Experience a laid back island vibe and enticing things to do in Trang far from the madding crowd.
One of Thailand’s few remaining off-the-beaten-path beach destinations, Trang’s beguiling natural beauty and easy-going vibes are a tonic for the rigours of big city life. It’s a breeze getting here thanks to domestic flights and overnight express trains from Bangkok, yet unlike many parts of sultry South Thailand, it hasn’t quite been weighed down by mass tourism yet.
For many people, the best things to do in Trang means seeking out quietude and switching off, with breezy strolls along deserted sands, munching crab rolls at laid back seafood restaurants and snorkelling in the shade of limestone cliffs.
Unassuming it may be, but provincial capital Trang City packs a real punch as a colourful melting pot of Thai, Chinese, Malay and a smattering of western culture. Plus, if you take your food seriously, you’ll not forget Trang tucker in a hurry – it’s right up there with the very best Thai culinary adventures.
Despite all this, it is Trang’s mainland beaches and palm-studded offshore islands that steal all the thunder. It’s with good reason too. You get dazzling white sands, shimmering azure waters and soaring limestone karsts to virtually call your own. With nothing like the crowds of Krabi or Koh Lanta, it’s a real win-win but do keep it to yourself. With scenery this sublime, it can’t remain a secret forever. Read on for inspiration about the coolest things to do in Trang.
Time out in Trang City
Most travellers will have a least a fleeting experience of provincial capital Trang City, whether heading to the piers en route for an island hopping escapade or venturing back up the coast to Krabi. Yet there is much to delight in by simply hanging around town for a few days and it’s easy to lose track of time here.
You’ll no doubt want to waste little time getting to the sultry southern beaches and islands, but take it slow and you’ll be rewarded with glimpses of its timeless charm amid pastel hued Sino-Portuguese architecture and historic churches. Add into the mix a sizeable Muslim community too for a steaming hotpot of Thai, Malay and Hokkien Chinese influences.
While short on the type of landmarks that make Instagram obsessives go gaga, the low rise skyline is punctuated by attractive Chinese temples and shrines, Thai pagodas and ornate mosques in Trang Thailand. The Trang town Thailand claim to fame is undoubtedly the buzzing food scene.
You’ll get accosted by the pungent aromas wherever you wander with mountains of spicy, bitter, fragrant and calorific delights, particular at the feisty free-for-all that is the famous Night Market. This being the sultry South, the chilli based curries are more fiery than in North Thailand, but you will still be salivating over the sheer range of deep fried delights, fresh barbecued seafood and meats, and the glutinous Thai dessert offerings.
Arrive on an empty stomach and let a sense of adventure take over. Did we mention Thailand’s best coffee is in Trang? Appease that caffeine craving with a slice of Trang cake and ‘kopi’ at the cosy 1952 Café, a popular traveller hangout. There is very little in the way of conventional Trang Thailand nightlife. It is a very local-centric scene, however there is a growing expat teaching community in Trang town so there are a handful of western style pubs and cafes to hang out in once night falls.
Trang’s 199-kilometre coastline stretches itself leisurely along the glistening Andaman Sea. Just offshore and studding the horizon, innumerable dreamy islands and beaches await. Virtually every Trang Thailand travel blog extols the delights of island hopping and they certainly measure up to all the hype.
Schools of small fish dart through the emerald waters surrounding tiny islands and islets that look almost too good to be true. They are still well under the radar for Thai standards yet knock the likes of Phi Phi out of the water for raw natural beauty.
In fact Koh Mook has its own ‘secret beach’ to rival Phi Phi, accessible only by swimming through a long sea cave in darkness (thankfully led by a local guide). It was once the secret hideaway for sea bandits, as the local legend goes. Koh Libong is the largest island in the area, and the best spot to glimpse endangered dugongs basking in the shallows.
Nearby Koh Kradan is seemingly destined for greatness as the next big thing for a Thai island escape and it’s easy to see why. The deep blue of the ocean shallows and blindingly white sand is an irresistible colour contrast for beach bums. It’s also the one place where you can be truly pampered offshore.
There is a small but growing number of boutique chic beach resorts with all the creature comforts needed to chillax in style. Long tail boats and a daily scheduled ferry service to Koh Kradan and Koh Mook leave from Kuan Thung Khu pier near Trang City, while speedboat services ferry passengers between islands on a seasonal basis.
Trang’s natural highlights
Trang province is not just all about the beaches. The lush off-the-beaten-path hinterland is green and rugged with limestone hills covered in mist where off-roading and trekking opportunities abound. A non-arduous option to start a day in the wild is just a short tuk-yuk trip from town.
Thung Khai Botanical Garden is good fun, though you’ll need to have a head for heights. There is a large network of treetop canopy walks on a series of vertigo-inducing suspension footbridges. The tropical wilderness is dotted with canyons, waterfalls and underground caverns but which cave is popular for sightseeing in Trang?
That has to be the eerie Kao Kob Caves. The journey into darkness starts aboard a small boat along a winding underground river passing bizarrely shaped stalagmites. At the centre of the huge cavern – or the dragon’s belly as it is known – the rock formations are even more outlandish, embellished with spooky lighting effects.
Missing the beach already? Get the best of both worlds at Hat Chao Mai National Park. Emerald green forests, hot springs, deserted beaches and offshore islands, mangroves and limestone karsts – it’s a park of many faces and you’ll need at least a full day to appreciate it all.
It is mostly uncrowded in human form, although you’ll have plenty of company from the park residents. Expect to encounter barking deer, mischievous macaques, langurs, wild pigs, monitor lizards, sea otters and sea eagles. There is more than 20 km of pristine and mostly deserted beaches along the coastline – that is more than enough sand to get horizontal and claim your own private spot after an energetic day exploring the forests. Better still, stay overnight and enjoy the nocturnal quietude in back to basics camping and chalet accommodation.
Pampering in paradise
Trang doesn’t quite compare to the cosmopolitan bright lights and delights of Phuket or even Krabi, but that’s not to say you can’t splurge big time. The Anantara Si Kao is our pick for a couples’ stay in Trang. The private balconies in the resort’s sea view rooms serve up unobstructed views of Koh Kradan, and the most beautiful beach in the whole province.
For a DIY romantic sundowner, bring a pair of plastic champagne glasses, some beach towels and your own bottle of bubbly down to the sand and say cheers! When a little pampering is in order during a day of rushed island hopping, make good use of time on Koh Libong and head straight to Kabana Resort, and specifically the resort’s heavenly Elilai Spa by Mandara. Within earshot of the ocean’s ebb and flow, you’ll soon sink into the island groove with its fragrant aromas and unflustered quietude. Those dancing fingers of the expert Thai therapists will also have you blissed out like never before.
Though not as splurge-worthy, try another style of al fresco pampering. At Khuan Kaeng Hot Spring Forest Park you are truly the recipient of nature’s finest gifts. Surrounded by dense emerald green forests, dip those tired limbs in one of the steaming hot spring pools, which are naturally heated up to 70C.
For a little more all-over body bliss head to the massage room and indoor public hot spring. The surrounding nature trails are filled with a veritable menagerie of wildlife – think manic tree-swinging primates, birds, enormous frogs, mousedeer and yes, even snakes. So take a walk on the wild side, whether you’re a hardcore trekker or just a lover of eye-catching tropical scenery.
Snorkeling the offshore islands
If snorkelling azure, uncrowded waters is your thing, you have certainly hit pay dirt in this corner of stress-free Southern Thailand. Though not quite the secret they once were, you’ll find the space in the shallows to go with the flow and explore some awesome offshore reefs around the Trang islands.
Unless you are staying at one of the offshore beach resorts, the tried and trusted itinerary is a four-island snorkelling trip from the mainland, covering the main snorkel-friendly pristine reefs. You’ll kick off in the waters at Ko Chuek, noted for its vibrantly coloured soft corals.
When you come up for air, glance skyward and you may see Koh Chuek locals foraging high up the towering limestone cliffs in search of the valuable edible nests of the swiftlet, used in pricey birds nest soup. Next up is Koh Mook, and its famed Emerald Cave and hidden lagoon. En route to Koh Ngai, towering limestone karsts jut out from the water.
Koh Ngai is noted as a rugged mountainous island blanketed by tropical forests and long stretches of fine white sand to momentarily play at being a castaway. Koh Kradan is noted as one of the very best off-beach snorkelling spots in the whole of Southern Thailand.
The entire east coast consists of a steep drop-off where huge schools of fish buzz by. Up top, the beach and inland forest scenery is pretty sublime too. If time allows, jump aboard a longtail boat for the short trip out to see Koh Libong’s resident dugongs basking in the sea grass filled shallow waters. These manatee-like sea mammals are a sight to behold and this is one of the few remaining places to catch this endangered species up close.
Getting there and getting around
Trang’s easy accessibility makes it a perfect spot for a long weekend jaunt. Fly in to the provincial airport, or start your Trang escapade on the overnight train from Bangkok which drops you off right in the heart of town. Long distance overnight buses from the Big Mango are actually slightly quicker than the train but you’ll need stamina to endure the 10-11 hour journey by road.
For the extra Baht, the VIP express buses are a worthwhile upgrade. Once in town, it’s fairly easy enough to get by on foot or bicycle when seeking out places to eat, a leisurely trawl of the night market or a day of Trang Thailand shopping. When you’ve had your fill of tramping the streets, tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis are always on hand. Most reputable Trang City hotels and a number of local travel agencies can arrange most trips out of town to the islands or custom tours throughout the province.
In Conclusion – Switch off and take it slow in Trang
There are no bright lights and raucous beers bar in Trang. You make your own entertainment here, perhaps gazing at a starry night time sky or strumming a guitar by the beach. For frazzled, stressed out city dwellers (and of course honeymooners seeking a hideaway) it’s just what the doctor ordered. The languid pace of island life perfect mirrors the small town vibe of Trang City itself, so you’ll want to get your mañana groove on as you arrive.
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Ray Montgomery is a seasoned travel copywriter and journalist based for more than a dozen years in Southeast Asia. Ray’s big passions are eating, tweeting and constantly seeking the next perfect ocean sunset.