Introduction thanks to the Bangkok post
Lying humbly on the Andaman coast, Trang the Town of the Dawn, may not compete with charming worldwide-known attractions like those found in Phuket, but it has a small collection of the same interesting hidden treasures worth dropping by for a short visit to see.
Apart from charmingly beautiful scenery like its white sandy beaches and the nearby lovely islands in the Trang Sea, its unique Trang breakfast, the celebrated vegetarian festival and being the hometown of Chuan Leekpai, the present premier of Thailand, Trang has much more to offer.
Located on the same line of historical settlements as Krabi, Phang-nga, Phuket and Ranong, Trang shares the same traditions and heritage. In the early Ratanakosin period, Kantang, which is now one of the six districts of the province, served as the main port of the Penang-Phuket land route. There were two main routes of transportation for these five coastal towns at that time: the land route and the sea route. Kantang used to be one of the main seaports of the south and for this reason Kantang was the capital of the province for many years. Legend has it that ships from other countries always landed at Kantang port at dawn, explaining how Trang got its name. Trang is derived from a Malaysian word meaning dawn
Kantang, a district some 28 kilometres from Muang district, is where the Sino-Portuguese architectural heritage, like the shophouses in Pang-nga and Phuket, can still be seen. Another place which possesses the same period structure is Muang district. It’s believed the first shophouses to be built in the province are those in Kantang. And most of them are still in use by the descendants of the first proprietors.
All of the historic shophouses in Muang district except for three are still used as shops. The others serve as a Chinese association founded by the first Chinese pioneers to Trang. These buildings are open daily to members of the public who are welcome to step in and help themselves to copies of Chinese-language newspapers or to just have a chat. One shophouse has just been newly renovated to restore it to its former glory. The couple living there said it cost a large sum of money to restore the look. Perhaps this is the reason why other houses look a bit disheviled.
Along with the Sino-Portugese shophouses, there is another kind of residential building, the pan-ya house. This is a single house on a piece of land in a greenery, normally owned by a rubber plantation owner. The house itself is very close to or facing the road and is composed of two main sections: the front and the rear. The front normally has two floors. The first floor is again divided into two parts, the exterior part which opens out into the front yard and the interior part which is divided by a big wooden door. Behind the main door is only one big open room with a high ceiling functioning as a family room or living or drawing room. The second floor is where the bedrooms of the family are. This section is joined to the rear, where the kitchen and the dining area are, by a roofed-passage. Very close to the roof, above the cooking unit and the dining area, is the storage compartment for dried rubber sheets waiting to go to market. The brown translucent sheets are hung on bamboo rods resting between the beams.
Around the house are various kinds of domestic plants, normally for household consumption, such as fruit trees, herbal plants or certain kinds of flowers. However, quite often the products are sold in surplus seasons. One kind of fruit tree, prevalent in bygone days but rare nowadays and native only to these five provinces, is the luk chan or the nutmeg tree. Many parts of the plant such as the nut or the seed, the membrane around the seed, and the male flowers are used as spices. The flesh which tastes sour with a mixture of tartness, bitterness and dryness can be eaten fresh with or without a little help of salt and sugar, but tastes best when preserved in heavy syrup and then dried. Only the latter use, though, is enjoyed widely among southerners. Two to three decades ago, during Chinese New Year celebrations, nearly every family would exchange preserved nutmeg fruits in heavy syrup along with other festive presents. The delicacy would be specially carved, engraved or cut out in many beautiful and fancy designs, mostly as flowers with many layers of pedals. Nowadays the dried preserved recipe in handy plastic bags is most commonly seen.
Trang offers several beautiful beaches and islands in the Trang Sea, some 30 kilometres away. There is a variety of accommodations available, from modest Chinese-style hotels up to starred hotels. Several good modern restaurants can be found along with Chinese shophouse-style restaurants. And special to Trang only, open both in the morning and in the evening, are the Chinese-style coffee shops where a vast variety of dim-sum is served with tea or coffee together with hot-from-the-wok pa-tong-goh (Chinese fried doughnut).