Thailand’s Andaman Coast begins in the north of Ranong province where the Kra Isthmus marks the narrowest part of peninsular Thailand. Ranong often gets overlooked as tourists opt instead for better known destinations further south on the Andaman Coast such as Phuket and Krabi. But their loss could be your gain with Ranong home to the lovely islands of Ko Phayam and Ko Chang (not to be confused with Ko Chang in Trat province) and a host of attractions on the mainland.
The small town of Ranong is an agreeable destination in its own right with a lively food scene and an infusion of Burmese, Chinese, Malay and Thai influences. Close to the middle of town, the impressive Rattanarangsan Palace is a good location to watch sunsets over the Andaman. For an even better view of those spectacular Andaman sunsets, join an afternoon cruise on the Royal Andaman with many Thai people on board wearing period costumes that hark back to a bygone era.
Ranong province is famous for its hot springs. Situated in a scenic hillside setting close to the town centre, Raksawarin Hot Springs are easy to get to by walking or local shared taxi (songthaew). If you have your own transport, you can also head out to the relaxing Pornrang Hot Springs.
Visit the viewpoint at Khao Fa Chi for views across the Kra Buri waterway which forms a natural border with Myanmar. Or take a trip out to Phu Kao Ya (also known as ‘Bald Hill’) to admire the views and stroll along the walking trails. After all that exercise, coffee lovers should head to Gong Valley Eco Friendly in Kra Buri district to learn all about the process that goes into producing Ranong coffee.
In Ranong Town, be sure to explore the daily market at Talad Kao and look out too for the enjoyable Saturday Walking Street Market which sets up on Rueangrat Road during the dry season months. Also on Rueangrat Road, Farmhouse Restaurant offers a comfortable environment to try out some classic southern Thai dishes like moo hong (stewed pork belly).
Namsai Khaosuay (Ranong Town)
Ranong beaches and islands
Located in the Andaman Sea, the diminutive and charming island of Ko Phayam is one of the highlights of a trip to Ranong. Ko Phayam attracts a mix of travellers across the age spectrum, but remains off the main tourist trail with limited development taking place here. There are no cars on the island although inland areas are connected by a decent network of paved tracks used by motorcycles. If you don’t mind the exercise, walking is a good way to explore Ko Phayam using a combination of the paved tracks and the myriad of trails that lead through the cashew trees and rubber plantations.
Keep your eyes peeled for hornbills which you can often see around the island. Wat Ko Phayam, the distinctive temple you will notice on arrival as you approach the island’s pier, is a particularly good location to spot these amazing birds. Ko Phayam has a bohemian vibe to it, but you don’t have to be a hippy to enjoy the evening sunsets and Sang Som served up at the Hippie Bar on Ao Kao Kwai. Roughly cobbled together from driftwood in the shape of a boat, this is one of the coolest beach bars you will find anywhere in the world.
The Blue Sky Resort
PP Land Beach Resort
If Ko Phayam is laid-back, neighbouring Ko Chang* takes the mellow vibe to another level. This is another location to unwind and do very little. Much of the accommodation on Ko Chang is basic, but people come here seeking seclusion not luxury.
(*This island is in the Andaman Sea. The better known and more developed island of Ko Chang is in Trat province on the eastern seaboard).
Laemson National Park
Visitors to Ranong can take boat trips to the lovely Laemson National Park with the small uninhabited islands and bays making this a good location for snorkelling. Day trips can be arranged via tour operators in Ranong Town or on Ko Phayam.
Nok Air and Air Asia fly from Bangkok Don Muang to Ranong with a flight time of just under 1.5 hours. There is no railway line connecting Ranong, but it’s possible to travel by train to Chumphon and take the bus from there across to Ranong with a journey time of approximately 2.5 hours. There are frequent boats from Ranong to Ko Phayam during the November-April high season months with speedboats and a slow boat plying the route. Boat services to Ko Chang are less frequent and in some cases involve transferring from the slow boat to a smaller boat when you get close to the Ko Chang shore. Check at the pier in Ranong or your resort on Ko Chang for more advice.