Andaman Coast

The Andaman coast presents a startling cultural mosaic, from Ranong's cheroot-smoking Burmese in the north to the south's strident Muslims, along with the numerous Chao Le sea gypsies and Chinese traders. On Ranong's rain-drenched islands, bare- knuckle boxing matches between Burmese and Thai re-enact an age-old rivalry while a growing separatist movement continues to spread through the hotly contested deep South that was part of Malaysia a little over a century ago. Meanwhile, indigenous sea gypsies ­who escaped the tsunami persist in animist practices, including offerings of human hair to the spirits of the treacherous Andaman. Travellers will find many pleasures along this coast, from the Similan islands' world-famous diving sites, including Richelieu Rock, to Phuket's beaches including katoey paradise Patong and jetset Pansea.

Further down the coast are Phangnga's sea cave paintings and the magical floating fishing village of Koh Panyi. Off Krabi - where giant prehistoric human skulls were found - are eerie towering limestone karsts revered by climbers. Deeper south reveals Koh Lanta's white-sand coral-rimmed beaches while the brooding ex-prison island of Tarutao, reputed to be haunted, offers dense and terrifying untouched jungle populated by wild boar, barking deer and poisonous snakes. And the Adang-Rawi archipelago's tiny islands - unreachable during the monsoon - provide cosy homes for pythons and hornbills while only metres off shore snorkellers can find untouched sea life including shoals of barracuda. Finally, the whole of the coast is dotted with island retreats with no electricity or cars, among them Koh Muk with the nearby Emerald Cave and the tropical idyll Koh Bulon-Leh.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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