Photo: A quiet moment in Ngao national park.

Eat and meet

For a town of this size, Ranong has a solid selection of restaurants, bars and markets to choose from, many of which are very foreigner friendly with English menus and free WiFi. Most of the nightlife is centered north of the market on Ruangrat Rd, and Ruangrat is also home to a wide range of restaurants. Phet Kasem Rd also has several restaurants and bars, most of which are larger than those downtown, and there are even some good local specialty restaurants near the Rahsawarin hot springs. In the markets and small local eateries Ranong's Burmese, Chinese, and Thai Muslim influences are all visible.

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For local food, start at one of Ranong's markets. The most obvious one is the Provincial Market, which occupies a large roofed, open air building on central Ruangrat Rd. Getting started around 05:00 in the morning, this is not only a good place to snack on local fish cakes and moo ping (skewered pork), but also to catch a glimpse of local fish, meat, veggies and fruit being sold — don't forget your camera!

While a handful of food stalls stay open into the night at the Provincial Market, Ranong's proper night market sits somewhat out of downtown just past the Provincial Stadium down a small road between Phempon and Phet Kasem Rds. Don't hold back at the night market as it's very cheap — we came away with a pungently spicy gaeng som fish curry, a whole locally caught salted and fried fish, a bag of turmeric and lemongrass spiced local fish soup, some juicy gai yang (grilled chicken) and khao niew (sticky rice), two pieces of native purple corn on the cob dipped in butter, two bottles of coconut juice, and a few taro and banana sticky rice treats wrapped in banana leaves, all for less than 250B.

For local specialties in a sit down atmosphere, Khun Lin Coffee and Restaurant directly across from Rahsawarin hot springs offers a range of indigenous Ranong dishes in a comfortable open air setting with full table service. Here we tried deep fried pak lien, a leafy green that grows wild in the area, and gaeng bpuu lawn, a locally famous curry made with peanuts, chilis, and soft shell crab with a rich but well balanced sweet and spicy flavour, thick texture and orange appearance.

Khun Lin is on the pricey side, but there is a nameless Thai restaurant a few doors down from Luang Puj guesthouse on Ruangrat Rd (look for bright white tile floors and round white tables) that offers similar local specialties in a no frills setting. The Burmese inspired gaeng karee moo yellow curry with pork, sauteed local veggies and local sausages were a treat here, and we paid less than 100B for everything, including rice and bottled water. There's no menu but most of the dishes are on display so pointing is a perfectly acceptable way of ordering.

Most travellers passing through Ranong end up at Pon's Place on Ruangrat Rd, which doubles as a restaurant and travel company and caters specifically to foreigners. The Thai food, breakfast, pizza and sandwiches are nothing to write home about, but it's a great atmosphere for meeting other travellers or making use of the free WiFi to write a few emails.

For better breakfast head just north and across the street to Coffee House, which aside from serving some traditional and strong Thai style brew also has an extensive breakfast menu, decent sandwiches and Thai food, including a number of vegetarian offerings. The Coffee House also has free WiFi, and a makeshift post office in case you need to send a post card to Grandma back home.

The cute little Cartoon House right across the street from Pon's also serves good coffee along with ice cream and other Thai style sweet drinks. They also sell Apple accessories in case you forgot your iPod charger in your last hotel room.

Sticking with the ice cream theme, J and T Food and Ice Cream near Luang Puj guesthouse does a nice job of satisfying your sweet tooth — or your Japanese food craving. They offer a small menu of Japanese style noodle and teriyaki rice dishes to go with the sundaes and shakes.

For the best sandwich in town head up to the bus station off Phet Kasem Rd, where you'll find Black Cheap Coffee off to the right across the parking lot if facing the front of the station. Run by a mixed European-Thai group of spirited younger people, Black Cheap allows customers to create their own deli style sandwich on a choice of fresh baked breads. If not too hungry, try one of their delicious grilled graham cracker caramel treats to go with the excellent coffee.

A bit further north from the bus station on Phet Kasem, right across the street from the start of Ruangrat Rd, is JaJaa Coffee, which has a small western breakfast menu and some delicious and authentically prepared small rice and noodle plates. JaJaa also has the best cake in town and their spacious air-con seating area is a good spot to kill an hour or two while waiting for a bus.

For nightlife, head back to Ruangrat Rd but this time further up towards the northern end. The b Bistro on the roof of The b Trend Hotel is a good place to start the night — they serve up a full Thai menu along with well prepared western favourites like greek salad, spaghetti Bolognese, and grilled beef tenderloin in a trendy, contemporary atmosphere. It's on the expensive side, but the service, ambience, mountain views and stylish cocktail bar all make it worth it.

After dinner, you could head to their karaoke bar or the impressive billiards room, which features six professional sized pool tables in an urban setting with modern hip hop and rock music. The tables run 100B per hour or 150B if you want a private room.

If the whole trendy, urban thing is a bit much for you, give Saphan's Hideaway a try. Located right next to Dahla House and just a short walk north from The b, Saphon's has a full bar and pool table, and serves up some decent Thai food, pasta and pizza on a spacious and dimly lit open air deck.

Head out of Saphon's and take a left and you'll be ready to really get the night rolling at one of Ranong's surprisingly hip live music clubs like Jammy Bar or Thong Lor Music. Or, for something more raucous, take a songthaew up to Phet Kasem Rd's Co-Pa Music Hall, a big, gaudy venue located just north of the bus station that specialises in live performances by heavy metal Thai rockers. You can head bang the night away with peace of mind knowing that the managers have put a sign out front clearly indicating that handguns are not allowed inside.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Ranong? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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