Changing fortunes for Trang tourism

TRANG, 21 August 2018: As incredible as it may sound a wedding in the mid-90s was a change of fortunes for Trang, a sleepy town close to the Andaman Sea coast in southern Thailand.

Other Andaman coastal destinations shone bright. Phuket was on the map, Phang Nga bay had James Bond island, while Krabi and Lanta Island were peeping over the parapet ready to be discovered.

That left Trang considerably further south on the Andaman Coast off the radar and wondering just what it would take to catch the attention of international travellers.

Back in 1996 when Thailand’s national airline, Thai Airways International, launched a flight from Bangkok to Trang it needed a memorable promotion to catch traveller attention.

Trang’s annual underwater wedding ceremony was born with the first hesitant couple diving under the clear blue waters of Kradan island to tie the knot and receive a waterproof wedding certificate for their trouble.

By the year 2000, Trang had won a place in the Guinness Book of Records for hosting the world’s largest underwater wedding ceremony and a year later the airline picked up an ASEAN Award of Excellence for its underwater wedding project.

Now in its 18th year, the annual underwater wedding ceremony spans three days 13 to 15 February starting with a procession and welcome dinner party in the centre of town for more than 30 couples.  On Valentine’s Day, 14 February, the actual Thai tradition wedding ceremony takes place on the beach at Kradan island followed by the underwater wedding registration ceremony.

But there have been more changing fortunes for Trang. Today, it has earned a reputation as a food festival province. It claims to host an event every month, but the events that come to mind are definitely the underwater wedding ceremony, a cake bake festival, one dedicated to cooking roast pork dishes and another focusing on all things vegetarian.

Festivals aside, Kradan island is the province’s top dive venue protected like so many of the 46 islands that belong to the Trang archipelago.

Covering an area of 600 acres, the island is part of the Hat Chao Mai National Park that spans 20 km of coastline to Pakmeng Beach, where boats leave a pier for dive tours to Kradan, Mook and Ngai islands.

Mook island and Morakot Cave are identified as top dive and tour attractions. Mook is a particularly impressive island rising from the sea in craggy pinnacles and imposing cliffs. Swallows nest on the steep cliffs, while hidden from view is the Morakot Cave that can only be accessed by small boats, or by a solo swim during the low tide window.  The cave’s chambers and tunnels extend for 80 metres, through to an internal beach surrounded by high cliffs.

Trang town stands 26 km inland, but the province boasts more than 190 km of shoreline including magnificent beaches, traditional fishing village and small ports.

Travellers can fly to Trang from Bangkok’s Don Meuang Airport on low-cost airlines. Another alternative is to fly to Krabi, or Phuket, where you can hire a car for a memorable trip south to Trang. It involves stops in Phang Nga Bay, Krabi and Lanta Island.

Once you arrive in Trang you will face the conundrum of where to stay. There are hotels in Trang town and despite its sleepy character its reputation for tasty food and its famous cakes draws foodie tourists from around the region.

Then there are resorts on the coast and on popular islands a 30 to 45 minute ferry ride away from Pakmeng pier.

Trang’s airport is just 7 km from the town’s centre and for travellers who want to stay at both coast and town resorts it saves transport costs to hire a car on arrival.

Foodie tourists love Trang, or as one food critic pointed out it epitomizes “the clash, compromise and ultimate collusion of Chinese, Thai and Muslim cuisine.” The variety inspires food festivals that illustrate what makes Trang special.

Trang Cake Festival
Trang’s cake culture is legendary year-round, but there is an annual cake festival held in August, a celebration for cake lovers.
The origin of the delicious soft spongy Trang cakes, fruit flavoured and without sugar frosting can be traced to the small village of Ban Lam Phu Ra where generations perfected the art of traditional cake baking. In town, visitors make a beeline to quaint shophouse bakeries identified by the stacks of colourful square cake boxes piled high and usually sold out long before closing time.

Trang Food Festival
Held annually in late March to early April, the food festival is packed with Trang’s own version of street snacks and food, which invariably are palate hot and spicy to the extreme, particularly the Kaeng Luerng seafood curries. There are also stalls selling milder Chinese, Muslim and central Thai dishes.

Trang Roast Pork Festival
This popular Trang dish has its very own festival held every September and as the name suggests the focus is on roast pork cooked from a special recipe that is almost a closely guarded secret.
Diners claim this genuine Trang roast pork dish excels in its crispy character and the tender properties of the meat. The process involves fermenting the pig with herbs and then roasting it on a grill designed and fine-tuned by Trang residents over decades of trial and error.  With or without a festival, the dish is sold throughout the day at small shops and street-side stalls in town. Locals eat it with their morning coffee (Koppi) and rice porridge, but it is equally popular in the evening washed down with ale, or a local rice whisky. There are around 70 roast pork restaurants in Trang identified clearly by a ‘pig motif.’

Vegetarian Festival
A traditional Chinese festival, held in most towns in Thailand during  the full-moon week in October, it commands a strong following of Trang residents who dress in white costumes and join processions through the town’s streets nightly to the loud din of firecrackers.
The spread of vegetarian dishes at the festival venues is unbelievable, but as quickly as they are served up for the festival they disappear once the nine days are over.

Overland to Trang
Highway 4 (Bangkok-Chumphon) to Highway 41.
(Surat Thani-Thung Song- Huai Yot-Trang); distance 828 km.
Highway 4 (Bangkok-Chumphon) to Ranong-Phang-nga-Krabi-Trang;  distance 1,020 km.
Highway 404-416 (Satun-Palian-Trang); distance 140 km.
Highway 4-407 (Hat Yai-Phatthalung-Trang); distance 148 km.
Highway 4-402 (Phuket-Phang-nga-Krabi-Trang); distance 312 km.