April 2024

From Ranong to Burma to Ko Tao


Our bus from Phang-Nga to Ranong was only supposed to be three hours…which somehow morphed into five. Only in Asia does it take five long bumpy hours to travel 215 kilometres. Why, you ask? Well, it’s simple. The bus system here is highly inefficient, and in order to make the best profit possible, the bus continually starts and stops to drop off and pick up people in often highly remote areas of the Country. This also makes it difficult to sleep on a bus – most of us are conditioned to wake up every time a bus stops so as not to miss where we are supposed to get off. This, coupled with really horrible Thai music playing (I don’t think we’ve heard any decent music since we left Australia….what is hot in music now? I truly have no idea), and it all combines to leave me a very grumpy girl.

I was hoping we’d arrive to Ranong by 1:30 pm since we left at 10:30 a.m….and that we’d be able to do our visa run that day and save some time, but we were outta luck. We didn’t arrive until 3:30, making it too late to run for our visa that day. I was bummed…we had to waste a day in a place that has NOTHING to do. We stayed at a place called Kiwi Orchid, which is run by a Thai-Kiwi couple. We met the Thai woman, Jai, but never found any evidence of her Kiwi husband. Jai was a very lovely hostess and although not as wonderful as Hussim (because we felt she was charging us a bit too much for some of her services, including getting 20 US dollars for our visa run, and her quote for a bus/boat combo to Ko Tao), but she was most helpful. She told us that there was a local festival happening that night, so we took off in search of it.

A Thai Carnival

Some traditional thai dancing at the carnival in Ranong

Some traditional thai dancing at the carnival in Ranong

The local festival was more like a carnival – lots of rides, games and vendors selling deep fried food (albeit very different from our North American mini donuts…much of the food included deep fried bugs), and info-mercial type people (you know, the buy a ticket to win your dream house stuff we have at Capital Ex), but for really funny things like motorcycles and bamboo huts. There were also dance performances going on with beautiful Thai women in beautiful outfits making beautiful movements. This was pretty cool – we were the only white people there. It was 100% local, since we were staying in a very un-touristy area. This led to us being somewhat of a novelty, with some of the info-mercial people calling us over and putting us on the microphone. The motorcycle people were trying to convince us that for 20 baht ($0.60), we could play a fishing game and have the chance to win a motorcycle for which “you travel the world on.” We gracefully declined, somewhat embarrassed, which led to heckling and laughing at us as we walked away. “Come on, Canada, FISH! Win Motorcycle!”

The Highly Anticipated Visa Run to Burma

Leaving Thailand to cross into Burma

Leaving Thailand to cross into Burma

The next morning, we woke up early and went for our visa run. Basically, Jai dropped us off at the pier, we got our stamps out of the country and got handed a new arrival card (I find it funny that the Thai immigration people know exactly what is going on and what you are doing, but just don’t really care), and were shepherded into a boat by a young Burmese fellow and his even younger brother. They were wearing yellow paint on their faces, which is apparently the norm there.

The Burmese long-tail boats make Thai long-tail boats look like yachts – it was falling apart, the engine was rusty as hell, but at least we were fortunate to have a shade cover above our heads. Most of the boats we saw didn’t have any shade, and people were riding along carrying umbrellas. Most of the clientele crossing the border were Burmese, and we must have been somewhat of a novelty, because we got stared at ALOT.

The passport office in Burma

The passport office in Burma

Our first stop was a Thai Immigration post built on stilts, where the little young guy went and dropped off our passport information on a piece of paper. Then, we made a 45-minute journey across a Bay, and stopped again at a Burmese checkpoint – the little guy asked for our passports and he went into another building built on stilts with them. I was pretty uncomfortable with this kid having my passports, but this is apparently what you do here. He came back about 2 minutes later – I suppose it was just a check point to ensure we actually had passports. Then, our next stop – terra firma. We got out and were immediately encircled by Burmese teenagers asking us if we wanted to buy cigarettes, whisky, opium or valium. We kindly declined, and this seemed to offend them – “but it very cheap! Cheap cheap!” We just said we don’t smoke or drink, to simplify matters. One fellow asked for my documentation and I didn’t want to give it…but Scott handed it over. He first took our photocopied passports to the police station, manned by two Burmese girls, also with yellow paint. Next, we were shepherded to the immigration office, where they took our two crisp $10 US bills, stamped our passports giving us 14 days in their country, but also stamping us out for that same day, and took our pictures. That was it.

The mob of young teenage boys then asked us if we wanted to look around. We said yes. But they said “you no want to buy our stuff, so you must leave.” We were like, “can’t we just look around?” They replied “nothing to see. Go back.” Uhh…alrighty then. Thanks for your hospitality.

The Burmese kid that bullied us into a tip

The Burmese kid that bullied us into a tip

It’s at that point, that the ring leader of the group, Alibaba wanted payment for his services as a guide. He wanted 600 baht, to share with the entire mob that “escorted” us in their country. Hells no. Jai told us not to pay anyone because she had already paid everyone that was necessary in the transaction. We got back onto our boat. Alibaba followed us. Panic starts to set in. He keeps harassing Scott, raising his voice, and freaking us out a bit. Scott finally obliged and gave him 20 baht to get off the boat. Except that he stayed. Well frig, we might end up with this little monkey for the rest of our ride. Alibaba asked for the passports and took them back to the checkpoint (at which I was very uncomfortable) and then stayed there. Phew. However, we had somehow inherited another teenage mobster on our boat…but he remained quiet. Thankfully.

On the way back, the little dude on our boat started asking me about my sunglasses. They are Oaklies and I paid $190 US for them in San Diego…and he was asking me how much they cost. I said 600 baht ($20) – I figured best not to tell him the truth. He said “Can I have?” I shook my head. He said “for 20 baht, can I have?” Sorry little guy. This is when Scott started feeling bad for him and wanted to give him a bit of money. So we ended up giving him a small tip of 20 baht for his help and he was pretty thrilled. I felt somewhat guilty for using Burma as a place to renew my visa to remain in Thailand without staying and contributing to their economy, and learning about their culture and people….

The nice Burmese kid that actually did some work, so I gave him a tip instead of our sunglasses.

The nice Burmese kid that actually did some work, so I gave him a tip instead of our sunglasses.

Anyway, we made it safely back to Thailand without much incident except the boat breaking down at one point, but the young dudes were able to fix it. Our experience in Burma was short-lived and not exactly the most wonderful or amazing experience I’ve ever had, but it was interesting.

Leaving Ranong

After waiting for about 40 minutes back in Thailand for Jai to pick us up, she finally came…with her sister and two twin two year old nephews in the car. Apparently, their mother has a one-year old as well…which is a little insane…and we saw the great grandmother (ancient) doing some laundry as we dropped her off. Jai told us a bit about her family and how she has two sons of her own, but no mention of the Kiwi husband was ever given. We’re not quite sure what happened there.

We got back to Jai’s place, ate some lunch, and planned to take the 1:30 bus to Chumphon. She was trying to sell us on taking the night boat to Ko Tao, but I had read that she tends to over charge for the price, and upon further research, we realized the night boat was a 7 hour ride starting at 11 p.m. Totally not our style – the daytime boats only take 2 hours. I asked her about a mini bus, and for 30 baht more, we could leave that exact instant (my timing was impeccable) and be dropped off at a hotel in Chumphon that she recommended. Sounds good to me.


The rickety homemade pier... Scott and his dad could probably construct something more stable than this, and that's not saying much.

The rickety homemade pier... Scott and his dad could probably construct something more stable than this, and that's not saying much.

It took us another 2.5 hours to get to Chumphon, even though it was only 100 kms away – again, the mini bus kept dropping people off and picking them up! UGH. The town is basically another crap town, used solely by tourists to go to the islands. We bought a ticket for the afternoon boat to Ko Tao and settled on some dinner in a rip-off tourist restaurant – we’re usually against these, but Scott hasn’t really been eating from his sickness and we wanted some non-spicy food to take ‘er easy. We had pasta and pizza and ended up feeling like crap – our bodies are used to eating the very fresh Thai stir-fries, curries and salads that Thailand is famous for and not sluggish American food. We’ve decided that when we get home we’re going to cook more like this – it seems to really agree with us for the most part…we have more energy, zero tummy problems that tend to ail me when I’m home, and I miraculously have lost my lactose intolerance and allergy to coconut milk.

We are now on the ferry to Ko Tao, after a harrowing bus ride from the town where our bus broke down several times. They finally put us on a new bus and the ferry waited for us. We’re excited to be heading back to the beach, even though we’ve been here before and it’s not as beautiful as the Phuket/Phi Phi area, but we’re still thrilled. The Gulf Coast islands have a better vibe in our opinion and we’re looking forward to going back to Ao Thong Ne Pan Noi. However, we were doing some internet research, and it appears our beloved paradise has gone through some serious developments and now consists mainly of big resorts – not the beautiful remote beach huts scattered on the beach when we were there in 2006. Baan Panburri has tripled their prices, tripled the number of huts available, has doubled their size, and now has a swimming pool…so we’re worried the lovely home restaurants (where you literally eat in people’s homes) are gone and that we’re not going to love it. But first, we are hitting Ko Tao to become advanced divers…but only if Scott’s ear co-operates. I think we’re going to visit a doctor to see if he permanently damaged it on the GBR when he forced himself to go under….so it could be me getting my cert solo. Wish us luck!

Update: The ear’s OK, doctor checked it out and it’s all good.

3 comments to From Ranong to Burma to Ko Tao

  • Cheryl

    Sounds like teenage boys are the same everywhere.

  • Mer

    If Thailand is the cure for lactose intolerance then I’m there! 😉

    I’m kind of thinking Austrailia and Thailand in August and Sept….:D

  • Jessica Yamamoto-Molina

    This posting has been very helpful as I’m planning for my family to do a border run from Koh Phangan to Myanmar via Ranong. Debating between the pre organized mini bus or possibly renting a car, it seems as though we may opt to just drive ourselves. Might be more efficient and comfortable!

    Regarding lactose intolerance….Lactose is not found in coconut water or coconut meat. Lactose is found in animal milk. Avoid consuming cow/goat milk and you can heal your lactose intolerance problems.

    Also, fellow travelers…. please do not give money to people who are harassing you as it only encourages them to continue to harass those of us that come after you.

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