So when my cousin (Hello, John) who lives in Africa mentioned he was coming to here and wanted some tips on good places to stay in Trang, there was something of a pause. 'Hello?' he said, not wanting to spend more time on this international call which he was paying for than necessary.
'Trang, you say?' I said, fumbling for my map of Thailand. I quickly scanned the country, up and down. No bloody Trang anywhere.
'You know, near Phuket, but better, nicer.'
At that point I made a note to visit Trang, one of few little corners of Thailand I'd not been to. Ever. Why not?
So it was with great excitement that we boarded the overnight train from Bangkok's quite grandiose-looking Hualampong Station. The 1st class sleeper trains are excellent in Thailand, and a great way to have amiable chats with locals, maybe a medicinal sip or two of local whiskey if they offer it, and wait for the attendant to come round and make your bed. Comfy enough bunks, with curtains for privacy. (Oh, better take a spare bottle of Sam Song Whiskey if you want a really good night's sleep.)
The morning light showed us to be in interesting tropical countryside with palm trees, sugar cane, the odd karst upthrust. After around 12 or more hours, around breakfast time, we pulled into Trang. There was a nice poetry to this, because the town is named Trang after the Malay word 'terang' which means light, which is when the trading vessels always used to arrive here.
You see, in its former life, 900-years-old Trang was part of the Kedahan-Malay kingdom, then became an important international trading port for Thailand, located on the Andaman Sea, just north of Malaysia.
The Muslims settled along the coast for trading purposes. The Chinese stuck to the town itself, where the commerce was. And the Thais were somewhere in between.
|A dugong ... an underwater wombat?|
Closer inspection reveals them to be dugongs, which are strongly associated with the area, but numbers are falling fast because they are exceptionally dumb and slow, frankly, and no match for a hungry local's harpoon.
Another statue is of former governor Phraya Ratsadanupradit Mahison Phakdi, also known curiously as Khaw Sim Bee na Ranong, who had the original vision to make this into a seaport. He was also responsible for introducing the rubber tree to Thailand from Malaya in 1899.
Think of him as Thailand's equivalent of Singapore's Sir Henry Ridley. Thailand went on to becoming one of the largest suppliers of rubber (and rubbers!) in the world, jing jing.
A Robinson's department store talks of a little prosperity in the town . But most travellers don't hang around in town. They want to get out to some of the province's 46 islands (which include the beautiful Ko Kradan and Ko Ngai, the traditional fishing villages of Ko Muk, and the sea caves of Ko Morakut). As for us, we were met at the station by the Anantara Si Kao's car and whisked off to the fancy resort which I'll blog about soon.
|Ko Kradan ... don't you just want to be here now???|
But Trang only receives a fraction of the tourists that make it to Phuket or even Krabi. So if you want a quieter time, this is the place to be.
But you'd better go quick. You see, now that I've blogged about it, the crowds are going to be pouring in. You may even see my cousin John ... I recommended he should go to this really beautiful place down south that I know. It's called Trang.