When I arrived in Phuket I bought an old, not too pretty, but well-maintained 100cc Honda Wave. In the two years I’ve had it, it has never given problems and only occasionally asks for an oil change. It doesn’t have a working speedometer, stopped counting its milage years ago, goes up to 60km/hr and has a handy grocery basked mounted on the front.
Having quit my job as a sailing instructor and with plenty of time to go through the ridiculous process of a visa run, I decided to make the most of this hassle and drive from Cape Panwa to Ranong on this faithful moped.
The journey starts with a tiresome hike through Phuket’s traffic jams and road works and doesn’t really get interesting until Khao Lak -an unimpressive beach resort town, judged by Mexican and Thai standards.
I spent the night there, at a cheap and cosy guesthouse called Les Fleurs, got semi-drunk at the Monkey Bar, where the talented band was playing oldies but goodies, and left the following morning without wondering whether the town deserved another night.
After Khao Lak, a pristine road starts winding through palm oil and rubber plantations, fishing villages, national parks and tsunami-wrecked beaches; a truly enjoyable ride, even on a moped.
It took 4 hours to get to Ranong and, hoping to avoid unpleasant complications with Thai immigration, I decided this time to try to do my visa run via the Andaman Club; a casino, spa and golf resort located on an island belonging to Myanmar. I made it to the pier at 3.15pm, boarded a ferry at 3.30, arrived in Myanmar at 3.50, stamped in, stamped out, and was back in Thailand at 4.20pm, 10 minutes before the very friendly Thai immigration lady closed her counter. The ferry ride cost me 950 baht. Versus the pain of having to procure a crispy 10 USD note for the Myanmar officers to let you spend 5 minutes on their territory, the cost of the long tail to get you over there and the likelyhood that upon your return Thai immigration will find an issue with your visa, your work permit or your looks, the run via the Andaman Club proved well worth it.
Having settled that, I drove towards Ranong’s city centre, had an amazing pizza at Dahla’s (I hadn’t eaten all day, so maybe a bit biased), then crashed at the Ranong Backpackers Hostel, which was pretty decent.
This morning I woke up early and decided to make my way to Surat Thani via the most scenic routes possible.
Googlemaps wanted to send me up to Chumphon and then ride the motorway down to Surat. I decided against it and played around with the app’s satellite imagery until I found a road from Ranong which passed the hot water springs at Hat Som, the Huay Sum Pen Dam and the Ranong Canyon, and then supposedly went all the way to Phato.
However, discovery proved that after the Canyon, the road turns into a treacherous dirt and rocky path.
I could feel my Wave was not enjoying the bumpy ride and feared losing its suspension, popping a tire, drowning the engine in a stream or simply breaking down in the middle of the jungle.
I had to pass six creeks, some deeper, wider and trickier than others, got my jeans wet up to my knees and could see no end to this. Still, I held on to my faith in the little Honda and refused to turn back.
The path cut through desolate, thick palm and rubber plantations, with shabby cabins appearing once in while, housing the extremely poor labourers of these trades.
After torturing my bike and my ass for about 15kms, I came accross a sign that pointed to a waterfall (นัำตก) and decided it was time for a break. I took the detour, which again seemed to go on forever an ever on a shitty road, but after ten minutes found the Tapkon Waterfall completely deserted, unspoiled and beautiful.
Following a refreshing swim, I gathered my courage and resumed the ride, hoping it wouldn’t be long before I found some decent tarmac. Deliverance came some 7kms later, at the town of Pattana Suksa, where this dirt road from hell joins the 4006 road to Patho and from there continues towards the 41 motorway which connects Surat Thani and Chumphon.
Eager to finally get a glimpse of the Gulf of Thailand, I crossed straight over the motorway and headed to Laem Beach, from where I followed the coastal roads, passing through more plantations, fish farms and crappy roads, until I made it to bustling Surat Thani.
Having made it to my destination, I can now say I have no regrets. I won’t deny, however, that there were moments along the way when I felt nervous and stupid (…not the first time I think I’m smarter than Googlemaps). I certainly recommend this dirt path, but advise against doing it on your own, as there are no gas stations nor gas bottles, very few mechanics and no 7/11s along the way.