One of the things I love most about Thailand is that, despite being one of the top tourist destinations in world, getting off the tourist trail is easier than you might imagine. In total, I’ve spent more than 1.5 years living and traveling around the country; and it seems like whenever I start to complacently think I’ve seen all of its highlights, Thailand surprises me with some amazing new place that I’ve never even heard of before. Let me introduce you to one such place: Trang.
Trang Province is located along the west coast of southern Thailand, bordering the Andaman Sea. It’s just south of well-known Krabi Province, which is home to some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations including Railay, Koh Phi Phi, and Koh Lanta.
Although Trang shares the white sand beaches, countless little offshore islands, and dramatic limestone cliffs that make Krabi a tourist favorite, it’s noticeable less developed than its neighbor to the north. There are a number of reasons for this: With rubber, palm oil, and fishing forming the foundation of the province’s economy, Trang doesn’t depend on tourism like many other Thai provinces. It also helps that more than two thirds of the province is comprised of protected national park lands.
One of the other interesting things about Trang is that, unlike many of Thailand’s other beach destinations, Trang attracts equally as many – if not more – Thai tourists than overseas ones. So although I can’t say that Trang is some “undiscovered paradise”, seeing Thai families wading in the emerald waters – rather than singlet-wearing backpackers – definitely gives its beaches a different atmosphere.
Trang’s mining and rubber industries attracted thousands of Chinese workers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Combine this strong Chinese background with Trang’s large population of Thai Muslims, and the result is a food scene that is quite distinct from other areas of Thailand.
The province’s Thai Muslim community has made dishes like biryani rice, roti, and Indian-style curries as widespread as pad thai and omelet rice are in the rest of the country. Trang’s Chinese culinary influences, on the other hand, are most evident in the province’s unique breakfast.
Anyone who has traveled through Thailand knows that the breakfast options can be a little lackluster – usually a toss-up between bland rice soups or awkwardly-prepared “American-style” breakfasts. In Trang, however, breakfast is easily the most exciting meal of the day, consisting of a full-scale dim sum feast. In addition to Chinese buns and dumplings steamed in bamboo trays, Trang’s dim sum breakfast usually features the province’s signature dish, moo yang, which is slightly crisp, semi-sweet grilled pork. Breakfasts in Trang also typically included “kopi”, a strong coffee served with condensed milk.
Trang has nearly 120 kilometers of coastline and several dozen islands to explore, so I was barely able to scratch the surface of the many beautiful beaches found in this province.
In my opinion, Koh Kradan rivals the best of Thailand’s better-known islands with its impossibly-blue waters, shimmering white sands, and colorful long-tail boats bobbing off-shore. There’s no real town or shops on the island – just a few laid-back resorts and bungalows. Although Koh Kradan certainly isn’t unknown to tourists, it still looks a little closer to the ideal of a secluded tropical paradise than more developed islands like Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi.
Equally intriguing is Koh Mook, which is best known as the home of Tham Morakot (Emerald Cave). During low tide, it’s possible to swim through a 50-meter long cave to reach an inland beach located on the other side. At the end of the tunnel, the complete darkness recedes to reveal a tiny green lagoon bordered by a strip of white sand, and surrounded by limestone cliffs and thick vegetation. It can get busy with day-trippers from Krabi, but if you visit during off-peak times, this little beach feels completely cut off from the rest of the world.
The islands are only the beginning of Trang’s appeal. The province’s interior is filled with waterfalls, limestone caves, and natural trails; plus the diverse cultural composition that makes its cuisine so unique also has an interesting influence on the architecture you’ll see in its small towns. My first visit to Trang was a short one, but I’m already certain it won’t be my last.
Disclosure: I visited Trang as a guest of the Thailand Tourism board, but the views expressed here are entirely my own.