Rayong to Ranong to Sadao Wednesday 11- Wednesday 25 February 2009
So sadly this time we said goodbye to Margi, Dear and Seefar for the REAL last time. Margi's house had really come to feel like "home" for us in Asia and it was great to have a base between trips. Seefar really enjoyed a good work out with her Kataw ball..we'll really miss her …but thought taking her to India might be a bit cruel - as if Margi would let her go!!
We had a look around the Port of Rayomg which was a hive of activity. Closer to home in Ban Phe -the little town where Margi lives- the anchovy season was underway ..which you could smell very strongly! They dry out the little fish to make fish sauce and also use as they are. I was once very sick after eating them in Indonesia and so am firmly off them !
We had a bit of a scare at Rayong customs. The first time we entered Thailand we never got a temporary import permit for the car as customs was closed when we went through, so we had never heard of it until we were asked for it on leaving. We shrugged blankly and they let us through. The second time we were given one and filed it but our Belgian friends Juliet and Jeff told us that it only admitted the car for one month and there were dire repercussions if it wasn't extended.. like huge fines and confiscation of the vehicle. Anxious to avoid this we headed to Rayong customs and spent an entire afternoon requesting an extension. They did mutter once over about a fine (we were already past the 1 month point) ..but eventually they gave us a letter ..stating that Andrew's malaria for which we had a certificate - was the reason for delay. Contrary to expectation it cost nothing. I have to say we really haven't had any problems with the authorities in Thailand ..a couple of times police officers made a half hearted attempt to get a fine out of us ..for mild traffic infringements but by playing the dumb farang "not understand….Australia…..not understand" ……..we always got waved on!!! Though some people we've met have had issues for us compared to Indonesia -where we were really screwed up the customs authorities - it is a haven of honesty.
Anyway I digress ….with just a day of our visa left we did a solid day's driving straight to Ranong the nearest border with Myanmar for our final border run. We arrived pretty tired and took the easy option of getting a speed boat across to the Andaman resort. This is a luxury hotel/casino frequented by wealthy Thais (as gambling is illegal here) and tourists. You can apparently organise use your own boat directly to get a stamp in Kawthoung or Victoria point (the old British name) but no one was volunteering much information about how to do this and it all felt too hard.
So we took the boat to the beautiful Andaman resort and enjoyed lunch overlooking Victoria point ..as a slightly early (12th February) Valentines present to ourselves! It really didn't feel remotely like being in Myanmar I guess luxury hotels are fairly similar the world over. Anyway it was a nice relaxing afternoon ..and we got the final 15 day visa of our Thai trip!
We didn't feel the need to look around Ranong having done it all before. We went once more to the Princess Hotel (which had renamed itself the Tinidee) for a swim and hot spa (though it felt very sticky down south and we didn't really need the latter!) We also took a drive out into the countryside and stopped for dinner at Uncle Saen's restaurant and homestay. Uncle Saen was a very friendly guy who serenaded us by saxophone! Ranang was a nice spot and we enjoyed seeing it again.
We carried on our journey south down a lovely stretch of beaches leading towards Phuket which are very beautiful, and largely unspoilt by tourism, amazingly considering how near we are to the tourist hub. We are now very much retracing our steps and we stopped at a couple of places - Praphat beach near Kamphuan and Thai Meung where we ate and camped at Sea Ranch a nice pizza restaurant run by George a really nice guy from the Philippines - both of which we had stopped at on the way up -10 months ago now! George is also a professional golfer who offers coaching so contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org if this is your thing.
This area was really badly hit by the December 2004 Tsunami and over 15,000 people- consisting of sea gypsies local Thais and foreign tourists - died. We spoke to a sea gypsy lady who went to market and missed the wave by 2 hours -all her immediate family were killed. The sign we pictured shows that the wave reached the 5 metre mark but the reality was more like 15metres as the tops of the trees were broken at that level. A lot of the local buildings still showed a great deal of Tsunami damage.
We camped down on the beach and were woken up by sea gypsies very early in the morning. They were "hunting" squid by luring them out with bait. There were literally over 100 of them and they were doing a fair bit of damage to the reef which was just repairing itself after the Tsunami.
There don't seem to be any regulations here about that sort of thing - we stopped to see a lady selling mud crabs and all of them would have been undersized and thus illegal in Australia. The problem is probably more "new" people rather than the indigenous people who have always fished there but is likely to come to a head a few years hence if nothing is done.
Anyway as more and more squid fishermen arrived all talking very loudly we gave up the attempt to sleep and got up to watch them and were rewarded by a beautiful sunset. This area is renowned for good waves and Andrew met Matt from the USA the proprietor of the only surf shop in the area - but it was very flat so the boards weren't unpacked! If you're interested in surfing in this area (good waves for beginners apparently) have a look at Matt's site on www.pakarangsurfshop.com
We drove on to arrive in Nat Yai beach in the north of Phuket where we met up with Juliet and Jeff our Belgian overlander friends. We had been liaising with them on the phone and had arranged to meet up. Juliet is a qualified vet and had been working for a week at the Phuket Soi (or street) Dog centre, and we were planning to join her as fellow (but much less useful!) volunteers. I helped out at the shelter for 4 days with Juliet and Andrew and Jeff came and went sorting out some stuff with the car.
The dog shelter was extremely well run by a mixed team of Thais and farangs. I never quite understood who was exactly who in the hierarchy but everyone involved did an incredible job improving the lives of the animals -predominantly dogs but some cats also. Juliet and her fellow vets looked after sick animals and carried out a constant de-sexing program - over 100 animals were "done" in the days I was there.
Sadly some animals were cruelty cases or had suffered horribly due to poisoning but on a happy note many are adopted from overseas and one lucky dog flew off to start a new life in Sweden whilst I was there. The centre welcomes volunteers either to assist with operations or if they are a bit squeamish like me just to walk and give the dogs some much needed attention - as whilst they are very well looked after it is hard for the workers being so busy to give extra attention.
We met some very nice volunteers Hans from Holland and Carmen from Switzerland working at the centre. The dogs were adorable and very friendly to humans though there were a few fights between gangs! Some dogs had lost all their hair and some were scarred and battered but all were very lucky to have got to the shelter as most areas in Thailand have nothing like it.
There was one dog called Rhino (or crocodile?) who was we agreed the most odd looking dog any of us had ever seen …you can guess which one she is in the pictures! In fact there were a couple of odd looking dogs but they were all very loveable in their own way!! If you want to find out more about the good work the shelter does or volunteer yourself have a look on www.soidog.org
In the evenings we camped on the beach (apart from one night when it rained and we retreated to the shelter of the dog shelter for a dry but noisy night!) and went snorkelling and swam which was great fun.
We also got to be TV stars! The Thai station NBT had run an interview with Juliet on a piece about her good work at the shelter. They saw their vehicle and wanted to do an interview on their trip and Juliet and Jeff "kindly" got us involved! I enclose the link to our brief moment of fame! I think I sound very pompous and need a haircut - which us why I keep tossing my head about!!! The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZAKHT9coPA
Sadly we once more went our separate days -the Belgians hurrying on to Krabi and we had a bit more of a look down south in Phuket -including a quick look around some of the many marinas here which was very interesting for Andrew. We didn't enjoy it as much as last time as high season is very much upon us now and it was very very busy. We camped at the same scenic look out as last time overlooking Kata Noi beach but it was very different. The next morning we awoke a bit bleary eyed to find ourselves surrounded by sightseers who's arrived by the coach load to see the beautiful viewpoint and saw us brushing our teeth instead! We retreated back up to Nai Yang.
Next day we drove on down the coast into Trang one of Thailand's southernmost provinces. This was a lovely relaxed area - reminding us of northern Malaysia - not surprisingly really it's just down the road. It is very Moslem and fairly traditional -wooden boat building everywhere. There was also a lot of timber - forests of rubber trees everywhere which are cut up once their sap days are over, they also have plantations of cashew nuts.
We came upon a bird singing contest - a very traditional Muslim activity. This time we found someone to explain- the birds in rotation get 30 seconds to sing - if they fail to do so twice they are "out" and it gets down to a "sing off" with one eventual winner. Shame the cages aren't a bit bigger.
Whilst we'd said our goodbyes to Juliet and Jeff we all arranged to meet up once more at the Hat Yao beach - by coincidence we again met up with Peter and Su the German/Thai overlanders we met previously so we had a little overlander's gang!
It was a lovely peaceful spot - no tour parties here! The next day with Jeff and Juliet we went on a day's island tour, with the boat's Captain (never got the name?) our guide guide Noi and a very nice Irish girl Claire who joined us. We went spotting dugongs (saw one ..very exciting) & dolphins - though the later were elusive. We also kayaked around the wetlands bird spotting snorkelled and had a delicious lunch. It was a really good day and all of our sides ached with laughed we had such fun. Maybe our noise drove the dolphins away!!
So, the final few days of Thailand had arrived. We stopped at Trang - very hot and here the tuk tuk drivers seem to take their birds along like a sort of radio! - and enjoyed a traditional Hokkien coffee - very big here. Then the Belgians headed straight for the border and we carried on to the Ko Phetra Marine National Park.
We had a look around and camped near a fishing village but most of the "must sees" were out on the islands and we didn't have the time. The local mosques have a distinctive "parachute" style and we certainly heard a few from 5am onwards -quite soothing actually. We enjoyed a final meal in Thailand of fish and pepper crabs.
Having a last look around before the border I took a final picture of the Royals - will be funny not to see the King's portrait everywhere.
We just heard that the Aussie journalist jailed for 3 years for writing a novel with a fictional King which was said to be disrespectful to the King and thus committing the offence of lese-majesty had been freed by Royal pardon - which was really good news. On this good note after 6 months in Thailand -with a few side trips incorporated - we said a sad goodbye to Thailand (Andrew had a quick hair cut so he'd look smart at the border first!!) and drove South once more over the Sadao border back into Malaysia. Just over 10 months since we last crossed it.