Numerous uninhabited islands, white-sand beaches and stunning forestry are all waiting to be explored, just east of Bangkok
Located on the southeastern corner of Thailand, Trat Province borders Cambodia along the Cardamom Mountains. Made up of pristine white-sand beaches and colourful coral reefs, much of the coastline lies within Mu Ko Chang National Park, a marine national park which includes 52 islands, including the country’s third largest: Ko Chang, after Phuket and Koh Samui.
Inland, and away from the coast, Trat has exquisite, lush jungles filled with waterfalls and marked trekking trails. These trails vary in length and have become a popular hiking activity for both locals and tourists, snaking through fruit and rubber plantations and eventually leading to Ko Kut Park and the idyllic Khlong Chao Waterfalls, the largest of three falls on the island. Alternatively, you can cycle the route across mostly flat terrain. The jungles are also home to some impressive bird sanctuaries.
The history of Trat can be traced back to the early 17th century during the reign of King Prasat Thong of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Formerly known as Mueang Thung Yai, Trat has played an important role in the development of the country’s stability and economy due to its strategic location and was once a popular trading town for a community of Chinese merchants. Today, it remains a quite town, populated mostly by international tourists who visit for the beaches and trips to nearby islands.
Although Trat remains a mostly peaceful and quiet location, popular for beach-dwellers and those tourists looking for a slower pace of life, there are still hedonistic party locations to be found.
Lonely Beach is perhaps the most recognised of the “party beaches” and is frequented by backpackers thanks to its pristine sand beach and budget-friendly accommodation. Hip bars—almost all of which promote “Happy Hours”—and cheap restaurants line the beach too, and you’ll find massage parlours, dive shops and a pretty good gym just a little farther inland.
One of the other popular beaches is Kai Bae, a small island made up of a series of bars, restaurants and guesthouses, which offers a quieter experience than Lonely Beach. Kai Bae is probably the beach for you if other white sand beach options appear too developed or over-crowded. The beach was one of the original areas where locals first opened their homes to travellers.
Nowadays, however, locals have moved on from renting out their spare room and many now own their own resorts. In fact, one extended family owns virtually all the land in the southern half of the beach and inland. They wisely refused to sell to outsiders and are now reaping the rewards. The story of the original village of Kai Bae goes that although a few Thai fishermen lived around the island, most of the current population of the island are descended from immigrants who came to Koh Chang by boat from southern China. They stopped off, looked around, saw plenty of edible wildlife and fishing opportunities and decided to stay.
A highlight of Trat is a visit to the market. There are two main markets to choose from: the Indoor Day Market—sprawling east from Th Sukhumvit to Th Tat Mai—and the Open Air Food Market.
Located in the centre of Trat town, both markets are close to each other, easily accessible by foot. Stalls are crammed between three rows, with all the foot traffic single file only, so be prepared to sharpen your elbows and wiggle your way through. Locals visit the markets for all their cooking needs, with fish, meat and vegetables all available. Squid is fresh from the boat and snapper is fried in vats of bubbly oil to ensure a crispy skin; there’s tilapia baked in salt, piles upon piles of prickly pineapples and the zingy aroma of local curries wafts through the stalls. A cornucopia of fruit and numerous other delectables spill over, and be sure to try the iconic sôm·đam.
For those who seek their frills from ocean explorations, then Trat is a great spot for scuba diving and even jellyfish hunting (yes, that’s a thing). Ko Chang, Koh Kood and Koh Mak are probably the three best dive locations with each offering dive centres open to the public. Koh Mak Divers are a British/Dutch family who run a dive shop offering PADI courses and daily dive and snorkelling trips to the nearby Koh Chang National Marine Park; and both BB Divers Koh Mak and Green Island Divers also come highly recommended.
While diving in Trat, divers can enjoy various marine creatures and expect encounters with stingrays, moray eels, snappers, groupers, barracuda, parrotfish and angelfish. Apart from underwater species, divers can explore numerous shipwrecks too, such as the HTMS Chang, formally the USS Lincoln County, originally commissioned by the United States Navy during the World War II. In 1962 the ship was handed over to Thailand government and served in the Royal Thai Navy for almost 50 years, supplying troops and vehicles. Today it is the biggest shipwreck in Thailand.
Jellyfish hunting is fun activity that keeps you close to land. Jellyfish tend to congregate close to the shore—try spots off Rachakarun Beach and Ploy Daeng Beach—so it’s easy to stumble on a mass gathering. You’ll also discover that the specifies here come in a variety of colours, mostly pink and electric blue, making them easy to spot from above and below the surface.
Trat also has its own museum—located on Santisuk Road—occupying a space within an attractive wooden replica of the old provincial hall, originally built in 1922. After the original museum building burned down in the mid 2000s, a new structure was rebuilt with the same design and dimensions a few years later.
A series of exhibition rooms within the museum begins with a primer on the province’s 52 islands and the groups of people that have settled in Trat over the centuries, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Khmer of both the Muslim and Buddhist faiths. Historical exhibits start with 6,000-year-old stone axe heads and a 2,000-year-old bronze drum found in the area.
Also, definitely worth the 2km detour from downtown Trat is Wat Buppharam, a wooden wihaan—a temple best known for its gilded statue of the sitting Buddha—reputed to be the oldest of its kind in Thailand. This Ayutthaya-period temple has a few other surprises that make it worth the short trip from the old town, including small museum stuffed with ancient Buddha images, votive tablets, bronze implements and antique ceramics hailing from from Sukhothai, China and beyond. If you find that the museum is locked, then you’ll usually be able to find on-site monks who can open it upon request.
Speaking of temples, Trat has around a half-a-dozen worth seeing. There are two main temples in downtown Trat, both within walking distance from Thanon Thana Charoen: Wat Yotha Nimit and Wat Phai Lom.
Strolling around the temples is a reward in Thai culture, design and heritage; an exploration into Trat Province and the country’s past, and a thoroughfully relaxing way to spend a morning. Another example of exceptional design, can be found behind Thanon Thana Charoen, and the impressive, long wooden walkways that connect houses, shops and bars.
BUS: There are standard buses and air-conditioned buses operated by The Transport Company Limited and by private bus companies from Bangkok to Trat departing from Eastern Bangkok Bus Terminal (Ekamai) on Sukhumvit Road and departing from Northern and Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mochit 2) on Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road every day. Travel time takes around 5 hours. For more information, call The Transport Company Limited call center 1490 or www.transport.co.th. Online bus ticket booking is available at www.busticket.in.th or www.thaiticketmajor.com or www.thairoute.com
AIR: Bangkok Airways operates daily flights from Bangkok to Trat, 3 trips a day. Flight time is around 1 hour. For more information and ticket reservations, call 0 2270 6699 (Bangkok Office) or 0 3952 5299-300 (Trat Office) or 0 3955 1654-5 (Ko Chang Office) or visit at www.bangkokair.com
The Most Beautiful Dive Sites in Trat Province
HTMS Chang Shipwreck
The HTMS Chang, formally the USS Lincoln County, was originally commissioned by the United States Navy during the World War II. In 1962 she was handed over to the Thailand government and served in the Royal Thai Navy for almost 50 years, supplying troops and vehicles. Today, it is the biggest shipwreck in Thailand. It was sunk on the 22nd of November, 2012 for the purpose of creating an artificial reef in order to attract scuba divers to the area. The ship is 100m long and features three main decks and seven sub-decks positioned between the bridge and the bottom of the ship. The site is suitable for all diving levels and is also recommended for night diving.
Hin Luk Bat
This is a pinnacle that is located on the southeast corner of Koh Chang, and is one of the most popular dive sites around Koh Chang. It offers refuge to many groups and varieties of fish. There are moray eels, stingrays, parrotfish, fusiliers, large grouper, butterflyfish, bannerfish, barracudas, angelfish, sometimes dolphins, and many other fish. There are a lot of different options for diving, and the pinnacle is surrounded by huge boulders with interesting nooks and crannies to investigate. On the steep walls there are both soft and hard corals. This is an ideal site for night diving and for snorkeling or training dives. The deepest point is 25m/82ft, but most of the dives take place between 5-16m/16-52ft. It is a boat dive, which is suitable for divers of all levels of experience.
Hin Rap is situated off a small island called Koh Klum. There are actually two dive sites in the area. The first is a dive around the rocky reef, covered in barrel sponges with crowded shelves of soft corals and gorgonians. The second area is to the north, which is a little deeper and richer in corals with a small canyon, where divers can spot turtles, batfish, stingrays, white morays, big barracudas, angelfish, grouper, triggerfish, clownfish, parrotfish, and sometimes whale sharks. This is not an area for deep-water diving. The depth is 6-20m/20-66ft. It is a boat dive for more advanced divers.
By David J. Constable