Oct 31 2012

Rayong’s old town

Published by at 5:56 am under Rayong


A reaction, perhaps, to Thailand‘s push for modernisation over the past 60 years, many previously neglected historic neighbourhoods across the country have evolved of late into artsy “old towns” that celebrate rather than reject their heritage. The eastern Thai city of Rayong is often written off by foreign travellers as an uninspiring stop on the way to Ko Samet, but this mid-sized provincial capital’s oldest road — Yomchinda –  is home to one of the more intriguing of these revitalised old towns.

Rayong's old town -- yet another one of Thailand's pleasant surprises.

Rayong’s old town — another one of Thailand’s pleasant surprises.

In the days when virtually all long-distance transport was done by boat, Yomchinda would have been home to a small but bustling village beside the Rayong River, where travellers and traders would have stopped to rest and replenish. When boats were replaced by vehicles in the 20th century, people and freight began to pass through Rayong via Sukhumvit Road (the same one that runs through southwestern Bangkok). The once busy Yomchinda became little more than a line of forgotten old buildings.

This one has been lovingly restored.

This one has been lovingly restored.

New life has since been breathed into the old neighbourhood, and it’s now home to several antique gallery cafes that seem to be in an ongoing competition to see which has the largest collection of vintage artifacts. Tattered dolls and rotary telephones join protective amulets and faded portraits of past Thai kings on the shelves of one shop, while another displays torn World War II-era Thai naval flags and galvanised farm equipment from the 19th century.

One person's garbage is another person's treasure.

One person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.

One of the neighbourhood’s more unique establishments is an independent theatre that shows vintage films each week. It was closed when we visited, but we found its bright red and yellow exterior and old movie posters to be spectacle enough.

Expect the unexpected.

Expect the unexpected.

Architecture enthusiasts will be taken with the neighbourhood’s Sino-European-style buildings, most of which hail from the reign of King Rama V in the late 19th century. Some have been gracefully restored while others still crumble, exposed hundred year-old bricks surfacing from gaps in the weathered yellow walls.

Reverently crumbling.

Reverently dilapidated.

Modest lifestyles unfold within Yomchinda’s historic buildings, evidenced by carefully placed red silk lanterns, potted plants and functioning post boxes that look to be as old as the walls they’re attached to.

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

One area where Thailand has never forgotten its heritage is food, and an array of classic eats are served along Yomchinda. During our visit, one cafe known for its sweet and flaky roti was overflowing with giggly uniformed kids after a day of school, while a noodle soup kitchen seemed a popular haunt among the area’s senior citizens.

Our favourite was a streetside spread of fish and chilli paste, run by a woman who prepares fresh catches from the nearby gulf in the large hooded grill that fronts her open-air shophouse. “There’s only one way to cook fresh fish,” she advised, “and that’s on a grill.” Between bites of grilled veggies dipped in homemade shrimp paste, we weren’t arguing.

Rayong's shrimp paste queen.

Rayong’s shrimp paste queen.

Although Rayong’s old town offers visitors the chance to take a step back in time, it isn’t without a touch of modern colour. Several unpretentious art galleries — many of which double as cafes — feature modern works of art that compliment the neighbourhood’s old-school air. Attractive one-of-a-kind pieces by local artists can be purchased here for what an impersonal department store print would cost in the West.

Classic and modern, all at once.

Classic and modern, all at once.

Yomchinda Road is located to the north of Rayong town, just south of Rayong hospital and less than a kilometre from the bus station (see map). While we wouldn’t head all the way here from Bangkok just to visit the old town, it’s well worth losing an hour or two en route to Ko Samet, Chanthaburi, Ko Chang and/or the southern border crossing into Cambodia.

Don’t miss Chanthaburi’s old town if going that way; others in Thailand worth seeking out include those found in Phuket town, Takua Pa, Amphawa and Lamphun, just to name a few.

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3 Responses to “Rayong’s old town” ...

  1. Greg McCannon 31 Oct 2012 at 4:31 pm

    David, once again you remind me of why Thailand is such a great place to travel to. There are 2 things about Thailand that keep me coming back: 1. the national parks, which (along with the rain forests of Peninsular Malaysia and the jungles on the Burmese side of the peninsula) are the oldest tropical forests in the world and which are home to the amazing fauna (such as gibbons, tigers, and clouded leopards) and flora that were able to evolve over a hundred million years (the peninsula was never covered during the Ice Age, making those forests the oldest on Earth -much older than those of Central Africa or South America).

    The other thing I love about Thailand -which you wrote about so attractively in this article- are the small towns that retain some of their original character -places that are skipped over by tourists or which simply do not appear on the tourist radar at all (what a great thing!). Rayong is apparently one of these towns. I enjoyed Phetchaburi immensely, as well as Old Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and other small towns/cities in Thailand. It’s so nice to walk around in a skyline-less, low-rise city that it still composed of many old, 2-story teak buildings lined with restaurants that serve food that is too spicy for almost any farang to handle, populated by people who are not yet (and will hopefully never be) jaded by tourists.

    You’ve given me yet another reason to go back to Thailand soon!

  2. David Luekenson 01 Nov 2012 at 5:40 am

    Greg, thanks for the insightful comment. It’s amazing to think that the tropical forests at Khao Sok, for example, existed when the Amazon was still a barren place… It’s an immediate connection to a prehistoric time – pretty amazing.

    While I do also love the national parks, my favorite aspect of Thailand is the culture, especially found on old streets like this one in Rayong and even in parts of Bangkok like Thonburi, Banglamphu and Chinatown. I’ve yet to visit Nakhon Si Thammarat or Petchaburi… The latter is in my not-too-distant travel plans, and now I’m extra excited for it thanks to your comment. Happy travels!

  3. Greg McCannon 01 Nov 2012 at 2:36 pm

    David,

    Be sure to check out Ban Khiriwong Village while you are out there, and do a little day hike into the unique polyculture orchards that they have in the foothills of Khao Luang National Park. I have never seen a happier and more content-looking society than the farmers and villagers of Ban Khiriwong.

    Khao Luang NP is also worth checking out.

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