In a nutshell
Located in the south of Myanmar, close to the Thai border town of Ranong, you’ll find the small town of Kawthaung. Popular with those carrying out Thai visa runs, those who are travelling between the two countries and more intrepid travellers seeking to see as much of Myanmar as possible, there are several reasons this is a good place to visit.
Why go to Kawthaung
It might not be the most visually impressive of areas to spend time in Myanmar, but it’s a multicultural town to explore with points of interest including nearby waterfalls and beaches. Maliwan waterfall is a popular destination, and is definitely worth seeing if you’re in the area.
If you’re looking for some culture then as with most Myanmar towns you’ll find that there are several picturesque pagodas that you can spend some time exploring.
Other places and activities in Kawthaung that are popular with tourists and travellers include visiting the well known Andaman Club Resort Hotel, which is famous for its casino and is the only place you can gamble on this side of Myanmar.
Tourism off the coast is starting to develop and grow faster, meaning there is more availability for boat trips, including those that offer diving and snorkelling excursions. With tourism in its infancy do be very careful about safety standards and make sure you’re comfortable with any equipment.
When to go to Kawthaung
Kawthaung benefits from a climate that is hot all year round, although there is a defined wet season between April and November, the same as much of the rest of the country.
With its location at Myanmar’s southern most point and as it’s situated near the coast, the impact of monsoon season is felt strongly here. Expect many days of torrential rain in the months of May to September in particular, which may not be a great time to visit the area.
Getting around in Kawthaung
The easiest way to travel around the town is either on foot, or by motorbike taxi. There are many of these taxis available and costs less than a dollar for most short journeys that are taken.
Getting in and out
When it comes to getting to and from Kawthaung to other destinations, Thailand is by far the most popular.
The main reason for this is that the border is located just four hours north of Phuket and it takes only 20 minutes or so to travel between Myanmar and Thailand at this crossing. Generally, it is seen as a relatively safe and straightforward border crossing, although most people tend to enter Myanmar from this point rather than leaving – both are possible if required.
It’s easy to arrange a boat journey from Ranong to Kawthaung from most local travel agents, and often boats are just waiting if you arrive at the jetty. Typically it can cost anywhere from THB50 to THB400 to complete this journey, this will depend on whether you are using a travel company to organise this for you or whether you are travelling independently. If travelling independently you can try to share a boat with locals or negotiate with your boat operator if you are keen to try and reduce prices, but be respectful in how you do this.
Note Do bear in mind that if you plan to continue travelling Myanmar you will need to apply for a visa in advance – the visa on arrival is only for those who are doing a visa run and planning to head back to Thailand. This type of visa only lets you travel within 5km of the immigration office in Myanmar and is only valid for 10 days.
The boat journey to Kawthaung itself is generally safe and there’s some nice scenery along the way – do be sure to wear a life jacket if one is available. Luckily in recent years they have wised up a bit when it comes to safety standards! When you arrive at the Myanmar side of the border, you’ll find the immigration office just a few meters down the road from the docking point. Tour companies will bring you straight here to get your passport stamped so you can continue your onward journey. The process is similar in reverse.
If you’re travelling on through Kawthaung to see more of what Myanmar has to offer, there are several destinations nearby that you might want to think about including on your route. Check, Mergui, Dawei and Yangon – all are accessible by ferry or ship although some choose to fly to Yangon as onward travel to this point can be limited.
So strong are the links with Thailand that you’ll find that Thai Baht as well as US Dollars and Kyat are all accepted in Kawthaung, and many travellers choose to spend a day or so here getting acquainted with the local attractions.
Where to stay in Kawthaung
As a fairly small and less developed area of Myanmar, whilst different accommodation and food options are available there’s not a huge amount of choice. It does vary from budget backpacker hostels to high quality hotels so you should be able to find something that suits your travel budget. If travelling in high season it’s worth booking in advance, and all accommodation providers can help you with travel advice in and around the area as well as onward travel.
Where to eat in Kawthaung
The situation with food and restaurant options is similar, although the benefits of being in a less touristy area are that prices are usually very low.
There are one or two places with English menus and western food options, but for the most part you’ll be enjoying traditional Burmese cuisine. As well as the tasty curries on offer, there is some Thai inspired food as you might expect from a town so close to the border, and this is always a popular option with travellers in the area.