For the majority of Thai expats, especially those who reside in Phuket, Ranong used to be an easy visa run destination to neighbouring Burma. Since the 2014 coup, after a series of crackdowns on visa runners, Ranong visa run agencies are seeing much fewer clients. Though at first sight Ranong is nothing more than a usual border town, it manages somehow to preserve a character of its own. Mind-blowingly tasty food bears pronounced Burmese and Chinese influence, and Ranong definitely benefits from the changes which are underway in Myanmar. The main draw of the wettest province in Thailand is live-abroad diving tours which bring you to majestic Surin Islands or Burma Banks, rightfully listed among the world’s prime diving destinations. Charming Koh Phayam and Koh Chang (not to be mixed up with the Koh Chang in Trat Province!) are an ideal choice to get out of it all and indulge in that idyllic ethereal atmosphere of a far-far-away place.
How to get from Bangkok to Ranong
There is no railway line passing through Ranong, the nearest station located in Chumphon on the Gulf coast. Technically you can first go from Bangkok to Chumphon by train (from seven to 9 hours) and then switch onto a bus from Chumphon to Ranong (two hours), but it is only worth doing if you by some reason plan a stopover in Chumphon or are going to Koh Tao first.
From Bangkok to Ranong by bus
The main bus terminal in Bangkok for all southbound trips is the Southern Bus Terminal, also known as Sai Tai Mai. It is located on the Western banks of Chao Phraya River and is best reached by taxi. Travel time from Bangkok to Ranong is from eight to 9 hours which makes a night bus the most convenient option as it saves your daytime and some baht otherwise spent on a hotel room.
Niomit Tour operates Express, VIP and VIP24 buses from Bangkok to Ranong, all departing at 9pm and reaching the destination between 4.50am and 5.30am. VIP and VIP24 tickets include a light meal during the journey, while with an Express you have only snacks which is actually of minor importance – unless you are a night-eating type. Tickets costs THB460/550/710 for an Express, VIP and VIP24 bus correspondingly. If you have an extra baht, it is always wise to opt for a VIP24 to have more leg and elbow space. Besides, there have been reports that express buses make too many stops on their way to Ranong, picking up passengers and cargo with cabin lights going on every time the bus stops. If you do not mind your journey last longer than expected, than an express is also ok.
Tip: As with all long haul buses in Thailand, air-conditioning in Niomit Tour buses is an issue: it may get freezing cold on board, so have some warm clothes at hand – the blanket you will be given is not always enough!
From Bangkok to Ranong by air
Even if you are the most determined overland traveller, it sometimes pays to consider a flight, too. Several low-cost airlines in Thailand offer tickets at discounted prices during certain periods, so check if you can catch a great deal.
Nok Air operates two direct flights to Ranong from Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok. There is a morning flight at 6am and an afternoon one at 5.05pm. The flight lasts 1 hour and 25 minutes and ticket prices start from THB1150 (lower during promotional periods). Note though, that Ranong airport lies some 22km south, so you will need at least 40 minutes to get to the city from there.
Rung Kit company operates Express buses from Ranong to Phuket. They reach the island in 5½ hours and cost about THB300. There are departures at 6.30am, 9.30am and 4pm. Please note that with the last departure you reach Phuket bus terminal by 9.30pm, so it is advisable to book your accommodation in Phuket in advance or opt for any guesthouse in Phuket Town rather than heading immediately to the beaches.
Other destinations from Ranong include Suratthani, Krabi, Phang Nga, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai. Tickets are easily bought right on the spot at Ranong bus terminal which is just one km from the city centre and is reachable by blue songthaews.
All those stereotypes related to a paradise island are true for Koh Phayam. This little gem of an island has long sandy beaches, crystal clear blue seas, old-school bungalows and an air of a perfect island hideaway which becomes a rare bird nowadays. Though Koh Phayam is the main tourist destination in Ranong province, the island never feels overcrowded and chances that you will find a fair stretch of the beach just for yourself are high. Narrow island roads are car free, and electricity round the clock is a privilege of a couple of bigger resorts. That said, many accommodations offer Internet, so you will not feel too isolated from the rest of the world if you need it in your smartphone.
Unspoiled beaches are undoubtedly the main attraction of Koh Phayam, but do not underestimate its hilly interior covered with jungle where a variety of short route for hiking attract those who get tired with a postcard-perfect sea picture of Koh Phayam. Koh Phayam lies 35km from the mainland, so estimate that your trip there will take from ¾ hrs by speedboat to two hours by ordinary ferry. Boat service is offered all year round, but the majority of smaller bungalows close for the low season from April to October.