Midway between the provincial capital of Chonburi and the infamous Pattaya, Sri Racha (pronounced 'see-ra-cha') was once a rather anonymous fishing village with nothing more than a collection of rickety wooden piers.
The town may hug Thailand's eastern coastline, but the lack of a beach means it's never been on the tourist trail. The same can't be said of its neighbour, Ko Si Chang, an island that once entertained members of the Thai royal family and remains a popular weekend retreat for Bangkok folk.
Nestled between the capital and Pattaya, Sri Racha is now experiencing the effects of industrialisation and development. What was at one time a quiet town with a handful of shops and a deserted seafront is becoming a busy, built-up area, but one that still retains much of its original, laid-back feel. The old wooden piers are still standing, but today they are somewhat dwarfed by the nearby international port at Laem Chabang. The port's success has meant an influx of largely Japanese and Korean workers, meaning an increase in restaurants, facilities -- and prices.
Sri Racha's main claim to fame is for a fiery, eponymous sauce which was created here and is often used to accompany fried snacks.
The town is developing fast, but still clings to much of its old character. Although luxury apartment blocks now threaten to monopolise seafront accommodation, many things have stayed the same. The old squid rigs remain moored by the jetties, fading Chinese-style shops still sell everything from medicine to noodles, and fishermen sit mending their gnarled nets.
A health park along the seafront is the heart of the town and has exercise machines, aerobic classes and free Wi-Fi. Locals stroll, jog or practice their tai chi here in the evenings, then head to the nearby Night Square to snack on the town's famous seafood.
As well as a collection of excellent Thai restaurants, a growing number of Korean and Japanese residents has resulted in a 'Little Tokyo' area, replete with sushi restaurants and karaoke bars.
You won't find Sri Racha in many guide books, which is the perfect reason to check it out. It's a great place to escape from the regular tourist itinerary and see how everyday Thais go about their lives. Wander through the health park, then head for Ko Loy, an island connected to the mainland by a short road and home to a turtle farm and Chinese temple. A 40-minute ferry ride away is Ko Si Chang, an island with no cars and (almost) no 7-Elevens. If you want fire-juggling, banana boats and buckets of vodka, head to Ko Samet; if you prefer tranquillity and a beach to yourself, Ko Si Chang is the answer.
Just out of town is Sri Racha Tiger Zoo, where you can view more than 200 big cats and thousands of crocodiles. A better option for animal lovers is Khao Kheow Open Zoo, well-known for its protection of endangered species and open-plan layout, which allows visitors to see animals in a more natural setting.
Sri Racha is 90kms from Bangkok on the eastern seaboard. Divided by Sukhumvit Road, which runs from north to south through the centre of town, the busiest section is on the sea side of Sukhumvit, while the other area is largely residential. Several roads branch off Sukhumvit and lead down to the water. Jermjompol Rd, which is where you can find the post office and immigration centre, runs along the seafront.
Bangkok Bank: 98 Sukhumvit Rd, Sri Racha, Chonburi 20110, tel: (038) 32 2767, opening times: 08.30-15.30.
Krungthai Bank: Robinson's Shopping Mall, Sukhumvit Rd, Sri Racha, tel: 1551, opening times: 11:00-21:00.
Internet shops: Icenet, 40/1 Jermjompol Rd, Sri Racha, open 24 hours.
Police station: Sri Racha Police Station, Sukhumvit Rd, Sri Racha, emergency number 199.
Hospitals: Phyathai, 90 Nakorn 3 Rd, Sri Racha, (038) 77 0200.
By Stuart McDonald .