Thailand - Trang
Trang is yet another location in Thailand where a horrible English transliteration has become standardised and widely accepted. Say 'Trang' to a Thai in a standard English accent and it is unlikely you will be understood. Add a southern USA drawl or a rising Australian inflection and you definitely won't be understood.
However, if you pronounce it 'Trung' you will stand a better chance of being understood and if you can make the initial consonant sound like something halfway between a 'D' and a 'T', as in 'Dtrung', you won't have any problems.
Fruit vendors at one of Trang's fresh markets
For many years in Thailand I have made a big effort to stay away from mainstream tourist areas. I am not fond of tourists and I get irritated by greedy Thais who prey on ignorant tourists as an easy source of money.
Even parts of Thailand that were once 'backwaters' 10 years ago are now beginning to go mainstream so I find myself constantly trying to get further off the beaten track.
Trang was a province I first visited in early 2004 to attend a wedding. The girl's house was way out in the sticks and although the wedding ceremony was interesting, I didn't see much of Trang. Subsequently, I passed through Trang many times on the way to Phang Nga, Krabi, Phuket and Koh Lanta but never stopped off for any length of time.
The Thumrin Thana hotel in Trang where I stayed
On my Koh Lanta trip I spent a few hours in Trang waiting for a minivan and it looked like it could be an interesting place to spend a weekend so a couple of weeks later I spent the weekend there. I booked two nights at the Thumrin Thana hotel. This seems to be about the biggest and best hotel in town but it's not that expensive.
The Thumrin Thana cost me just over Bt1,100 a night and compared to the Bt1,900 I was asked to pay for a grotty bungalow near the beach on Koh Lanta with cockroaches and a bathroom that smelt like a sewer, it was a bargain. Wherever there are lots of tourists the prices are stupid so that's another reason for avoiding tourist areas.
A Trang tuk-tuk (there are slight regional variations on the same theme)
The hotel has a non-smoking floor where the smoking ban actually seems to be observed. This is amazing for Thailand. As usual though, even if you book a non-smoking room they never give you one when you turn up and you have to ask again when you check in.
One disappointment was the lack of a room safe which was specifically mentioned in the web site information I looked at.
Not only is the Thumrin Thana a sleeping place for tourists; it also seems to be the central nightspot in town for young and trendy local Thais. There is a huge disco that pumps out music so loud it can be heard 12 floors above.
The hotel is popular with middle-class Thais from Bangkok who stay overnight and head off early the next morning for one of the nearby islands. It is also popular with farang group tours which generally consist of an older crowd of people. Other farangs in Trang tend to be backpacker types making their way to Koh Lanta who always stay in cheap guesthouses near the train station.
Farang kee-nok backpackers can save Bt75 per night by not showering
In front of the train station is a square and on the other side of the square are a line of the typical Thai travel agents that specialise in dealing with backpackers.
They can point them at guesthouses with optional bathrooms (some backpackers don't regard bathrooms as being essential in Thailand apparently - click on the thumbnail image to the right to see what I mean), pack them into minivans to get them to the nearest island, or tell them where to buy baggy fisherman pants and bandanas.
Trang also appears to be the town of choice for a few expat farangs but it will only suit those people who are happy living without a lot of Western comforts. There isn't a lot of Western food on offer, there are only a few Western style shops, and I didn't see a cinema or anything.
The staple diet of Asia on sale in Trang
Seeing what Trang lacks made it quite obvious why Hat Yai is now being flooded with foreigners. Hat Yai has a very Thai feel to it still but also has plenty of Western food and English language cinemas, supermarkets, etc, to make farangs feel at home.
My first day in Trang was spent just wandering around the area near to my hotel and the train station. It wasn't particularly interesting and I couldn't work out why Lonely Planet goes on so much about Trang being such a clean city. With respect to cleanliness, it was about average for a Thai city, no better and no worse than anywhere else.
Chinese medicine shop in Trang
The locals were friendly and not money grubbing. In Thailand there is a direct relationship between how greedy the locals are and how many farang tourists are in the area. The greediest, most obnoxious Thais are found in the busiest tourist areas.
Local style coffee shop in Trang
Talking of the locals, Thais are a funny bunch. Before my first visit to Trang a Thai friend told me not to drink any water I was offered as it would be drugged and I would be robbed. Before the trip described here another Thai told me to be very careful. Natives of Songkhla, apparently, do not trust Thais from Phattalung, Trang, Surat Thani or Nakhon Si Thammarat.
I had known for a long time that Nakhon folk have a bad reputation (which isn't justified, incidentally) but hearing similar things about the other provinces surprised me. Of course, you can't generalise like this by saying that everyone from a certain place is either good or bad but this is what a lot of Thais do.
It's not only the French ...
Nothing bad happened to me. I was chatted up by several young girls near the train station working in travel agencies. They flirted outrageously but all they really wanted was to sign me up for a tour or book some accommodation on a nearby island. They were just trying to get business by using their feminine charms; there was nothing deceitful.
As they talked to me they kept looking over my shoulder for other farangs and would rush off whenever they saw more potential victims. Such is the insincerity of many Thais who rely on tourists for a living. They only think of money.
Backpacker style accommodation in Trang
My second day proved to be more interesting. I headed for the clock tower and started to understand why Lonely Planet have an obsession with Trang being a clean city. That area is quite clean but it is fairly small. Just for the record, I would say that Songkhla is about the cleanest city I have seen in Thailand.
Pork is popular in Thailand (especially Trang) and no part of the pig is wasted
Different parts of Thailand have their own culinary specialities. In the city of Trang this is grilled pork and the locals eat it for breakfast. There are so many pig bits hanging up it is a real porkfest. I am not keen on eating pork in Thailand (although I do eat it in other countries) so I didn't try any.
My next stop was something I saw on the free map of Trang that I picked up at the hotel. It said, "Prime Minister's House." However, I didn't know which Prime Minister it was referring to, I didn't know when he served, and I didn't even know if he was still alive.
While looking for the house I noticed a nice looking garden that looked to be open to the public. I went inside and it was the Prime Minister's house but there were no signs. I was greeted by a man I later found out was the ex-PM's brother.
Trang street scene and Chedi
He introduced me to another man, the ex-PM's advisor who also advises Apirak, the Bangkok Governor. We had a chat and covered some political issues.
It was interesting for me to get the views of someone with a lot of political experience in Thailand. He had governed some southern provinces before stepping into a central government advisory role.
I was still unaware whose house we were in but then found out it was that of Chuan Leekpai. He served two terms in office. The first was between 1992 and 1995 and then he came back into office after the Southeast Asian economic crisis. He served until 2001 when Thaksin came to power.
The next surprise was to find out that Chuan was at his Trang home and there was a good chance I could meet him. After about 10 minutes he came down and we chatted. I didn't feel it was appropriate to ask any searching political questions so it was mainly just small talk. He came across as a very modest, humble and compassionate man.
The rest of my day consisted of more wandering around but the weather was very hot even though it was still a couple of months away from the peak of the hot season. There was nothing outstanding, but for me it was good to experience an authentic slice of Thailand rather than just another tourist trap.
Thailand is developing incredibly quickly and the rate of change is exponential. It is nothing like the country I first visited in 1987 and in 20 years time there probably won't be much of the 'real' Thailand left.
In the afternoon I spotted a huge VIP coach full of German tourists, complete with a German guide on board giving them a running commentary over the onboard PA system. There are a number of tour companies now going into areas away from the main tourist trail but they tend to attract older, wealthier tourists.
I saw a similar thing at Thale Noi in Phattalung province. It's a bit ironic that the grey-haired package tourists are venturing into unknown areas of Thailand while the young, 'adventurous' backpackers still traipse around the same old path that people have been following for 40 years.
Tour bus full of German tourists
Outside of the main city there are a number of islands nearby but I am not really an island type of person so have no great desire to visit any (although Morakot Cave on Koh Muk looks very scenic). I'll leave them to the backpackers.
Trang province has a lot of caves, waterfalls and areas of natural beauty which I would like to see more of but it would probably be sensible to rent a car in order to explore.
Trang is well known in Thailand for its underwater wedding ceremony held on Valentine's Day each year. Personally, it sounds incredibly tacky and the sort of thing people might do if they can't get to Nevada to be married by an Elvis look-a-like in a Las Vegas wedding chapel. It takes all sorts, I guess.
Beaches And Islands In Trang
Update January 2018: The Anantara Si Kao Resort that I refer to in the following paragraphs may not exist for much longer. Apparently, the hotel encroaches on forest reserves and protected mangroves forest and this land must be returned to the state.
View from the Anantara Si Kao Resort
Trang borders the Andaman Sea and just like other provinces on the west coast of the southern Thai peninsula it has some fabulous beaches and islands.
Longtail boats, Trang
What makes Trang better than Phuket and Krabi, etc, is that unimaginative farangs simply keep going to the tired old places that they were going to 30 years ago while ignoring beautiful, unspoilt places like Trang.
Trang is very proud of its dugongs
I stayed at the Anantara Si Kao Resort and it was one of my best ever hotel experiences in Thailand. Not only was everything about the hotel perfect, but there were hardly any guests there.
Accommodation, Anantara Si Kao Resort, Trang
Breakfast room, Anantara Si Kao Resort, Trang
The grounds of the hotel are so attractive that Thai couples come here to have the pre-wedding photographs taken.
Wedding photographs, Anantara Si Kao Resort, Trang
Swimming pool, Anantara Si Kao Resort, Trang
There is some beach between the hotel and the sea, but I don't believe it is private. It isn't the most beautiful of beaches, but it's adequate if you want to take a stroll or if children want to play in the sand.
Beach, Anantara Si Kao Resort, Trang
We took a drive along the coast and there were several fantastic beaches that were completely deserted. Why would anyone go to Patong, or even Ao Nang, when places like this exist in Thailand?
Deserted beach, Trang
Deserted beach, Trang
There are islands nearby that you can either stay on or visit as part of a day trip from Pakmeng pier. Boat tours are very easy to find. Hotels and travel agents can arrange tours, or simply speak directly to the owner of a boat. For a private boat tour you can call Udom Sup Tours on +66 (0)81 078 2022. There are lots of agents around Pakmeng pier.
Pakmeng pier, Trang
There seemed to be quite a lot of accommodation at all price ranges. The Anantara Si Kao Resort is probably the top hotel but it is expensive in the high season - especially for Thailand where the cost of living is lower than in Western countries.
Along the beach I saw some cheap places for about Bt300 a night, but if these places are a bit too rustic for your liking I came across a very comfortable-looking place called Ya Ta Le' the Resort.
Its grounds aren't as extensive as those at the Sikao Anantara, but the rooms and bathrooms actually looked bigger. It was very comfortably furnished and some rooms even had outdoor, roofless bathrooms so you can take a shower while watching the stars.
237 Moo 4, Maifad, Sikao, Trang, 92150
Tel: 075 274082
Fax: 075 274084
The Trang Andaman Gateway
Most people visiting Trang probably head for the beaches, islands or main town. However, there is another extremely attractive area that is often overlooked.
Trang Andaman Gateway
Trang and Phattalung provinces are separated by the Banthat mountain range. At the end of the 19th century Prince Damrong Rachanuphab ordered the Trang governor (Phraya Ratsadanupradit Mahison Phokdi) to survey the area with regard to constructing a route linking Trang and Phattalung.
At that time the area was basically thick jungle. Elephants were used to pull down trees and the labour force consisted of villagers and prisoners who cut through the jungle with large knives.
Heating large boulders on the original Trang Andaman Gateway
There are also lots of large boulders in this area, which even the elephants couldn't move. The labourers put tree branches under the boulders and set fires. When the boulders were very hot they then poured cold water over them. The sudden change in temperature caused the rocks to split into smaller pieces and they could then be removed.
Large cylindrical rocks with carts on the top that were filled with earth or rocks to add weight were pulled by elephants and used as rudimentary road rollers.
Elephants and knives were used originally to clear a path through the jungle
This work would have been extremely difficult and made even more arduous in the heat and humidity of southern Thailand, but amazingly a route was constructed within a couple of years.
The government of India presented Buddhist relics to King Rama V and these were paraded through the newly constructed route on 6th March 1898. However, the official opening took a little longer and didn't happen until 3rd June 1902.
In 1909 the young King Rama VI confirmed the name of the route as 'Khao Pub Pa'. Pub means 'folded' Pa means 'cloth', and Khao is 'mountain'. The road traversed back and forth like a piece of folded cloth. Nowadays, this area is known as the Trang Andaman Gateway.
Trang Andaman Gateway
When I first drove along this road it was single lane each way and the suicidal way in which Thais overtake made it quite scary. However, the road was widened and now it is magnificent.
The area is exceptionally pretty and you can find places to stay. I stayed at a place called Kachong Hills Resort, which has accommodation which can only be described as luxurious camping. The rooms are covered with tarpaulin and although it feels like camping there are luxuries, such as bathrooms, TVs and A/C.
It's a great place and I recommend it highly.
Kachong Hills Resort, Trang
Kachong Hills Resort, Trang
Kachong Hills Resort, Trang
Kachong Hills Resort, Trang
If you wish to visit Kachong Hills the phone number is +66 (0)75 573 513. The resort doesn't appear to use any on-line travel agents, therefore you have to make bookings directly. You can stay the night or just have lunch or dinner in the restaurant. As I have described, it is very attractive and you will find a small flock of sheep wandering around the grounds as well as a horse and some chickens.
By road, it takes about two hours to get to Trang town from Hat Yai and about 2.5 hours to get to Trang's beaches. If you don't have your own vehicle, there are buses and minivans from Hat Yai. The drive, which I have done many times, is quite scenic, especially from Phattalung to Trang.
Trang railways station
This drive has always been pretty, but up until recently it was a single lane road and quite nerve wracking because of the reckless manner in which Thais drive. However, after a huge road-widening project it is now all multi-lane and a lot safer.
Trang has its own airport and is serviced by various budget carriers, such as Nok Air and Thai AirAsia. The airport lies about 9.5km from Trang town. I have never flown into Trang, but no doubt there are various cheap transport options to get you into town from the airport.
There is also a train station. It's on the Kantang branch line and not on the main southern rail line. From the main southern rail line, change at Thung Song station in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province for the Kantang branch line.
It's not fair to jump to any conclusions having spent so little time in Trang. I don't like it when people stay two days where I live in Thailand and then tell the world what a crappy place it is. I like Trang a lot. Places like Trang are what I refer to as 'real' Thailand, as opposed to the well-known tourist resorts that are totally artificial in nature.
There isn't a great deal going on in the Amphoe Muang district (main town) but the same applies to most Thai provincial towns and cities. If you want excitement, go to Bangkok. Being in the provinces is a completely different experience to being in Thailand's crazy capital.
Saying this, however, I much prefer walking around relaxed provincial towns in Thailand than attempting to battle my way through the crowds and traffic of Bangkok. There's a lot to see and do in Bangkok but it's a tiring place and my limit there is about four days. After that I need to get out.
For beach, island and nature lovers there is some beautiful scenery, deserted beaches and miles of unspoilt coastline in Trang, but Westerners who can't live without hamburgers, pizzas, Go-Go bars, massage shops, Indian tailors, tattoo parlours and tacky souvenir shops would probably be better off going to Phuket, Pattaya or Samui. There's not much for the sex tourists in Trang, either, which is another big plus point.
The Tourist Authority of Thailand publish a good little booklet about Trang that you should try to pick up in Thailand. It's free. In case you don't have a copy, here are some of the main points.
Historically, Trang was an important port for foreign trade and it was the first place in Thailand where rubber was planted. Credit goes to Phraya Ratsadanupradit Mahison Phakdi for bringing this important and valuable commodity into Thailand from Malaysia in 1899.
The coastline of Trang is about 199 kms long and the province includes an archipelago in the Andaman Sea which consists of over 46 islands. Of these, 12 are in Amphoe Kantang, 13 in Amphoe Palian and 21 in Amphoe Sikao.
The sea is calmest from November to April and this is the recommended (and most expensive) time of year to visit.
The province has a total area of 4,941 square kms and is divided into nine Amphoe (Kantang, Huai Yot, Yan Ta Khao, Palian, Sikao, Wang Wiset, Na Yong, Ratsada) and one King Amphoe (Hat Samran).
The distance from Trang to other southern provinces is:
- Nakhon Sri Thammarat - 123 kms
- Satun - 134 kms
- Phattalung - 56 kms
- Krabi - 131 kms
- Hat Yai - 148 kms
- Phuket - 312 kms
- Surat Thani - 226 kms
- Phang Nga - 221 kms
- Chumpon - 378 kms
- Songkhla - 176 kms
Trang Tourism Coordination Center
Ruenrom Road, Amphoe Muang, Trang 92000.
Tel. +66 (0)75 215867-8; Fax. +66 (0)75 215868
Web site: Tourism Thailand
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