It's been described as 'the perfect small town'. What a pity it rains for 8-9 months of the year. So if you're thinking of living and working here, probably best pack your raincoat.
The Lonely Planet guidebook says......?
Honestly, not much. It mentions Trat as a place on the way from central Thailand to the eastern Gulf islands like Koh Chang. It does briefly mention Trat market and a couple of restaurants, including Cool Corner which is no longer in business, but does not really give a sense of what Trat is like.
Trat is a good mix of modern and more traditional Thai influences. There are plenty of Western restaurants and businesses, though luckily (or sadly depending on your point of view), no McDonalds. Yet, the province still retains the old time charms of Thailand without sacrificing some of the benefits of modernity like decent roads and some Western food options.
In general, what are the pickings like for an EFL teacher?
There are two main high schools, one of which is 80% boys (Trattakankun School) and another of which is 80% girls (Satreeprasertsin School). If you want a motorbike to take you to either one, you should say Rongrian Chai (boy's school) or Rongrian Ying (girl's school). There is also the main elementary school (Anyooban Trat) and a technical college.
Salaries tend to be low (about 30-35K baht per month), but Trat is cheap so cost of living is no issue. Saving, on the other hand, can be quite difficult. Even if you save half of your salary, you are still saving only 400-500 dollars US per month.
Schools are run in a typical Thai school fashion, which means shut up and do whatever your boss says. It can be difficult to get used to, and you should not expect to change the system much, but if you can keep your mouth shut, smile, and relax then life can be pretty easy.
How far from Bangkok or civilization?
It's about 300 km from Bangkok, so it's a long journey. Chantaburi is 70km away and offers a couple of large malls and better nightlife than Trat. Rayong is a few hours drive, and certainly offers much more in terms of Western amenities than the provinces to the east, but it lacks a certain charm in my opinion. It's very much an industrial city without much to offer visitors.
What's the place like for nightlife, eating out etc?
Eating out is cheap and easy. Trat has both a day and night market, which both have amazing food for about 30 baht per dish. Pretty much any street stall or Thai restaurant will not disappoint.
Nightlife doesn't really exist. There is a popular bar near Tesco, and there is "The Knight", which is the only nightclub in the area. Be careful at The Knight. You will run into your students.
If you just want to grab beers with friends, then Trat is a great place to do so. There are several small local bars which are great to chat and relax in. If you want to party though, you'll need to head to Lonely Beach on Koh Chang.
There are several coffee shops which serve great coffee and most guesthouses have restaurants and small bars. These are great places to meet up with friends.
When I used to work there, Cool Corner was a fantastic restaurant with top of the line coffee and Western meals for under 200 baht. Unfortunately, it's closed now. I think it was pretty dependent on tourism which went down in the country after the political troubles started.
How much to rent a house or basic apartment?
Both schools offer free housing, but it will be a Thai style house without Western plumbing, air-conditioning, or a Western toilet. That being said, I lived in Satreeprasertsin's housing for a year and enjoyed it, minus the constant flooding when it rained.
You can rent a decent apartment for 3-8 thousand baht per month though. You can even find houses in the same price range if you are willing to travel a bit out of town.
Shopping malls, department stores?
Trat has a Tesco and a Makro as well as Trat Department Store. To be perfectly honest, they all don't offer much, but shopping's never really been my thing.
You can buy decent clothes at Tesco or Trat Department Store, but your best bet is to buy second hand at a market or get the clothes tailored, or go to Bangkok.
How is mobile / internet coverage?
Internet coverage is not great. It can be pretty annoying to download movies. It can also be a pain to print documents at school, so I would recommend having several USB drives with you at all times for work purposes.
Will you be stared at? and what's the likelihood of a good beating?
You won't be stared at; there are plenty of farangs and farang business owners in the area, at least if you're in Trat town and not in the middle of nowhere. Plenty of tourists also come through on their way to Cambodia or the islands. People will probably treat you quite well.
Likelihood of a good beating?... Well, there are a few drunk Westerners around who can get rowdy, so be careful around bored, angry looking Westerners (only a very small group are like this). Besides that, there should be no issues.
Taxis, buses....or horse and cart?
Unfortunately, Trat has few buses or taxis. However, songtaews are widely available, and most of the town is within a walk-able distance. Many people choose to buy motorcycles to make things easier.
Main advantages of living there?
It's a nice, easy life. A lot of people don't like the rain, but I think Trat is a perfect small town with a good mixture of rural and urban feelings.
It's near some great islands too: Koh Chang, Koh Mak, Koh Kood, and Koh Wai. Therefore, an island weekend getaway is easy to do. It's also easy to spend a weekend in Cambodia (Sihanoukville, Kampot, Siem Reap) if you want.
The cost of living also makes it pretty easy to live off of the low salaries.
And what are the downsides?
Salaries are low. It rains 8 or 9 months of the year. Your house will probably flood a few times. And there's not much of in the way of nightlife, shopping, or Western fast food.
It's a pretty small town too (20k people), and Thai people like to gossip, so the anonymity you would expect in a large city like Bangkok just doesn't exist there. In that sense, you are never really free from work
Any local attractions?
Sure, there's the temple Wat Pailom, where you can see a pretty traditional example of local Thai people and the religious rituals that they perform.
As I've already said, there are plenty of islands nearby and Trat market for food. There are also two nice parks for running, walking, playing with the dog, etc., which is a refreshing change from the concrete monster that is Bangkok.
Where's the best place to meet other farangs or are they best avoided?
Go to the islands or talk to some of the local business owners. You can also talk to other teachers. There are also a couple of local bars where interesting locals meet on what is colloquially known as Faraang Road. It's a small town, so people tend to know each other, especially the expats.