2022/23 Trat FC v Samut Prakan
Another perfect chance for a football road trip
(I wonder if the Trat FC coffee shop is still there?)
You've done this before?
Yes, this will be my second visit to Trat's provincial stadium. Samut Prakan last played there on December 19th 2020 (the season Trat FC were relegated). Those were the days when Tun was still a working woman so I made the long journey on my own. I remember a sleepy little town, a fine hotel and one of the best first half performances I've ever seen from a Samut Prakan team, running out 4-0 winners with all the goals coming in that first period.
What's the plan this time?
It's the perfect opportunity for another football road trip so we'll head down a day early and break up the journey in Chantaburi (one of our favourite Thai towns), then spend a couple of days in Trat Province where Tun has a list of places to tick off and of course take in the football match, and finally, on the way back home we'll stop off in Sattahip (a town neither of us has been to but has found its way on to the tourist trail)
A little bit of club background?
The White Elephants were formed as recently as 2012 and after starting life in the regional leagues, earned promotion to the second division in their very first season. They reached the dizzy heights of the Thai Premier League in 2019 and had a decent inaugural campaign, finishing 10th in the table and reaching the quarter finals of the FA Cup. They were then relegated the season after.
Trat FC play their home games at the 6,000 capacity Trat Provincial Stadium and it's certainly one of the better match day experiences for an away fan. I found the stadium to be far nicer up close and personal than it looks on TV and the covered away zone provides a pretty decent view.
(I look at that Samut Prakan team from the last time we played Trat FC and can't quite believe we had a squad of such quality)
How are Trat FC doing this season?
Well, last season Trat led the second division table for months on end and looked nailed on as champions. However, they suffered a horrific loss of form during the run-in, finished third in the table and just missed out on automatic promotion. They then failed to achieve promotion via the play offs. Any hopes of a repeat performance this season have been well and truly scuppered after winning just three of their 13 games so far. They now look a distinctly mid-table side at best.
Who plays for them?
The veteran Brazilian strike partnership of Valdo and Sales have been knocking in most of the goals; both 34 years old and both been around the Thai league for a number of years.
Pornpreecha Jarunai, the 36-year old captain, is one of my favourite players in Thai football. The pocket-size midfield dynamo is always a good watch with his no-nonsense, in-your-face style of play. He played for Samut Prakan United (I'm not even sure if they're still around) almost a decade ago and is still fondly remembered.
Journey to Chantaburi and digs
It took us around five hours to get to Chantaburi but that included a generous stop for lunch and a quick look at the Chedi Klang Nam Viewpoint (a wooden bridge with views across the bay). We would've stayed longer down on the coast but the heavens opened shortly after we arrived so we decided to push on to Chantaburi. For an overnight stay we booked the Kasemsarn Hotel, right on the edge of the old town. It's a classic old school Thai hotel, in fact there's a 'mini museum' on the ground floor informing guests they are indeed staying in Chantaburi's first and oldest hotel, built back in 1960.
(They don't make hotel guest lounges like that anymore)
Already late afternoon, we were eager to see the old town before most of the businesses closed for the day. It had been several years since we had been but it's still an interesting place to wander around; shame that the constant flow of traffic (mainly motorcycles) does its best to spoil the enjoyment and my favourite part of the neighborhood - the beautiful Catholic church - was looking in dire need of some loving care and a lick of paint. At first glance I thought it had been abandoned.
Like most provincial Thai towns, there isn't much life after darkness falls, but we managed to find a riverside restaurant within walking distance of our hotel that stayed open relatively late.
It's match day! - journey to Trat and digs
After a quick morning stroll around the old town in an unsuccesful search for some breakfast, we decided to set off for Trat. Our match didn't start until 6.30 that evening, which was just as well as we had a whole bunch of places to see on the way. We began with Chumchon Khanom Plaek (the unusual dessert community) a walking street where among the regular offerings of traditional Thai cakes and assorted sugary stuff, the specialty was desserts made from monkey penises. Yes, it's only a joke and a bit of fun spread around by the local traders but as hungry as I was, it was still enough to put me off.
From there it was a short drive to Wat Chak Yai, an amazing temple with each section of the sprawling compound devoted to a chapter of Buddha's life story.
We eventually entered Trat Province and ticked off the drowning Buddha at the scenic Khao Ra Kham and posed in front of the lighthouse at the Laem Ngop viewpoint. The disappointing Black Sand Beach and adjoining mangrove forest proved to be our last stop of the day as travel fatigue started to kick in.
For accommodation in Trat, we had booked two nights at the excellent Canvas Family Home, a modern boutique hotel located slightly out of town on the edge of a large lake, but still only a 10-minute drive from the provincial stadium. Everything about the hotel was first-class but undoubtedly its main selling point was the cosy and relaxing coffee shop on the ground floor.
(The drowning Buddha at Khao Ra Kham. Worth a quick stop)
To the match itself
I mentioned the Trat captain Pornpreecha Jarunai (my favourite Thai football player) earlier in the blog. As Tun and I nibbled on snacks and killed time outside the stadium, I decided to be cheeky and asked security if they'd mind yanking Khun Pornpreecha out of the changing room for a photo op. They were only too happy to oblige and within minutes my hero appeared, a little bewildered and confused perhaps, but happy to pose with me for a photo and engage in a little chit chat. Mission accomplished.
Come kick off and I was pleasantly surprised at the size of Samut Prakan's away following for a fixture that involved such a long and tiring return journey; almost three figures I would say. However, I noticed that a lot of the fans I had never clapped eyes on before were wearing replica shirts adorned with players names. I later found out that they were players' mothers, uncles and aunties, etc who had travelled from their homes in Chonburi and Rayong to offer proud support and swell the ranks. They certainly helped create a good atmosphere in the away end.
Unfortunately this wasn't to be one of Samut Prakan's better performances of the season.
Trat could have been at least two goals to the good in the first quarter of an hour, with half chances falling to ex-Samut Prakan midfielder Yuthapichai, who blasts over the bar, and Japanese defender Hiromichi, who puts his header into the side netting. Prakan keeper Thatpicha then comes to the rescue as the shot stopper's outstretched leg keeps out Trat's best opportunity so far.
Trat's modest home support don't have to wait that long to celebrate a goal though, as on 16 minutes Christmas comes early for Valdo. Thatpicha fails to hold on to his tame header and the Brazilian striker gratefully accepts the rebound.
Samut Prakan's best chance of the first period sees the Trat keeper pull off a glorious save from Yodsakorn's rasping half volley but the visitors in yellow just haven't created enough in the final third. At the other end Valdo should've chalked up his second goal of the night with an unmarked header and Pornpreecha looked to have a decent penalty appeal turned down. On the balance of things, Samut Prakan hanging on but still in the contest.
Half time: Trat FC 1 Samut Prakan 0
I don't recall Samut Prakan creating a single goal-scoring attempt in the second half (kicking towards where their fans were congregated) but I do recall that we gave the ball away an awful lot. It was a disappointing 45 minutes that are best forgotten.
Full-time: Trat FC 1 Samut Prakan 0
12 goals in 14 league games is becoming the story of our season (only two other teams in the division have scored fewer) We simply cannot score enough goals. We passed the ball around well in the first half and played some nice flowing football...but we can't score goals. In the second half we didn't even pass the ball around; we just kept surrendering possession and running out of ideas once we crossed the halfway line.
That recent run of league wins is becoming a distant memory and we're starting to look rather like a lower mid-table side again (which I guess sounds better than relegation candidates). A number of the players look to have 'run out of steam' and could probably do with a rest, but do we have the size of squad to rotate and still remain competitive? Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) our next two games are against arguably the two weakest teams in the second division.
But a happy ending to a very disappointing evening?
Yes indeed. After the final whistle, Khun Pornpreecha made a beeline for the away section to look for me and present me with his captain's shirt. It was one of those moments that makes following Thai football special. I was so touched by the gesture.
We decided to stay on in South East Thailand for a couple more days. We drove the hour down to Hat Lek on the Cambodian border to experience 'the narrowest part of Thailand'. Like many Thai border towns, the area had a distinctly lawless, Wild West feel to it. We ambled around a dusty market where it was interesting to see Cambodian goods for sale (mainly cosmetics) and signage written in an unfamiliar script. On the drive back to Trat town, we played dodge-the-rainstorms and stopped off at a couple of deserted beaches. By jove do they get a lot of the wet stuff in this part of the world.
We finished our final day in Trat with a whirlwind look at the Trat Museum (it was closing in an hour) and a walk down a narrow street known for its cheap guest houses and street art, but sadly decimated by Covid. Just a stone's throw from there was the Trat Governor's French colonial-style residence (now empty by the look of things).
(I bet this was a lovely building back in the day but sadly now falling into disrepair. Much of Trat feels like this)
Actually, Trat is quite a down-at-heel looking town if I'm being brutally honest. As a woman in Chantaburi told us a few days earlier - "there's nothing to do in Trat. I can't even think of a reason to go there". Obviously not a football fan I guess.
The following day we broke the return journey home with a night in Satthahip, a bustling coastal town that has longed served as a base for the Thai navy. Although Sattahip has put itself on the domestic tourist map in recent times, the town is dominated by a military presence and its touristy areas are distinctly third rate compared to those in neighboring provinces. By this time, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar was in full swing so the main objective was to find somewhere showing England's opening match against Iran at 8pm. That task proved impossible so I ended up live streaming it on my laptop back in the hotel.
We had breakfast and checked out early the next morning but rather than drive straight home, we stopped off at several places on the lengthy stretch of Sattahip coast owned and maintained by the Thai Navy. Why had no one ever told me how beautiful that coastline was and on a day with a perfect clear blue sky, it was truly breathtaking. It made a lovely end to the trip. This has been one of the great advantages of following our team around Thailand. We've got to see so many terrific places that ordinarily we wouldn't have bothered with.
Who's up next?
We are at home to bottom-of-the-league Udon Thani on Saturday 26th November. With the mid-season break looming, this will probably be our last home game for the best part of two months.
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