At the Thai part of the Andaman Sea's northern crest, the town of Ranong is Thailand's southern gateway to Burma. Although its ageing buildings and border outpost feel often give travellers mixed first impressions, anyone who takes the time to explore the town's lush natural surrounds and distinct mix of cultures will notice Ranong's charm.
Aside from being a port town with boats launching daily for the nearby islands of Ko Chang and Ko Phayam along with Burma, the Ranong area boasts some of Thailand's best natural hot springs, a couple of under-rated national parks, and some winding roads through pristine mountains covered in jungle. Thailand's wettest province, Ranong receives 4,200mm of rain annually with the rainy months from May to October seeing the brunt of it. Nobody likes a rainy day — especially when travelling — but Ranong's precipitation does keep its jungle more green and lush than perhaps anywhere in Thailand, and the soft clouds of mist that often settle on the mountain tops make for some enchanting photos.
Culturally, Ranong has a large population of Burmese and ethnic Chinese to go with both Buddhist and Muslim Thai, and each of these influences are clearly visible on the town's main drag, Ruangrat Rd. Many signs are written in Burmese as well as Thai, and there are some delicious Burmese curries and Chinese dumplings to be found.
Due largely to its closeness to the border and the visa runs to Burma that are possible here, Ranong also has a definite foreign expat presence. With plenty of guesthouses, travel companies and restaurants, the town is a relatively easy place for foreign travellers to make themselves at home. With a handful of dive operators using Ranong as a base, the town has also increasingly become a hub for divers intent on exploring the unspoiled dive sites of the Burma Banks and Mergui Archapelogo. If the political situation in Burma continues to stabilize in coming years, there's little doubt that increasing numbers of travellers will pass through Ranong.
Phet Kasem Rd is the main thoroughfare running northeast to southwest through Ranong's eastern side, and the bus station may be found here along with a host of restaurants and a Tesco Lotus supermarket towards the south. Continue another 10 km south to reach Ngao Waterfall National Park and Porn Rang hot springs. The access road to Rahsawarin hot springs — Ranong town's star attraction — cuts east off Phet Kasem Rd a few hundred metres northeast of the bus station. Ruangrat Rd meanders south to north from Phet Kasem Rd, and about a kilometre up Ruangrat lies downtown Ranong, if you can call it that.
It may not have high rise buildings, but Ruangrat is home to a number of restaurants, bars, and guesthouses, and one of the town's main historical attractions — Rattanarangsan Palace — sits just off Ruangrat between Luvung Rd and Kamlang Sap Rd.
The bustling port district of Saphan Pla lies 5 km to the west of the city down Chaloem Phrakiat Rd. From here it is possible to hop on a boat for Ko Chang Noi or Ko Phayam, or charter a boat to Burma's Kawthaung to get a new 15 day stamp upon crossing back over to Thailand. The only cost of the Burma trip aside from the boat (300B roundtrip depending on your bartering skills) is a US $10 stamping fee at Burma immigration. Although it's not too difficult to do independently, many employ one of Ranong's travel companies to help with the process, and the Andaman Club has become famous for having the visa run process down to a science.
Ranong hospital is situated about halfway between Ruangrat and Phet Kasem on Kamlang Sap Rd.
There is a tourist police booth near Rahswawarin hot springs, and Ranong's main police station is just off the northern end of Ruangrat Rd near the corner of Dap Khot and Chat Saloem Rds. Police may be reached at (077) 821 681.
Banks and ATMs are plentiful on Ruangrat Rd and near the piers, as are internet cafes that typically charge 20B per hour. We recommend Kay Kai Internet and Cafe near The b Trend Hotel for its friendly service and small but tasty food menu.
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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
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|Ranong - Bangkok, Southern Terminal ฿709 8h|