Hot on the heels of attending TBEX Asia this year, I was invited on a post-TBEX tour by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The goal? To find out more about some of Thailand’s “undiscovered gems” and to learn more about Thai food.
Seriously, what’s not to love?
So, the morning after the conference, I joined half a dozen other travel bloggers for the 200-kilometre drive South of Bangkok to Rayong, where our Thai adventure would kick off.
We stopped for lunch en route at Tam Nan Pha – a spa resort set in a man-made rainforest with an open-air restaurant that comes complete with its own internal waterfall. Between courses, you can wander around and see the peacocks and giant fish in the various ponds and lakes. The star attraction here for us, though, was the food.
We ate – as is typical in Thailand – family-style, with dishes fighting for space on the large dining tables. There was roast duck with honey, giant prawns, crispy chicken with sweet basil, platters of morning glory and crispy vegetables, all served with more chilli dipping sauces than you could possibly hope to taste in one meal!
Dessert was a new flavour to me – snake fruit – which are soaked in syrup until they’re sweet and served in iced water – it’s definitely an acquired taste!
Our next stop was the Songsalueng Natural Agricultural Centre, a fascinating insight into how Thailand is encouraging its population to become more self-sufficient, despite the challenges presented by global warming and economic uncertainty.
Here, village headman Somsak Khruewan has created a self-sufficient farm of 1 rai (about 40m square) where each area of the farm supports another – the farm even creates its own biogas, and produces sufficient fertiliser to sell, alongside rice and other crops. There was plenty of opportunity to get an up-close look at the various crops and animals – and even the chance to get hands-on, making a dam from bamboo poles. The centre acts as a resource for other local farmers, helping them to maximise the income from their own land.
From here, it was a short drive on salengs (a sort of motorised tricycle) to the mangrove forest at the Khao Laem Yai National Park. We walked through dark paths carved through the thick watery forests out into an amazing platform that overlooks the trees, which are a vivid green-yellow colour.By far my favourite thing though was the monsoon rain which pelted down on us – a huge relief after a day of high heat and humidity. As a result, I don’t have a decent photo to share – DSLR cameras are very definitely not weather sealed (a lesson learned in the Costa Rican rainforest earlier this year)
The whole area is very laid-back, very peaceful and more than a little sleepy.
Although this part of Thailand is quite popular with Thais as it’s just three hours from the capital, there are very few overseas visitors, so you won’t find much in the way of hotels or hostels – our home for the night was the Chansamut Homestay, a wooden-built building directly on the waterfront. It’s definitely one of the country’s “hidden gems”. There are actually very few wooden buildings left in some parts of Thailand as they’re seen as for “poor” people – but those that are left are beauties.
The homestay is beautiful – there are double rooms and dorms for larger groups, which are clean and air-conditioned. The highlight is the location, though – the rooms open onto a large deck where you can eat at communal tables, and relax on a deckchair with a cold beer, looking over the river. The homestay also has its own boat, which is used for snorkelling trips and to allow visitors to sail down the river at sunset.
Dinner that evening was served on the boat – there was a stack of freshly barbecued seafood (much of which sadly, I don’t eat) but fellow bloggers raved about the crab, prawns and fresh fish. The raw prawns served fresh from the river with gently barbecued garlic was another new experience, all served alongside steaming bowls of rice and cans of Thai beer. After dinner, we retreated to the homestay for drinks on the deck, while one of the bloggers revealed themselves to be an amazing piano player, keeping us entertained under the stars.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast of the BEST fried rice served by one of the Thai Tourism Authority team (thanks!) we set off on the next part of our journey – beyond Rayang to Chanthaburi. But that’s a story for another post…