Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ranong, Thailand-Burma border

Ranong will be memorable for the ‘taxi’ rides we took. After leaving the dinghy at the top of a steep boat ramp, and walking through some kind of depot, we found the Andaman ferry terminal where we were told a taxi would come for us. We sat on the grass for half an hour watching pigs grubbing along the road, and decided to hoof it, hoping that the information we’d been given was maybe confused, and that it actually wasn’t 5 or 6 km to Ranong. As we set off, a passing ute reversed back and offered us a lift to town. (When was the last time you rode in the trayback of a ute on a main road!) Just as well, because we discovered that Ranong wasn’t a port town but was 8 km inland.

The ute dropped us in the main street where we found a fantastic restaurant, called Sophon’s Hideaway if you ever get there, and which is owned by an Australian and had the most wonderful food. (Yes, I know this journal does focus a lot on food, but we ARE in South East Asia)

After exploring the town for a few hours it was time to get back to the boat. We stopped in at Sophon’s for a drink and to call a taxi. The café owner phoned his off-duty chef, who’d cooked our lunch earlier, to take us back to the boat ramp in his ute, a twin cab but really a one and a half cab - Ali and I were folded up like deck chairs behind the front seat.

The chef drove us to the boat ramp where we found that the tides here are like Darwin’s and that there was no way we could launch our dinghy off the end of the ramp, which was now a metre out of the water. Hmmm. Walked back to the Andaman terminal, and into the café there. We asked them to call us a taxi. Lots of nodding, blank looks, giggles and more nodding, and someone went to the phone, came back and indicated the taxi was coming. When it turned up, we were a little surprised to see it was another ute, another one and a half cab like the chef’s. Oh well, who’s to say a sedan is the only style a taxi can be? Maybe utes are more useful in Ranong. ‘Ranong?’ we asked the driver. He looked a little mystified, and looked at the other people standing around. Great, a taxi driver who doesn’t know how to get to the main town. ‘Ranong?’ we repeated, nodding and looking encouraging. He kind of shrugged and nodded, and waved us into the car.

Ali and I squeezed into the half cab, and then it got even squishier when Ali tried to sit on top of me. ‘Look! Look!’ she whispered , pointing at the seat on her side and jamming me up against the opposite wall. There was a belt and a holster with an automatic pistol in it on the seat. ‘Just don’t touch it,’ I whispered back, ‘it’s ok, it’s in the back with us, not in the front with the driver.’ He must be a security guard moonlighting as a cabbie, I thought. He pulled up at an office along the way and jumped out. We told Lex about the pistol. He wasn’t worried (!!), and obviously neither was the driver, leaving total strangers in his car with his pistol on the back seat.

He came back after a minute and we headed off again. ‘Police,’ he said, pointing at himself. ‘Oh? Not taxi?’ we said. ‘Police,’ he said again. Well, that explained the pistol I suppose, and the heavy duty mobile phone and the radio we noticed under the dash. We tried to explain that we were sailing, and I drew a picture of a yacht. The driver said ‘Ah, Mayam,!’ Aha !Mayam must be Thai for yacht! ‘Yes, Mayam!’ we said happily, delighted to have found one word we could communicate with. A minute or two later he slowed down to make a turn. ‘No no,’ said Lex, pointing the other way, ‘Ranong!’ The driver looked confused. ‘Mayam,’ he said, pointing the other way. Then I noticed a road sign to Mayam. So much for our one word of Thai. ‘No, Ranong!’ Lex said emphatically. The driver shrugged again, and turned towards Ranong.

He dropped us off at Sophon’s and if he really was a policeman, he didn’t knock back the taxi fare we offered. So back into Sophon’s for another great meal, a couple more Singha beers and a few games of pool to while away the hours until the tide was high enough to launch our dinghy.
About 8pm Lex asked at the bar if they’d order us a taxi. Guess who? Yes, our chef-taxi again, with a big smile on his face. We’d obviously paid far too much the first time. He drove us back out, except this time, naturally, the depot gates were shut. Lex had gone out and bought a torch just in case this happened and he needed to climb over a wall to reach the dinghy from the other side, so at least we had a light. A little side gate was unlocked, so we squeezed through and walked down to the boat ramp, hoping that the dogs we’d heard earlier that day weren’t going to turn out to be huge slavering Rottweilers. The tide was coming in, and with a bit of tricky manoeuvring, we managed to get the dinghy back into the water without puncturing it – or ourselves - on sharp oyster shells.

Ranong is the jumping off point for Burma, and there were streams of longtail boats and little ferries passing back and forth from what we worked out to be Mayam. Its waters were too shallow for yachts so we were restricted to the awkward and rolly anchorage off the Andaman Club jetty. One night was more than enough and we returned to Koh Phayam the next day with the outgoing tide ripping us through the channels.

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