In the past, I can say that Eastern Thailand is my go-to area. Or at least for my family. As my parents’ home is in Pattaya, we went to Rayong so often that it felt like going to a supermarket. Actually, my mom used to drive to Rayong just to buy her favorite popcorn after work! We also made journeys to Chanthaburi almost every year in the past when Pattaya was too hectic, like during Songkran or New Year. That was how my childhood look like. Things seemed to fade away once I moved to Bangkok for my studies, and then work, and then living here.
That was why I love the idea of going on a road trip to the East with my husband and his friends. The trip was a little bit before the New Year of 2021, just days before the second wave of COVID-19 in Thailand reached its peak and Chanthaburi was hit pretty hard. Luckily, we made it home safely, COVID-free, and quite happy to, at least, travel and loosen up a bit.
Even for Thais, the East is still underrated. Of course, people know Pattaya, but what about the rest? The islands are great with more local vibes, and there’re so many hidden places to visit. You just have to go and discover, just like we did during this trip.
Rayong Botanical Garden
This one was really a wow for me as I had never heard of it before (I used to be a travel editor) until we were there. Just when we thought we are lost, we finally arrived at Rayong Botanical Garden or Rayong Provincial East Plant Center (according to Google Maps) hidden in the wetlands in Klaeng district. It was bad timing as we were there at noon, so instead of walking, we decided to hire a boat to take us around.
Rayong Botanical Garden is a place where they collect plants from the region and across Thailand, focusing on water plants. It is famous for the ancient Samet Khao (milk wood) forest dated back hundreds of years. Cruising there on a little boat was such a weird yet familiar experience, somehow reminding me of the wetlands in South Africa and Cambodia. There were also Pae-Ya or grass islands that you can actually board to walk around and take photos. Apart from the boats, there are bicycles and canoes for rent. My favorite part? Crusing through Bua-Saray or seaweed lotus! During the ride, we rarely talked to each other. One, because it’s hot. Two, it was too beautiful.
After the excursion, we also dropped by at Paknam Prasae to have some lunch at Che Nong Zabver, which was good enough.
Chanthaburi Old Town
There are mixed feelings about Chanthaburi Old Town. It is somehow cute, but at the same time touristy since the whole area has turned into shops to sell things to customers. Well, at least things they sell here are mostly local, like fish sauce, local desserts, noodles and so on. Our destination for this trip was Punyashthiti villa, a new boutique hotel by the river located at the heart of the old town area. It was owned by a relative of our friend and since it’s COVID time our group got the whole property to ourselves. The traditional Chinese mansion was converted into luxury hotel with large terraces, nice courtyard, a cafe and a little museum on top. Chanthaburi has been dominated by the Chinese and Christian people and you can see that through the details here. Apart from all the comfort, the hotel is within walking distance from attractions like the cathedral and night market. So we had fun strolling around.
From Chanthaburi, we headed to Laem Ngop in Trat province to board to shuttle boat to Koh Mak, which is around one hour away. I went to Koh Mak many years back and love the little island vibes here, which is quite different from Southern islands like Koh Tao, Koh Pha-Ngan, or Samui. It is more locals, with lots of Thais coming here, even though I see more foreigners settting up businesses here this time. The island is so compact that you can drive golf cart around the island, which is a good idea if you come in group.
We stayed at Koh Mak Cococape Resort which has a very nice view and a bar in the sea. But again, we went there on the wrong time and it turned out to be super windy that we barely sit outside. It was very funny though, because when we went to another side of the island, it was completely different with no wind at all! So our solution was to spend time elsewhere, and luckily we found this little resort called Ao Kao Resort that was kind enough to let us sit around at their cafe, took a dip on their beach and played with their dog. It was so surprising that a little island can have such varied weather conditions lol
And these were highlights of our Eastern road trip 🙂 Of course there were things that weren’t as planned, but luckily our group was flexible enough to go with the flow. Many times travel is not about destinations, but it’s about the people you go with.
– Right now, it is more easier to reach Rayong through the new Motorway route. The Rayong Botanical Garden is around three hours drive from Bangkok. A journey straight to Laem Ngop is around 5 hours drive.
– When you drive, beware of the speed limit since the police there are quite serious.
– Book the ferrry in advance. We use Leelawadee Ferry which was very small and bumpy. Catamaran might be a better idea.