The small and pleasantly unhurried provincial capital of TRAT, 68km southeast of Chanthaburi, is the perfect place to stock up on essentials, extend your visa, or simply take a break before striking out again. Most travellers who find themselves here are heading either for Ko Chang, via the nearby port at Laem Ngop, for the outer islands, or for Cambodia, via the border at Hat Lek, 91km southeast of town. But Trat itself has its own distinctive, if understated, old-Thailand charm and there are lots of welcoming guesthouses to tempt you into staying longer.
Though there are no real sights in Trat, the historic neighbourhood down by Khlong Trat, where you’ll find most of the guesthouses and traveller-oriented restaurants, is full of old wooden shophouses and narrow, atmospheric sois. The covered market in the heart of town is another fun place to wander. Out-of-town attractions that make enjoyable focuses for a leisurely cycle ride (ask at Cool Corner restaurant for detailed directions and other recommended routes) include the mangrove forest to the southeast near Dan Khao, and the ornate seventeenth-century Wat Buppharam, 2km west of Trat Department Store, and the nearby lake.
Trat is famous across Thailand for the yellow herbal oil mixture, yaa luang, invented by one of its residents, Mae Ang Ki, and used by Thais to treat many ailments: sniff it for travel sickness and blocked sinuses, or rub it on to relieve mosquito and sandfly bites, ease stomach cramps, or sterilize wounds. Ingredients include camphor and aloe vera. It’s well worth investing in a lip-gloss-sized bottle of the stuff before heading off to the sandfly-plagued islands; you can buy it for about B70 and upwards at Trat market and at nearby Tratosphere bookshop. There are now several imitations, but Mae Ang Ki’s original product has a tree logo to signify that it’s made by royal appointment.
Crossing the Cambodian border via Hat Lek
Many travellers use the Hat Lek–Koh Kong border crossing for overland travel into Cambodia. It’s best to arm yourself in advance with an e-visa for Cambodia and to make the journey by regular public transport, but it’s also possible to buy a package all the way through to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and to get a thirty-day visa on arrival at the border, though both of the latter options are more likely to open you up to possible scams.
The only way to get to Hat Lek under your own steam is by minibus from Trat bus station, 91km northwest. Hat Lek (on the Thai side) and Koh Kong (in Cambodia) are on opposite sides of the Dong Tong River estuary, but a bridge connects the two banks. Once through immigration, taxis ferry you into Koh Kong town for onward transport to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh or for guesthouses should you arrive too late for connections (mid-afternoon onwards). Vans, buses and share-taxis to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville take around 4–5hr.