The town of Kawthaung is situated on the southernmost point of mainland Burma (the old British name for it is 'Victoria Point'), opposite to Thailands province capital Ranong. It could be a pretty charming place, very green, surrounded by the Andaman Sea and many islands, among them Ko Chang within sight, Ko Phayam and the Mergui Archipelago somewhat further north. But it's not that nice. It looks rather like a provincial Thai town, but it's in a worse state than any of them. It's all quite run down, neglected and poor, many sideroads are unpaved, although some new buildings appear between old ones. Not too clean, however far not as bad as Tachileik in the Golden Triangle. Too many dogs are here as well.
The Main Road
Kawthaung's main road. It's a miserable place. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
The whole atmosphere appeals to my inner sense that one is better careful here. I don't believe Kawthaung is a particularly safe place. The business manners of some of the skippers are quite aggressive. A glance in their face gives a warning. No good faces. On the streets some of the men are approaching noisily and distanceless to foreign travellers. "MY FRIEND, MY FRIEND, COME HERE!". This kind. Like on Java. Besides some of these self-declared 'tourist guides' appear and want to show the place. Particularly the markets where one can buy whiskey, cigarettes and viagra and who knows what else. If you like to have some trouble, just go with them.
Accommodation for foreigners is limited and expensive. Only certain hotels with a governmental licence are allowed to let foreigners stay in their place. Other places of a better value wouldn't take one. Certainly there is much corruption in the background - additionally the state always charges a considerable commission. I had a look for the 'Honey Bear Hotel' at the piers. They want 800 baht for a room what is in quality comparable with the 250 - 350 Baht price range in Thailand.
The closest business relationships Kawthaung maintains with Ranong. Probably all the construction building supplies come from Thailand, as well as the consumer goods do.
The Seaside of Kawthaung
Arrival at Kawthaung. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Kawthaung's Town Gate
The town gate of Kawthaung. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
As a Burmese outpost the spot is quite cut off from main Burma. There is a long land connection along the coast, but it's a long way up to Rangoon (Yangon) - some 1000 kilometers. There are only smaller settlements along this part of the Andaman Coast, the roads are bad and, what I heared, part of the population is in a state of guerilla fight with the Burmese government. Probably Mon people. A few kilometers north of the town of Kawthaung is an airstripe on one of my maps. Seems to be outside the limited range a foreigner can go. Besides the flight connection to Rangoon there are certainly also ships going to and fro.
By the way, some people claim Kawthaung were an island. It is also called 'Ko Song' (second island) in Thai language. But it's not an island, it's on the top of a peninsula. For a map of the area click here.
To mention is also the Andaman Club Resort Hotel located on Thahtay Kyun Island, closely south to Kawthaung. Thai Chinese businessmen and some Westerners go there for visiting the local casino for trying their luck in gambling.
History and Ethnics
The area came under British control in 1824, during the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1823-26. Burma became part of British India then. The British called the southernmost point of the peninsula 'Victoria Point'. It remained under British rule until the independence of India in 1948.
A Burmese man, paring sugar cane. It's squeezed then in a clumsy machine for gaining sugar cane juice. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
There was no village at Victoria Point until around 1865, when a group of Arab-Malays arrived, founding a settlement here.
Kawthaung's population is very mixed-up. There are not only Burmese (Burmans) living, but also Thai, Mon, Karen, Shan, Moken and Malays, not to forget the omnipresent Chinese. Most of the people are buddhists (Theravada buddhism), the Malays are muslims.
Allah's voice is pretty noisy in Kawthaung at muslim praying time. The mosques blair out their messages in the highest volume in all directions. When I made some photos at the pier, two men in white costumes and long beards shouted at me: "Don't take photos here, fucking military!". In all my travelling experiences I had to notice, that male muslims are by distance the people with the lowest manners and the most aggressive habits. Even if they appear friendly there is in many cases a clear tension and aggression under the surface - falseness. That starts in Morocco and stretches until the far east. That is probably so because they know exactly that all other beings except male muslims are minor beings and will eventually end up in hell. These kind of muslims live in a state of absolute certainty that their medieval religious doctrin is the only right interpretation of reality. Also muslim women are minor in this view. There comes a suitable quotation in my mind: "Absolute certainty is the privilege of the uneducated mind and the fanatic", quoted after the American mathematician and philosopher Cassius J. Keyser. Reality is nothing fixed what one can 'have' or occupy.
Another Thai 'Visa Run'
For some travellers, long-term residents or 'expats' in Thailand, Kawthaung is known as one of the 'land'-borders to leave Thailand to get a new visa.
Longtail Boat to Kawthaung
One of the many longtail boats who go to and from Ranong and Kawthaung. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
And here the trouble starts. To get a visa extension one has to go first from wherever to Ranong. Next day one has to take transport (e.g. a local songtheaw, what is a kind of a public bus) to go to the pier. At the pier quite a number of ambitious boatsmen are trying to make customers. Some are very pushy, taking the prospected customer on his arm and leading (pulling) him to their boat.
Thai Border Control Post
This pretty building, placed on stilts at the mangrove shore, is another impact for the nature and a mean of repression for the border crossing human material. What for, after passing the border control in Ranong already remains a mystery. Moreover, there is a second of them two hundred meters further on a small isle. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Seeing a Westerner makes them even more ambitious. Their ambition is to make them paying at least the triple price than a local pays. Better ten or twenty times the price. Local people pay 20 Baht, but the skippers ask for 200 or 400. When denied, they appear almost insulted and try to give one a feeling as though one would try to take advantage on them. Not agreeing with the fare results in their denial. Bad thing so far. One might need some time to make a reasonable agreement. Alternatively one just enters the boat and pays the usual fare with the attitude of a matter of course at arrival. One created a fact then and now it's their turn to object - what they usually don't do anymore, at that point.
Bad are also the officials on both sides. Going to the Thai checkpoint, waiting in a line, arriving at the counter what is a tiny window where you have to bend deeply to get eye-contact to the officer. They always make digital photos now. One must look into the camera. Click, click, tamp granted - bam! - the next one.
The Outer Burmese Checkpoint
The first and completely unnecessary Burmese checkpoint at an island before Kawthaung. On the Thai side are even two of them. Seems that smart buerocrats have created jobs here in a completely unproductive, expensive, annoying buerocraty. It's just another waste of time. The maintenance for the repression is pressed out of the tax payers and those who must pay for the dull visa. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Any mean of transport includes a waiting time. Also the boat waits until they have a maximum of passengers. The first target after leaving the quay is a Thai customs office, a wooden building built on poles in the sea. Some more superfluous buerocracy has to be arranged there. The next stop is another Thai office at the shore of a tiny island with a huge Buddha statue on it. Again more buerocracy is performed here.
At the pier. These boats go frequently, so that one does at least not have to wait more than 15 or 20 minutes for the next run. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Then followes a 30 minutes trip over the sea. Ko Chang is well to see, not too far, with the big mountain on it's northern part.
The next stop is another, this time Burmese checkpoint on the shore of another small island. Again buerocracy has to be performed. Finally the boat stops at a pier of Kawthaung.
There is no end of the buerocracy of course, but there is no hint where to go to get the notorious arrival stamp into the passport. The immigration office is a green building at the very left of the pier. One has to find it by his own.
When you are the first in the line and nobody told you before that the officers require a photocopy of you passport, you have lost more time. I suppose if they want a photocopy (where is no need for) they could make one by themselves - but that's wrong. They are the authorities, they execute the rules. Authoritarian rules. No discussion, no reason, only obedience is required. So, the next walk is to a nearby copyshop. With the precious photocopy (5 Baht) then back to the end of the line.
Thai Custom Checkpoint / Ranong
The Thai immigration and border checkpoint in Ranong. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
But it's not about the photocopy. It's about money, of course. The photocopy is only to supply the copyshops with customers. The officers want cash. There is another strange rule applied. They either accept ten American Dollars (about 300 Baht) or alternatively 500 baht in Thai currency, what is almost the double price. Therefore almost every Westerner gives them the ten dollars. But there is a tiny little problem: they accept only perfect ten dollar notes. Not the slightest wrinkle in the bill, no sign of usage at all is accepted. Since most of the bills are no more as they were when new, a lot of people end up with paying the 500 baht. Best you print your dollars yourself. By the way, I put a perfect ten dollar bill in a book I borrowed in my guesthouse and presented it to them out of the book. No complaint.
This visa allows one to stay in Kawthaung for 15 days, but it's not worth to. There is not much to do except a two-hours stroll through the town's roads. Above all it's not allowed to go further than five kilometers away from the immigration office. I made a descent walk to get an overview on the place.
The way back is the same track along the buerocratic barriers in reverse. First dealing with the skipper for a descent price, waiting until the boat departs, the three islands with the checkpoints. With only a bit bad luck the boat arrives at a pier which is a kilometer north from the Thai passport checkpoint. Then one has to go back there, wait in the line, don't forget your 'immigration card', completely filled in. A ballpen is therefore necessary. They make another photo and one gets another stamp in the passport.
That's what it all was for. A stamp. Long story, silly outcome.