Tag - speedboat

Trat, Thailand

Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand

Located 315 kilometres from Bangkok, Trat is a small province to the very east of Thailand near the Cambodian border. Many travellers stop in the province capital town of Trat on their way to one of the surrounding islands and beaches. Indeed, Trat Province contains over fifty islands of various sizes and popularity, all of them featuring long, white sandy beaches and amazingly colourful coral.

There are regular buses to Trat from many parts of Thailand, and a direct journey from Bangkok should take 5-6 hours.

Particularly of interest to visitors is the immensely beautiful island of Koh Chang, part of the Mu Chang Marine National Park and the smaller but no less attractive Koh Kood. There are both regular ferry and speedboat services to the surrounding islands, and both Koh Chang and Koh Kood can be reached in an hour or less.

The smaller and less visited islands of Koh Kham, Koh Mak and Koh Phi can also be found in Trat Province. These islands are all exceptionally beautiful, although somewhat less developed, and make a good option for those who want to slow down a pace or two and simply relax on the beach.

But the town of Trat itself, although often neglected by travellers, has many interesting features and is definitely worth a second look. Trat is most famous for its gemstone mining and trading, and many a good bargain can be picked up at one of the town’s gem stores. There are also some excellent restaurants in the town, serving fresh seafood expertly cooked in a range of Thai and Western styles.

Trat’s vibrant night market is a good place to pick up a bargain and get a good, cheap meal cooked in the local style, and whilst in the town you can pay a visit to the pretty temple of Wat Plai Khlong.

In addition to the islands, there are a multitude of beaches with pristine stretches of sand just a stone’s throw away from the town. Amongst the best are Hat Sai Si Ngoen (Silver Sand Beach), Hat Sai Kaew (Crystal Sand Beach), Hat Thap Thim and Hat Ban Cheun, while Hat Ban Cheun is located at the southernmost part of Trat.

A good way to pass a day or two is to hire a motorcycle and visit each of the beaches in turn. Of course, snorkeling and scuba diving are readily available at all the area’s islands and beaches. Another good way to get an idea of the vastness and beauty of the area is to go on a boat trip.

Rayong, Thailand

Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand

Rayong is a pretty province which contains a whole host of interesting islands and beaches where you can escape the frantic pace of the city and unwind while catching the sun and dining on delicious seafood as you watch the sun set. The province contains over 100 kilometres of coastline to explore and is easily reachable in just a few hours by bus from Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus terminal.

There are many popular tourist destinations in the province, including Koh Samet, Koh Mun and Koh Kodi. All of these islands feature stretches of golden sand, beach bars and a variety of western and Thai food.

Naturally, snorkeling and scuba diving are major activities in this province, whilst many people like to go on a boat tour of the islands. Other smaller sun kissed islands which are just waiting to be explored include Koh Man Klang, Koh Man Nok and the often overlooked Koh Man Nai.

While in the area, pay a visit to the Khao Chamao/Khao Wong National Park. Here you will find several pretty waterfalls where you can swim amongst the fish, as well as seeing tigers, wild elephants and bears.

Nearby is the Rayong Turtle Conservation Centre, which cares for the area’s endangered sea turtles with a view to releasing them back into the wild. You can learn more about the now rare and beautiful turtles at the visitors’ centre, which contains pictures of the turtles and shells from their eggs.

Suan Son ‘Pine Park’ is situated just 5 kilometers from the pretty port of Ban Phe. This is a great place to spend a couple of hours walking when you need a break from the beach. Incidentally, Ban Phe is the port from which to catch the ferry to the large and beautiful island of Koh Samet.

11 kilometers east at Suan Wang Keaw you will find yet more sandy beaches and the island of Koh Thalu, which is particularly good for diving as the waters are home to some pretty colourful coral and shoals of exotic fish. This is also a great place to hang out if you happen to arrive on the weekend and want to avoid the crowds that tend to congregate on many of the other islands and beaches at the end of the working week

The province’s main industry is fishing, and a good way to start the day is to get up early and walk along the beach, where you will see the fishermen spreading their freshly caught fish, sparkling and shimmering on the sand.

Slowly Down the Mekong

Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong

In Southeast Asia, smug backpackers parade their Laotian transport horror stories like war medals. Mention Laos to a group of travelers and you will no doubt be entertained by a playful one-upmanship, with stories of buses catching on fire, boats capsizing, innocent tourists becoming unwitting drug mules. Each survivor’s tale is a testimony to their own fearlessness. Now I’m no backpacker princess, I’ve endured my share of spiders in the bed and pickpockets in the markets. But even in the adventurous travel game, the risk of injury sends me clutching my first aid kid like a baby blanket. This cautiousness was tested when I crossed the Thai-Laotian border into Huay Xai, a tiny border town that people enter in order to leave again. Here, the travel options were a spine-rattling bus, a deafening speedboat, or 2 full days on a longtail slowboat. And so I signed on for a two-day slowboat down the Mekong, from Huay Xai to the reputedly charming Luang Prabang. For better or worse, it would provide an up-close introduction to Laos.
Day One

My fellow boaters and I have stuffed the vessel with enough baguette sandwiches, Pringles, and water bottles to last us days. Also aboard are every model of ipod, ipod nano, and mp3 player possible, six copies of The DaVinci Code (in six different languages), and two dozen Lonely Planet books. Armed and ready, we set off down the river.

The land around the Mekong is mostly unspoilt, with a few sparse hilltops that are clear-cut for local farming. It’s a peaceful change from the hustle of Thailand, seeing the countryside unfold at each bend in the lazy river. With an economy dependent on agriculture and a topography where arable land is sparse, the land surrounding the Mekong accounts for a good portion of Laos’ rice production. This is a staple of the Laotian diet as well as its economy, and in a country with limited roads and no railways, the river is a hub of transport. And yet, while the Mekong is a hub of sustenance for the country, today the waters are calm and the scenery is tranquil.

The boat stops on a sandy bank and local children bustle on board, their arms full and voices loud. Cold soft drinks, Beerlao and water; cigarettes, cookies, and potato chips, and the odd bag of pineapple, are all for sale by the quick and persistent children, whose fearless vending tactics make them tiny, pushy adults. I start to wonder what poor impressions the Laotians have of a Western diet. Apparently, they have been led to believe none of us.

Biscuits and snacks are passed around as we sail on. I barely notice the darkening sky as we dock in Pakbeng, a tiny riverside town ripe with English-speaking vendors and foodstalls stocked with more Western goods. At the rickety wooden dock, the whole street seems uniquely catered to

slowboating tourists on their evening stopover. The slow parade of backpack-laden figures spills into town, everyone happy to be up and moving after a long day of sitting on wooden benches. Back at my hotel, other slowboaters sit drinking beers at the open-air restaurant. The hustling noise of the town, vendors yelling, dogs barking, old cars coughing, makes me eager to be back on the calm river again.
 
Day Two
 
In the morning, there’s camaraderie on the boat as cheerful but weary travelers compare guesthouse notes (mine had Indiana Jones bedsheets, but only a trickle of cold water in the shower) . My hunch to arrive early proved correct – there are limited cushions on the seats today, but my boatmates are getting creative with sleeping bags, towels, and sweaters. No one comes onto the boat today to sell snacks. Instead, we are all are quietly occupied with books, diaries, and card games. Some people are at the back, cold bottles of Beerlao in hand, chattering in that good-humoured way that large beers allow.
 
Two days on the Mekong is a vivid introduction to Laos, in terms of scenery but also character. Here, the pace is steady but relaxed, the breeze cooling, the landscape fantastically unspoilt. Apart from the splash of the boat’s wake, and the occasional tinny Jack Johnson tune from a backpacker’s ipod, the only noise comes from the odd roaring speedboat, splitting the calm. Their racket confirms our thoughts: to roar speeding through Laos would be all wrong. Go crashing through a country and you’ll miss the fine details; the mountain goats on clifftop, the thatched huts dotting mountain peaks, the clusters of children splashing and waving on the riverbank.
 
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.