Photo: Pulautonetone.

Introduction

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Burma’s long, thin Tanintharyi Region stretches south down the Andaman coast and eventually narrows to a sharp point. At the very tip of this point, just shy of 1,200 kilometres south of Yangon, you’ll find the small port, border crossing, administrative centre and market town of Kawthaung which is also the most southerly limit of Burma.


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Across the murky estuarine waters of the Kraburi River lies the Thai town of Ranong. Hills to the east stretch into Thailand’s Chumphon province and to the west lies the vast Mergui Archipelago.

Meet Kawthaung. Photo taken in or around Kawthaung, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Meet Kawthaung. Photo: Mark Ord

As an introduction to Burma (Myanmar), the little town is delightful, with rambling narrow streets lined with old houses trickling down steep hillsides to the lively market and waterfront. Named Victoria Point by the British, it was never an important trading port like Moulmein, Tavoy or Mergui (now Mawlamyine, Dawei and Myeik). This means it lacks the impressive array of colonial architecture of those towns or the sprawling Chinatowns of Malaysia’s Melaka and Georgetown. Today it displays an eclectic mix of crumbling old wood and brick houses plus some old and new concrete ones. Little rises more than four or five storeys.

The Kraburi (or Kyan) River has been used as a short cut for travellers and merchandise between the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand for millennia. There is evidence of ancient settlements in the region though not in Kawthaung itself. Tanintharyi Region, including what is now Kawthaung, was governed by Siam for a long period prior to the British turning up in 1826. The first subsequent settlement of Siamese and Chinese lay north of present day Kawthaung in Maliwan district. It wasn’t until later in the 19th century that Arab and Malay traders established a port on the northern side of the Kraburi estuary. During British times teak was an important resource. Today’s main products are rubber, palm oil and seafood.

Picture perfect. Photo taken in or around Kawthaung, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Picture perfect. Photo: Mark Ord

The 21st century influence is overwhelmingly Thai. The majority of inhabitants have at some time or another worked in Ranong’s fishing industry or in tourism on Phuket. This means Thai is widely spoken, baht is the common currency and Thai mobile phone services work as effectively here as Burmese ones. Even the decidedly dodgy internet comes from Thailand. As with other southern towns, the population is highly mixed. Ethnic Chinese and Indians mingle with Bamar, Dawei and Mon and you’ll see Buddhist pagodas, Chinese and Hindu temples as well as mosques and Christian churches. And you won’t have to travel far out of town before hitting the first Karen villages. Offshore islands have Mokken and ethnic Malay populations.

As yet, the flow of foreign visitors from across the border remains a trickle. Many tourists are only here on day trips or visa runs from Thailand. There are however a few sights to see and some decent accommodation and restaurants. Kawthaung makes for a charming spot to hang out for a day or two. It is extremely isolated and since public boat services to points north have been suspended, onward travel is limited to a 440-kilometre bus ride to Myeik. There are however surprisingly good flight connections.

Kawthaung backstreets. Photo taken in or around Kawthaung, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Kawthaung backstreets. Photo: Mark Ord

Neighbouring Ranong province is the wettest province in Thailand. While in southern Burma, Dawei edges Kawthaung out, be warned that the area does have a pretty ferocious monsoon between May and October, inclusively. The monthly rainfall average is no less than 50 centimetres. Temperatures are quite consistent throughout the year, averaging two degrees lower or higher than 30.

Popular attractions in Kawthaung

A selection of some of our favourite sights and activities around Kawthaung.





Orientation
Stuck on the narrow point where the Kraburi River meets the Andaman Sea, the small town of Kawthaung is funnelled onto a series of gentle hills squeezed between two steep rocky outcrops, which split the little town into three. To the north, beyond the hills, lies the newer part of Kawthaung and the town’s single highway, which heads towards the picturesque Maliwan Falls and eventually Myeik. To the northeast is the fishing port while southeast is the old town and passenger jetties along the grandly named Strand Road. Boats to Ranong depart from here. Immigration, with a tiny tourist information office, is located towards the southern end of Strand Road.

Beach break anyone? Photo taken in or around Kawthaung, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Beach break anyone? Photo: Mark Ord

The main market fills the block between Strand Road and what passes for the high street, while Bogyoke Road winds its way up the hill from the inevitable clock tower to link up with the newer section of town to the north. The hillside behind the market contains the old residential part of town. Steps link the narrow lanes of old houses and local stores. South of immigration is a small waterside park after which a continuation of Strand Road takes a seaside loop around a rocky statue-strewn outcrop, Bayintnaung, before swinging back up the hill to meet Bogyoke. The town’s main pagoda – Pyi Daw Aye – overlooks the town from its hilltop north of the market and town centre. Just offshore, opposite the Strand Road, is a tiny rocky island with a small chedi on top.

Banks are located along Bogyoke Road, with KBZ being the best bet for changing money and ATM facilities. The hospital and bus station are a few kilometres out of town on the northern continuation of Bogyoke. The hospital isn’t as bad as you’d imagine – Thai assistance we’re guessing. Numerous travel agents and ticket offices are scattered around the clock tower. Thai baht is accepted anywhere in town but if you do need to change cash then there are some change desks around the market with rates as good as KBZ. There is also a police station north of town but immigration police on the waterfront are your best bet if you have a problem since the officers should speak English.

Border crossing
Kawthaung immigration office is just south of the jetty on Strand Road. It’s open 07:00-17:30. Armed with an exit stamp, you’ll walk 100 metres or so to the north to the main jetty where longtails will ferry you the 20 minutes across the estuary to Ranong’s immigration point at Saphan Pla. Boats cost 100 baht per person but will wait for four or five passengers before departing. Thai immigration claims to open from 07:00-17:00 so don’t leave it late. There’s no departure fee other than transport. For more details on Thai immigration and Ranong accommodation and onward travel see our Ranong section. Please note that if you have overstayed your Thai visa you may be refused exit if you’re planning on just doing a visa run back into Thailand (and so lack a valid visa for Burma).

What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Kawthaung.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Kawthaung.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Kawthaung.
 Read up on how to get to Kawthaung.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Kawthaung? Please read this.





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