Despite being the soggiest town in the country, with over 5000mm of rain a year, RANONG has a pleasing buzz about it, fuelled by the mix of Burmese, Thai, Chinese and Malay inhabitants. It’s a prosperous town, the lucrative nineteenth-century tin-mining concessions now replaced by a thriving fishing industry centred around the port of Saphan Pla, 5km southwest of town, and its scores of fishing boats and fish-processing factories staffed mainly by notoriously poorly treated Burmese workers. As with most border areas, there’s also said to be a flourishing illegal trade in amphetamines, guns and labour, not to mention the inevitable tensions over international fishing rights, which sometimes end in shoot-outs, though the closest encounter you’re likely to have will be in the pages of the Bangkok Post. Thai tourists have been coming here for years, to savour the health-giving properties of the local spring water, but foreign travellers have only quite recently discovered it as a useful departure point for the alluring nearby little islands of Ko Chang and Ko Phayam. The other reason to stop off in Ranong is to make a visa run to the Burmese town of Kaw Thaung.
A stroll along the town centre’s main road, Thanon Ruangrat, brings its history and geography to mind. The handsome, if faded, shopfront architecture bears many of the hallmarks of nineteenth-century Sino-Portuguese design, with its arched “five-foot” walkways shading pedestrians, pastel paintwork and shuttered windows. Chinese goods fill many of the shops – this is a good place to stock up on cheap clothes too – and many signs are written in the town’s three main languages: Thai, Chinese and curly Burmese script.