I had never heard anything about Trat, and I never intended to stay there.

All indications were that this town in southeastern Thailand was just a transit point on the way to Cambodia or the Koh Chang Archipelago. I did a few web searches on Trat and found… not a whole lot. Just a few mentions and only the barest of travel guides. I concluded that it must be just some dull commercial hub along the Highway 3 — a place to catch your next bus and not much else.

And so my plan was to arrive in Trat and catch a speedboat to the island of Koh Kood straight away. But I missed the boat, forcing me to stay in what I thought would surely be a forgettable place.

Maybe it was my low expectations, but I loved my stay in Trat!

With no reservation in hand, it took me just a minute to find some accommodation, as I immediately spotted a “rooms available” sign outside Orchid Restaurant. While the restaurant looked a tad shabby, it had a lovely garden with hammocks at the back with a few bright wood-paneled guest rooms. I paid just 150 Baht (or $4.50) for the night.

I went out to explore together with two other travelers I had already met in Cambodia. We took a stroll around Wat Phai Lom, a lovely Buddhist temple surrounded by a few ponds filled with large catfish. Some locals came here for a walk or a run, while monks quietly tended to the park.

We then weaved through Trat’s small warren of narrow streets lined with traditional wooden houses. It was great just taking in the quiet street life here. At a small dojo, a short skinny girl was kicking the living shit out of an innocent punching bag. (And if you feel an urge to do the same, you can sign up for 2-hour Muay Thai kickboxing lessons.)

Sprinkled throughout the neighborhood were just a handful of guesthouses. Among these was the intriguing Artist’s Place [Booking.com, Agoda] where each space was decorated in creative ways. Among the little touches were bathroom sinks made from old repurposed woks. We ate opposite at Pier 112, a restaurant with a funky and fairy-lights-filled garden offering traditional Thai and vegetarian options.

It was a pity I was only staying here for one night. The next morning I spent my remaining time wandering the local market, which was a riot of color and abuzz with activity. Unlike a few markets I’ve been to in Bangkok, there were no touts nor any signs saying “no photos please”. Bliss.

Maybe Trat might be dull to some. I’ll admit the most exciting things you could do here are probably to have a wander around town and do a bit of kayaking on the river. But there are no big resorts here, no go-go bars, no backpacker tours, no falang pricing. It’s just a town with some good food, some cheap and nice places to stay, and plenty of local atmosphere. And that just hit the spot for me.

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