Ranong to Ao Nang: My First Time Hitchhiking in Thailand

Events narrated in this article happened on Thursday the 5th of February, 2020. Jonas and I hitchhiked from Ranong to Ao Nang in Southern Thailand. Despite us having been in Chiang Mai for 60 days before, we had never gone hitchhiking in Thailand – yet! Read about our hitchhiking day and check out the cool map and the comparison between hitchhiking and taking public transport.

Preparations

After returning to Thailand from Myanmar via the Kawthaung – Ranong border crossing at the river mouth of the Kraburi River, we made plans to travel southward. We spent five nights in Ranong (ระนอง) building different travel scenarios that fit our 30-day Thai visa. This time, we would not extend the visa to 60 days as we did in Chiang Mai. Most of all, we’d finally travel around Thailand.

We settled on hitchhiking to Ao Nang (อ่าวนาง) in Krabi (กระบี่) Province over one or two days, then make our way to Ko Lanta Yai (เกาะลันตาใหญ่) probably via boat. After the big island of Ko Lanta (also known as Koh Lanta), we’d perhaps make our way to Malaysia entirely with boats. So this would probably be my first and last hitchhiking day in Thailand.

Getting to the main road wasn’t easy. We asked our host at Savika Guesthouse in Ranong for help. Luckily, she understood very well what hitchhiking is – unlike anywhere in Myanmar. She told us some prices to some spots that we considered for hitchhiking. We had a few spots in mind:

  • Where the side road to PornRang Hot Springs begins (easy to communicate, but not a good spot)
  • Where the road becomes single-laned (hard to communicate, but quite a good spot)
  • At Ranong Airport far outside town (easy to communicate, but very far away)

Our host said that a shuttle van to the airport leaves at 6:00 and at 9:00, which are both not great times for hitchhiking. This shuttle would have cost ฿150 per person and would be shared with others who are actually flying out. We wanted to leave at 7:30, so what would be the price of a taxi to the airport? ฿500–700… yikes that’s a lot of money. Then our host offered to drive us herself at 7:30 for ฿300, which we agreed on.

I made a bilingual hitchhiking sign for อ่าวนาง/Ao Nang which only needed flipping. I often make these bilingual signs when I think there’s a chance that tourists will stop for us. When looking at the 290-kilometer-long route, Jonas thought it would also make sense to write a sign for Phang-Nga (พังงา) town or province. So I made a cute sign for Phang-Nga only in Thai.

The Ride to Ranong Airport

The next morning, we were four minutes late to our pickup, but it wasn’t a big deal. We dropped our backpacks in the pickup truck Jonas had taken the previous day to visit some islands in the Laem Son National Park. I hadn’t joined that trip because I needed to get some work done. This prompted our host to ask me if I had seen anything of Ranong (I have). She didn’t give me time to reply, so I just frowned in response.

We drove out of the city and past the sights Jonas and I had enjoyed just two days prior when we’d rented a scooter. Ranong had actually been incredibly nice—especially in direct contrast with Chiang Mai’s fuckery. I’m very happy to now see some different parts of Thailand so that my memories aren’t just people wearing facemasks but not helmets on motorbikes, British Boomers with “Burmese” boyfriends complaining about air pollution, and sharp-toothed Digital Nomads with some needlessly aggressive networking tactics. And apparently I hadn’t even met the ‘Bromad’ faction of incels and pickup artists ready to neg you into stealthed orgasmless sex; one of the great blessings of traveling as a couple instead of as a solo femme.

Our host pulled over in the shoulder at the Ranong Airport junction at 8:00. The road is still two-laned here, but we’re far out of town and drivers are more alert here. She reads my Thai hitchhiking signs and says she’d love to hitchhike herself one day, but only with her husband and not the children “…because they would only complain.” We thank her for the prepaid ride and get our backpacks from the trunk. She makes a U-turn.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 1 Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 2

Our First Hitch in Thailand

We wait at the road and hold out our Phang-Nga sign. We’re apparently also next to some kind of military base, which attracts quite some traffic. We show the sign to the people driving southward and occasionally a vehicle exiting the airport. Thailand is a different world compared to Myanmar; so many people own private cars. Most of those cars are huge Toyota Hiluxes befitting a newly industrialized country that also produces that exact vehicle. Some of those Hiluxes are a little filthy and overloaded to the brim with goods, and others are empty and shiny. Some of them have a lot of people in the cab and the cargo bed and others just carry a driver. But none of them stops for us.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 3 Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 4

Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 2 Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 3

Some 20 minutes in, a woman in a small car coming from the airport waves at us. She crosses both lanes of traffic and stops her car in the shoulder. We go to her and talk with her through the open window for five minutes before we get in. She isn’t going to Phang-Nga or Ao Nang, but something closer. She shows us her GPS and it’s a good distance of about 80 kilometers. She’s not sure if it will help us, but we’re pretty confident it’s going to be fine there. I pop my backpack in the empty trunk and Jonas takes his backpack in the rear seats. I ask if she wants me to sit in the passenger seat to help navigate, but there’s stuff and moving it is hard, so I also get in the back. We drive off southward.

Her name is “Pooh, as in Winnie the Pooh” and she’s a web designer in Bangkok. This car is a rental car and she just flew into Ranong. She’s visiting her mother, who lives on the beach here in Southern Thailand. Tonight she’ll fly back to Bangkok. Her husband is a web developer and together they run a company. Jonas shares that he’s also a web developer, which leads to a technical conversation about programming languages, clients, and projects. She asks if we make videos of our hitchhiking trips, which Jonas answers with that the filming is easier than the editing. “But you’re a programmer. If you know programming, you can do anything.”

We tell Pooh we were in Myanmar before Ranong and before that in Chiang Mai. I ask her about her travels. She’s been to quite some countries in the region, but not Myanmar. She says she’s been to Singapore, but that it’s too hot there. “Hotter than Bangkok. But when Singaporeans come to Bangkok they say it’s hotter than Singapore.” She has two children aged 10 and 13. They usually go to Japan in spring, but her eldest doesn’t want to come anymore because to him Japan is boring. When we share our intention to travel to Malaysia via the islands, she approves. “The mainland is not so safe.”

En route, we pass several police checks that slow down traffic. They seem to be checking for drivers licenses and IDs, but only of the driver. The cops look into the car and see us, but they seem not at all surprised by our presence. That’s very different from the few police checks we passed in Myanmar, where one cop would shout to his colleague to come and take a look at the foreigners. I’m still on edge and ready to grab my passport, but in Thailand, no one cares.

Pooh invites us to take a short detour to check out the beach where she’s going in Ao Khoei. She’s arriving a bit earlier than anticipated and she can show us around and then drop us back off at the main road in Khura (คุระ). If I’d hitchhiked by myself, I’d probably taken her up on the offer. But I’m hitchhiking with Jonas and as two people, the ease of catching a ride might suddenly change. Besides, I promised him we’d try to hitchhike the 300 kilometers in one day and then pre-extend our seven-night booking in Ao Nang by one night, so we could stay there for eight nights.

Once we arrive at the crossing, we thank her for the offer and leave the car at 9:25. She takes some selfies with us which she airdrops to Jonas and then hugs and kisses me on the cheek before she goes. What a great first ride!

Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 1

The Second Ride to Takua Pa

We wait at the crossing in the shadow of a tree. It’s a majority Muslim town with lots of women in hijab and men wearing a kopiah/taqiyah smiling at us. I’m thinking of getting a coffee or a roti at one of the food stands across the road, but Jonas isn’t very interested. A pickup truck overloaded with tree trunks that we’d overtaken earlier drives by us again. We’d done a good distance of some 80 kilometers with Pooh. We’re now in the province of Phang-Nga, but nowhere near the city of the same name. So we keep using the Phang-Nga sign for now until we get closer.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 5 Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 4

A woman in another small car stops for us at 8:40. We also show her the sign to Ao Nang and she tells us to get in. She moves a lot of clothes into the trunk of the car and we again sit in the backseat with our backpacks between us.

Her name is Sasi and today she’s driving to Phuket and tomorrow to Ao Nang. She’s a manager and tells us she has a boyfriend from Kenya. We don’t understand where she’s driving from today, but perhaps it’s nearby as she still has lots of energy. We’re not sure if she’s taking the route via Phang-Nga to Phuket and we slowly run out of common vocabulary. I ask Jonas the name of the crossing where the road splits up to the fast road to Phuket and the (presumably slower) road via Phang-Nga to Phuket. He says it’s called Takua Pa (ตะกั่วป่า). Sasi repeats “Takua Pa!” and I guess that will be the best spot for us to get out.

We make a short stop in a small town where she has some business. Jonas and I stay in the car and discuss how interesting it is that we get picked up by two solo woman drivers in a row. The only other country where that has happened to me (three solo women in a row) was in the Netherlands. In South America, I think I’ve hitchhiked with solo female drivers a handful of times over two years and with Jonas perhaps once or twice. It’s a very good sign when women have the agency and feel the freedom of just driving their cars off to wherever.

Since we haven’t booked this night yet, I’m feeling tempted to ride with Sasi all the way to Phuket. We could hitchhike to Ao Nang tomorrow. I share this giddy feeling with Jonas, who admits he had the same thought. But just staying one night in Phuket is not worth the effort of then finding another way out the next day. Perhaps we planned this a bit too tightly.

We’re driving again and pass lots of plantations of papaya and palm oil. Sasi grabs her Buddha penchant dangling from the rearview mirror when there’s an unevenness in the otherwise great road. The road is skinny and a bit tricky, but we race it down at 100 km/h and still get overtaken. At least we’re driving on the left side of the road with a right-hand-drive vehicle, unlike in Myanmar where we drove on the right side with a right-hand-drive vehicle.

We get stopped at a police checkpoint where Sasi has to get her driver’s license out. The card has a chip, which reminds me of Estonia’s e-residency cards. She makes some small talk with the officer and then we’re let through. We’re arriving in Takua Pa and ask her once again if she’s going left or right at this junction. She’s going right and we have to go left. Sasi turns left and stops her car on the side of the road. We thank her for the ride and do a confident wai and wish her a good trip to Phuket. It’s 10:40.

The Third Ride in a Pickup Truck

We wait in the shoulder of the road and witness the traffic at the T-junction outside Takua Pa. There’s quite some traffic and most of them need to stop at a traffic light. Good. Jonas needs to pee urgently so he finds himself a private spot. I didn’t see Sasi’s car returning via the U-turn, but I’m sure she did.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 6

Many locals pass us by on their scooters. One guy has a big smile on his face and a few minutes later he returns. He parks his scooter on the other side of the road and crosses to our side on foot. The young man asks us what we’re doing and we show him both hitchhiking signs of Ao Nang and Phang-Nga. He reads them out loud and then holds them up like we’ve been doing. Then he asks if this works, which we answer positively and with confidence.

He cracks up.

It’s absolutely hilarious to him. Once he’s done laughing, he gives us back our signs and crosses the road again to his scooter. He still waves at us and we wave back as he drives off, still amused.

At 11:15, a shiny pickup truck finally stops for us. There are three very happy and smiling people in the cab, who tell us to hop in the back because they’re going to Phang-Nga. I show them the Ao Nang sign, which makes things a bit more complicated. I tell them I’ll knock on the window once we need to get out, which they think is a good idea. Jonas puts in the backpacks and we both hop in the cargo bed. We drive off.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 7 Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 8

I grab my cape hat from the backpack and put on my sunglasses. Nearly all my body parts are completely covered, but Jonas’ arms and lower legs are bare. He’ll probably need to reapply sunscreen after this stint.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 9 Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 10

We take an unexpected turn and Jonas checks his map. It’s all good and we’re still following the main road to Phang-Nga. I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride, but Jonas gets a little nauseous from looking at his phone while driving and only looking backward. So I keep an eye on my GPS so he doesn’t have to. Once again, we overtake the same truck with logs. This time I capture it on camera.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 11 Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 12

We’re sharing the cargo space with some large box and an empty and broken washtub. I need to make sure that the empty plastic tub doesn’t fly away when it catches wind. Meanwhile, I’m also making sure my water bottle doesn’t roll away and that our precious hitchhiking signs won’t fly off. In Thailand you don’t hitchhike with your thumb, so the hitchhiking signs here are my only real way of showing people what we’re doing and where we’re going. Without the hitchhiking signs, we’d be royally screwed. Especially in a reception dead zone or with a low phone battery.

I’m also juggling navigation and tell Jonas when to knock on the window at the Pak Hra Junction. We need to go left here. The driver stops and gets out of the car. He tells us he’s sure that the fastest route to Ao Nang is via Phang-Nga to the right, as that’s what Google Maps is currently saying. The ladies who are operating a roadside beverage stand agree with our assessment to go left, which helps a lot. So we assure him that we indeed want to get out here and wish them a good trip to Phang-Nga and wai with some khabkhun kha/krap!  to say thanks and goodbye.

An Iced Coffee Break

It’s noon and also it’s really time for coffee for me. Jonas goes to the ladies to order two coffees while I pack away the Phang-Nga sign and search for the sunscreen. I overhear that the ladies ask Jonas “I coffee?”, to which he agrees. “Two, please.”

I’m pretty sure he just ordered iced coffee by accident, but OK.

I find the brand-new bottle of sunscreen in the side of my backpack and it has just E X P L O D E D. Shit. There’s sunscreen everywhere in the side pocket of my backpack and now it’s all over my hand. Oh no.

But sunscreen is expensive, so I rub it on my face, neck, and hands. Jonas takes the bottle and starts applying all the sunscreen that’s on the outside to his arms, face, neck, and legs. There’s so much of this explosion, but it’s all contained. There’s nothing I can do about it now.

By the time we’re done reapplying sunscreen, our coffees are still not done. Jonas wonders what takes so long, so I break the news to him that it’s going to be high-maintenance iced coffee instead of the zippy instant coffees we’re used to from Myanmar. Promptly, the iced coffees arrive. It’s a lot of iced coffee and I will need to use the toilet at the Castrol gas station behind the refreshment shack.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 13

By 12:45 we’ve finished our coffees, freshened up, and had some invigorating conversations. Jonas had discovered that the cars actually do say in which region they’re registered on the license plate. But it’s in the fine print and in Thai script, which we can’t read that fast. That’s very different from Myanmar, where the license plates have a rather large section that says MDY or YGN or MON to announce the state of registration. Interesting!

Ao Nang is a relatively small town in Krabi province, so I voice that it will take us another two rides for sure. My theory was that if we used the Ao Nang sign on the road we’d just taken, the traffic could decide whether we’d take a left or a right to Ao Nang, as long as they’d drive at least to Krabi (กระบี่) City. Jonas disagreed and said we should stand on the shoulder of the road that goes left after the junction. There’s shadow there, too. I agree with his plan.  We pay the ฿60 bill and put the naughty sunscreen safely away inside a plastic bag.

The Fourth and Final Ride to Ao Nang and Krabi

By 13:00, a small car coming from the Phang-Nga road stops for us. It’s a hetero couple and it seems like it’s mostly the woman’s idea to stop for us. We put our backpacks in the trunk and drive off without really understanding where they’re going.

Her name is Chá Chá and his name is Chaí. I try to figure out again if they’re going to Krabi City, but all I know is that it’s not Krabi where they’re going and that my topographical knowledge of Thailand is… extremely limited.

Chá Chá wants to add me as a friend on Facebook, but my profile is not really findable and Jonas’ profile didn’t show. Then we drove into the mountains near the village of Thap Put (ทับปุด) where there was no reception. She takes some selfies with us in the background and keeps trying to refresh to see if there’s reception. Jonas gets a bit nauseous again and I’m hoping we soon drive out of the mountains.

Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 6 Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 10

I use my offline Thai Google Translate package with a Thai keyboard to communicate. She likes that and starts searching for the Google Translate app the minute we have reception once again. She downloads the app and asks us a few questions, such as whether we like Thailand, where we’ve been in Thailand and how old we are.  I finally manage to add her on Facebook and she sends over the photos she took with/of us thus far. I find out that Phang-Nga is where she lives and that she’s a beauty specialist.

On request, she types in her phone the name of the city where they’re going, which gets translated as Nakhon Si Thammarat (นครศรีธรรมราช). Good grief that would be terribly long to put on a hitchhiking sign. Anyway, I look up where it is and it’s on the other coast of the Malay Peninsula at the Gulf of Thailand and still a 230-kilometer ride from where we got picked up. The quickest route there would be to perhaps drive via Krabi and then drop us off on the edge of town. But Chá Chá assures us that she wants to drop us off in Ao Nang. That’s a detour for them of at least 30 kilometers.

A Massive Detour to Ao Nang

The famous Thai landscapes of Krabi province start to appear. Overgrown limestone monoliths and narrow passages between cliffs announce the natural beauty, but also the mass tourism. I’m enjoying the views a lot, but the side windows are a little dirty and hard to look through. Chá Chá takes a photo for me through the windshield and sends it to me.

Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 5 Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 8

Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 9 Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 11

I’m not comfortable with people driving far out of their way for us, so I suggested for them to let us out at an intersection of the (legendary) Thailand Route 4 (ทางหลวงแผ่นดินหมายเลข 4) highway in the town of Khao Khram (บลเขาคราม). From here, we could take a more direct side road to Ao Nang.

We try to get their attention that here is good, but she doesn’t understand what we’re saying and he ignores us. So we drive on and on and on. I don’t know how he’s finding his way, but we’re driving sort of in the direction to Ao Nang. It’s definitely not on any road sign we’ve seen. But let it be clear that I really dislike it when people ignore my explicit wishes to be dropped off when I’m hitchhiking. Especially when I know it will save both parties a lot of frustrations.

We enter the side road of Krabi to Ao Nang. As long as we will indeed be dropped off in Ao Nang, all is good. The driving goes really well until Chaí turns on the indicator to go left. We tell him that he should go straight and try to get her to tell him that he should go straight here, but he goes left anyway. This is getting really frustrating, so I give Chá Chá my phone with the GPS on with the route to our hotel and ask for her phone to enter it in her navigation, too. Meanwhile, her husband keeps driving in a direction that technically could still be a way to enter Ao Nang, but it’s a huge detour.

At the next roundabout which is really the final choice to go to Ao Nang, he confidently takes the wrong exit. I’m starting to lose my shit and ask Jonas to do his serious man-to-man voice. But we still drive all the way to the fucking Shell Cemetery. That’s where he finally said a few words and made a U-turn.

We noticed that having GPS just on and looking at the map wasn’t working for her, so when we were back at the roundabout and somehow took the right exit to go to Ao Nang Beach, Jonas had a good idea: turn on the voice navigation. Once we did that, it was relatively smooth sailing through the clogged-up streets of Ao Nang.

Chaí pulls into the driveway of the Ahad Hotel. We thank them deeply for the ride and get our luggage out of the trunk while Chá Chá keeps snapping photos of us. We wish them a good ride and farewell, but it’s not as warm as the first encounter was. They still have a long trip ahead of them.

Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 7 Hitchhiking Ranong to Ao Nang Extra 12

It’s 14:50 and I think the detour amounted to at least 40 minutes and 50 kilometers extra in driving for our drivers. We check into the hotel and relax from a rollercoaster day of hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking from Ao Nang to Ranong Thailand 14

Comparison of Hitchhiking vs Public Transport

We left the guesthouse in Ranong at 7:35 and paid ฿300 for the ride to Ranong Airport. Our arrival time was 14:50. That’s a total travel time of 7 hours and 15 minutes. We also spent ฿60 on our iced coffees, so we spent ฿360 in total for getting from Ranong to Ao Nang. We hitchhiked a total distance of 299 kilometers that day.

It would take you around half an hour to get from the accommodation in Ranong to the bus station for about ฿50. The bus from Ranong to Krabi takes 6 hours and costs ฿360 per person presumably without breaks. From Krabi to Ao Nang there are apparently Songthaews that will take 45 minutes and cost ฿50 per person. Alternatively, a Grab from Krabi to Ao Nang would cost you about ฿450 and only take 20 minutes. That puts you on the road for 6 hours and 50 minutes for a minimum of ฿860 (for one person). On the other end, it could take about 7 hours and 15 minutes for a minimum of ฿460 per person.

Hitchhiking Route Map

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The first time we hitchhiked in Thailand we needed to go from Ranong to Ao Nang in the south. It was very easy with the right preparation! #hitchhiking #hitchhiker #hitchhikers #pickup #Thailand #Ranong #PhangNga #AoNang #southernthailand #AndamanSea #journey #adventure #Thai #Bangkok #travel #backpacking #Asia #southeastasia #overland #slowtravel The first time we hitchhiked in Thailand we needed to go from Ranong to Ao Nang in the south. It was very easy with the right preparation! #hitchhiking #hitchhiker #hitchhikers #pickup #Thailand #Ranong #PhangNga #AoNang #southernthailand #AndamanSea #journey #adventure #Thai #Bangkok #travel #backpacking #Asia #southeastasia #overland #slowtravel

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