Fifteen Minutes in Burma

At some point a few days of rain and clouds hit Koh Phi Phi, a little bit of island fever set in, and I decided to move on. Back in Phuket, on the recommendation of Sam Miller from Westport, Connecticut, I ended up checking out Nai Harn Beach on the southern tip of the island. It is the diamond in the rough that is Phuket. A nice small town feel, beautiful beach, and not too far south of Kata and Patong, the places to go when you feel like jumping into the all night party madness that has invaded those towns. Relaxing in the shade on Nai Harn Beach

A.JPG

B.JPG

Sailing is big in Phuket, and The King’s Cup Regatta happened to be going on while I was there. You can see a cluster of boats out on the horizon battling it out for the day

C.JPG

Matt McGrath, also from Westport, and Sam were both crewing on a 120 foot boat for the week starting each morning at 7 a.m., so I only got to hang out with Sam one night and haven’t met Matt yet, but hope to catch up with both of them in the New Year.

It wasn’t long before my 30 day Thailand visitor’s visa plus a one time only 10 day extension were about to expire. That meant I needed to leave Thailand and re-enter. So I caught the bus up to a town called Ranong which is close to the Burma border. For around $5 round trip you can hire a boat to take you over to Kawthoung, Burma and then back. A somewhat rocky ride on a less than ideal day

D.JPG

This is where you pay $5 for a one day visa to enter the country. The Burmese immigration officer eyed me suspiciously as I pulled out the camera, but managed to crack a smile when I gave him a big thumbs up

E.JPG

There’s a little hut at the beginning of the pier where an immigration officer stamps your passport, and that’s it. Welcome to Burma! Or Myanmar as it is now called

F.JPG

As soon as you clear immigration, hordes of Burmese teenagers swarm around you with offers of cheap whiskey, rum, cigarettes, valium, viagra or whatever you can think of. It was hilarious. I bought a small bottle of Myanmar Rum for a dollar just so that I could get a photo of these guys. I have never seen a group scatter faster in my life than when they saw my camera come out. Not sure why, but they were not happy, as you can see from the ones that I did manage to catch

G.JPG

And with that, it was back on the boat and back to Ranong, where immigration welcomes you to Thailand with a stamp good for 30 more days. Preparing to sample the fruit of the day’s labor

H.JPG

None of us who drank from the bottle went blind or seemed to suffer any ill effects, somewhat surprisingly. I had planned to go straight back down to Phuket after my visa run, but the five hour bus journey kept getting postponed a day. There is a great little restaurant / bar on the main road in Ranong called Sanook. It is run by John, a half Swiss half Brazilian guy who is hilarious. Great little place to hang out and meet people, there is only one long table in the whole place that seats about 16 people. John calls it the social table. We surveyed the table one night and here’s what we had: One Dutch guy, one English guy, one Tunisian guy, one Swiss woman, one German guy, one Polish woman, one Finnish woman, two Thai women, one Belgian guy, one Australian guy, one Burmese woman, one American and the half Swiss half Brazilian John. It was so unbelievable to me that I wrote it down on a napkin. A great time turned even more hilarious when tequila shots came out after dinner. John told me he first came to Thailand eights years ago on a vacation. Five years ago he came back and hasn’t left since. Seems like there are a lot of those stories here. The man cooking up some kebabs on the grill

I.JPG

My one night in Ranong has turned into seven nights, I think every one spent at Sanook, at least to start the night. Last night they closed down the main road for a street party for a few hours. We were expecting live music, and I guess that is what we got

J.JPG

I kept asking when the rock and roll band was coming on. Below are Tony, Pon and Pon’s new little friend. Like many Thai guys, Pon holds Mr. Marley in high regard. Tony lives in Ranong teaching the local school kids to speak English.

K.JPG

Winding down the street party

L.JPG

Thailand is a scooter culture, it is not uncommon to see a man, woman and two children riding down the road on one. So I decided to take the plunge and rent one a few weeks ago back in Phuket. At $3 a day for a 100cc Honda, the price is right, and with some driving on the left side of the road in South Africa under my belt, I figured it would be alright. And it was, it’s been completely liberating having my own transport. I haven’t been without a scooter since.

Weather-wise, I think those photos at the top of Nai Harn Beach are from one of the maybe three or four days it has been sunny in weeks now. It is supposed to be the dry season here on the west coast, but that has not been the case yet. People keep mumbling about global warning. A few weeks back I took a flight from Phuket over to the fabled Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, where I arrived amidst the worst rains the island has seen in 80 years. After four days of non-stop rain, I threw in the towel and flew back to Phuket, where the mostly cloudy and occasionally rainy weather was a vast improvement. I assumed this had to happen at some point along the way, and if anywhere, I’m glad it’s here. You couldn’t pick a better place than Thailand to hang out and meet interesting people, rain or shine.

An optimistic postscript, I wrote most of this yesterday, and today, the sun was shining all day. Hoping the weather is back on track. Leaving Ranong tomorrow, taking a bus up to Bangkok, and then catching a flight to Macau on Thursday. I am going to have a look around there for a few days before hopping on the one hour hydrofoil over to Hong Kong where I am meeting my cousin Andy on Christmas Eve. From there, it’s back to the beaches down this way for New Years. Happy Holidays everyone!

Leave a comment