Saturday 16 July 2011

Trang - the most beautiful part of Thailand I've never heard of.

Here's a funny thing ... I've lived in Amazing Thailand many a year, and -- being a travel writer -- like to think that nothing, NOTHING, escapes my attention when it comes to travel and tourism.

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.'

'Oh, that Trang,' I said, finally seeing the little dot down south west, on the edge of Phang Nga Bay. 'Sorry, it's been a while since I've been, so whatever tips I have would probably be out of date. Better off checking Trip Advisor, mate.'

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?
The town today doesn't immediately scream Major International Trading Port. In fact it doesn't even whisper it. The railway station is a small affair with green gables, and nearby the shabby Ta Klang market plies its trade from 1am each morning till just after breakfast time. Stalls groan with mangos, durian and dragonfruit. An unimpressive clock tower forms one roundabout in town, but that is easily upstaged by the roundabout featuring 20 ... um, what the hell are those things?

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???
Trekking is also popular, with over 20 waterfalls in the area. And diving should be a lot more popular ... the  Chao Mai National Park is home to some of the most awesome dive spots in the world. Ko Kradan is one of these.

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.

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