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Introduction

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Best known for its hefty chain of islands, Trat province lies wedged between the eastern Gulf of Thailand and the Cardamom Mountains that stand as a natural border with Cambodia. Quite a few travellers pivot through the provincial capital of Trat but only a handful hang around for cheap digs in the old town.


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A few nights in Trat will do the trick if you need to save cash: a room at one of the old-style guesthouses, plus three meals, can cost less than 300 baht per day. Daring tongues will enjoy grazing markets that bustle in the heart of town. You’ll also find some charm down a couple of “old town” lanes, where ghostly murals join Chinese lanterns to decorate the heritage houses. Otherwise Trat town is unremarkable—we’d opt for nearby Chanthaburi if seeking an eastern Thai town for cultural and culinary travel.

It is the little things. Photo taken in or around Trat, Thailand by David Luekens.

It is the little things. Photo: David Luekens

Those wanting to skip the town will find that hitting the islands can be as easy as transferring from bus to songthaew to ferry. Though Ko Chang, Ko Mak and Ko Kut are Trat province’s most popular islands, smaller isles like Ko Wai and Ko Rang are also worth a look. Sailors, divers and beach bums watch months slide away in the province’s 52-island strong archipelago.

One of Trat’s signature products is the edible nest of the swiftlet, which fetches steep prices in the Chinese market for its reputed health benefits. Look for these birds twirling above downtown rooftops before diving into concrete structures designed to mimic their natural cliff-side habitat. The province is also known for its basketry, fruit and nam-man luang, the “yellow oil” used to remedy ailments ranging from bee stings to nausea. The secret herbal recipe arrived with some of the many Chinese who migrated to Trat in centuries past.

No shortage of decent eating. Photo taken in or around Trat, Thailand by David Luekens.

No shortage of decent eating. Photo: David Luekens

The French annexed Trat province in 1904, returning it to Siam less than two years later in exchange for much of what’s now western Cambodia. Had this deal not gone down, Ko Chang might now be part of Cambodia while Angkor could have been counted among Thailand’s top attractions.

Trat recalls this brush with colonialism with a festival held annually on 23rd March, the “independence day” when the French signed control back over to Siam. Depicting a white elephant on a red backdrop, early 20th-century Siamese flags fly throughout the province to honour Trat’s resistance during the French occupation, and a 1941 naval battle that saw the French briefly return to sink a couple of Thai battleships near Ko Chang. The provincial museum is worth a look for details on this and other historical sagas involving Trat. Other attractions for wanderers include Wat Buppharam and Wat Yotha Nimit to the west of town, and, over in the east, set within shady gardens, the trapezoidal Wat Phai Lom.

Explore and find the former French HQ. Photo taken in or around Trat, Thailand by David Luekens.

Explore and find the former French HQ. Photo: David Luekens

In the 1970s and ‘80s, tens of thousands of Cambodians poured into Trat to seek refuge from the mass murder being perpetrated in their own country under the regime of Pol Pot. The border area remained a stronghold of his Khmer Rouge faction well into the ‘90s and smugglers from both countries reaped fortunes selling arms that fuelled the bloodshed.

Nowadays the border is a peaceful affair accessed on the Thai side via a smooth road cutting between sea and mountains in the province’s slender southeastern panhandle. This area boasts some overlooked mainland beaches and fishing villages that are worth a day trip if you have time to spare. You could also check out the coastal districts of Laem Sok and Laem Ngop, where mangroves line the waterways and mosques anchor communities of Khmer Muslims who arrived in the 19th century.

Explore further and find some decent beaches too. Photo taken in or around Trat, Thailand by David Luekens.

Explore further and find some decent beaches too. Photo: David Luekens

If you are heading to Cambodia, frequent minibuses from Trat bus station will take you to the border crossing at Had Lek. Transport is available on the Cambodian side for the ride to Koh Kong or further southeast to Sihanoukville and islands like Koh Rong Samloen and Koh Ta Kiev. Minibus drivers told us the crossing opens from 07:00 to 17:30, and Cambodian visas are available on arrival.




Orientation
Trat town, or Amphoe Muang Trat, is a small city set towards the south of the eponymous province, which comprises Thailand’s easternmost terrain bordering the Gulf of Thailand. It’s 300 kilometres east of Bangkok and around 20 kilometres north of the mainland piers servicing ferries to Ko Chang and other islands. While the Cambodian border lies only 40 kilometres due east of town, the province’s long southeastern panhandle makes it a 100-kilometre ride to the border crossing at Had Lek / Koh Kong.

Take a wander through Wat Phai Lom. Photo taken in or around Trat, Thailand by Stuart McDonald.

Take a wander through Wat Phai Lom. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Sukhumvit Road (yes, the same one from Bangkok) shoots into Trat town from the north, passing close to the bus station, a Tesco Lotus shopping plaza, a private Bangkok Hospital and the public Trat Hospital. Further south at the centre of town sits a large roofed market, Talad Thetsaban (or Talad Sod) selling everything from cheap clothes to fresh produce. The main police station is a kilometre east of the market on Santisuk Road, just east of Trat Museum. Banks and ATMs are found on Sukhumvit in the centre of town.

Near the south end of town, the ugly concrete shophouses give way to attractive heritage houses on a pair of lanes—Rhak Muang and Thana Charoen—that shoot east off the main drag. In this “old town” you’ll find most of the guesthouses and a walkway running alongside the Bang Pra Canal (find the entrance next to Sangjun Guesthouse on Thana Charoen). If travelling by songthaew after arriving on the mainland from the islands, asking the driver to drop you at either of these streets would save you a trip back into town from the bus station.

Highways 3155 and 3148 cut south from town to access the coast in Laem Sok and Laem Ngop districts, both of which host some fishing villages and mangrove-draped rivers. Laem Ngop is also home to Trat Immigration, located a couple of kilometres inland from the main ferry pier for Ko Mak. The piers for Ko Chang are found a bit further west, while the pier for Ko Kut is set further east in Laem Sok.

Bangkok Trat Hospital: North end of town off Sukhumvit Rd; T: (039) 552 777
Trat Hospital: 108 Sukhumvit Rd (just north of downtown); T: (039) 511 040
Trat Immigration: Laem Ngop; open Mon-Fri 08:30-16:30
Trat Police Station: East side of town between Santisuk Rd and Chai Mongkon Rd; T: (039) 511 239 ; (039) 512 522

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