Beyond the beaches, the old walled town teems with historical and cultural charms
WHILE MOST of the travelers arriving in Trang quickly find a perch on the beach or head straight to the boats to go diving in the Andaman Sea, the tranquil town itself offers all sorts of landlubber delights.
Trang was a thriving trading hub in the days when it was known as Muang Thub Thieng, a port established by Chinese merchants.
In the days of the Sumatra-based Melayu Kingdom between 600 and 1200 AD, vessels docked there laden with kerosene for lamps and ingredients for making pastry. When they departed, they were filled with locally grown pepper.
In 1899 the area became the first place where rubber was planted in Siam. A man called Phraya Ratsadanupradit Mahison Phakdi brought the saplings from Malaya and built up an export business.
On my first visit to Trang I’m impressed with the diversity of culture, with Western-style churches sitting alongside Chinese shrines, Thai temples and Muslim mosques, as if to demonstrate the benefits of living in harmony.
My host is tourism promoter Ko Daeng, who with his friends arranges day-trips around town for visitors, charging Bt250 per hour or Bt650 for a four-hour tour. You get to see the sights in a frog-nosed tuk-tuk imported from Japan.
“Some of our vehicles were built 100 years ago,” Ko Daeng says. “We modify the engines so they can carry people. It’s a way to conserve our heritage – these kinds of vehicles were popular here in the past, so we thought it would be a good way to promote tourism, using tuk-tuks.”
Ko Daeng ’s operation has a list of 17 destinations to choose among, and I pointed to the Tam Kong Yia Shrine.
Erected more than a century ago, the temple attracts worshipers seeking success and good health. In its foundation are sacred ashes and a cloth talisman that the founder brought with him from the Nine Dragons Temple in Huizhou, China, to protect him on the voyage to Siam.
The structure has some amazing craftsmanship that was carefully preserved during a 1953 renovation. Sunlight pours in through the open roof to illuminate statues of goddesses, lending the place a mystical atmosphere.
A few minutes’ drive away is Wat Kaphang Surin, designated a National Ancient Monument in 1999. Constructed in 1897 as Wat Kaphang, it was renamed in honour of esteemed local developer Phraya Surin Racha.
The original wood-and-cement ubosot reflects traditional southern architecture. Inside is a series of 100-year-old wood or metal figures depicting the Lord Buddha in different poses.
Sections of the ancient wall surrounding the old town have recently been decorated with three-dimensional paintings. There are scenes of the local life, rubber plantations and the Emerald Cave on Koh Mook, every one a magnet for selfie shooters.
At the Tha Klang intersection nearby, a string of old two-storey buildings are painted in pastel colours. At least there was some charm to the Portuguese colonial era, when the architecture became a hybrid of Chinese and European design and bright hues were the norm on exteriors.
But most of these buildings date to 1913, originally the homes of wealthy Chinese merchants. They also have in common narrow entrances, roofs open over a central courtyard and a shared arcade out front that offers passers-by shade and shelter. The houses at the corners of the block feature curving edges and diamond-shaped tiles on the roof.
Along Rama VI and Ratchadam- noen Roads is a shopping district that includes the town’s oldest hotel, the Jing Jing, recognised by the Associ- ation of Siamese Architects last year for its “valuable architecture”.
There’s also the celebrated Chinese pharmacy Yin Jiee Thong, home – along with its ancient medicines – to the original Trang grilled pork, made with local spices and herbs. Classic shophouses along the avenue are stocked with furniture, bicycles, apparel, cosmetics and much more.
Also striving to conserve local culture, a group called Trang Positive has the support of the Tourism Authority in hosting the annual “Yan Kao Ngao A-deed”. It comprises an art exhibition, student-orchestra performances and lively talks about, for example, the local cuisine. Visitors can learn how to make Tae Chew-style mee tiew, stewed chicken in red sauce and mor lao (deep-fried dumplings).
The splendid natural scenes outside town are perhaps best at Baan Khao Lak in Namphud district, where you can paddle a canoe along a canal. The community has set itself up as a model of sufficiency living and nature conservation.
Once finished their farm chores, the residents take visitors on four-kilometre canoe “cruises” amid cool forests and limestone bluffs sculpted by wind and water into interesting shapes. Back in the village you can learn how to make local desserts or a wicker souvenir.
“I started the project three years ago to help people earn extra income,” village head Sawat Khunnui tells us. “We take people trekking in a watershed forest or canoeing, and there will be also a home-stay programme. It’s all about conserving the environment. We set up a ‘waste bank’, too, and donate recycled material to a school.”
Another great place to visit is Baan Na Por, which has a factory full of skilled cutlers making knives, hoes and even swords from the leaf springs of old buses. Prawet Chitjan, 58, a fifth-generation member of a family of cutlers, runs the operation. Long ago he left home to get a city job, but in 1987 decided to return and do his part to salvage the local wisdom.
Artisans at Baan Na Por make knives that are in professional demand around the country.
The factory produces the 55-brand and Three Star knives popular with rubber tappers and farmers in the South and Northeast. The prices range from Bt160 to Bt650.
“We use crafting techniques that have been passed on from generation to generation for more than 100 years,” Uncle Prawet says. “We believe that two villagers – Nai Petch and Nai Kong – discovered one technique whereby ship spikes were turned into garden tools, and then the quality is enhanced through different designs and materials.
“Next, I’m building a museum to exhibit all the old types of agricultural tools and house a mock-up cutlery factory.”
Source - TheNation