I never see Trat as any more than a hop off point to Koh Chang National Park islands (and a place we got stuck in with absolutely nothing to do for an extra night because we didn’t buy our return tickets in advanced). But to my surprise, there are so much more to Trat than that. I was able to experience a piece of Trat in ways I never know before, and I have to tell you that the province is, indeed, a treasure trove of eco and cultural tourism waiting to be discovered.
Unfortunately, the trip started very early, before sun up early. The pick up was a few minutes after 5am. (Yes, you read that right.) Anyway, the drive took over four hours, and we finally reached our first destination, the community center of Baan Laem Makham, a small sub-district of Laem Ngob, Trat province.
As to be expected of a small community, the community center comprises of a cluster of buildings of cement and wood with a multi-purpose area to hold events, meetings and other activities. Today is acting as our meeting point, a showcase of the local handmade goods and a cafeteria. We were greeted with the much-needed and generous amount of breakfast. I was so grateful because I was hungry that I forgot to take pictures of the food (sorry).
Baan Laem Makham is a small sub-district of Laem Ngob district, Trat province. Baan Laem Makham got its name from a combination of two things. Laem means the pointy or sharp point which refers to the dagger-like shape of the area stretching out into the Gulf of Thailand. Makham refers to the giant tamarind tree revered by the community as having powerful protective spirit residing in the tree.
Aside from the cultural tourism opportunity in the area, Baan Laem Makham also offers an eco-tourism through the local mangrove forests. The lush mangrove is not only a lifeline to the people in the community but also home to an array of wildlife in the area.
The day wasn’t hot at all, as a matter of fact, it hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived. Fortunately, the rain eased up when we were climbing onto the boats that will take us through the mangrove forests. After a short struggle to pile everyone onto three separate boats, we were snaking through the lush mangrove forests, and soon enough, I was lost in the calm beauty of it all. Certainly was a refreshing change from being in the concrete jungle of Bangkok.
It took us about 30 minutes before we finally reached the point where the mangrove forests end and the Gulf of Thailand begins. We were greeted by local white neck hawks and some egrets circled overhead while troops of monkeys patrolled the edge of the mangrove forests.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t dive for shells today because it has been raining so hard that the water level was too high. So, no one gets to play in the water today.
Next, we visited the education center established by Ajarn Sompoj Wasukri, a former director of Laem Ngob Community School who has turned a part of his own home into an education center documenting numerous travel stories and images of King Rama V. The education center opens daily for free of charge.
Another location we went to was the community’s Buddhist temple, Wat Laem Makham. This temple is famous in the area due to the exquisite murals inside depicting numerous travelling stories of King Rama V.
During the Paknam crisis in 1893, French troops occupied the western part of the Chanthaburi province. The Siamese government surrendered Trat province to French Indochina to regain Chanthaburi province in 1904, but years later the French troops requested to exchange Trat for the areas along the Mekhong River (Battambang, Siam Nakhon and SIsophon) and the treaty was signed on March 23, 1906. The locals dubbed March 23rd as Trat’s Independence day.
Other must-visit local attractions include the To Wali (meaning, a kind elderly gentleman who came with the water). This is an important religious center for the Muslims. The To Wali is, oddly enough, residing in Wat Laem Makham, a Buddhist temple.
The legends of To Wali
The first legend is an old gentleman who was traveling on a boat. He finished the fresh water rations on the boat, and this incensed the crew and other passengers. He then dipped his foot into the sea and told the people that the seawater was now fresh and it was so. The man then walked into the water and disappeared into the mangrove forests.
Another legend talks of a Thai-Muslim villager who had recurring dreams of a man. This man told the villager that he was the servant of God in charge of helping the villagers. He was residing in a log behind Wat Laem Makham. The man finally went on the search and found this said log and tried to drag it to his village, but his attempts were unsuccessful. The man visited him in his dream again, told him to leave him be. This is where he needs to reside, and the villagers will live happily forever.
Today, To Wali is housed in a single-store structure on the grounds of Wat Laem Makham where people can come to pay their respects.
Baan Laem Makham is home to lush, green mangrove forests the local community depends heavily on. The district offers daily tours on long-tail boats with grumpy-looking grandpa drivers. (Just wait till he started drifting around the bends, and you’ll know what I mean.) Also on the schedule is shells and clams digging where all travelers can jump into the water and search for clams. The clams will then be cooked and enjoyed for dinner, so it is wise to pack an extra set of clothes for the clams hunting activity.
Despite its remote location, traveling to Baan Laem Makham is not difficult. You can take the vans from the Ekamai, Mochit or Victory Monument terminals to Trat. These vans leave daily, and it takes about 4-5 hours from Bangkok to Trat. And once in Trat, take the songthaew marked Trat-Laem Ngob. The route will take you through Baan Laem Makham. Don’t forget to tell the drivers where you’re going because you might just miss it.
The exploration of these local communities is possible with the promotion and help of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The Village Tourism 4.0 initiative offers local tourism excursions in ten different communities across Thailand.