Kawthaung (or Kawthoung), is a cool border town in Myanmar that’s reachable from Ranong in Thailand by boat. The past few years it has gained a bit of popularity as a place where people working illegaly in Thailand go to make a visa run. Myself, I hardly saw any other foreigners. I should mention that during my first time in Burma you couldn’t do any kind of onward travel from these land border crossings, nowadays the situation has changed.
My idea was to continue to the Mergui (Myiek) archipelago or Dawei, but when I arrived to Khawtaung I realised that I didn’t have enough time to make the journey. It was my 3rd trip and I know that travel in Myanmar is slow, and the road was not finished yet so the only option to the Mergui Archipelago was with an unreliable boat that would have taken a day or two. So my plans of venturing further into Myanmar became indefinitely postponed, instead I settled for a few nights in Khawtaung.
How to get to Kawthaung
You can get to Kawthaung from Ranong in Thailand. As a footnote, I fancied Ranong and I’d recommend spending a night or two there, a chill city with some interesting streets and a nice local atmosphere.
From the city centre of Ranong you can take a songthaew for less than 20 baht to the pier. At the pier you will surely not have any problem to find the people taking you to Kawthaung, rather you will have a problem getting rid of those people. The ferry should be 100 baht per person in a shared boat and more if you’re going alone. Usually it’s not necessary to go alone, maybe only if you arrive very late and just before the closing of the borders.
The boat trip goes smoothly and as you can see on the pictures it’s a superb ride. You will stop at a few military checkpoints on the way where you have to show your passports but the Burmese immigration is at the port of Kawthaung (the same with the Thai immigration on the other side).
Where to sleep
Honey Bear hotel can be seen from the boat when you arrive in Kawthaung and it’s price is 800 baht per night. I stayed at the very clean and comfortable Penguin Hotel that was just a short walk from the pier too. In the beginning of 2016 I paid 500 baht a night, but I heard rumours that it could have been raised to 700 baht a night by now.
What to do in Khawtaung
At the beginning of 2016, there was absolutely nothing in Khawtaung that would be remotely similar to anything that you are used to. I spent my few days hanging out in very Burmese bars and very Burmese restaurants eating very Burmese food. In the evenings I drank very Burmese beer (Beer Myanmar) and watched the young guys playing snooker. No girls in the bars as always in every city in Burma except Yangon (apart from the waitresses).
You can use Thai baht quite comfortably in the town, but you’ll save yourself some hassle and you get a better exchange rate by changing your money to Kyat first.
Maliwun Waterfall & My Day Trip
Apart from just trying to be a normal guy doing normal things, I did one great daytrip, from which most of the pictures in this article come from.
I paid 1000 (€25/$28) to a motorbike to take me to the places in Kawthaung most worth seeing. There was a waterfall, a beach and a viewpoint. To be honest, I have no idea if I paid a fair price as I had no reference point, but the trip was worth every penny.
I really enjoyed each of the stops on my trip. On the whole trip, I did not see a single foreign person. The waterfall is called Maliwun and it was totally empty.
I have no idea what the beach was called, but I was there conveniently at sunset and apart from 2 Burmese guys, my driver and I, it was absolutely deserted. There was a resort in the vicinity that was called “Shwe Kyun Tha Resort”, ask your motorbike driver and they will find it.
As I visited the viewpoint after sunset I do not have any pictures worth sharing due to the lack of light. It could be that it’s even more interesting to go there during the daytime, but at dark it was very peaceful to see all the lights from the hill.
A couple of random stories from Kawthaung
One evening I met an Australian man who had some intentions of staying in the country for a long time. We took a few motorbike drivers, went to the market, bought food and a grill and took some of the drivers to the riverside and had a huge BBQ. We also got to borrow the kitchen of two sisters that had a restaurant just beside the water.
Another day me, Ali the motorbike driver and some other random stranger went for a massage. We had had a few beers before and I had actually gotten a bit tipsy. We all laid down in the same room on some mattresses on the floor. I remember feeling a bit dizzy and looking at the clock on the wall that had just turned 11pm.
The next thing that happened was that the massage lady stood up and left the room. I looked up and the clock read 5am. I was baffled and didn’t know what the hell was going on. I checked to my left, the random guy was gone, but Ali was still on my right side.
“You were sleeping so nicely so I didn’t wanna wake you up. The motorbike taxis don’t start working until around 8am, but I talked to the staff so we can sleep here on the floor until that”, was what Ali said. I was still a bit surprised, but I realized there was nothing I could do about it, so I slept a few more hours. After sleeping I paid the bill that totalled at around 800 baht(20€ / 23$) and went back to my hotel.
Some final thoughts on travelling to Kawthaung
I liked both Kawthaung and Ranong. They are both one of those places that are easily overlooked and just used as transit. I like watching people, I like border towns and I don’t need to do heaps of things all the time so for me they were both perfect. Border towns are usually very ethnically diverse, bustling and there’s a lot of trade. As Thailand is an important trading partner for Kawthaung, many people spoke Thai. If I couldn’t get by with English, I switched to Thai and could communicate with many people I otherwise could not have done. For example during my trip to the Maliwun waterfalls me and the driver stopped at a noodle shop. We had some noodles and the chef turned out to be half Thai but had lived in Myanmar for all her life. It of course ended in a long chat about this and that. I had the same experience in Koh Kong on the border with Thailand and Cambodia. Kawthaung is not for everyone, but if you kinda know your way around and want a genuine experience of a border town, then definitely stay a day or two.
If you want to travel further into Myanmar there are some good news. The road to Mergui is almost finished and you can now travel there by bus. Having had quite a few bus trips in Myanmar I wouldn’t expect a comfy ride, but who knows, you might get pleasantly surprised.