THE THAI-BURMA border meets the Andaman Sea near Ranong, an interesting little city, seldom appreciated as people head offshore for the superb diving. Further down the Andaman coast is one of the most famous Thai islands- Phuket- while on the opposite side of the isthmus, the famous and infamous pair, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan.
The southern most provinces nearer Malaysia is culturally very different to the rest of the country, with a Muslim majority.
Narathiwat is a seldom visited, sleepy fishing town in the south of Thailand.
Thousands of travellers pass through it on the bus or train between Malaysian and Surat Thani, feeder port for the famous Thai islands, Samui and Phangan.
Narathiwat is in the "deep south", the restive, Muslim dominated part of Thailand with historical and cultural links to Malaysia.
Most foreign offices advise against all travel to Yala and Narathiwat, even though foreigners have never been targeted by separatists.
We found a friendly, little backwater, where the coming and going of fishing boats was about all that was happening.
Entrance to our Narathiwat hotel. When we exited one morning, there were soldiers all the way down the street. Separatists have been fighting Bangkok rule since who-knows-when.
The riches of the tourist trade have bypassed Narathiwat.
1992, Koh Phangan. Tom Ka Gai being prepared in the kitchen of my beachside guesthouse.
There are some truly lovely secluded spots on Koh Phangan. Had Rin is not one of them.
Koh Phangan backpackers, 1992, enjoying a day trip around some bays.
Simple huts on the beach. Have they survived the last 3 decades, or been replaced by concrete and aircon?
Once upon a time, Phuket too was a little known backwater visited by hippy adventure seekers.
But long before that, Chinese traders came and grew wealthy.
These days, direct international flights and a bridge bring millions to Phuket ever year.
And personally, it took me 30 years of visiting Thailand to get to Phuket.
Most visitors come for the beaches and bars, and their, erm....associated attractions.
Instead, we spent a few days in Phuket Town while we waited for our Day 5 PCR test.
It's the commercial heart of the island, with shops, markets and family businesses.
It's also home to some of the island's best restaurants, and boutique hotels converted from old Chinese houses.
The attention to detail on some of the renovations is impeccable.
Here and there, a modern touch spices up the old town buildings.
Less than 100kms away, Phang Nga is stacked full of forests and limestone peaks, its bay a major boat tour hub.
The parks are also some of the best birding sites in the south.
Phuket wasn't really my cup of tea, but Ranong was more to my liking.
The market was full of oddities, with a large number of migrant Burmese workers.
Old style family run restaurants served up good eating.
Street art livens up the busy market town streets.
Like Phuket, Ranong also has a history as a Chinese trading entrepot.
Thein Suek House has been in the same family hands for 8 generations, and functions as a museum.
Ranong folks are proud of their royal connection, Rattana Rangsan Palace, where King Chulalongkorn spent but a few days in the 1890s.
Backing onto a forested hill, the palace sits above the town and is open to the public.
Buddhists, Muslims, grifters and drifters, merchants and immigrants, twicthers to hookers, forests and bays, bars and beaches. Thailand's south.