 2,400 hectares of land with a one-kilometer walkway that can be reached from Prasae. The rickety path pushes into a dark, heavily wooded forest of roots and slim mangrove trunks. Overhead, the canopy is several meters high. Eventually the path opens to an open deck surrounded by lush yellow leaves.
|INTO THE DARK MANGROVE FOREST…|
The drama of compression and decompression is perfectly executed at Tung Prong Thong; the heavy atmosphere of the initial walk which opens up to a vibrant open field after a few minutes makes one feel a sense of freedom upon arriving at the deck platform.
|…AND OUT INTO THE SUNNY MANGROVE TOPS|
These mangroves are quite different from the usual ones in that its leaves turn into a bright yellow hue. The whole panorama almost looked like we were standing on a field of flowers instead of trees. With limited time, we were unable to walk all the way to the sea where the pathway ends though, nor were we able to witness the magical parade of fireflies through the forest at night.
|THE IRON WOOD LANDMARK|
Still on our saleng, we dropped by a 500 year-old iron wood tree or takhian; a tree harder than teak wood. I’m not sure what the historical significance of this tree is, but with colorful ribbons wrapped around its trunk, I’m pretty sure it has a good back story attached to it.
|GOING TO PRASAE BRIDGE BY SALENG|
|PRASAE RIVER, LOOKING TO THE FISHING VILLAGE|
The bridge spanning the Prasae River [GPS MAP 12.700966, 101.702006] was our next stop. Made from ferroconcrete, it stretches for about two kilometers and looks over the mouth of the river on the south, and the fishing village at the north. Judging from the number of vehicles stopping in the middle, I presume that this is a popular place for taking in the view; and yes, having selfies too, lol.
|THE HTMS PRASAE MEMORIAL AT THE TOWN BOARDWALK|
Our last stop for our mini saleng tour of Prasae was the HTMS PRASAE MEMORIAL [THETSABAN 9 ROAD, PRASAE, RAYONG | GPS MAP 12.696749, 101.704576]. This is a gunboat set on the grounds of the town’s sea boulevard. The ship is originally from the US, went to World War II, was secretly transferred to the Soviet Navy, went to the Korean War in the 1950’s, before being handed over to the Royal Thai Navy a year later.
|WOULD LOVE TO EXPLORE THIS LOVELY SEASIDE BOULEVARD MORE|
I actually saw a lot of locals checking the interiors of the boat, but I was more interested in the street food and sceneries around the park, which was located along the coast.
|BAAN CHANSAMUT HOMESTAY FACADE|
And finally, we putt-putted to the narrow streets of Prasae and into BAAN CHANSAMUT HOMESTAY [(081) 209-2108 | CYN_DY_45@YAHOO.COM | GPS MAP 12.713074, 101.703744]; our home for two days in the province. There are actually not a lot of accommodations in Rayong, only a handful of homestays. You definitely won’t find hotels here.
|YES, PLUSH TOY INCLUDED|
|THE DINING HALL OVERLOOKING THE PRASAE RIVER|
Our lodging is very straightforward. It has single and double rooms, but they also have a few that can accommodate big groups. Every room is air-conditioned and has its en suite toilet and bath. It is pretty clean.
|SUNSET DINNER AT THE INN’S FISHING BOAT|
What I love about Baan Chansamut Homestay though, is its location, which is set right along the Prasae River. In fact, right after dropping our bags inside our rooms, we immediately boarded their 10-meter double-decker wooden fishing boat and went around for a mini cruise around the river. We feasted on fresh oysters, shrimps, crisply fried bass, spicy Thai salads and, of course, cans of Chang and Singha beer.
|SHRIMPS AND BEERS; PERFECT COMBINATION|
It was such a fun way to end our first day in Prasae that we decided on continuing the party at the inn’s river deck. The amount of stories, laughter and alcohol we spent that night was astonishing, considering how early we would have to rise the next morning, haha.
|WALKING ALONG THE STREETS OF PRASAE|
|MONKS RECEIVING ALMS FROM LOCAL RESIDENTS|
A walk along the narrow street of PRASAE’S RIVER VILLAGE [GPS MAP 12.712034, 101.703614] was set early the next morning. We got to witness a slice of Rayong life as we passed by locals giving alms to saffron-robed monks. The place slowly woke up as we went.
The street, which is set on both sides by two-storey wooden houses—usually with a shop front on the ground floor—was pretty quiet. In between houses, we’d see glimpses of the river, these residences sit right beside the water, a few of them on stilts. Only the occasional motorcycle passing through broke our early morning reverie.
|AT THE MARKETPLACE|
|NOT TOO EARLY FOR BARBECUES|
We passed by a small, colorful market, which was already bustling with activity. I love marketplaces; this is usually where you’d observe a community’s way of life. Well, besides the fact that this is also where you can get the cheapest and most legit local food.
|WE FORGOT THAT WE ALSO HAVE BREAKFAST PREPARED AT THE INN|
And speaking of food, we were unable to resist trying out khanom chin, a popular dish this side of Thailand which is made of fermented thin rice noodles paired with your soup of choice which ranges from curries to peanut-based sauces. We picked a hole-in-the-wall aptly named KHANOM CHIN PA-NA [GPS MAP 12.712673, 101.703711], which literally translates to Pa-Na’s (the owner) khanom chin.
|PREPARING MY KHANOM CHIN + KHAO MAN GAI|
The noodles are set on a bunch, they scoop one with their hands and put them on your plate, then you choose which sauce you want with it. I tried the noodles with green curry sauce, peanut sauce and Thai spicy soup; plus, a helping of khao man gai or chicken rice with spicy dip. I absolutely adore it and cannot wait to have another one! I was gut-bustingly full as we went back to the inn.
|LOVING THE VIBE OF PRASAE, A SUBDISTRICT OF RAYONG’S KLAENG DISTRICT|
Rayong was a big surprise for me. Before this trip, I have absolutely never heard about this place. I love how laid back its atmosphere is, how untouched it is by commercialization, how provincial it still is, and how good its food is. I would love to stay longer, if given the chance, to explore and interact with the locals some more, but we have another province waiting.
Next stop, Chanthaburi!
THIS TRIP IS SPONSORED BY TBEX ASIA 2015 VIA THE TOURISM AUTHORITY OF THAILAND