Photo: Kopi!


Bastion of curry, kopi and cake, Trang is one of Thailand's most pleasant provincial capitals. In addition to the phenomenal food scene, a handful of natural and historic attractions in the surrounding province provide something to do between sips of the local Robusta brew. Most come for the islands, but food and culture enthusiasts would be wise to hang around town.

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With around 50,000 residents, a very small expat community and a trickle of travellers, Trang is lively without being crowded; convenient without being touristy; intriguing but not at all contrived. The scammers and "mafia" of Krabi and Phuket have happily left Trang to operate on a much lower key, a step removed from mass tourism.

Like many Southern Thai cities, Trang was established on the back of the tin-mining trade that attracted thousands of Chinese migrants in the 18th and 19th centuries. The main industry switched to rubber when, in 1899, prominent governor Phraya Ratsadanupradit imported Thailand's first rubber tree from Malaysia. It still stands today in the old port town of Kantang.

Trang's Chinese roots are evident in everything from the attractive Sino-European houses to the steamed rice flour buns often baked in them. A streak of frangipani trees graces the main drag, where century-old cafes serve jasmine tea alongside the coffee (known here as kopi) grown in the Ban That and Khao Luang mountains that rise from the province's remote west.

Great food and drink in Trang.

Great food and drink in Trang.

The area is also home to many Thai Muslims who add their roti, biryani rice and fiery curries to Trang's food scene, which we truly feel is among the best of any Thai city -- and that's saying a lot! Some of the food has Malay roots, and the area is thought to have been part of the Kedah Tua kingdom many moons ago. The name Trang itself probably derives from the Malay word, terang, or "light".

Travellers know Trang mainly for its islands, and indeed the allure of these has kept the mainland attractions from becoming too popular (even the Trang islands are still relatively obscure). The historic Kantang old town, a thrilling jungle canopy walkway in the botanical garden, an array of quiet mainland beaches and no less than 10 waterfalls are all worthy of day trips.
An old school Thai town.

An old school Thai town.

And if you're here for the islands, you've come to the right place. From Ko Muk's “Emerald Cave” to Ko Kradan's sublime beaches and reefs, and even Ko Sukorn's sleepy fishing villages, the Trang islands are still some of Thailand's best-kept secrets. All of them can be easily reached by minibus and boat transfer from Trang town.

Dotted with karst cliffs and mangrove forests, Trang's slice of the Andaman Sea is also home to the endangered dugong, or “sea cow,” a close cousin of the manatee known for its peaceful disposition and endearing expression. Only a few hundred are left in the wild here, mainly around Ko Libong, but you'll see plenty of them in pictures and statuary throughout the province.
Pack an empty stomach.

Pack an empty stomach.

In case you need another reason to stick around, Trang town's accommodation scene includes half a dozen very good guesthouses with private rooms starting as low as 150 baht a night. Competition is increasingly stiff, with fairly comfy digs (air-con, TV, hot water) readily available in the 300 to 700 baht range. Good luck finding that in the islands!

Trang town, or "Amphoe Mueang Trang," sits smack at the centre of the eponymous province in Thailand's far southwest. Trang has not been affected by the ongoing conflict in Thailand's far southeast. The Andaman Sea begins 50 km to the east of town, beyond the historic Kantang port and coastal beaches of Pakmeng and Hat Chao Mai National Park.

The lush Ban That mountains make up the province's eastern border with Phatthalung province, with rubber, palm and rice cultivated over large swathes in between. Phatthalung town is only 60 km to the east and makes for an interesting overnight trip if you're looking for a more offbeat experience. Bordering Trang in the south is Satun, and to the north are Krabi and Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Rama VI Road is the main drag through town, beginning at the train station in the west and running east past a clock tower at the busy intersection with south-to-north running Visadekul Road. Most travellers linger around the guesthouses, hotels, cafes and travel offices near the train station.

Kan Tang Road cuts north from the train station and links to Rachadamnern Road, a bustling thoroughfare that runs east before turning into Phattalung Road near an elaborate fountain that features shiny statues of dugongs. Also known as Phetkasem or Route 4, this road becomes a major highway on its way to Phattalung and the Gulf of Thailand. Kan Tang Road also runs south from the train station towards a Tesco Lotus and the airport.

The main police station is located on the south side of Rachadamnern Road, just before the dugong fountain and a couple of km northeast of the train station. There's also a tourist police station on Phatthalung Road, just west of Phatthalung Soi 11. The main Trang Hospital is four km northeast of the train station on Khuan Han Road, while the smaller Ratchadamnoen Hospital is in the centre of town off Rachadamnern.

All major Thai banks have branches in Trang, with several ATMs found just east of the train station on Rama VI Road. Be sure to stock up on cash if you're heading to the Trang islands, none of which have ATMs. Sri-Trang Hotel has a small internet cafe and WiFi is available at most guesthouses and many cafes, though it often doesn't work too well.

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