Getting Around, Southerly Direction, March 2012
A second trip, this time in the opposite direction, down south – to Trang, also triggered by a Bangkok Post article. Trang is close to Malaysia but the trouble spots are to the south-east of it – Trang seems to be safe (for now). Train from Bangkok takes you direct to the Trang station, about 14 hours, a good service with a dining car and good food is readily available. My preferred option is to order the food delivered to the berth – in the dining car one is subjected to loud music, don't mind the music, it's about the volume… Same comments as in a previous submission re: booking sleeper berths – book ahead with care! I didn't buy return tix in Bangkok and a quirky aspect of the return journey by train was that at my first attempt to book in Trang (for tomorrow) the nice smiling lady stated that she was totally booked out for several days. The nice smiling lady behind the adjacent window cheerfully informed me to come back the next day at 10:30 AM and she would sell me tix! Seems the reservation system is not on-line, and the station has only a block of tix to sell. Weird stuff in this day and age and yes, 'tomorrow' the second lady did fix me up for travel on that day. I don't know why it took two nice smiling ladies with different briefs to perform that one service, but it did – after all, this is Thailand. Pic is at the start of the journey – at Hualumpong station in Bangkok.
Trang has a different smell from up north – amongst the usual smells of Thailand there is the smell of… money. Lots more of it down there it seems. The town is neat and tidy, much more so than Korat for example (which is messy and grimy, broken footpaths and buildings abound), the tuktuks lovely, and khon Thai speak a different language! Also, I did not see any beggars, of which there are quite a few in Korat and Bangkok. It was suggested to me after the trip that you see very few girls in Pattaya and Bangkok from down here – the families don’t need the money. Food available at the night market (Friday, Saturday and Sunday only and in front of the train station) was of excellent quality and much more variety than usual in a Thai market. Maybe the high proportion of Muslims in the area has something to do with that. I chose a Turkish style kebab, which was as good as you'd find anywhere. Don't expect to see bars and massage shops in this town – seemingly they don't exist, I didn't see one of either in the town. Muslim influence again? Tourism and facilities were well organised, the contrast between Trang and BungKan for example is marked – when I wanted to see attractions in the northern province of BungKan there was no info available and no transport available except tuktuk (no fun when there are distances involved). In Trang, there was plenty of info in English re: attractions in the province and transport was readily available – qualification necessary – as usual don’t bother asking a motorsai taxi rider where to find said info (I did), he won’t have a clue – the tour operators are where to find it. Also in Trang are quite some nice restaurants and coffee shops catering for tourists, of a pleasant style which didn't exist at my two stops on the Mekong.
The countryside is solid rubber and palm plantations, very green and tropical looking, as it should be at only 7 degrees latitude off the equator. Accompanying this is the tropical storm phenomenon in the late afternoon – happened most days even though it was the 'dry' season. For those Aussie farmers reading this (huh?), a bit of info about rubber down there. Plant trees in a grid of 3×4 metres which means around 130 trees per rai (one rai = 1600 sqm). Price of seedlings currently about 80 baht each. 7 years after planting you can start harvesting, do this in blocks of twenty days and take 100gr of sap (latex) per day. Wait for a month or so and do it again – the frequency obviously depends on many factors but count on 4 blocks in a year. You can do this for 20 years, after which call in contractors to remove the trees and then plant again right away, no fallow time here! The contractors pay you money for the trees – they are poor quality softwood but can be used for chipboard manufacture, expect around 2000 baht or more per rai. I got this info from my tour guide, and it sounded reasonable at the time! I don't think rubber is grown in Australia, maybe it could be, and surely we have some suitable areas in the extreme north, and with the price of rubber rising impressively in recent years it may be the next big thing!
Out of the character (for Thailand) this impressive Euro style sculpture in a roundabout at the top of town.
Just out of town I walked on the only rainforest canopy walk in Thailand, see pic. Don’t expect to see much in the way of wildlife, it’s been eaten long ago, only a few lizards and birds were evident. However the forest was excellent and worth the short trip out of town.
On the nearby west coast I visited an excellent university-run aquarium – well worth the trip. That coastline provides access to extensive beaches of the type you might find at Krabi and Phuket, complete with clear water and many ‘James Bond’ islands close by for diving and lounging about. Not many tourists however which is a definite plus.
Tuktuks in Trang are of a type made by Daihatsu and imported from Japan many years ago, distinctive and up market from anything further north. The model pictured below is 50 years old and very nicely restored. Two stroke engines but still running on gasoline, unlike the LPG powered in the more basic designs in Bangkok and places north.
The paint job is first class, and the attention to detail quite un-Thai like, new rego plate even. Is Daihatsu still selling genuine badges? – boggles the mind! I asked about what they will do when they need to buy a new tuktuk – this question was brushed off with the assertion that they'll never need to, just refurbish again. Silly me! There’s nothing much to go wrong with a 2 stroke engine and a rebore and new piston is a good start to fixing it. This vehicle had three badges on it – Daihatsu on the front, Honda on the steering wheel and Mercedes on the back.
A final pic on that trip, near Bangkok, sorry about the dirt – it's the train window, not my lens! Dog looks comfy and he's got an ear in the right place to detect approaching tons of metal. Given that I’ve seen car and truck drivers in Thailand employ undue and sometimes dangerous tactics so as not to nail a slack dog, I got to thinking – a train driver wouldn’t slow down for it…. would he?
Looks like a nice part of the country and when I have never made it to.