A Year in Bangkok – Road Trip to Krabi – Part 1

10 10 2010

I have often fancied driving down to the south of Thailand. A long way on poor roads apparently so sensible people fly but I never claimed to be sensible. People back home often ask me how the roads are in Thailand. The roads are fine, it’s the people who drive on them that terrify me. My guide book and a few on-line resources warn you not to drive in Thailand because it is so dangerous. Well, I have driven in several countries and have seen some pretty hairy things on the road. But it has been one type of worrying driving in, say, Malawi and another in Turkey. The problem with Thailand is that they have every type of bad driving here. Under all other circumstances that I know of, the Thais are an amazingly patient lot. Until they get behind a wheel that is, then they have no patience whatsoever. Everybody has to be first and they take appalling risks to achieve that. The tailgating is arguably the most frighteningly bad driving I have ever seen. And worse, put a normally polite, pleasant, patient Thai behind the wheel and he doesn’t just lose all patience, there is a good chance that he will suddenly become a homicidal maniac. So there we are, driving to the south is not necessarily sensible but the views are spectacular.

No confusion over which toilet to use here.

For the first leg, I drove 600 km from Bangkok to Ranong. I was advised that it would be a ten hour drive. It took me eleven hours but probably only six of those were actually driving. The first half of that, Bangkok to Pranburi is now familiar territory for me as I’ve done it so many times. It is dual carriageway that far and, as I left very early there was very little traffic. It was after Pranburi that I really started to enjoy the drive. The road went through Kuiburi, where there is a national park that is probably the best place in Thailand for seeing wild elephant. You can also see the elusive and very rare Gaur here and, if you overnight and are especially lucky, there are various species of big cat resident in the park and they do not seem to be camera shy.

Heading south.

The road continued south, following the gulf coast on the east side and the mountainous Burma border on the west side, to Chumphom where it veers westward and crosses the mountains. This was where we started making stops and detours. I have met these mountains many times before as they run the length of the Thai/Burma border. Kuiburi and Kaeng Krachan national parks abut the border, the ‘hot string’ in Kanchanaburi is in these mountains and I have driven along the ‘death highway’ in Trak province, so called because of the number of murderous raids by Burmese bandits. Somebody I know was working along there when some Burmese raided the place. He was the only survivor because he hid in a wardrobe. Actually, I think Bill was doubly lucky because they sought out everybody there before slaughtering them so they can’t have known he was there. There are hot springs (rather than string) near there too.

Punyaban waterfall.

We stopped for some seriously bad noodle soup and made detours to several waterfalls. This is the end of the Bangkok rainy season and has to be the best time to see waterfalls. I am so glad we made those detours as we saw some stunners. Ranong is Thailand’s wettest province and the rainy season here is eight months long. It is also the most unpopulated province and approximately eighty per cent of it is still forested. It is beautiful, lush, green and I love breathing the clean air. Koh Samet has the highest number of sunshine hours in Thailand and it rained when I went there. I am now hoping the weather will also be contrary in Ranong and stay dry for me. Certainly, the Lord Buddha must have been smiling at us as it stopped raining each time we detoured to see a waterfall.

Looking out from my hotel room in Ranong.

Ranong is the first southern province and, because of the Muslim insurgency in the south, there are military and police checkpoints as you enter Ranong. As we approached the checkpoint, a couple of tiny soldiers waved their huge guns at us. We almost came to a stop before they spotted my smiling white face and waved us straight through. Ranong city is a small border town and a lot of the people here are Burmese. It is famous for its hot springs – hot springs do seem to be a feature of this mountain range. Sadly for me, it is also living up to its reputation as being the wettest place in Thailand. Like all border towns, it is a little seedy. Ice bar, advertised as the coolest place in town for instance, has a big sign outside warning you not to take your weapons inside. I went in there on Saturday night and, apart from four staff members, it was empty. I guess the locals just don’t appreciate the idea of drinking without weapons.

Sunday morning, I woke up to watch a kite lazily circling directly ahead of my balcony. We wandered out and found a lovely market where the people there were very friendly. It’s a lot cheaper than Bangkok too!

Market street.

Suddenly it was time for lunch, after which we drove up into the mountains where we found a lovely little lake, interestingly called the Ranong Canyon. Driving back down in the pouring rain and listening to Stafford Galli perform ‘Walkin’ in the Rain’ we passed a small group of people doing just that so I had to stop and take a photo.

Walkin' in the Rain.

Then on to the Andaman coast just north of Ranong where a long narrow inlet leads up to the Isthmus of Kra. The road ends at a small village which at first appears to be a sleepy fishing village. However, when we see the water – which looks more like a river than the sea – our ears are assaulted by the roaring motors of several long tail boats acting as passenger ferries. People are being moved up and down the water, across to Burma and back, out to the open sea and I am amazed by how busy it is. A totally unexpected and amazing sight. Even better, we watch a fish eagle catch its dinner.

Dancing boatmen!

Finally, it is back to the hotel passing Ranong prison and a truck which has crashed into a house and is still there, with the front of the truck in the house – which is still lived in! The next leg of the journey will be the drive from Ranong to Krabi after breakfast tomorrow.

Truck stop!

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One response

11 10 2010
lola rainey

The truck stop photo is priceless.

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