The medium sized provincial capital of Chumphon, 460km south of Bangkok and 195km north of Surat Thani is considered by Thais as the gateway to southern Thailand both in the literal geographic sense as well as culturally.
Historically, it has been a battlefield several times over, in struggles with Burma for possession of the Isthmus of Kra, and more recently, a Japanese invasion during World War Two.
Today, among the travelling fraternity, Chumphon is known as more or less of a pit stop on the way to the islands, though some would simply stop at the word 'pit'. The name originally means social meeting place, but nowadays it's more like, waiting room for cranky falang.
This is where you stop-over to catch the ferry to Ko Tao, which is renowned for it's scuba diving and mellow, party atmosphere. It's also the major junction for visa runs to Burma via Ranong to the west.
And it is here that forms the first stop of the overnight tour buses from Bangkok. They disgorge their cargoes in the wee hours at travel agents across the small provincial capital. People are jumping off to get the boat to Ko Tao, to switch buses to Ranong and Phuket, to jump on the train, or even, in some enlightened cases, to stay in Chumphon.
Because you see, once the smoke clears, the boats leave and the buses pull out of town, Chumphon is quite an interesting little place -- and the surrounds, especially the beaches, are well worth a look-in.
The town has some great little guesthouses, motorbike hire is easy, prices are affordable, and, once the show-and-blow tourists have left town, you'll see how the denizens of Chumphon begin to show their warm, welcoming side.
By Stuart McDonald.