There are still many beautiful corners along Thailands coast. These places are more or less standing still in time compared to some of the main holiday destinations in the country. If you have known these places for a long time, you can see their endless expansion and development. If you have not been there for a year or even just a few months, sometimes find it hard to orientate yourself. Maybe you cant find the places you once knew, that great little restaurant. A place that has not been affected by this wave of development is Ranong province. There are 2 near the capital, Koh Phayam and Koh Chang(small one, not near Trat!!!). They are Thailand’s last islands in the Andaman sea before the Myanmar border.
The province of Ranong itself is also a jewel of nature, with an amazing 80% forest cover(%67 mountains). In the north you have a huge UNESCO Biosphere reserve, which was declared in 1997. It is the fourth biosphere reserve of Thailand, and the only one along the coast to protect the mangrove forests. It’s also one of the most diverse mangrove forests in the world. There are about 75 species in the world and 25 of these can be found here.
For this journey we have chosen the island Koh Phayam. The most “developed” of the two. However this is minor compared too most of Thailand. The island has a small population of about 800 people. I have known this place for 13 years, and I’m glad to say it has maintained its original flare. Its still as relaxed and welcoming as it has always been. The island has a strong community, a community which has chosen to set itself apart. They don’t want to be another Koh Samui or Koh Tao.
In a way it’s like traveling back in time. There are no cars (only a golf kart, 1 tuk tuk and a few tractor’s to move goods), also you will find no ATM or bank, and most astoundingly no 7/11 mini-marts. Also there is no power plant here. Everything is run by generator or solar power. Though a few resorts now offer power 24h per day (but most run on only 12h per day).
To get to the island u have two options, by speed boat or by slow boat.
Upon arriving on the island, we chose to rent a motorbike rather than take a motorbike taxi . However if you have no experience riding, I don’t suggest this as a place to learn. The roads are narrow, hilly, and there are plenty of potholes.
We stayed at Ao Yai, the islands largest bay, nearly 3km long. It’s also best spot for admiring the Andaman sunsets. In the distance you can see silhouettes of endless islands of the mysterious Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar.
We chose to stay at Aow Yai Bungalows, , a long established bungalow resort on the island. It has various sized bungalows to choose from, set amongst a beautiful garden right up on the beach. The place is one of the few that offer 24h electricity. The staff was very helpful and friendly…..though for me the biggest plus were the free Body Boards available for its guests…….There are some other establishments along the beach where you can rent proper surf boards and SUP’s.
The waves rip along the length of the beach, a perfect place for beginner’s up to intermediate levels. Also the bottom is only sand, so no danger of scratching yourself up on corals or rocks!!!.
However be wary, depending on the tides and waves, sometimes there is a light riptide and undertow. If you are into kite surfing, Ao Kwai(buffalo bay) is a perfect spot for this too.
Another great highlight of the island, is it’s nature and wildlife. There are numerous species of birds and even monkeys. If the island had a mascot, it would be the bizarre Hornbill bird. You can observe them along the length of Ao Yai, and most of the island. We saw them just sitting and relaxing on our bungalow balcony, they were sitting up in the branches of the nearby trees chatting and socializing.
There are many nice walks around the island or along its untamed shoreline, where you can find many secluded “secret” beaches. Inland, the island is covered by cashew nut trees, giving a distinct sweet smell to the breeze. However, as lovely as the island is, this is not an island for snorkeling. The waters are not clear turquoise with colorful coral reefs. Though if you are looking for this, you can reach the Surin islands from here by day trips. (Or travel a bit further south to Kao Lak and spend a few days on a liveaboard exploring these wonderful islands.)
On this weekend there was another sporty event which we attended. A mini marathon over some difficult terrain (trail running almost). This is a great way to combine holiday with some physical activity (and not feel guilty of some extra holiday munchies…hahahah)…..also a good brake from lazing around in the sun…….
There were around 600 contestants at this race. The 5km fun run went along the beach, and the 10.5km run went inland from the beach to the other side of the island and back again following the undulating terrain. A short, but tough course.
Unfortunately for my wife, this race didn’t end so well, the April heat and a race run in the afternoon, was too much for her. Just 2km from the finish line she had a heat cramp, passed out and injured her arm. She then had to evacuated by speed boat to Ranong Hospital……luckily it all ended well…..but in the spirit of adventure…..our limits need to be pushed sometimes to find our boundaries….
Nevertheless take care if you are attending a running race in Thailand, especially if you are coming from the winter in your home country. Rest before the race and make sure you are hydrated (water with electrolytes) and be in an optimal condition.
Once you get settled-in on an island like this, it becomes hard to leave. No matter how many days you spend here, they never seem enough. The longer you stay the more relaxed you become, sinking into the simple and tranquil island life……..but now unfortunately it’s time to pack up………departing physically and mentally….(eventually!!!!)
Now we are heading south by bus following the coast line of Ranong province. We will look back with great memories of this lovely place and looking forward to further explore the province in the future…..hopefully too return, complete the race, and ride the islands waves once more…..
……as Ranong is left far behind us in the distance the limestone mountains of Phang Nga province begin to appear, opening opportunities of countless new adventures….!!!!