Looking for quiet non-touristy beaches in Thailand? You will find them in Trang, a sleepy province located on the Andaman Coast. But shhh … don’t tell anyone.
by Dave Stamboulis.
Trang doesn’t get much press compared to its northerly neighbors Krabi and Phuket, but the sleepy province is home to some of Thailand’s lesser-known Andaman island gems, places to really get away from it all and enjoy the best beaches the country has to offer, with a fraction of the crowds.
Trang town itself merits a visit not only as the transportation hub of the region, but for its laid-back vibe and excellent Hokkien café culture, which features standout dim sum breakfasts along with strong coffee and plenty of time to enjoy it. If you happen to be here on Valentine’s Day, Trang is the site of the world’s largest mass underwater wedding ceremony, where folks don diving suits and get hitched under the Andaman! (Underwater Weddings: 075 225 353, www.underwaterwedding.com)
Trang is the last bastion of relatively unspoiled islands left along the Andaman coast, and it is worth visiting to see how island life was before big resort tourism took over. The islands here, which include Koh Mook, Koh Kradan, Koh Ngai, Koh Sukorn, and Koh Libong, are a combination of colorful sea and brilliant white sand. Sukorn and Libong are “working” islands, with large villages that make a living from fishing and rubber as opposed to tourism.
What to See
It’s all about beautiful beaches and quiet islands down here, and one of the top spots is Koh Mook. Mook is a large island that combines gorgeous white sand beaches along with jungle-clad mountain scenery. A fine relaxation spot in its own right, Koh Mook is also home to the most famous sight in Trang Province, the magnificent Tham Morakot Emerald Cave, where a collapsed sinkhole reveals a beautiful beach hidden inside the cave surrounded by high cliff walls, accessible only by swimming through a dark passageway when the tide is out.
Koh Sukorn is one of the least visited islands in Thailand and merits a visit for those wanting to check out traditional island life and enjoy beaches in total peace and quiet. The inhabitants of Sukorn make their living from fishing and rubber tapping, and the crab market in Siammai village is a lively morning affair. The long west coast beach here is home to only a few resorts and has spectacular sunset views over neighboring Koh Petra, an island with towering cliffs where swiftlet’s nests are obtained for making Chinese bird’s nest soup.
Koh Kradan has some of the clearest turquoise water and best snorkeling of all the islands in Trang. Its long eastern beach attracts plenty of day-trippers but is otherwise undisturbed and has a real back-to-nature vibe. If you are longing for the good old days of thatched roof bungalows on the beach, this is the place to find them.
What to Do
Getting away from it all is the top pastime in Trang. Most will not want to labor further than meandering along the beach. However, adventure seekers can rent kayaks to further explore the islands or the Emerald Cave on Koh Mook, and tiny Koh Laoliang has rock climbing. Trang does have one inland sight worth getting to; Lay Kao Kob is a stalagmite-filled cave located inside a mountain, and accessing it involves taking a rowboat through pitch dark tunnels, where one has to lie completely flat to pass through several sections.
Eating and Drinking
Khao Tom Puy (111 Rama 6, 075 210 127) on Trang’s main road just up from the train station has been around for decades and serves simple, hearty local fare. Their tom yum goong has received a Shell Suan Shim award for outstanding Thai cooking, and spices are not watered down for tourists. Hokkien coffee culture is not to be missed while in Trang, as the area specializes in local cafés that serve strong traditional coffee with sweet condensed milk alongside dim sum items and jok (congee rice porridge). Sin Ocha (146 Rama 6 Rd, 084 0644214) just across from City Hall is the most fashionable of them, and serves the best brew in town. For the best dim sum in the region, try Ruen Thai (63/5 Plern Pitak Rd, 075 219 342).
On sleepy Koh Sukorn, Koh Sukorn Beach Bungalows (089 647 5550, www.sukorn-island-trang.com) is the best spot on the island, with just 20 cozy cottages set in a garden along the 600-meter beach, all giving fabulous sunset views and wonderful peace and quiet. Traditional village tours are on tap, along with jaunts out to pristine Laoliang Island.
Koh Kradan Island Resort (088 821 3732, 087 382 3058, www.kohkradanislandresort.com) is the place to experience Thai island life of years past. Basic thatched roof bungalows equipped with only a mattress, a fan, and a hammock sit so close to the water you can practically dive into the emerald sea from the porch!
Koh Mook Riviera Beach Resort (087 885 7815, 081 8946936, www.riviera-resorts.com) is set just off of a pristine sand spit on Koh Mook, and provides comfortable rooms and villas in a fabulous setting right on the beach. Tours to the Emerald Cave can be easily arranged from here.
For a real splurge, the most luxury property in the region is the Sikao Anantara (075 205888, www.sikao.anantara.com), although it isn’t set on an island but along the mainland coast.
How to Get There
Nok Air (www.nokair.com) and Air Asia (www.airasia.com) provide multiple daily flights from Bangkok to Trang. Trang also has a rail station, with overnight trains from Bangkok taking some 14-15 hours. Once in town, the Wunderbar (26 Sathanee Rd, Tel. 087 624 8728, www.wunderbar-trang.com) is the town’s best travel agency, arranging all boat and minivan connections. There are daily departures by minivan then longtail boat out to Koh Mook, Koh Kradan, and Koh Sukorn at 11 a.m.