From rubber tree relics, to far-out festivals, to breathtaking beaches
HERITAGE: Historically, Trang’s seafaring trade was centred at Kantang, a port at the mouth of the Trang River where it flows into the Andaman Sea. The port flourished between the 7th and 12th centuries, when it was an important stopover for ocean-going sampans sailing between Trang and the Straits of Malacca. After Trang governor Phraya Ratsadanupradit Mahisaraphakdi planted the first rubber tree in Thailand in Kantang in 1899, the province soon transformed from a simple relay point for goods produced elsewhere, to an important producer itself. That original rubber tree, the oldest in the country, still stands today next to the large two-storey wooden villa where the rubber baron once resided. Now open to the public as a museum, the house displays the influential man’s rooms, original furnishings, historic photos and documents, and other early 20th-century artefacts. In 1913 Governor Mahisaraphakdi ordered the construction of a rail link between Kantang and Trang, a short-line train which still operates once a day. Kantang’s train station, one of Thailand’s oldest, is a charming collection of Victorian-inspired painted teak buildings.
FESTIVALS: Trang also has many of its own unique festivals and ceremonies throughout the year, the most famous of which is the Underwater Wedding event that take’s place on Valentine’s Day (February 14th) on the island of Koh Kradan. Each year several dozen brides and grooms don scuba gear and descend to an underwater alter amidst the coral reefs, exchanging their vows in front of the Trang District Officer. How the couples—all of whom are required to be certified divers—manage to say “I do” underwater has never been fully explained, but the ceremony has made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s Largest Underwater Wedding. Before and after the scuba ceremony, the couples are paraded along the coast in a flotilla of motorboats, this time wearing traditional Thai costumes.
Other unique annual events include the Trang Cake Festival in August, the Trang Roast Pork Festival in September, the nine-day Trang Vegetarian Festival in October, and the Four-wheel Drive Vehicle Competition in November, which is an off-road circuit race in which more than 100 cars participate (driven by both Thai and international competitors). November is also the month for the more sedate Taphao Shell Festival, held on Pak Meng Beach, which is aimed at promoting the conservation of nature and the environment.
Forest Canopy Walk
The vast Thung Khai Botanical Gardens (also known as the Trang Peninsular Botanical Gardens) in Amphoe Yan Ta Khao makes for an easy day trip from Trang Town. Facilities include a botanical garden, an herbal garden, a botanical library, and a plant museum, but the main draw here is taking a stroll along the five narrow suspension footbridges that pierce through the lowland jungle canopy. The bridges are connected to each other by observation towers, the tallest of which ascend to a height of 18 metres, and together they form a 175-meter-long aerial walkway. The park is open daily from 8am till 5pm, and admission is free. Accommodation is also available if you wish to stay overnight (call 07 528 0166).
BEACHES & ISLANDS: A string of delightful sandy beaches, coves and islands, dotted here and there with the occasional limestone cliff, are found along the coast of Trang province. It’s pleasantly relaxed, quite scenic at times and an up-and-coming area that has already attracted the attention of four- and five-star resorts. The following beaches and islands are listed from north to south along the coast.
In the Si Kao district, 39 km from Trang Town, sits Hat Pak Meng—a long, broad, sandy beach near the small village of Pak Meng. The waters are usually shallow and calm, even in the rainy season. A couple of hundred metres offshore are several scenic limestone rock formations, including a very large one with caves. Several vendors and a few restaurants offer fresh seafood, and a long promenade and sea wall runs along the middle and southern sections of the beach.
The island of Koh Ngai, is actually part of Krabi province to the north, but it’s most accessible from Pak Meng. It’s a fairly small island, covering not quite 5km, but the beaches are fine white sand, the water is clear and sparkling, and coral rings virtually the entire island.
Hat Chang Lang has a 2km-long beach that is very flat and shallow, and offers the usual strip of casuarina-backed sand. It’s a very peaceful place. At the southern end of the beach, where the beachfront road turns inland, is the headquarters of Hat Jao Mai National Park, a 231 sq.km natural reserve. In various parts of the park you may see endangered dugong (also called manatees or sea cows), and rare black-necked storks, as well as more common species such as sea otters, macaques, langurs, wild pigs, pangolins, Pacific reef-egrets, white-bellied sea eagles, little herons and monitor lizards. Camping is permitted throughout the park.
The island of Koh Muk was once a lovely unspoiled paradise… until the bungalow operators moved in and went construction crazy. This is particularly prevalent on the island’s best beach, Hat Sai Yao (or Hat Farang), on its western side. The general mood on this island, located nearly opposite Hat Chang Lang on the mainland, is still pretty laid-back though. There is some good snorkelling offshore and rubber plantations and forests to hike through in the interior. Near the northern end is the popular Emerald Cave, a beautiful limestone tunnel that can be entered by boat during low tide. The tunnel stretches for 80m to emerge in an open pool of emerald hue, hence the cave’s name. Between Ko Muk and Ko Ngai are the small karst islets of Koh Cheuk and Koh Waen, which have good snorkelling and small sandy beaches.
Southwest of Koh Muk is Koh Kradan, the most beautiful of the islands that belong to Hat Jao Mai National Park, with a gorgeous unspoiled beach at Hat Yong and decent coral reefs off the eastern shore. It’s a popular destination for snorkelling and diving tours. Part of the island was excluded from the national park to allow local people to establish coconut and rubber plantations—and resorts. Camping on the island is possible with permission from the national park staff.
Between Hat Chang Lang in the north, and Hat Jao Mai in the south are two very long white-sand beaches separated by limestone cliffs that are riddled with caves. Hat Yong Ling is a pretty bay lined with casuarina trees, and there are snack stands on weekends. Tidal pools sit off the beach at the base of limestone cliffs, and you can camp nearby if you check in with the park officers first. Another curving beach nearby, Hat San, can only be approached via a large cave that connects the two beaches. The striking karst formation that rises to the north of the beach resembles a shark’s dorsal fin. A few restaurants sell the usual Thai beach food. National park fees apply here.
Hat Yao is another long, casuarina-backed strip of sand, with a rocky headland at the southern end that is pockmarked with caves. There’s also good snorkelling around the island immediately offshore. But the nicest beach in the area is tiny Hat Apo, hidden away among the cliffs. You can get here by long-tail or wade around from the sandy spit in front of the Sinchai Chao Mai Resort.
Trang’s largest island is Koh Libong, just 15 minutes by long-tail from Hat Yao. The low-lying island is home to a small Muslim fishing community, and has just two resorts on lovely isolated beaches on the western coast. The sensitive development here is a real breath of fresh air compared to other islands on the bay. The island has its own wildlife sanctuary—the Libong Archipelago Wildlife Reserve—which is a no-hunting zone located inland from Laem Ju Hoi, a cape that juts out from the island’s east coast. Many species of birds from northern Asia and Siberia migrate here each year to pass the winter. Koh Libong is also surrounded by a veritable garden of seagrass, the main food of the dugong. Unfortunately, sightings are rare because this mammal is an endangered species that was hunted in the past, while nowadays boats cause fatal injuries to these sea creatures.
Finally, Koh Sukon is a friendly and peaceful mostly Muslim island that is charmingly criss-crossed with a small network of paved roads and dirt trails that wind through water-buffalo-dotted rice fields, swaying coconut palms, shady rubber tree plantations, and tiny villages. A small hilltop provides good views of the island, whose 2,500 inhabitants subsist mainly on fishing and rubber cultivation. There’s limited electricity, and just a handful of cars or trucks chug on the roads (most transport is by motorcycle).
By Joe Cummings/CPA Media Photos courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand