Trat, some 20 km or so from the ferry piers, is the nearest large mainland town to Koh Chang and nowadays, as most tourists take transport from Bangkok straight to those ferries, they bypass it completely. However, given the departure times of the other boats to Koh Kood and Koh Mak and of course, the town’s proximity to Cambodia, others may well find themselves stopping for a night.
It is a busy provincial place in which not much happens and there’s not really that much to see, very ordinary in fact, changing for sure as a result of the tourist boom on the islands, but still content to go about its business in a somehow reassuringly humdrum way. Central to that normal everyday life are its two great markets and these are well worth making time to visit if you are in town for a day.
The indoor market is just along from the main guesthouse area on the high street, a large shabby building with a digital clock, a lethal when wet tiled concourse out front and little blue taxis (songthaews) lined up nearby trying to catch your eye for a private dash to the boats (200bt+).
Inside, the first part is a mass of closely packed stalls selling shoes, Thai clothes, plastic bits and pieces, kitchen utensils, toiletries, knives, pestles and mortars, anything and everything really, alongside incongruous bundles of little red onions and garlic bulbs, some lychees, longans and durians.
As you get further in, the market opens out into a food area, with lines of simple tables and plastic chairs, sided by tiny open kitchens, their extraction fans snaking up into the ceiling. This is a great spot for some cheap and cheerful lunch, maybe a noodle soup, a plate of boiled chicken on rice (khao man gai) or a stir fry. There are Issan style sticky rice and grilled pork counters as well and you can even order a fruit shake.
Don’t worry about mixing things up, nobody cares if you order one dish from them and another from somewhere else, they’ll bring it over. You’ll probably have to do a fair bit of pointing as there is next to no English spoken, but the food is good and fresh and this is as authentic as it comes.
At the bottom end lies the fresh produce section, fish, meat and a few vegetable stalls. The local ladies, sporting many a shade of welly boot, sit perched behind their white tiled counters chatting and shouting away to each other on the other aisles, all manner of interesting stuff laid out in front – grilled horseshoe crabs, toxic looking red jellyfish in buckets, baby octopi piled high, mackerel, tunny, shark, whatever came in early that morning on the fishing boats will wend its way here.
There are also some dried food stalls, fungi and nuts, shrimps and squid and crammed down one side, are the cooked duck and chicken stands, where you can order either half or whole for takeaway, with a few slices of cucumber and a bag of dipping sauce thrown in. They will hack it into manageable bits for you in nanosecond, a blur of cleaver on tamarind wood chopping board.
Here and there, you’ll also find a few khanoms (sweets), especially in the alleyway on the right side, tasty coconut puddings, jelly desserts and so on and there is a little used upstairs section to the market, with its staircase in the middle, where a few clothes stalls offer the odd bargain.
At the very bottom of the market, you emerge out on another street and lines of those blue songthaews waiting to transport the locals out into the surrounding countryside, their purchases crammed in and strapped on to every conceivable spare space . So that’s the indoor market, a proper slice of life in a Thai provincial town.
We’ll cover the night market, with its amazing Thai food in another blog soon.