NESTLED on Thailand’s southeastern corner bordering Cambodia and part of the Gulf of Thailand, Trat province is home to numerous and famous white-sand beaches like those in Moo Koh Chang National Park. The province used to be an essential stopover for sailors and fi shermen, but today it is the main hop-off point for tourists heading to Koh Chang, Koh Kood and Koh Mak. Very few travellers choose to stay more than one night in Trat itself, however, we had the opportunity to explore a beautiful hidden gem called Baan Laem Makham in Laem Ngob district. This small subdistrict is as rich with history as the surrounding mangroves forest are thick with foliage.
Dating back to the early 17th century in the reign of King Prasat Thong, the Trat province was formerly known as Muang Thung Yai, meaning the city of large fields. The town provided provisions to King Taksin before he moved his forces to Ayutthaya and successfully drove out the Burmese invaders and liberated, Thailand from foreign rule.
In the Rattanakosin era during the 1893 Paknam crisis, French troops occupied the western part of the Chanthaburi province. In 1904, the Siamese government surrendered Trat to French Indochina in order to regain Chanthaburi province. Years later, however, fi nding Trat hard to rule with its almost entirely Thai population, the French troops requested to exchange Trat for the areas along the Mekhong River, including Battambang, Siam Nakhon and Sisophon. A treaty was signed on March 23, 1906. For this reason, the locals came to think of March 23 as Trat’s very own independence day.
This 100-year-old community got its name from a combination of unique geographical features found in the area: the spear-like tipped stretches into the sea and giant tamarind trees are revered by the people.
Baan Laem Makham is one of the subdistricts found in the Laem Ngob district, which is famous for its signature, handmade hats known as lae. These are weaved from klum and are used to shield the wearer from sunlight or rain. This beautiful, handmade art has been passed on through generations over the years in Trat.
An education centre was erected to honour King Rama V’s deeds, especially in the freeing of the province of Trat from the French colonial power in 1906. The education centre was founded by a retired civil servant and a former director of Laem Ngob community school, Ajarn Sompoj Wasukri. He aims to utilise the centre to document and educate Thais and foreigners alike of His Majesty King Rama V’s travels and great deeds through a large collection of photographs and related items.
The collection holds over 200 photographs accompanied by handwritten descriptions of each photo tells a story about the challenges Thailand faced as a country during His Majesty King Rama V’s reign. The centre continues to serve students, communities and travellers free of charge.
The Next stop was Wat Laem Makham. The temple is also known for the exquisite wall paintings depicting the community’s history and stories related to the visit and deeds of His Majesty King Rama V.
Another must-visit local attraction is the To Wali, meaning, a kind elderly gentleman who came with the water. It is an important religious worshipping centre for the Muslims that reside in Wat Laem Makham, a Buddhist temple.
There are two legends regarding how To Wali came to be at Baan Laem Makham. One legend is of an older gentleman who travelled by boat. He drank the remaining rations of fresh water on the boat and the crew was angered by this. He then dipped his foot into the sea, however, and told the boat crew that the seawater was now freshwater, and it was so. The man then walked onto the water and disappeared.
Another legend is in the form of recurring dreams. A Thai-Muslim villager dreamt a man came and told him that he was the servant of God and was charged to help the people in the village. He was residing in a tree log behind Wat Laem Makham, and thevillager found the tree log and tried to take it back to his village. No matter how many times they tried, however, the ropes broke. In the end, the same entity came and told the villager just to let him be, and they lived happily ever after. Today, To Wali is found on the grounds of Wat Laem Makham. It is housed in a single-storey structure where people still stop by to pay their respect and ask for protection and good luck.
Travelling to Baan Laem Makham is straightforward despite its remote location. It takes approximately 4-5 hours to get from Bangkok to Trat from the Ekamai or Mo Chit. Once in Trat, visitors can take the Trat-Laem Ngob songthaew. The route will take visitors through Baan Laem Makham. In-depth exploration of these local communities is now possible with the help of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and their Village Tourism 4.0 initiative, which offers local tourism excursions in ten different communities across Thailand.