Saturday, June 12, 2010


LAEM SON NATIONAL PARK อุทยานแห่งชาติแหลมสน

Covering 315 sq km of land shared by Ranong and Phang-Nga Provinces, the park also includes around 100km of Andaman Sea coastline – the longest protected shore in the country – as well as over 20 idyllic islets. Much of the coast here is covered with mangrove swamps, home to various species of birds, fish, deer and monkeys (including crab-eating macaques), often seen while you’re driving along the road to the park headquarters.

The most accessible beach is Hat Bang Ben, just down the street from the park’s rusty gates. This long, sandy beach, backed by shady casuarinas, is a great place to get wet. From Hat Bang Ben you can see several of the park’s protected islands, including the nearby Ko Kam Yai, Ko Kam Noi, Mu Ko Yipun, Ko Khang Khao and, to the north, Ko Phayam. The park staff can arrange boat trips out to any of these islands for 1,500B per boat per day, although private tours can be scouted for a much cheaper rate.

Getting There & Away

The turn-off for Laem Son National Park is about 58km from Ranong down Hwy 4 (Phetkasem Hwy), between the 657km and 658km markers. Buses heading south from Ranong can drop you off here (ask for Hat Bang Ben). Once you’re off the highway, however, you’ll have to flag down a pick-up truck going towards the park. If you can’t get a ride all the way, it’s a 10km walk from Hwy 4 to the park entrance. At the police box at the junction you may be able to hire a motorcycle taxi for 50B; the road is paved, so if you’re driving it’s a breeze. Private car is undoubtedly the best way to get around these parts – local renters charge 1,000B.

KO PHAYAM เกาะพยาม

While technically part of Laem Son National Park, little Ko Phayam swims in the sea amid other verdant flecks of sand and limestone. It’s a welcoming place, whose small population is a friendly mix of Thais and Burmese, expats and a few dozen ethnic chow lair (also spelt chao leh; sea gypsies) who earn a living baiting prawns or plucking savoury cashew nuts. Everyone gathers along the two main bays, flanked by strands of flaxen sand, where the soundtrack is a delightful blend of lapping waves and hooting hornbills.

The island has one ‘village’, where you will find the main pier, a couple of simple eateries, small grocery stalls and a bar. From the pier area, motorcycle taxis scoot you to your basic bungalow along the motorcycle ‘highway’, running down the middle of the island.

Getting There & Around

There are daily boats from Saphan Plaa to Ko Phayam’s pier at around 9am and 2pm (150B, 1½ to two hours). From Ko Phayam back to Ranong the boats run at 8am and 1pm. During the high season there may be three runs daily. Long-tail boat charters to the island cost 1500B to 2000B. A charter too Chang is around 1,250B.

Motorcycle taxis provide the transport around Ko Phayam; there are no cars or trucks (yet), and roads are pleasantly motorcyclesized. A ride to your bungalow will cost 50B to 100B. Walking is possible but distances are long – it’s about 45 minutes from the pier to Ao Khao Fai, the nearest bay.

Motorcycle rentals are available at Oscar’s, the only bar in Ko Phayam’s village – you can’t miss it. Some of the bigger guesthouses might be able to arrange rentals, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010


The first piece in the Andaman’s puzzle of curvy coastal provinces is Thailand’s least populated region and also its most rainy, logging in with up to eight months of showers per year. As a result, Ranong’s forests are lush and green (although it’s swampy near the coastline and mainland beaches are almost nonexistent).

Most people only visit Ranong during their visa run to Victoria Point; those who stick around seek out the relaxing vibe on Ko Chang and Ko Phayam.


On the eastern bank of the Sompaen River’s turbid, tea-brown estuary, the frontier town of Ranong is no more than a short boat ride or a filthy swim – from Myanmar. This border town par excellence (shabby, frenetic, ever so slightly seedy) has a thriving Burmese population (keep an eye out for men wearing traditional longyi; Burmese sarong), a clutch of mildly interesting (and stinky) hot springs, and a handful of tumbledown historic buildings.

An increasing number of travellers are showing up specifically to dive the spectacular
Burma Banks (in the Mergui Archipelago), 60km north of the Surin Islands. A number of dive operators have established themselves in Ranong (which does lend the city a pinch of an expat feel), using it as a jumping-off point for live-aboard trips.

Sights & Activities

Ranong is rural Thailand’s version of a spa town – stinky and charmless. You can sample the waters at Wat Tapotaram, where Ranong Mineral Hot Springs offers pools hot enough to boil an egg (65°C). Like the three bears of Goldilocks fame, the names of the three springs translate as Father Spring, Mother Spring and Baby Spring, and each has its own distinct smell (all horrid). The spring water is thought to be sacred, as well as having miraculous healing powers.


Live-aboard diving trips run from Ranong to world-class bubble-blowing destinations including the Burma Banks (Mergui Archipelago) and the Surin and Similan islands.
Prices start at around 16,000B for a four-day package. Several operators in Khao Lak ( p641 ) are starting up live-aboard services to the stunning Burma Banks.

Eating & Drinking

On Th Kamlangsap, not far from Hwy 4, is a night market with several food stalls selling great Thai dishes at low prices; across the street is a modest noodle stand. The day market, on Th Ruangrat towards the southern end of town, offers inexpensive Thai and Burmese meals, as well as fresh produce, fish and meats. A cluster of decent eateries can also be found at the northern end of Th Ruangrat.

Getting There & Away


Ranong airport is 20km south of town, off Hwy 4. Air Asia ( has three or four flights to Bangkok (one way around 1900B) per week.


The bus terminal is on Th Phetkasem towards the southern end of town, though some buses stop in town before proceeding to the terminal. Sŏrng·tăa·ou (also spelt săwngthăew; pick-up truck) 2 (blue) passes the terminal. Bus services include Bangkok (220B to 700B, 10 hours), Chumphon (120B to 150B, three hours), Hat Yai (410B to 430B, five hours), Krabi (190B to 220B, six hours), Phuket (180B to 250B, 5½ hours) and Surat Thani (100B to 200B, 4½ hours).

Getting Around

Motorcycle taxis will take you almost anywhere in town for 20B, to the hotels along Th Phetkasem for 25B and to the pier for boats to Ko Chang, Ko Phayam and Myanmar for 50B. Pon’s Place can assist with motorcycle and car rentals.

KO CHANG เกาะช้าง

If you’re looking for the big Ko Chang, you’ve come to the wrong place. But if your suitcase is overflowing with novels and you’re seeking a silent stretch of sand on which to read them, then welcome! Unlike most of the Andaman’s islands, Ko Chang enjoys its back-to basics kinda lifestyle – there are no ATMs, no internet and no rush to acquire them.

When you’re done with your book, spend your time exploring the island’s tiny village ‘capital’ (and we use that word lightly), or wind your way around on one of the dirt trails. Sea eagles, Andaman kites and hornbills all nest here, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of them floating above the mangroves.

Bungalow operators can arrange boat trips to Ko Phayam and other nearby islands for around 200B per person (including lunch) in a group of six or more. Dive trips are also possible. Aladdin Dive Cruise, on Ko Chang, runs PADI courses and offers a range of live-aboard dive safaris.