Saturday, January 7, 2012

Touring the southern provinces - Part III

I had not expected to like Ranong all that much. I figured it to be just another big city with the usual urban blight and widespread poverty but it surprised me. Overall it's clean and nice looking, a pleasant city that I would visit again. It's a major fishing port situated on the Kraburi River from which it gets its character and to me, an Alaskan traveler hailing from a different sort of fishing port, its charm. We stayed an extra day there too at a nice hotel, the Pathu Resort. Although Nut sat at poolside for a photo but we never went in the water because the weather too cool.

The restaurants in Ranong specialize in seafood and we ate some terrific dinners there. Mussels, prawns, ocean fish, crab. The crab we had reminded me of the famous soft-shell crabs I used to get once in a while on the east coast. Those mostly came from Chesapeake Bay and I have no idea if the local crab is related to that species but I know this, it was delish and we ate the shells along with everything else.

We took a ride to the far side of the estuary one evening. It was nearing sunset and I took a few photos looking back toward the city and its fish processing neighborhood.

Fishing boats - Kraburi River - Ranong

Kraburi River side channel - Ranong
Sunset on the Kraburi River - Ranong
The Kraburi River separates Thailand from Myanmar. The hills you see in the above photo are in Myanmar. Many travelers use this port as a jumping off point for visa runs. For a small fee local small boat owners ferry tourists across the river to obtain the required visa stamp.

After leaving Ranong a short ride in fierce headwinds took us across the peninsula to the east coast again, back to Chumphon. The owner of the little guest house recognized us as soon as we pulled in and made us feel very welcome. As guest houses go, the Somkiss is pretty nice: 350 baht (for a nice room with TV, wi-fi, fridge and aircon. Plus it has good parking for the bike, well off the road and out of sight.  Nut tells me that having a new motorcycle with no plates on it (it takes 30 days to get license plates in Thailand) makes the bike easier to steal so I've been drawn to hotels with secure parking. Consequently we've been paying more than usual for lodgings on this trip -- about six or seven hundred baht.

I loved the route we took on our way south to Chumphon from Prachuap Khiri Khan and wanted to retrace it going north. I took my saved GPS track from that trip, ran it through GPSBabel, a fantastic swiss-army knife conversion program to both reverse the track and, due to the 500 point limitation of my GPSMAP 60Cx, with its "Simplify" function reduced the number of points it contained. I fed that track back into my GPS and merely followed it back. See it here. All the roads are good with the exception of a few miles that are potholed and if you ever drive it you'll see very little traffic other than local motorbikes on any of them.

The CBR at the beach road north of Chumphon
We did take a short side trip to a little beach that I'm sure hardly ever gets visitors. Tong Yang beach is spectacular. It's isolated, empty and undeveloped. It may even be private property although it was marked with a road sign just as other public beaches are.
Tong Yang Beach (above and below)

On the road to Tong Yang Beach
We got back to Prachuap Khiri Khan and Aou Minou beach, which although far more beautiful, isn't quite as touristy as Hua Hin, where we lucked into a fantastic guest house for only 500 baht ($15 USD). The aptly named Private Resort is a place I'll definitely keep in my little collection of faves. It's not right on the beach but it is private, quite roomy, has good motorcycle parking, and it's cheap.

After spending two nights at Private Resort we once again retraced our route back to Hua Hin. Along the way we stopped off at Sam Roi Yot National Park where we made what turned out to be a nasty climb up to the Sai Cave.  It was pretty neat and a bit spooky and we were the only ones there.  I made the photo below from 3 others shot with exposure bracketing and then merged them into a single photo with Photoshop's HDR (High Dynamic Range) function. Unfortunately, Blogger has once again  mucked up the way it displays images if you want see full them size (you cannot), so I include it here as a full size image. The idea behind HDR is that you get the low density areas from a longer exposure jpeg that has no highlights while obtaining the highlight portion of the photo from an underexposed jpeg image. Combining the two increases the composite's dynamic range. It sort of worked but digital sensors still fall far behind silver halide films in terms of dynamic range and the sunny area is still blown out.

Sai Cave - it's no Ansel Adams but hell, I tried.
Sai Cave
Sai Cave

Nut inside Sai Cave
Time to close this chapter of my Thailand travels. We're back in Bangkok as I finish writing. I'm here because friends from the states are arriving soon, Jane from Homer, and an old college friend, Terry, whom I haven't seen in, let's see, can it possibly be that long? Forty-eight years!

Nut thought these two froggies we saw at a roadside cafe were cute so she photographed them.  I captioned them later.

Froggy conversation