Bordering Cambodia on one side and the Gulf of Thailand on the other, Trat province is a wonderful holiday destination with idyllic islands and a host of cultural activities to enjoy. With 52 islands in Trat, this East Coast province is the perfect location to go island hopping and explore the gorgeous Mu Ko Chang National Park. And with a range of community based tourism initiatives, Trat province is also a rewarding destination for anybody who wants to support responsible tourism in Thailand.
Trat city and the mainland
Most travellers heading to the provincial capital of Trat city only pass through it on the way to Ko Chang and the other islands. Those that do spend some time in town and on the mainland will find an interesting range of activities to keep you occupied before hitting the islands.
The history of the area is retold at the informative Trat National Museum, an elegantly restored colonial era building in Trat town. The exhibits explain about the different ethnic groups that have settled in Trat over the centuries including Chinese, Khmer and Vietnamese. The museum also recounts how Trat was briefly occupied by the French in the early 1900s and the Franco-Thai war in 1940 with the Battle of Ko Chang proving to be the turning point which led to an armistice.
The black sand beach at Laem Ngop is one of only a handful of its kind in the world. Although the beach can be classed as unusual rather than spectacular, the nearby visitor centre and the walkway over the mangroves make it an interesting diversion if you’re in the area. And just a short distance away is the Laem Ngop lighthouse and viewpoint for wonderful sunset views over the Gulf of Thailand.
Responsible tourism in Trat
Trat enjoys a growing reputation with Thai tourists as a responsible tourism destination. And the word is slowly starting to spread with more overseas tourists becoming aware of the community based tourism initiatives in the province. Amongst these are the award-winning Ban Nam Chieo Community, a small fishing village where Buddhists and Muslims live and work in harmony.
For a traditional Thai massage with a difference, head to Ban Chang Thun eco-village and try the memorable ‘chicken coop spa’. The bamboo cages that are used for roosters have been adapted to make them into personal saunas suitable for people. It may look and feel strange, but the steamed herbs that are passed through are therapeutic and it makes for a fabulous addition to a traditional Thai massage treatment.
On Ko Chang, prise yourself away from the beach and head to the east coast and the picturesque village of Ban Salak Khok. Hire a kayak and explore the mangroves or let somebody else do the work as you sit back and enjoy the scenery on a traditional Thai boat known as a ‘ruea maad‘.
If you’d like to give a bit back during your holiday and meet up with like-minded people, take a look at the activities organised by Trash Hero on Ko Chang. This voluntary organisation helps to keep Thailand’s beaches clean and meet up each Wednesday at 9am on Ko Chang. See the Trash Hero website and Facebook page for more details.
There are dozens of islands in the Mu Ko Chang National Marine Park with many uninhabited. The three most popular islands for tourists are Ko Chang, Ko Kood and Ko Mak. From each of these islands boat trips can be arranged to other locations in the archipelago. Divers and snorkelers will enjoy the clear water and abundance of marine life near Ko Rang and Ko Wai. And don’t miss the opportunity to visit Ko Kradat. This is a private island and you do have to pay an entrance fee, but that fee does include a tour of the island on a local tractor where you will get to see the herds of deer who live here and help make this one of Thailand’s most unusual islands.
Ko Chang is Thailand’s third largest island and although it’s well-established as a tourist destination, it doesn’t receive the same volume of visitors as the other two biggest islands, Phuket and Ko Samui. This makes Ko Chang a good choice for anybody seeking somewhere quieter for a beach holiday, but not too quiet. Ko Chang is also a good base to explore the nearby islands where there are some good diving and snorkelling locations.
Ko Kood (also written as Ko Kut) is the definition of a laid-back tropical island. The temptation here is to do as little as possible, but make the effort to cycle around Ko Kood and ride through the forest to discover more of the island’s charms.
One of the best eco-resorts in Thailand, the luxurious Soneva Kiri, is located on Ko Kood. The resort has a strong focus on sustainability and plays an active role in island life helping with reforestation and a program to reintroduce hornbills to Ko Kood. Soneva Kiri also has one of the most romantic dining spots to be found anywhere in Thailand with their amazing treetop dining pods.
The small island of Ko Mak is home to around 350 people with rubber plantations and coconut farming still the traditional way of making a living. Although tourism now brings in money to the island economy, Ko Mak manages to maintain a happy medium and retains its local appeal.
Travel to Trat
Diminutive Trat airport is privately owned by Bangkok Airways who have a monopoly on flights to and from here. Onward transport to Trat town and the islands can be booked on arrival at the airport.
If you are travelling as a family or would like some extra comfort, you can book a private transfer by car or minibus from Bangkok or other locations to your hotel on Ko Chang. Prices are per vehicle and expect to pay around 5,000 Baht or more (from Bangkok) depending on the size of vehicle and quality. Enquire at your hotel or check with a reputable provider like Oriental Escape.
Buses from Bangkok to Trat run at frequent intervals from the Ekamai Eastern Bus Terminal. Journey time is between 5-6 hours. There is also a less frequent service from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal. Passengers arriving at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport can head to Level 1 and look for the signs for the Ko Chang bus service near Door 8 (adjacent to the desks for the Pattaya and Hua Hin bus service) although there are only a limited number of departures each day.
For Ko Chang and the other islands, you can buy ferry tickets on arrival in Trat. At Bangkok Ekamai Bus Terminal you can also buy a combination ticket which includes the onward ferry to Ko Chang.
If you have time on your hands, break up the journey to Trat by stopping at other East Coast destinations. The bustling beach resort of Pattaya is one option or for somewhere quieter choose Ko Samet or Rayong. The interesting town of Chanthaburi is another good choice.