Trang: The Road Less Traveled

by David on November 28, 2009

TRANG1

I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit. I am already in New Zealand, but my last two weeks have been rushed and I never reported on my last two stops in Thailand: Trang and Hua Hin. Both posts have been written, just not posted, so keep that in mind when I use words like “today” or “yesterday.” My take on Hua Hin will be up very soon, and Auckland will follow shortly.

My path through Thailand thus far (Bangkok – Chiang Mai – Krabi – Ko Lanta – Ko Phi Phi) has been on a well-defined tourist trail. Each has an abundance of westerner-oriented restaurants, bars, travel agencies and guesthouses. Everything is very easy and accommodating, but you can’t help but feel like you aren’t experiencing the same Thailand the Thai people experience.

I was talking with a young couple from Calgary about where we’d been in Thailand so far, and they mentioned that they’d gone to the southern city of Trang in order to get off the tourist trail. Trang is a domestic business center, it wasn’t built on tourist dollars. It isn’t too far off the trail (a 2 hour busride from the popular Ko Lanta) but I have only seen a handful of fa rang (white people) since I’ve been here.

Leaving Ko Lanta

Bee Bee village in Ko Lanta was such a welcoming, easy place that I was a bit sad to leave. The cheerful couple that owns the place walked out with me to the bus, snapped my photo and we exchanged thanks. When I got on the bus, the driver (who was uncharacteristically cranky for a Thai bus driver) tried to ask me a question that sounded rather urgent but we just couldn’t understand each other. Eventually he got frustrated and gave up. We picked up a few more passengers, all Thai.

As we drove through the countryside, English stopped appearing on the roadsigns and storefronts, and I spotted exactly zero backpackers on the way.

When we pulled into Trang, it was pouring rain, I had no idea where in the city we were, and nobody in the vehicle spoke English. When the driver dropped half the passengers off and pulled a u-turn, I thought for a few tense moments that we were headed back to the highway, to continue on to the next city. Since I’d had no luck communicating with the driver, I decided to wait it out and see if the next stop was closer to the train station, where my target guesthouse was.

I was lucky, and he dropped the rest of us right in front of the station. I did a quick scan of the area and located the guesthouse that had been recommended to me (one of only a few in town) and made my way there through the rain.

I was immediately informed that they were full (I know, I should have phoned) so I doubled back to a guesthouse I’d seen on the way. I walked in and immediately knew I was in for an interesting experience. On my right was the check-in desk, and on the left was a makeshift hospital bed, upon which a young man was tending a very ill elderly woman. In the hallway behind them was an assortment of old wheelchairs and random equipment.

Not too keen on wandering in the rain to find another place, I pretended all was as expected and asked if they had a room.

“Yes, 150 baht,” said the kind woman at the desk. I cringed inside a little. 150 baht is extremely inexpensive for a room. Five Canadian dollars. I’ve been paying about 4-500 a night so far.

She told me I could take a look at the room before deciding, and she led me up some dark concrete steps to a bare hallway much like I imagine one would find in an insane asylum. The room itself had a similar institutional feel to it. The bathroom was at the end of the hall and the walls were wafer-thin. The bed looked clean enough though, so I took it. And you know what, I had a fantastic sleep last night. 150 baht, what a deal.

The sinister psuedo-infirmary first impression I got was misplaced. I see now that it’s just a mother and son caring for one of their elders by running a modest guesthouse. The owner is tremendously friendly, speaks English rather well, and cleans the rooms herself.

Hotel California? Such a lovely place.

Hotel California? Such a lovely place.

PRISONHALL

The five-dollar hotel room. I actually had an unsually sound sleep here.

The five-dollar hotel room. I actually had an unsually sound sleep here.

I did buy a train ticket for the next day though, rather than spend another night. I’m glad I came, but I wish I had a travel companion here.

Being a white, anglo-saxon male, I hadn’t ever really felt like a minority until I arrived in Trang. People do stare. When I was returning from the night market yesterday, I heard two kids, maybe five or six years old, shouting as if they’d seen a snake or a rat. They darted across the sidewalk in front of me and hid behind a pillar. When I passed and looked at them, I realized that it was I that startled them, and they were pointing and shouting at me. “Fa rang! Fa rang!” As I walked by, the more daring of the two shouted “Hello!” and then hid behind the other. I said “Hello!” back and they both squealed and ran.

At the same time though, I find I miss certain aspects of the tourist scene, namely other travelers. Since I am traveling alone, there is nobody here I can talk to, and nobody to recommend any sights to see or places to go next.

Trang is quite charming, perhaps mostly because there is zero hassle factor for the tourist. There are no aggressive tuk-tuk drivers or tour operators, and the shopkeepers sometimes say “Hello” but they don’t try to keep you from walking by. The restaurants and shops are there to cater to Thai people, because there aren’t enough westerners to keep them afloat, so you don’t feel like you’re being offered a patronizing western palette of wares and meals.

The storefronts are everyday stores, not kiosks loaded with tourist fare. Everything is cheaper here.

Trang2

The night market, though nowhere near the scale of the one in Chiang Mai, proved an excellent place to eat dinner. It was almost entirely food vendors, though for some reason there was a bra cart at one end and a pantie cart at the other end. There were pancakes, whole chickens, deep fried whole fish, plates of fried rice, and a host of other mysterious dishes. It smelled so good.

I had eaten not long before (an awful 7-11 samosa) so I settled on a coconut pancake, prepared by a tiny muslim girl for 10 baht. I love the Thai night market experience, and will miss it.

{ 9 comments }

Nadia - Happy Lotus November 29, 2009 at 11:07 am

Hi David,

Sounds like that was an amazing experience. That is so awesome. I have had similar kind of journeys and it is so humbling in a way because you realize how in some parts of the world, items are overpriced due to reasons that have nothing to do with the actual cost to make the product. And don’t even get me started on food vendors…some of the best food I have ever had in Asia were from food vendors.

And thank you for the pictures too. Truly brings back some very fond memories.

David November 29, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Yes, evidently pricing has little to do with the intrinsic value of the item. There were some items (such as sunscreen) that were as much as they’d be in Canada, but almost everything else was dramatically cheaper. I don’t fully understand the economics behind it but it sure makes you wonder.

Brenda November 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Hi David
Your bra and pantie carts gave me a good laugh! Did you find out what “fa rang” means? That might be funny too. Glad you are well. Looking forward to hearing about New Zealand.

David November 29, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Fa rang is the Thai term for a white person. It is not always derogatory, but can be.

peter corrigan August 25, 2013 at 4:49 am

hi…love reading this …farang is Thai name for foreigner …Many Thai will greet you by waving and shouting “Hey Farang”,
funnily enough it is also the name of a fruit ..
I long to return ….i intend to have my first visit to Trang in December…I also love to be off the tourist trails…best regards everyone,
peter corrigan

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) November 29, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Trang sounds lovely to just cruise about on foot in. The photos give us a glimpse of the poverty that exists in Thailand~ yet, their cities are so clean! Those streets. That’s healthy pride.

David November 29, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I learned Trang is known as the cleanest city in Thailand. It is remarkably tidy. Some places certainly weren’t clean at all. Bangkok in particular, but parts of Ko Phi Phi were also appalling.

Erin November 30, 2009 at 10:14 am

The road less traveled by tourists can be the best window to the culture.

Eric November 30, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I can hardly imagine a 5 dollar hotel room, especially one that looks so nice. I love hearing about your trip. I feel happy thinking about your amazing travels, as I am plugging along in my daily routines.

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