Unspoilt beaches and crystal-clear waters make Ranong the perfect place for a peaceful holiday

PERCHED ON a narrow strip of land that connects Thailand with the Malay Peninsula, Ranong is nothing if not wet. Indeed, it is the wettest area in Thailand, enjoying eight months of monsoon rains and four months of hot summer. Yet the inclement weather doesn’t appear to worry the local and foreign tourists who head there in search of unspoilt nature and the simple way of life.

Once a major tin mining centre, the province, which shares a border with Myanmar and boasts a long coastline along the Andaman Sea, is now best known for mining white clay for the production of porcelain.

Tourists go there for the white-sand beaches and natural hot springs and are today being catered by several boutique resorts.

Many climb to the top of the King’s 80th Birthday Anniversary Lighthouse to admire the spectacular panorama of the Kraburi River and Myanmar’s Kawthoung Island. The nine-storey octagonal beacon was opened in 2007 on the Ranong Customs Pier and has become a popular attraction.

Down at the jetty below, an old boat has been modified and renamed the Royal Andaman and offers visitors an exclusive cruise along the historic route travelled by King Chulalongkorn on his third journey to the Malay Peninsula in 1890.

Guests are welcomed on board with a refreshing drink of kumquat and local herbs. Those who enjoy dressing up are invited to select one of the vintage costumes influenced by fashion trends from the golden era of tin mining.

Lush mangrove forests and mountains line the banks of the Kraburi River as the boat continues its stately journey to Koh Phi (Ghost Island), which is now known as Koh Saranee, the name given to it by Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother. Today the island is a sanctuary for all things wild and home to a Guanyin Bodhisattva statue said to provide protection for those heading out to sea.

The cruise continues to a charming hamlet on Koh Khonthee, also known as Little Venice. Here people of different religions live together in total harmony surrounded by abundant mangrove forests, which the department of marine and coastal resources is attempting to have named a World Heritage site.

Dinner is served at sundown and borrows from the favourite dishes of King Chulalongkorn. They include Moo Hong (pork belly roasted in soy sauce), krill chilli dipping sauce, Lor Mee Poo (fried thin rice noodle topped with crab) and Lod Chong (butterfly pea short vermicelli in syrup).

The boat trip ends with a unique fishing tradition called loy prok praew where a coconut shell adorned with marigold petals and candles is set afloat on the river to thank the Water Goddess.

A 30-minute drive from downtown Ranong is Hat Sompaen, once home to hundreds of pits and the Chinese immigrants who mined the mineral vein. This village has long been a major source of top-quality kaolin and tin and the community is maintaining the tradition by offering lessons in panning for minerals at the Hat Sompaen Learning Centre.

In 2007, the villagers teamed with specialists to create their own mix of clay to produce long-lasting ceramic ware and this is now a thriving cottage industry. Visitors can also join a ceramic class at the centre and make their own keepsakes like coffee cup, plates, bowls, vases and other home decor items.

Beach bunnies with a penchant for snorkelling and scuba diving can take a speedboat for the 10-minute ride to Myanmar’s Kawthoung Island, from where they can board a ferry to Nyaung Oo Phee Island.

From there it’s a two-hour cruise to Madame Beach, considered the most beautiful coastline on the Southern Mergui Archipelago with powdery sand, crystal-clear waters and a dazzling coral reef.

Nemo Fish Bay to the north is a popular snorkelling spot, with clown fish and other species along with sea anemones to be seen just a few metres from the shore.

Also worth a visit is Letter Island, a photogenic garden of young pink coral and red sea fans and a favourite feeding place of bannerfish, red saddleback anemone fish and giant clams.

The writer travelled courtesy of KTC Card.


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