Note 12.3.15: I have absolutely no recall of spending four nights at Bang Saphan, yet the two spent in Ranong are indelibly etched in my memory.
(Written on Koh Pa’nang 7.2.86)
Jamie and I left Bang Saphon almost reluctantly. An early morning hitch with a school teacher and her charges took us the 4kms into the town proper. It being a Saturday, it was market day with hawkers setting out their wares – plastic bowls, metal woks, seasonal fruits (pineapples for 2 baht) and vegetables, and last year’s fashions – in the town’s one street. A leisurely breakfast was followed by a leisurely train ride, stopi8ng at every halt to let on or off market goers and the village boy’s football team.
We detrained at Chum Phon after an e3ngossing three hours spent quietly observing the life3 in the carriage – a pleasant community – and the life outside the wide open window. Kingfishers flashed their iridescent blue wings, white egrets left the paddy fields to lazily seek shelter in the coconut groves, and water buffaloes freed from the seasonal ploughing contentedly, albethey still tethered, grazed the rice stubble around them.
Chum Phon proved to be a concrete crossroads, a strategic meeting place on the Singapore >< Bangkok highway, for the road west to Ranong, the islands to the east, and the railway. Outside the station were three retired steam locomotives which would have travelled our route many times before the advent of diesel in 1967.
(If only British Rail would show such a regard for the heritage and significance of their history. A museum is a sidetrack whereas the sight of a now soundless locomotive within the community it once served is a salve to the nostalgia of that community.)
A bus expressed us over the central mountains. It was a delightfully scenic journey enlivened by an eel attempting to escape from its plastic bag prison, the complete contents of a market stall and the usual drunken soldier reporting back to barracks from his leave – what is your name? where are you going? hello you…
And so to Ranong. Tony Wheeler says there are several hotels to be found. The first was an old Chinese edifice. The stairs were blocked by two aging plump ladies fingering a Burmese banknote received for a night’s favours. The corridors were long and dark, and lined by a row of cell doors, with the gap between the wall and ceiling being met with a wire mesh. At 70 baht it was cheap, but all enclosing and far from cheerful.
The next hotel was modern, comfortable – the twin beds had the thickest layer of Dunlopillo yet slept on, and clean-tiled bathroom spotless. With cold drinking water, towels and soap provided, we thought it good value and paid – remember this – 240 baht for two nights.
A pleasant meal with different courses at different tables in the market area’s night market followed our evening stroll in search of the estuary dividing Thailand from Burma. We discovered that Ranong has no centre, just the main road with its side members; it wasn’t very inspiring.
The next morning we set off for the port serving Burma through a four kilometre of wasteland lined with concrete boxes filled with homes, shops and motor mechanics. The port itself has few concessions to planning aesthetics and is an absolute mess. Jamie made the observation that everything seemed to be geared to the making of money. Whereas in the west the accumulation of wealth is geared to the meeting of daily needs and leisure wants, here it seemed that the making of money was an end in itself. The cigarette girl trying to overcharge me for my Krong Thip cigarettes was but a minor annoyance.
Apart from having a colour television apiece, there was little evidence of creative thinking. And I’m not referring to the business which mounts heavily lacquered lobsters and crabs in ornamental perspex boxes with a kitsch background, These were too grotesque even for Pennywise bargain stores. On the floor were stuffed bears and wild cats from Burmese forests; both illegal and obscene.
We did take a boat ride to the edge of Burma’s territorial waters though. Maybe the going rate was less than the 120 baht we’d been told in the hotel but the boatman wouldn’t go lower after extended bargaining. That could be why he seemed pleased to show us off to his passing friends as he steered the long shaft of the propeller driven by a small noisy car engine.
The ride was pleasant, affording a view into the stilted shanties lining the estuary banks. Wood and corrugated iron may not be as enduring as cement but they provide a more pleasing vernacular vista. We didn’t get close enough to Burma to form any impressions other than judging from the small fleet of noisy wooden boats like ours speeding both ways across the channel there is a busy trade.
(Note: Ranong is now a departure point for visa runs.)
That afternoon. Jamie had problems convincing the lady at reception that we had paid for two nights accommodation and had not in fact checked out.
Part two, ‘A Fistful of Baht’, follows …