It was an unfair match from the start. Ranong never stood a chance. Krabi has the beaches and the limestone karsts jutting out of the water, internationally known and recognized, picture-perfect-paradise; it’s one of the places all the pretty people go. I’m still trying to figure out what Ranong has. Even native Thais don’t know much about this province.
Krabi 365 is the marketing slogan used to encourage world travelers to come back and explore the beauty and excitement of Krabi again and again. Once is not enough; you can, and should, enjoy Krabi any day of the year. On the mainland there’s Krabi Town and Ao Nang and the Railay Beaches. There are boat excursions to the neighboring islands, Phi Phi in particular, coral reefs and snorkeling, diving and lounging in the sand and surf, day trips and resorts, international food, bars and people. There are ex-pats from all over the world here and you can even find a half-way decent pizza. The place is a veritable playground.
I spent a few days in Krabi recently and one afternoon had the pleasure of chatting it up with a fellow American, an ex-pat from California. He puts up with the hassles of being an ex-pat: the long lines, the visa renewals and the need to carry extra baht, and prefers that to the taxes back home. It was May and low season, the start of rainy season here in the south of Thailand when the international tourists dwindle and condensate in the tropical humidity. From May to October the winds shift and the cooler, moister monsoon rains change the mood and makeup of Krabi. The weather is never consistent during these months and the tourism folks say this low season can be a wonderful time to relax on the uncrowded beaches and amble the deserted streets of town. The unpredictability of the weather can be a draw in itself—an attraction and a toss up. It might not rain at all during your time there, or it may rain a little each day, or it may rain for two solid weeks. Do you feel lucky?
Meanwhile up the Andaman Coast a few hours sits Ranong Province. It is Thailand’s least populated province; it is 80% forested and 67% mountainous. It is also Thailand’s wettest, rainiest province and it boasts the pithy slogan: 84, with a dark cloud with its rain over the 8 and a sun with its rays over the 4. Eight months of rain and four of summer. This is someone’s idea of a good marketing idea. Ranong is a beautiful province on the western coast of the Malay Peninsula with an unbroken line of mountains to the east and a smaller, narrower band of hills adjacent the Kra River, Myanmar and the Andaman Sea to the west. Ranong is known for its cashews and shrimp paste, Burmese laborers and refugees. But it has other charms as well: National Parks and waterfalls, hot springs, a biosphere and mangrove forests, coffee, rubber and white clay mining (for porcelain).
I’ve only been a resident here for about 2 months and the eight month rainy season is just beginning now. It looms dark and heavy over my mood already. I’m not looking forward to the clothes that won’t dry. I’m not looking forward to the unexpected downpours as I walk home or to the influx of mosquitoes and other wet weather creatures that thrive through the puddles and the mud. Already the frogs are starting their well-rehearsed symphony. In the early evenings when the sun goes down behind the mountains I’m nestled in, the mosquitos and other flying night creatures force me off the patio and into the living room where the windows get shut to keep out the winged nuisances. I retreat to the world of BBC and NBC, Netflix and reruns. The other night the rains came down so hard I had to shut off the computer because I couldn’t hear it over the deluge outside. The frogs sounded happy though.
One of my fellow volunteers lives in Krabi, the real Krabi, a couple of hours from the beaches and the tourists. As we were leaving our pre-service training back in March, his counterpart passed out big, glossy promotional books extolling the beauty of the province, trying to draw out tourism dollars from a group of pitiful Peace Corps volunteers on a slim, fixed budget. It was a beautiful book of heft and hype and suitable for a coffee table, if any of us had a coffee table.
When I arrived to my site I asked about a similar souvenir book rhapsodizing the virtues of Ranong. I was handed a slim volume that could easily slide into my back pocket, with cheesy photos, crude maps and poorly translated text. It’s hard to compete with the big boys down the coast. Krabi 365 has even taken their rainy season and transformed it into something desirable. Besides being the low season, the rainy season, it is now the green season, a time when the abundant rains refreshen and renew the jungles and mangroves. I wish Ranong had thought of that first, with 8 months of rain, we could whip Krabi’s ass any day of the year.