Moving south through Thailand most people go only to the beach. But we are not most people! So we stopped at some smaller towns slightly inland on our way down – Krabi Town, Trang and Satun.
History | “Krabi” is most often associated with the beach area including Ao Nang and the popular Railway, but believe it or not (believe it!) there is a town inland from these waterfront hotspots. Although not particularly charming (nothing compared to quaint Phuket Town), Krabi Town is particularly significant in historical terms. The internet states it’s an area with the oldest history of continued settlement in all of Thailand, was previously called Ban Thai Samor in ancient times (since 1,200), and was one of twelve Thai royal cities. The monkey was the town’s symbol and elephants formerly roamed free. Krabi Town was also the site of a famous elephant enclosure, or kraal, which supplied elephants to surrunding towns.
Visiting | Krabi Town is OK. Some imposing neanderthal-looking metal statues atop lamp posts line the main road, which is full of pharmacies and shops. At center a small market with extremely cheap prices on delicious snacks — especially compared to the egregious prices at the tourist towns nearby. There is a waterfront area but it’s a bit on the gross side, and frequented by rogue dogs who have rabies (probably) and may attempt to bite you during your morning run.
I arrived without accommodation or a plan so I wandered around aimlessly for a bit. Thinking a cafe was lodging, I entered with my bags. “This is a cafe,” they said, and gestured in a general direction of a hostel. There was only a single guy in the entire 12-bed dorm, so naturally I became convinced he was dangerous. Turns out he was not; he just played video games on his computer. A few hours were all I needed to explore, and after a wander I jumped into a songthew for the bus station. I was joinsed by an overzealous couple from the UK who asked me many quetions, ranging from how much the ride should cost (50baht, or less), to where the zoo was (I don’t know; it seems questionable), to how much my backpack weighed (16 kilos).
History | Trang, located in southern Thailand, is a former port that was important to foreign trade and – more interestingly – the first place in Thailand rubber was made (1899)! The name is derived from the word “terang” (Malay) meaning light, a nod to the ships arriving in the port in early morning. The town reportedly has existed for 900 years, was previously part of the Malay Sultanite of Kedah, and is one of 12 such “satellite” towns.
Visiting | Trang felt local, and I mean local! There are few foreign tourists, and the streets are gritty as they are uneven. I took a falling apart van to Trang from Krabi Town, where a sanitary box containing a live chicken was placed on my bag. Upon arrival I boarded the blue bus downtown and asked a lady in the road for directions. She was super nice and gave some vague directions accompanied by wild arm motions, which I attempted to follow. 40 minutes later I’m covered in sweat – and water (it’s raining) – my flip flops falling off, people staring at me and I’m wandering deep within a local market with my bags. Navigational error.
I eventually made it and reunited with my sister. We attempted to eat but, alas, most places were closed except one Western place teeming with the town’s only tourists. We rejected this immidiately and wound up at a local stall of halal food. In the morning our hostel host took some staged photos of us standing next to planters.
History | Saturn was a stop off for us en route to Langkawi (Malaysia), and it actaully used to be part of Malaysia’s Kedah state falling under the Sultanite until 1916. It is one of the four provinces of Thailand that is majority Muslim (70%; only about 30% Thai Buddhists), which makes sense given its proximity to Malaysia. In this part of the country Muslims commonly intermarry with Thai Buddhists, creating a social group called samsam (mixed person). The area is apparently, refreshingly devoid of the contention that often accompanies mixing religions and politics. Satun is a small town, boasting crops of rice, rubber, and coconuts supplemented by a bit of lumber and tin mining.
Visiting | We opted to DIY to Langkawi as it was cheaper than “arranged transport,” so we had a few hours until our ferry – the time online did not match time posted, shocking – to explore Satun. Another place mostly devoid of foreigners the town was pretty standard, although we saw some a strange birding event where men respond to a whistle then hurriedly wrote talley marks on white papers posted up in front of wooden bird cages.
We choose a friendly-looking spot for lunch, at which time we experienced a hard swindle when the waitress attempted to charge 10 baht more each for our meals. Naturally we requested to view the menu, pointed to the proper price (we always always ask or check the price pre-order), and inquired. Her face said it all; she tried to pretend to be surprised and feign she made a mistake, but it was clearly intentional. This, in addition to the spices in our food, left a bad taste in our mouth.
Overall people in the streets were very friendly and pleasent, though. And before heading out we attempted to change money in a local bank. At this time we were rejected from making a transaction and I spilled a paper cup of water all over my body and onto the bank floor.
Back at the pier, we were approached by a large group of university students who wanted to conduct the standard, video-recorded interviews with us to “practice English.”