Often no more than a blip on the radar of those en route to the coast, southern Thailand’s Trang – a whopping 800-plus kilometres from the capital – sees a trickle of visitors, but packs in a charming atmosphere and delightfully varied culinary scene such that it deserves many more (then again, who’s complaining?)
A gateway to some of Thailand’s most stunning white-sand islands, including the likes of Koh Kradan and Koh Ngai, a number of mainland beaches and national parks are also within reach, along with several green pockets close to the town centre. Together with a decent traveller-friendly infrastructure, a simple-to-navigate and easily walkable layout, and endless positively Instagrammable colonial shophouses, it’s a wonder Trang doesn’t figure on more visitors’ itineraries, and still draws a blank even from many domestic tourists.
RELATED: 10 things to do before you leave Trang (coming soon)
RECOMMENDED: Check Agoda’s rates for Mitree House in Trang
The city’s distinct multiculturalism lends it something of a resemblance to Chanthaburi, in Thailand’s east. While it lacks Chanthaburi’s visible Christian influences, you’ll find those of Chinese ancestry, whose families were lured by the riches of southern Thailand’s tin mining rush, living in harmony alongside Muslims with links to nearby Malaysia. Chinese shrines join mosques and Buddhist temples, while its shophouses sport gorgeous colonial-era Sino-Portuguese architecture – in places endearingly crumbling, elsewhere wonderfully restored. A wander just off the main drag reveals a few tongue-in-cheek street murals that make great photo opportunities and beg to be joined in with, in a low-key nod to the similar but more widespread street art culture in Penang.
The train station sits at the heart of town, and the railway plays a central role in Trang’s identity, often depicted on murals of city life alongside other emblems such as the huge clock tower (there is something distinctly European about hearing the clock strike on the hour while taking a walk). Trang is the penultimate station on a branch line that splits off at Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Thung Song Junction from the main southern line from Bangkok. The line continues on to the picturesque Kantang terminus, its mustard-brown structure over a century old and a tourist attraction in itself. It easily merits a day trip, and the nearby Phraya Ratsada museum – the restored wooden home of a former Trang governor during the reign of King Rama 6 – is filled with historical everyday Thai objects and is also worth stopping by.
RELATED: Kantang railway station and the Phraya Ratsada museum (coming soon)
RECOMMENDED: Book a room at the Sri-Trang Hotel with Agoda
Trang is an early morning kind of city, with shops and restaurants opening as early as 5am. That’s not uncommon elsewhere in Thailand, either, but in Trang many have closed up come nine or ten. This apparently originates from Trang’s history at the centre of the rubber harvesting industry, when locals back from working through the night would catch up over the city’s famed coffee, dim sum, and speciality crispy pork.
The coffee, which uses the Hokkien word ‘kopi’ more commonly heard in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, is served as a long shot, either hot or cold and sweetened with plenty of condensed milk. Older coffee shops like Yue Chiang still make it traditionally, sieved through socks in the way you’ll also see it done at street stalls in Bangkok and elsewhere around Thailand. But more modern setups like Tubtieng manage the same effect – if anything achieving a somewhat smoother brew – with electronic espresso machines.
RELATED: Eating and drinking in Trang (coming soon)
RECOMMENDED: Reserve a room at Yamawa Guesthouse on Booking.com
Trang’s multicultural character is also reflected in its food scene – Chinese-style dim sum is a common accompaniment to all that coffee that’s consumed here, as is the crispy pork, which here is grilled, rather than fried in the style of other parts of Thailand. Elsewhere, simple rice-and-curry restaurants run by Muslim families serve up a variety of southern-style curries, including staples like massuman, gaeng neua beef curry, and gaeng som sour curry. Owing to Trang’s close proximity to the coast, fresh and relatively inexpensive seafood is also prevalent.
How to get to Trang
Arguably the best way to get to Prachuap is by train – it’s a long 16-hour overnight journey, but sunrise behind Surat Thani’s fields of palm trees is a great sight to wake up to, and you’ll arrive right in the centre of town. There are just two daily departures from Bangkok – the 17.05 service gets into Trang at 08.05 the next day and has first- and second-class air-con sleeper beds as well as second- and third-class fan-cooled seats, while the slower 18.30 departure arrives at 10.31 and has fan-cooled or air-con second-class sleeper beds, and fan-cooled second- and third-class seats. Fares range from 245 baht for third class up to 1,980 for sole occupancy of a first-class compartment.
Alternatively, buses from Bangkok’s southern terminal take 10-11 hours and cost anywhere in the region of 600 baht for a regular seat, up to around 1,000 baht for a VIP bus. Finally, Trang is served by low-cost airlines AirAsia and Nok Air, who frequently offer rock-bottom fares. Trang airport, around a 15-minute ride out of town, is served by taxis and minivans, while in town Trang’s unique frog-headed green tuk-tuks are everywhere – a short ride starts from around 20 baht per person. Motorbike taxis are also easy to find, and both songthaew trucks and city buses operate from the train station and cover the main streets; minivans to Kantang also leave from outside the train station, and to Pak Meng from just along on Thaklang Road.
Where to stay in Trang
Trang has a number of affordable and characterful guest houses and small hotels, as well as a few much larger and less personable properties. Perhaps the most recommendable is Mitree House (pronounced Mytree), a fresh opening in 2015, is a 30-second walk from the train station on Soi Sathani. Air-con rooms (from 750 baht) sport a modern design and are fitted out with brand new furnishings and appliances. These include large beds, a desk and small TV, and attractive bathrooms with powerful hot water showers; however, cheaper rooms come without windows. Rates include a small breakfast, and both the lobby and generous upstairs communal space and balcony are pleasant.
Read a full review of Mitree House, Trang (coming soon)
Just two doors away, the Sri-Trang Hotel has been in operation since 1952, and offers larger, airy rooms with large windows and air-con from 640 baht; some rooms share an attractive balcony looking out over the train station and night market, but street noise can be a problem. What’s more, these rooms – though clean and perfectly acceptable – are somewhat dated, and you would be forgiven for thinking that some of the bed linens were designed when the hotel opened over six decades ago. A better job has been done of restoring the attractive colonial-style lobby than the rooms themselves and, while there’s no breakfast included, the connected 1952 Café is pleasantly designed in a cross between Sino-Portuguese and Mediterranean styles. Impressively well executed, the space adds a hostel-like vibe and serves an extensive selection of generic Thai and very decent western dishes, plus exceptionally good-value cocktails.
Read a full review of the Sri-Trang Hotel, Trang (coming soon)
A short walk from Trang’s clock tower, Yamawa Guesthouse has cheap and basic fan and air-con rooms starting at 350 baht. They’re rough around the edges, with thin bamboo walls, lumpy pillows, and towels for blankets, but they’re also immaculately clean. What really makes Yamawa worth trying are the endlessly knowledgeable and friendly husband-and-wife team that run it – so much so that, even if you don’t book a room, you would be well advised to stop by for a cold beer and a chat at the single table out the front. They’re loaded with recommendations for local restaurants and sights, and are some of the most genuine hosts you could hope to encounter.
Read a full review of Yamawa Guesthouse, Trang (coming soon)
Have you been to Trang? What are your recommendations for other visitors? Leave a comment below!
DISCLOSURE: I travelled to Trang at my own expense. All opinions are of course my own.