This would be our fifth visit to Rayong, although before now, we have always failed to see further than the pier at Ban Phe. There has always been a slight disadvantage for mainland beaches in Rayong, where they often go overlooked, in favour of the nearby island of Koh Samet. But I do feel this works more to their advantage as the coastlines here remain quiet, serene and unspoiled, compared to the well known tourist hubs along the same coastline. Instead of the discomfort and nuisances of crowded beaches and all night beach bars, we instead find soft sand beaches, a laid-back seaside feel and unmatched ocean views. Our stay is at the Rayong Marriott Resort and Spa and, while I am normally antsy to explore new areas on arrival, I instead spend the first day lazing at the window and staring at ocean views. The scene is serene and somewhat hypnotic as the sea shifts slowly from the right, to the left of the screen. I watch from the comfort of bed, then do the same from the bath tub, until I turn wrinkly. Sea views are far more enjoyable when watching them from comfort.
When we do pull ourselves from the guestroom, it is to enjoy the beachfront views, where the resort’s infinity pool spills almost seamlessly into the sea’s horizon. It’s a perfect beach scene here, without the overdevelopment and ugly tourism found in better known tourist spots. Out of curiosity I do ask who the main competitors are in the area, as there are next to no luxury hotels in Rayong. They tell me it is Pattaya. I know they are both within driving distance of Bangkok, but I would infinitely travel the extra hour, or more, to Rayong. I’ve passed through Pattaya too many times, and I can only remember stretches of sunbeds, and parasols next to sun burnt bellies, and jet-skis. Here it is the opposite. The beach is empty, lonely, and stepping down to white sands, we find only a handful of revelers along the entire stretch of coastline.
So when I do hear of Rayong it’s almost always regarding their seafood e.g. “Rayong has the best seafood in Thailand”. I have no idea how to compare, but there was no way I was travelling to Rayong without at least trying some. We call into the resort’s Fish Bar that evening which, quite possibly, has the best quality seafood in the region. We order the Rayong Grilled Seafood Platter and, while seafood isn’t my forte (I like steak), I find Fanfan is obsessed with it. She eats non-stop, tearing apart some of the biggest tiger prawns I’ve ever seen, and cracks at every last bit of blue crab (which ironically are orange when cooked). I do try it all, and can understand her obsession. With it we indulge in a whimsical choice of chocolate martini, and a vodka and mint cocktail. The Fish Bar overlooks the beachfront and ocean which is quiet after sunset. On the horizon there is a surreal green glow from the squid fishing boats, which are a reminder of the freshness of the local seafood here. We can also see the flashing lights of nearby Koh Samet’s beach bars, and are very happy not to be there. We sleep well at night.
I don’t normally write about breakfasts, but at the Rayong Marriott, I felt it was worth mentioning. With breakfasts it’s become norm for me to find foods I’ve not eaten in a while, and then make the most of them. After almost 5 years travelling in Asia, however, it is rare to come across anything I’ve not yet found. Today was an exception where I am welcomed by an entire range of unexpected treats like a whole baked ham with sides of wholegrain mustard, and cured prosciutto ham. Add in the quiche, brie, silverskin pickled onions… it’s been ages since I’ve eaten pickled onions. I had spent the previous two weeks with nothing but Thai food in Northeast Thailand, so I may have overdone it here on these western comforts. A waiter circles with freshly baked croissants, filled with ham and cheese, and, while I didn’t take one myself, I was continually told by Fanfan how good they were. Croissants and her repeat visits to the juice bar.
There is a list of inclusive recreational activities throughout each day with things like yoga, aqua aerobics and lots going on in the fitness centre. However, on our visit, we were probably better suited to the children’s activities, such as ‘Pizza Class’ or ‘Batik Painting’. But there’s guaranteed to be something for everyone on the resort and, for those wanting a relaxed, lazy time, there are less strenuous activities found around the ground. The swimming pool has a mini aquarium next to it so you don’t even need to go snorkeling to see the fish. There’s also a free shuttle buggy service to nip you around, although everywhere is easy to reach by foot. We do circle the resort, before we disappear into Quan Spa for an hour of pampering with their signature Ocean Breeze massage. Another new for me with a combination of Thai, Balinese, and Hawaiian massage techniques. We then make up for our laziness by hitting a few holes at the putting greens outside, although I can’t say this was overly strenuous.
By now I was feeling some slight guilt for passing on these opportunities, so I decide to join one of the evening bike rides. Being the only person on the day, I get to choose the route, and I go with the Rayong Wetlands, which do sound fun. But, before taking off, the instructor asks if I am adventurous, and to not sound like a sissy, I say “sure”. I’m not really. So recently there had been heavy rainfalls and the wetlands are flooded in parts which means I do get slightly wet and muddy as we go rattling over wooden bridges, ducking under tunnels of trees, and through some of the most beautiful and wild wetlands I’ve ever seen before. Adventure is always more fun when you’re not ready for it. Along the way I would stop the guide at every corner, to photograph the birds up ahead (although most take flight before I get the camera ready). For birders it is a fascinating place and even at the entrance of the Rayong Wetlands I find birds of all colours perched on the overhead cables which connect nearby villages. Kingfishers, storks, bee-eaters, a greater racket-tailed drongo… On the return cycle the guide suggests a quick visit to a nearby temple with monkeys, but I am now rushing for wine and sunset ocean views from the comfort of our room.
Arriving on the cycle back through the front car park, I pass a Lamborghini parked between a Porsche and Ferrari. The resort and restaurants look to be the go-to place in Rayong for well-heeled local folk and weekend drivers passing through. Yet, the all-you-can eat seafood buffet is under 1,000 Baht per person ($30US). It is also unlike any I’ve seen before. Fanfan again starts, cracking away at blue crabs, but is quickly back and to the table, with dishes from all over the world. Stone-baked seafood pizza, Indian fish curry, mountains of sushi. They have almost every seafood dish I could think of. I regrettably skip on this all-you-can-eat buffet, because I often take “all-you-can-eat” as a literal challenge. Also, earlier in the day, I called the ‘At Your Service’ concierge for indigestion tablets, and I wasn’t going to risk it again. “What if they have ham again for breakfast?” So I explore the a la carte menu instead which has more than enough to keep me excited. Steak frites tenderloin please.