The handsome Trat Museum has a lot of interesting stories to tell
Trat province in Thailand’s far east is so packed with attractions – led by sunbaked Koh Chang, the country’s second-largest island – that its slogan ends up being quite a mouthful. Trat wants tourists to know that it’s “The Land of Fifty Islands, Precious Rubies, Sweet Zalaccas, Good Ridgeback Dogs, Marine Battle of Koh Chang and the End of the East”.
Missing in that jumble of superlatives is Trat Museum, which can supposedly be surveyed in an hour or less and yet manages to cover a surprisingly rich local history.
Rungrote “Neng” Swangkarn, a museum assistant, is ready to take visitors on a guided tour through those remarkable stories, touching on warfare, the fine arts, native lore and ethnic culture. He explains all of it quite well.
The first bit of history Rungrote relates is that of the colonial-style building housing the museum. It was erected in 1922 to serve as Trat municipality’s town hall – all handsome wood, sitting on concrete pillars, with a roof missing the customary gable. It was registered in 1996 as an “ancient” monument and national treasure – and almost destroyed in a 2004 fire.
The municipality got to work the following year restoring it. The Culture Ministry’s Department of Fine Arts allocated Bt16 million for reconstruction and landscaping, which was completed in 2006. And the next year, the department designated the structure as a provincial museum.
The Office of National Museums handled the exhibits from 2010 to 2012 on a Bt19-million budget and then management was transferred to the municipality so it could become a learning centre focused on local natural and cultural heritage.
“Residents and tourists come here to learn about the province and they can get a pretty good understanding in just 45 minutes to an hour,” Rungrote says.
The museum has six areas – Natural and Cultural Resources, Ethnic Groups, Archaeological Artefacts from Prehistory to the Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Rattanakosin Eras, Important Moments and Events during the Reign of King Rama V, The Marine Battle of Koh Chang between Thailand and France, and Displays of Trade Market in the Past and Present.
That hefty provincial slogan is posted on a wall near the entrance. Reading it uses up much of the promised 45 minutes’ browsing time. There’s that naval battle again, and rubies of course, but what about the good (meaning high-quality) ridgeback dogs?
Rungrote is there to defend all the claims. There are indeed 52 islands and lots of outstanding local products, he says. The rubies from Bo Rai district are stunning, and the sweet zalacca (salacca) fruit of the palm tree, harvested every May and June, is delectable.
Trat boasts a breeding centre for the classic Thai ridgeback dog, identifiable by its wedge-shaped head, triangular pricked-up ears, short, smooth coat and a tail either straight as a sword or curled like a sickle. The breed was once largely unknown outside Thailand.
One locally bred animal can fetch Bt10,000 or more, says Rungrote.
Looking forward to naval combat, we begin the tour by watching a video about the province whose chief intention seems to be making it clear that the “Siamese ruby” originates in Trat, not Chanthaburi, which is merely a large market for the rubies.
That settled, we move on to see a picture of Chao Chom Mother Jan, the Trat native who was King Rama IV’s first concubine and nurse to the baby who would become Rama V.
Rungrote informs us that 131 families descend from the monarchs from Rama I to V, and that Trat has firm ties to two of them – the Kasemsri and Suksawat clans. “It’s a matter of great pride here,” he says.
Another vintage photo depicts the province’s first petrol station, and still others show the grandmother of yet another famous child of Trat – entertainer Suthipong “Chompoo Fruity” Wattanajang.
Trat’s ethnic minorities are in the spotlight next. Among them are the Tai, who arrived here during the Ayutthaya Period, various Chinese groups immigrating in the Thonburi Period, and the Chong of Mon-Khmer derivation.
The Cham are Muslim Khmer who originally fled Cambodia during the reign of Rama III and form the majority population in Ban Nam Chieo, where there’s a 200-year-old mosque, the Masjid AlQubra.
From much further back in history, there’s a bronze-sheathed kettle-drum that’s somewhere between 1,900 and 2,700 years old.
Rungrote says 47 of these percussion instruments have been unearthed in Thailand and three of them in Trat, on land belonging to local farmer Samoe Imthasan.
“The drums all have different faces, depicting the sun if they were used in worshipping nature, a frog or an elephant for rain rituals, a boat for funerals, or a human wearing a crown for certain celebrations.
“We also have stone axes that were made 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. There was an old belief that if a fighting cock drank water from the blade of a stone axe, it was sure to win.”
Such lore in interesting stuff for visitors. Rungrote says Trat has a population of just 240,000, but last year attracted more than two million tourists. They surely have no problem finding interesting attractions around the province, but the locals have apparently struggled to stay amused.
“Trat hasn’t had much in the way of popular entertainment places since the cinema scene collapsed when everyone started watching videos at home,” he says. “After that, we’d often spend a lot of money just to go to Chanthaburi and see a film at the cinema.
“But we do have one of our own again now, called the Kantana Café,” he chuckles. “It’s got 72 seats.”
- Dual pricing, still just Bt30
- The Trat Museum is on Suntisuk Road in Bang Phra in Mueang district.
- It’s open daily except Monday from 9am to 4pm.
- Admission is Bt30 for foreigners and Bt10 for Thais.
- More information, please visit www.TourismThailand.org