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Visiting Ranong

  • Written by Jeremy29
  • April 30th, 2007
  • 5 min read

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Ranong is a town in south-western Thailand, situated at the northernmost point of Thailand's Andaman Sea coast at the junction with Burma, about 8 hours drive south from Bangkok. It is the capital of Ranong Province. I went there for a few days in December 2006, around Christmas, taking a two-hour bus ride from Lang Suan. I stayed in the Spa Inn hotel, on the main highway just outside the town, paying 500 baht a night. The hotel had seen better days, but the rooms were spacious and clean. Cheaper accommodation can be had in the town itself, and there are also some fancier hotels and resorts scattered round about.

Ranong is a difficult town to describe. It is small, and easy to get around on foot and definitely has a certain charm to it without being overly pretty. It is surrounded by spectacular mountains covered with dense rainforest. It is a pleasant enough place to while away the time, and there are many resident farangs, who have spent years doing just this.

As a guide book notes : “It has a large ethnic Chinese population and also a significant Burmese Muslim presence and you'll see as many signs in Chinese and Burmese as you will in Thai along Ruangrat Rd, Ranong's main drag. All the action takes place along this one street and unlike other Thai cities it doesn't sprawl, nor is it built on a grid system. Ruangrat Rd meanders gently north from Phetkasem Rd, where the bus station is located. Two busy food markets lie about the midpoint of Ruangrat Rd, and there's a low-key nightlife district a little further up.”

To say the nightlife is low-key is being kind. It does exist, but is very well hidden; and the women involved are overwhelmingly Burmese. On reflection, I really enjoyed my time there. I relaxed, enjoyed the food, had cheap massages and manicures, admired the local beauties, and took in the attractions.

One thing I didn’t enjoy though were the large number of down and out Westerners hanging around the place, known derogatively in Australia as “ ferals.” Young, and not so young hippie types, who were in town for the full moon parties later that week on nearby islands accessible from Ranong Port. What the Thais think of this riff-raff can only be imagined. I was also surprised by how many of them are in their forties and fifties. Unkempt, bedraggled, self-obsessed and complaining about the price of everything, they spoil it for the rest of us. I hope I haven’t offended anyone in Stickland, but these people really put me off. Not so much the young ones, as I was a bit like that myself when I was younger, but the older ones should have grown up by now.

So what is there to see? Well there is the bustling harbour (Saphan Pla), about 5 km west of the town centre, where you can catch boats to Ko Payam and Ko Chang and other islands in the Andaman Sea. You can also charter a long-tailed boat around the harbour, or take a boat to Burma. In the town itself there is a nice early-evening market to visit and buy snacks from, the Khao Nives lookout to climb, and relaxing in many of the pubs and restaurants. I mainly just soaked up the atmosphere and photographed and marvelled at all the crazy things I see here and which I could never see back home in Australia.

The real attraction, for which Ranong is famous, lies 2 km outside the town – the geo-thermal mineral water springs. They are to the east of the town, within walking or cycling distance or 10 baht on the songtaew. The hot springs have been a popular tourist spot ever since King Rama V visited there in 1890. There are three natural spring pools and the temperature of the water in the pools remains constant at about 65 degrees centigrade.

They are impressive and the water is a mineralised green colour. The best way to appreciate the spa waters is to have a spa bath, or massage, in one of the several hotels or massage parlours operating there. Nothing like hopping into a huge bath heated to 65 degrees centigrade after a soothing massage!

There is a suspension bridge across the river and you can sit and eat on the boulders overlooking the river. Surrounding the hot springs is a deep shaded forest called 'Raksa Warin,' which is beautiful and secluded. Of course, there is also a temple, Wat Tapotaram, nestled into the hill.

Seven km east of Ranong is Hat Som Paen village, a former tin mining village. It is very pretty, has a lovely lake, and easily accessible by songtaew. While there were many farangs in Ranong while I was there, once out of town I saw few if any. Most of us appear not to be very adventurous. This is a pity, because, in my view anyway, the real Thailand is usually found just off the beaten track. The people are friendlier and more welcoming, the food more authentic, the pace of life slower, and you won’t be treated as a rich farang ripe for the picking.

The village has a beautiful temple with giant pluang fish by the Hat Som Paen Canal. This temple enshrines the effigy of Luang Phor Khlai, a highly revered monk in southern Thailand, and has a very large Buddha in the Chinese style. Definitely worth a visit.

A further four or so km down the road is Ranong Canyon. The road signs are very inviting but is not on a songthaew route. I started walking and quickly got motorcycle lifts from locals there and back, but it is not worth the effor. It appears to be the filled in remains of one of the old mine sites, again stocked with huge numbers of giant fish.

So next time you are doing a visa run or going to the islands, try to put aside a day or two to enjoy what Ranong has to offer.

My Ranong photos can be found here.

My Ranong video clips can be seen here.

Stickman's thoughts:

With the visa run business slowly, but every so surely, drying up, I wonder what effect this will have on Ranong. From Ranong one can venture over to Myanmar and that is one of the reasons a fair few farangs pass through. The tightening up on visa runs will have an effect on Ranong.

The author can be contacted at: [email protected]