The South’s bypassed beauties

keeping peace: Lam Son National Park offers a serene and laid-back atmosphere. photos: Suthon Sukphisit

The South of Thailand is full of intrigue and mystique for explorers. Despite its reputation for being rain-soaked, the region can be enjoyed across all seasons.

But don’t be off-put by the rain — the charms of Ranong, Phangnga and Chumphon are calling! To start with, Ranong has long been overlooked as a tourist destination since it’s the rainiest province in Thailand, compromising opportunities for outdoor fun.

The other factor contributing to the province’s obscurity are the tricky-to-navigate narrow roads. Because of this, when people pass through Ranong, they are most likely to hop the border to Myanmar’s Song Island or Victoria Point, a town offering exotic souvenirs and natural onsen.

Still, travelling to Ranong has come a long way since the old days. Now, the province can be travelled to by plane, with two flights leaving Bangkok every day. The fares are more expensive than going to Phuket but the trips are less time consuming. The roads have also been gradually improved over the years.

There are several beautiful islands like Phayam, a trendy new destination for young tourists.

There’s also Tub Lee village, a place that’s getting busier by the day due to increasing business ties between Thailand and Myanmar. People from across the border visit Ranong every day, where you can find vendors selling fish, vegetables and curries from Myanmar in the fresh market.

A further must-do in the village is sampling the famous steamed buns.

For breakfast, it’s recommended to eat Muslim food at Roti Nisara diner in Baan Ngao village, seven kilometres outside the city of Ranong. For dinner, a good choice is southern food at Tod Rong Tao, which means “take off your shoes”, referring to the rule that customers must remove their shoes before entering the restaurant.

Next stop is Phangnga. On the way there, visitors should stop at the seaside Laem Son National Park where they will see gorgeous, well-preserved landscapes filled with pine trees and tiny, colourful parrots.

The views from Ranong en route to Phangnga are abundant with greenery and mountains. Provincial authorities deserve to be praised for the region’s cleanliness and successful nature preservation projects.

This could be in part because the two provinces are often bypassed for the more prosperous and glamorous Phuket. In Phangnga, for example, you won’t find giant advertisements, large car showrooms or super stores. Hotels are small. Cafes and restaurants are simple, and sell mostly Muslim food and local dishes.

Places that once enjoyed a tourist heyday like Pan Yi Island, Ping Gun Mount and Tapu Mount in Phangnga Bay offer a touch of tranquility and a pinch of nostalgia, making it a lovely vacation spot.

Then there’s Chumphon, the gateway to the South. Another largely bypassed destination, it is home to an old airport that is no longer in use. The most famous attractions are Toong Wua Lan Beach and Had Sai Ree Beach. Unfortunately, they have not been well maintained.

On the other hand, however, the seaside hotels are fairly modern and spacious. There’s a large fishermen’s pier, meaning there’s plenty of seafood on offer.

Several tourist spots can be found nearby the sea like Toong Ta Ko village. It’s a small, quiet spot exhibiting all the traits of a true fishermen’s village, full of wooden shop houses and grocery stores. There is no fresh market. However, every afternoon, a vendor travels around the village selling freshly-caught fish.

Tourists enjoy staying at seaside hotels, as well as dining by the sea. But the seafood is not the most interesting offering that the community has on hand.

The best thing about the village is Yai Puad restaurant, which makes southern food. The restaurant is located in Soi Poramindara Makka 24, four kilometres away from town. The most popular dishes are spicy snapper soup in yellow curry paste, salted fried king mackerel and Bai Liang vegetable fried with eggs. As the best restaurant in Chumphon, it’s always packed. But it’s also quite expensive, catering mostly to tourists from Bangkok.

If you can’t get a table at Yai Puad, try this restaurant at the Villa Varich Resort — located on the same soi as Yai Puad, it’s a lesser-known venue nearby a small canal that runs through the resort’s garden. It’s a clean and convenient venue, single-handedly run by a brave young man who has never made any efforts to advertise the place.

Another restaurant worth mentioning is Pakpuak, which sells authentic Chumphon dishes that you cannot find anywhere like squid in coconut milk soup with Som Poi leaf, spicy Tai Pla soup with coconut milk and chilli paste with wintergreen. The prices are quite reasonable.

In the South, there are no shortage of places to find an ongoing connection to local tradition and an untouched sense of peace.

dish it out: Food at Pak Puak restaurant — squid in coconut milk soup with Som Poi leaf, chilli paste with wintergreen and fried mackerel.

green scenes: The city of Phangnga.