Rayong is known for its tropical fruit and as a connecting point to the famous Koh Samet. Some guidebooks even say the province is unremarkable, but Rayong has many things to offer, ranging from nature to old communities.
Wat Saranat Thammaram is in Klaeng town and regarded as one of the most beautiful temples in Rayong. Built about 70 years ago, the temple has a large ordination hall (ubosot ), which is 46m long and 36m tall, and houses Buddha relics and a principal Buddha image built in the same style as the famous Phra Phuttha Chinnarat image in Wat Mahathat in Phitsanulok. Each corner of the ubosot has a monk’s living quarters. The look of those structures are like some famous Buddhism landmarks such as Maha Bhodi pagoda in Bodh Gaya, India, Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom, Phra Barommathat Chedi in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phrathat Phanom pagoda in Nakhon Phanom province.
Take Klaeng as an example. This sleepy old town was founded as a community in the Ayutthaya period. It used to be part of the nearby Chanthaburi province before being designated as a district of Rayong in 1908.
In the good old days, the town used to be a trading hub along the banks of the Prasae River, which runs through the city. People could sail their ships along the river from the Gulf of Thailand and even up to Bangkok to sell seafood products, including fish sauce, dried squid and shrimp paste, according to an information officer at Klaeng municipality. When roads were constructed about 80-100 years ago, more communities were built along the roads.
The Sunthonwohan Road was crowded with people in past years. Wooden shophouses were built along the street and soon markets opened. But today, the street is a bit quiet. Some of those old houses are still in good condition, however more than half are closed because families have moved to live somewhere else.
"The community was more crowded in the past," said an owner of a clothes repair shop. "Many families move out to more developed towns so it is quiet around here."
Strolling around the road, you can still spot some old-style convenience stores among those old shophouses. They sell products for daily use or fishing tools. They also welcome conversation with visitors. At one corner of the road stands an old police station. It is a two-storey wooden structure with beautiful architecture and has been converted to a community museum. However, the museum is not open every day, but only upon request. Those who want to visit must fill in a form at the Klaeng Municipality office. According to the office, it houses a rare collection of old pictures.
Klaeng is the hometown of the father of Sunthon Phu, the great poet of the early Rattanakosin period. One of his famous works, a poem titled Nirat Muang Klaeng, describes his journey from Bangkok to visit his father who lived in Klaeng.
King Rama V also visited in 1884 and found a piece of land along the Prasae River to build a temple. The 10-rai plot is now the location of Wat Sommut Thepthapanaram, a temple which has been further developed through the years and has acquired extra space. It now takes up 131 rai.
Not far from downtown Klaeng is a fishing community along the coastline and at the mouth of the Prasae River. Visitors can take a boat cruise along the river to see the life of fishermen or set a day-trip for snorkelling around small islands not far from the coast.
A weekend journey to Klaeng is not complete without seafood. Many restaurants can be found near the town, along the beach of Hat Mae Phim where you can enjoy various choices of food, sunset and taking in the sea breeze.
Wooden shophouses have lined both sides of Sunthonwohan Road for more than a century. It is said to have once been a busy road where anything could be found: food stalls, restaurants, theatres and banks, you name it. But the street is pretty quiet today with many houses closed, although some of them are still open for business, such as a store selling fishing tools, convenience stores and food outlets. An owner of a tailor shop said many families moved to bigger cities after their children found well-paid jobs. Some of them have not returned for years, but they were yet to sell the houses. Some houses were taken over and renovated as restaurants or coffee shops to welcome visitors. To promote the old atmosphere of Klaeng, the municipality holds a fiveday festival every March.
There are many Chinese shrines in Klaeng because the town has been home to Chinese migrants since the early Rattanakosin period. Seen in the picture is part of the Kui Ing Koh shrine, founded by the Teochew people on a 5-rai plot in town. The shrine is open daily for those who want to pay respect to the Chinese gods, including the Jade Emperor, the supreme god of Taoism.
This warship is namedHTMS Prasae. It once ran to South Korea along with another warship,HTMS Tha Chin, after Thailand, one of 16 countries, responded to the United Nations’ request for aid and troops during the Korean War (1950-1953). HTMS Prasae is now located in a public park not far from Prasae Beach. The ship is 92.8m long and 11.5m wide. It has various weapons including machine guns and fire stations for torpedo and explosives. Although the ship is displayed as an open museum, sadly it lacks proper maintenance.
The statute of Sunthon Phu, one of the great poets during the early Rattanakosin period, is a popular tourist stop in Klaeng. It was built on the land of an abandon temple to honour the poet and his father, who was a Klaeng local. The government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram initiated the project in 1955. The work was finished and officially opened in 1970. The monument of Sunthon Phu consists of his life-size statute and several statutes based on well known supernatural characters of one of his notable works, Phra Aphai Mani , a story of love and adventure. Sunthon Phu was honoured by Unesco as a World Poet in 1986. Rayong province holds a ceremony to commemorate the great poet every year on June 26, his birthday, which is also regarded as Sunthon Phu Day.
The largest mangrove forest in Rayong is located in Paknam Prasae. It covers 6,000 rai of wetland, which has been preserved by locals and the municipality to be a natural fence by the coastline. It houses various trees and the highlight is the dense area of prong (Ceriops decandra ). The leaves of the trees reflects a bright yellow-green colour under strong sunshine so the locals call themprong thong or golden prong . You may enjoy a 1km board path, which has several viewpoints and ends at the sea. Along the way, you will surely spot crabs, mudskippers and birds. The season to watch migrant birds here is from February to May.
Fishermen take blue swimming crabs from a net in the late morning. The net was left overnight to catch the crabs. When they find a crab with a clutch of eggs, they will not put her in a basket for sale but into another container. Those mother crabs will be placed in a floating cage to let those eggs hatch, usually about two weeks later. They call the effort to preserve the food source a crab bank. ‘‘Every mother crab that each of us contributes to the crab bank means a lot to our food sustainability,’’ said Boontham Ritwong, chairman of the crab bank project of a fishing village near Khlong Bang Hak. He said about 30% of the little crabs that hatched would survive and be ready for harvest in the next 12 months. ‘‘We find crabs with eggs almost every day and we keep adding them to the bank so we can ensure that there will be no shortage of crabs in the future,’’ he said. The village also has an artificial coral project to build home for fish.
Khao Kaeng Jae Pom is an open-air restaurant, which has been operating in Klaeng for more than a decade. The restaurant is always full because it offers many choices of delicious food at affordable prices. A plate of rice with one side dish costs 25 baht and you need to pay only 5 baht more if you order two side dishes. This restaurant is on the main street in town and is open daily from 11am to 10pm.
Klaeng is a 2 hour drive from Bangkok. Take Highway No.3 or No.7 and take the Ban Bung exit and continue on Highway 344 to Klaeng. Along the road to the town, you will be able to spot orchards and fruit markets.
There are various types of accommodation in town and along the coastline. Hat Mae Ram Phung beach is also popular among students who might organise activities from early morning until late at night. If you seek privacy, you'd better check with hotel staff before checking in.
Visit the Tourism Authority of Thailand's website at www.tourismthailand.org or call its local office at 038-655-422 and 038-664-585.
About the author
- Writer: Karnjana Karnjanatawe