The Trat shops reflect the town’s interests. It used to be all hardware stores, practical places, much like a provincial town anywhere except for the additional focus on food. Businesses from the island could buy excellent local produce from here, but for a long time sellers remained impervious to the more international style requirements of the tourists, those they seemed to say, have to be bought from elsewhere. Over time, however, this has gradually – perhaps inevitably – changed.
Small brand boutiques started springing up. A store selling gifts to offer in the temples is now sandwiched between a wine gallery and a shop with stylish children’s clothes and toys – at stylishly expensive prices. A couple of big superstores have opened on the edge of town catering both to the change in tastes of the locals and satisfying the business owners from the islands with the predictable downside consequence – the closure of the sleepy department store that seemed unable to adapt.
But maybe the change that is the most intriguing is in a small corner of Trat where the artists have arrived. Suddenly, there are murals on the walls and small cafes have appeared, serving real coffee from the north of Thailand rather than the ubiquitous three-in-one instant sachets and the food, which was always good, is now well presented too. Meanwhile, some of the old wooden fronted shophouses are in the process of being renovated, probably into more accommodation, perhaps into more business for their guests.
A friend subscribes to the theory that wherever artists go, they start a trend, others follow and suddenly the area changes. We can’t be sure if that is the case here, but we will watch with interest.