by Harriet Bond
(San Francisco, CA, USA)
This provincial capital is a small but busy commercial town. Currently, most travelers pass through Trat en route to Ko Chang. However, it is likely that the town will draw larger crowds as more and more travelers visit the archipelago. Trat has several attractions, including its markets, most of which are centered around Tat Mai and Sukhumvit roads. The busy market on Sukhumvit Road has a fine selection of food and drinkstalls.
Also of interest are the gem-mining villages, such as Bo Rai, around Trat, where rubies are mined. Local guesthouses can arrange trips for visitors. Located about 1 mile (2 km) southwest of Trat, Wat Bupharam, or Flower Temple, is set in pleasant grounds with large, shady trees. Some of the original buildings within the temple complex, including the wihan, the bell tower, and the kutis (monks’ quarters), are quite old and date from the late Ayutthaya period.
A small, sleepy, fishing port, Laem Ngop serves as the ferry point for nearby Ko Chang and the islands that lie beyond. In January 1941, the Thai Navy engaged French forces at this point, losing three vessels, but claiming a moral victory which is still celebrated today.
Traditional merit-making ceremonies are performed for the deceased, and there is an exhibition by the Royal Thai Navy. The town also has a monument and museum dedicated to the martyrs of the battle.
Laem Ngop has little to offer the visitor beyond a wooden pier where rows of boats and ferries are tied.
Although very much a onehorse town, it has a number of privately operated tourism information centers, several hotels for those who miss the ferry to Ko Chang and decide to stay overnight, as well as some excellent restaurants.
Ban Hat Lek
The tiny settlement of Ban Hat Lek marks the actual border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. It is an outpost from where travelers can take a boat out of the country to Cambodia.
Visas and other immigration formalities can be completed at Khlong Yai – the last town before the border crossing. However, this region has had a troubled past due to incessant political instability and geographical proximity to Cambodia. During the time of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and the subsequent disputes over control of the country from 1975 to 1986, this area was referred to as “bandit country” and was quite unsafe.
Things have changed now, but there is still a palpable “Wild East” feel to the place, with touts seeking to speed up the visa application process to get travelers to the Cambodian side of the border. On the other side is a similar, if slightly more debauched, remote frontier post. Although officials are beginning to crack down, it is better to be careful here, especially after dark.
The border is currently open from 7am–8pm daily. Travelers crossing over to Cambodia can stay overnight at Koh Kong, the first town on the other side.
Please click here to view part one of Towns and Villages on Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard