The city of Trang is not a tourist destination, but it does have some attractions.
Our first excursion is to the Botanical Garden, just outside the city. I know nothing of botany, but this is a lovely place to just walk in the forest among great trees and greenery. A three-level catwalk, with stairways built into pagoda-like towers, provides access to the canopy.
At this point, it’s interesting to note how differently Esso and I enjoy this experience. When I am on the catwalk, I lose myself in admiration for the forest. Esso loves nothing more than to pose and take selfies, treating the path as a fashion-show runway. This might seem to suggest that we were incompatible. Fortunately, both of us have learned to be non-judgmental enough to make our divergent tastes a feature, not a bug, in our relationship.
The next day we want to go farther afield, so we hire a driver. (On paper, renting a car would be marginally cheaper, but more hassle—not worth it).
During our week on the island, we did not visit or even see any temples. The people in this area are mostly Muslim, so perhaps the little, unadorned mosque we saw is all they need there. But now we are in town, and Esso likes to go to temples, so that’s our first stop.
Our driver stops at a temple in the city. It’s Chinese-style Buddhist, with many brightly-colored statues (rather than the one dominant, golden Buddha favored by the Theravada Buddhists). The place is crowded with locals busy lighting candles, placing incense sticks in front of various icons, praying. It’s more like a big-box store on a sale day than my idea of a spiritual experience. Esso follows the driver and gets in line to do all the conventional devotions; I wait outside. When I go to a temple, I explain, it’s for quiet contemplation, and maybe art and nature. They understand, but are ready to go on to the next tourist attraction. I’m not so easily satisfied. As we drive north through the suburbs, I look up a secluded mountain temple in the guidebook; ask the driver to find it. It’s very close by.
We park in a wooded area at the foot of a cliff; a stone stairway leads up the side. Halfway up the 120 steps, I hear a deep gong. A voice comes over speakers nearby, chanting a sutra. This is more like it, I think.
At the top, we are in another world. The big golden Buddha is at the center of a narrow flat; the chanting monk is holding a microphone, sitting in front of the statue. Not a time for welcoming tourists, but I poke around while trying not to disturb the gathered monks and acolytes.
The statuary here is truly unique. Theravada temples often have snakes (Naga), or elephants, but this place has gone wild with animal images. Golden parrots, rabbits, even bears are scattered around the temple site. Did Buddha teach the Dharma to bears? Well, yes, according to this… but not what I expected to find in the south of Thailand!
Next stop, Le Khao Kob cave. Before we get to the dazzling interior, there’s the gate guarded some mysterious, mythical(?) birds–another new animal image for me.
Now, the unique feature of this cave is that we travel the whole way by water. We get into a little canoe, with our guide (speaking Thai) in the back, and another paddler in the prow. The forward man leans over the prow and paddles from the front–a clearly inefficient and uncomfortable ergonomic arrangement. The need for this will be evident later. Meanwhile, the trip down the stream is lovely–and another dramatic cave entrance.
The interior is not vast, but quite lovely, and tastefully lit.
Take your time enjoying these photos.
But where the stream leaves the cave, thats the tricky part. We are instructed to lie down flat in the bottom of the boat, as the walls and ceiling close in. The guide continues chatting casually (to my ear, annoyingly), and the boat moves along at a good clip, a meter or two per second. That doesn’t sound like much, but try it with a wall of jagged rocks flashing by in front of your face, at a distance of just inches. At times it seems even closer, and I am terrified that the rocks are about to tear off my face. This goes on for what seems like an eternity (perhaps 4 minutes). Another intense rite of passage. Sorry, I didn’t think to run the video!
The last stop on our wish list is the Rajamangala Trang Aquarium. Since this is an important fishing region, the government sponsors this museum, more as an educational facility than a tourist attraction. I didn’t expect much, since I have been to some of the great aquariums of the world (in Monterey, California, and Lisbon), and this is much smaller. (Even the aquarium at the Chiang Mai Zoo is bigger than this). Still, here I find another new and unfamiliar world of creatures I haven’t seen before, in very nice exhibits.
Of course, the aquarium is located on the coast, so it’s an easy hop to the local beach. In case you forgot what Andaman beaches look like. And the water is clean and warm, although we don’t go in to swim.