Now well into my seventh year of shuffling back and forth to Thailand, I find myself frequently fielding the question, “haven’t you seen it all?”
Heck no! The truth is, I can’t imagine a day I’ll ever be done exploring this country. Thailand has seventy-six provinces, and despite the dozens of expired visas in my passport I’d only spent the night in nine of them up until this particular visit to the Kingdom (I managed to rack up five new ones in my most recent seven month stay). So when the Tourism Authority of Thailand put together a post-TBEX press trip — the ability to apply for these is a big perk of attending the conference — that would introduce me to both the provinces of both Trang and Satun in just three short days, I eagerly signed aboard.
Together, Trang and Satun are Thailand’s Southernmost provinces along its West coast. Our first stop was Trang, either a long bus or train ride or a very quick and cheap Nok Air flight from Bangkok. We availed ourselves of the latter, and not long after a bittersweet goodbye from the Sofitel So Bangkok did I find myself wandering the grounds of Wang Thep Taro.
This surreal sculpture garden is the brainchild of retired local school teacher Mr. Jaroon Keawla-eiad, who has transformed the roots of hundreds of local theptaro trees into dragons, manatees, and other creatures and creations. Talk about off-the-beaten path — a farang anywhere in mainland Trang is a notable sight, but this particular eccentric attraction requires insider info, a set of wheels, and a bit of adventurous spirit to get to. (If you’re interested in visiting, I recommend stopping by the tourism office in Trang for directions and advice on a taxi.)
Our next stop? Lampura Village, a neighborhood of Trang known for its spongy bundt cakes, a local specialty. We visited a locally owned shop where we were welcomed into the workshop and spoiled with samples.
Mango sticky rice may continue to reign as my favorite Thai dessert, but I’ll never turn down the chance to give another sweet treat the chance to oust it.
While we were leaving the shop, we were lucky enough to stumble upon a Chinese New Year procession. For good luck, we only had to insert a handful of baht into the dancing dragon that worked its way down the road to the delight of onlookers. Not a bad bargain.
Other notable festivals in the area include the Trang Cake Festival the first week of August, Trang’s Roast Pork Festival in the first week of September, and the Vegetarian Festival in the ninth month of the Chinese calendar — do you sense a theme? This is a province that knows how to eat.
Yet the festival that entices me the most is the Trang Underwater Wedding, an annual Valentine’s Day event that sees several couples takes the plunge — literally and figuratively — at once. I had to turn down my press invitation to cover the 2016 festival, but it’s on my wish list to attend someday in the future!
Finally, we made our way to the Na Muen Si Weaving Collective. This women’s weaving group keeps the area’s weaving heritage alive by producing beautiful textile products and souvenirs.
My favorite part of our time in Trang was lingering in workshop, watching the artists at work, sharing a few shy smiles, and attempting to capture the beauty of this age-old practice on camera.
Outside of its islands, many of which are popular at least with intrepid travelers, Trang sits comfortably off the banana pancake backpacker trail. I smiled to see that many of the restaurants we stopped in didn’t even both with signs or menus in English.
One Trang dining experience no traveler should miss? Morning coffee and dim sum for breakfast — an unusual combination for Westerners, but a local favorite among the residents of Trang.
On our final morning in Trang, we made our way to the Pak Meng pier for a peek at Trang’s tourism superstar, Koh Muk. Our brief stop here was the reason I signed on for this trip in the first place, and I treated it as a preview of an island I’m determined to return to for a longer stay someday.
The jewel in Koh Muk’s palm-fringed crown is the Emerald Sea Cave, or Marakot Sea Cave in Thai. This peaceful place is accessible only by swimming in or by sea kayak, and entry and exit needs to be timed precisely with the tides.
When we first swam in, there were just four kayakers sharing the idyllic space. By the time we left an entire speedboat had arrived, and so I treasured those first moments of solitude. Can you imagine what the first people to discover this hidden cave must have felt?
Albeit very brief, my time in Trang was an eye-opener to the enormous potential for independent exploration in this province. With nearly thirty million visitors per year, some might mistakenly believe Thailand is nothing but well-worn roads. Trang reminded me that there are countless hidden gems — and at least sixty-two provinces — left to discover.
Have you gotten off the beaten path in Thailand?
Spill your secrets in the comments below!