Several fantastic beaches, fishing villages and a decent little waterfall are wedged between the rugged mountains that form the border with Cambodia and the sea in the far southeast of Thailand. Rather than hang around Trat’s cafes all day (though you could do worse), travellers who are up for a little adventure can explore this coastal panhandle by motorbike.
A single main road (Sukhumvit) shoots for some 90 kilometres all the way from Trat town to the Cambodia border at Had Lek, and while there’s no single awe-inspiring site along the way, it makes for a fun day trip. At one point, where the lush hills and sea press in from either direction, a sign thoughtfully informs travellers that they’re passing through “the narrowest part of Thailand”. How’s that for travel bragging rights?
All of the beaches are clearly marked along the main road in English, and it’s impossible to go more than a few kilometres from north to south at any given time, so you can’t get lost. The first beaches you’ll pass are Haad Sai Ngam and Haad Sai Kaew, which is a lot quieter than the Haad Sai Kaew on Ko Samet but almost as beautiful. This general area hosts a Centara luxury resort whose presence alone heralds the quality of these unsung beaches.
One of our favourite beaches in Trat is Ban Chuen, a wide and completely empty stretch of squeaky powder-white sand with clear cerulean water and a few humble seafood restaurants and resorts thrown in. While enjoying a phenomenal seaside meal of squid with yellow curry and whole steamed fish, a vendor appeared to show off the saltwater crabs she had captured earlier that morning.
Thinking of how tasty whole steamed crabs are, we bought a bundle for 200 baht. But then we felt sorry for the still-breathing crustaceans and cut them loose into the sea.
While Trat’s coastal beaches really are spectacular, much of the area possesses a desolate atmosphere thanks to the isolated geography and prominent military presence (lots of smugglers we’re told). Some of the inland villages appeared deserted save a few scraggly dogs. After passing a massive landfill, we happened on an attractive little fishing village with photogenic old houses, sun-drying fish laid out on bamboo and old women selling veggies from their roadside gardens.
If you prefer cool mountain water to warm seawater, a side lane is clearly marked off the main road for Saphan Hin waterfall. Not overly impressive, but worth the detour, the falls slip over a black rock shelf that stands no more than a couple of metres high and accounts for the waterfall’s name of “Rock Bridge”.
After chilling under the banyans and dipping our toes in the wide pool, we stopped by a hillside durian grove where the locals were happy to show off their spiky fruits on the vine.
Further south lies the small and unremarkable fishing town of Khlong Yai, with the similar Had Lek village nestling the border further southeast. There’s not much to see in these towns apart from large fishing piers, but a small market found in front of the checkpoint is worth a peak if you’re in the market for some “fresh-from-Cambodia” trinkets. Not far from the border on the way back towards Trat, a few sandy side roads ramble down to still more empty beaches.
How to get there
From Trat town, Sukhumvit Road (Route 3) eastbound runs all the way Had Lek.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 12th March, 2014.