Koh Chang

December 31, 2011 - Ko Chang, Thailand

Hey everyone, happy new year.

We left Heathrow on 17 November for the second leg and reached Bangkok with no problems - no signs of flooding anywhere we went luckily as some places got it bad.  However, we've heard since from people here that it was nothing like as bad as the press made out, and even heard one story of a BBC journalist standing in a puddle to do the commentary for his piece about the floods!  We checked into a little backstreet hotel in S31 in the south east - all the roads are called S (short for Sukamvit) and then a number so it makes getting around easy.  The cab journey showed the roads to be pretty manic, but the area we stayed in was quiet but with loads of places to eat, drink or shop.  We got there pretty late in the night to decided to stay the following day and night as well to sort out transport to Koh Chang, an island down south, and to have a look at a bit of Bangkok.  We found a proper old Thai place to eat where no-one spoke English and with only Thais eating there.  I ordered something called Suki with no idea what it was and thought I'd done a wrongun when up came raw squid and prawns which then had a raw egg broken over them, along with some herbs and raw green veg.  Fortunately though, a clay pot then arrived full of water sitting on top of coals.  You cooked your own food by putting what you wanted in the water and boiling it up and bloody lovely it was too.

We hired a tuk tuk (cheapest way to get around and see stuff) the next day and the driver took us to a little temple where we met a really nice Malaysian man.  We got chatting and told him we were heading for Ko Chang and he told us to go to the Government Travel Agents Siam and Smile as they were honest and cheap and the best place to go to book buses and places to stay.  We should have known better after our previous experiences with Malaysians pulling down trousers and spanking arse but......

Off we went to Siam and Smile where we met a seemingly nice lady.  She told us that it was well busy on Ko Chang so accommodation would be hard to get.  She spent a good while ringing different places, talking in Thai and then telling us they were fully booked, until she finally found a place where we had to stay a minimum of 3 nights at 50 quid a night - a lot more than we wanted to pay but believing what we were told, we paid up.  She also sorted out the bus and boat to take us to Chang, about six hours drive, and the next morning we set off.

Bus journey was good, a relief after some of the bus journeys we've had in the past, we had the front seat upstairs with loads of leg room.  Reached the port to get the ferry and half an hour later we had reached Chang.  It's the second biggest island in Thailand after Phuket, lots of jungle, golden beaches, little villages and one road which goes around most of the island.  Koh Chang means elephant island and there are plenty here, from bushes cut into elephant shapes to the real thing.  There are taxis to take you wherever you are going on the island, for about a quid each, which are open back trucks with bars on the side and a roof for bags and that.  They get as many in as they can when they do the ferry run, which meant Zuby had to do the drive standing on a plate at the back hanging on for dear life - roads are bendy and very hilly.  There are no tuk tuks here, people either drive themselves in 4x4s, take a taxi or ride a motorbike.  The place we had booked for, La Plaloma, was in White Sands Beach, the first town (for want of a better word) and the most touristy we were told.  We were taken to our room in a little block way back off the road where there we no lights at all, it was so small even I had trouble getting in it.  It also had no security - louvre windows which came out when the wind blew and a lock we could could undo with a credit card.  Fifty quid!  More like a fivers worth.  There were signs everywhere about theft so everything went into the hotel's safe and out we went.

For what is the tourist area of Chang, White Sands isn't really touristy.  The beach is beautiful, long with white sand (not surprising given the name of the place).  There is one street through the middle with resorts, hotels, back packer places, bars, restaurants, shops and of course massage parlours all the way along it.  Oh, and about a million opticians for some reason.  We found some nice places, had a few beers and some food, shot some pool and decided to head for home.  We hit the sack pretty much straight away and had been bed in no more than five minutes when there was a quiet, long knocking on the door.  Zuby got up, got some clothes on and went to the door, with the knocking still going on.  The man standing there in a cap which covered his face seemed somewhat surprised to see Zuby when he opened the door and he legged it, with Zuby in hot pursuit once he had got his shoes on.  He came back some time later, having been to see the Manager to tell him what he thought of his resort and how we would probably have been robbed if we hadn't been in the room.  He was livid when he came back then promptly fell asleep.  I, on the other hand, was awake all night thinking every noise I heard might be someone coming back so was knackered by the morning.  So he went to see the Manager again and came back 10 minutes later with a room upgrade to the edge of the swimming pool - much bigger room, complete with security guard and locks that worked.  Still not worth 50 quid though.

But after the bad beginning on Chang, things just got better and better.  We had checked out Trip Advisor and managed to get three nights in their no 1 b&b, Paradise Palms, straight after we left the expensive dump we had stupidly paid for.  Matt, the owner, came to pick us up and it turned out he was English and well pleased to have some English people coming to stay - apparently there haven't been a lot on Chang recently.  We hit it off with him, his Thai wife Tara and their 10 year old daughter Muksuda, who is a cracker, straight away.  There are only four bungalows there, which he built, overlooking the beach and garden.  He gave us his family bungalow (living room, bathroom, two well big bedrooms) and we had three nice, chilling days eating as much as we could in a little, fantastic restaurant right next door called Saffron, then booked to go back for another couple of nights a few days later when he had a vacancy in the front bungalow, which sits right on the beach with views of nothing but the sea, sky and palm trees.

On our second day there Matt was cutting palm leaves down which Tara told us they take to the elephants, who love them, and would we like to go (stupid question).  So we loaded up the back of the 4x4 and drove south.  There are about five elephant trekking places on Chang where you can ride them through the jungle and this was one of them, with nice fat happy elephants who are clearly well looked after.  It's been dry on Chang for months which means the elephants don't get as much fresh cut greens as they'd like.  As we drove in and they saw what was on the back of the 4x4, they got well excited.  We unloaded and the mahouts told us we could feed them - course I was straight in, dragging these leaves which are about three times as long as I am over to each of them.  A real treat (except for the bloody great big mud filled hole I managed to go in, probably because I was acting like an excited five year old and not looking where I was going).

We needed to find somewhere else to stay between leaving Matts and going back so hired a car for the day and went exploring. Fabulous island, lush and green with tons of wildlife and well friendly people.  There are some great buildings as well, hidden away on tiny back roads you don't see as you drive past, including one building which was covered in massive elephant carvings and what looked like tree roots.  Still haven't found out what it was.  There are tons of places to stay on Chang (so much for the crap the woman gave us in Siam and Smile), most of it down one side of the island, which range from less than a fiver a night to silly money in the swanky resorts.  We found we liked pretty much everywhere - there are probably 5 or 6 beaches with little villages which have built up around them, all with only one road going through the middle.  Oh, and just about everyone has miniature statues of zebras and giraffes in their front gardens, not sure why.  Lonely Beach, further down the island, is if anything busier than White Sands and is the really cheap stay party all night place, so is heavily visited by those under 30 who want full moon parties or people who spend all their time travelling and need basic places to stay which cost bugger all.  But it is still nice there.  Anyway, we didn't find anywhere on the b&b front which really grabbed us so we decided to go and look at a place being advertised in a bar called Monkeys we'd been using.  Looked very nice but really cheap - from 15 quid a night.  It was our last stop on the way to taking back the car, and what a cracker it turned out to be.

Baan Ton Rak (which means love tree house) is run by Gary, another Englishman.  He showed us round - only 7 rooms with two covered communal areas outside for everyone to sit or lay - and we booked in with him for the days between leaving Matts and going back.  Really big room with a massive bathroom.  The place used to be a stonemasons so there are statues and wall carvings everywhere, along with trees and lots of fountains, water, flowers and stuff.  Extremely laid back and chilled.  We moved in a day later and in no time we fell in love with it.  People from different countries came and went and, we would spend our days chilling or exploring and our evenings all sitting outside together talking, laughing and drinking into the night.  We really didn't want to leave but we had booked to go back to Matt, so we rebooked with Gary to go back after we left Paradise Palms.

We had three great nights with Matt and Tara.  We had a barbeque one night - Muksuda was off school the next day as it was the King's 84th birthday - and Tara did squid and fish in banana leaves which were just incredible.  She had been invited to the grand opening of a new organic restaurant in White Sands the following day so invited me to go along.  Great food and setting, and they grow their own mushrooms in jars which they stack up against the wall of the restaurant.  We also did a day trip out to four nearby islands to snorkle with Tara and Muksuda.  This is a very beautiful part of Thailand, with much of it a dedicated national marine park, so the waters are clear but sadly the coral has taken a battering in the past so there's nothing unusual to see in the way of animal life.  They used to get whale sharks and dolphins here regularly not too long ago, and it is hoped they will return once the coral has been allowed to recover.

On our last night there, there was a fundraiser in White Sands for the flood victims in Bangkok and we all went.  Loads of foodstalls selling anything from fried insects and grubs to lizards on sticks; I bottled out of trying any.  There was a thai boxing ring which only did displays rather than the real thing, and a big stage where they laid on a ladyboy show.  Amazing costumes and some of them are so lovely to look at, you just can't believe they are men.

The next day we went back to Baan Ton Rak and there we've been ever since.  We had planned to do a fair bit of travelling this time round but there is something about Koh Chang which keeps you here.  Gary has introduced us to loads of people, mainly English guys with Thai partners or wives, and so many of them seem to have gone to Chang for a couple of weeks and then never left.  Jay, who runs the restaurant next door to BTR has been there 22 years.  John has also been here years.  He originally came from South Wimbledon and knows people we know back at home.  He's a typical South Londoner and a big football fan, so we spend a fair bit of time up with him, which is great for me as there is always a premier league game being shown on the tv and he watches them all.  They get every game live here, and then show reruns for days after; strange how only the English don't get English football games.   John also likes dogs and has a fair few running around his place with names like Spunky or Claw, so named because he was born with a very deformed paw which has basically got a big hole in the middle so it looks like he has two claws instead of a paw.  We've well landed on our feet by meeting Gary and Nook, his partner, as we have been introduced to loads of people of different nationalities and get invited out to all sorts of stuff, like Sunday dinners at someone's house which everyone goes to, and the weekly cricket match at which the, and I quote, northern monkeys play the southern scum.  It is played on a thin beach with the last proper Thai bar in existence on this island, so it's a great way to pass the afternoon even if you don't like cricket.

We've found some fantastic little beaches off the beaten track which are only used by a few people, if anyone, and of course tried out various massages and stuff like that.  The food is amazing and I have got into it so much - both eating and cooking.  I went on a cooking course in a shack on the sea which was brilliant, and learnt to cook everything from curry to sticky rice with mango.  The history of the food here is just incredible, with so many of their herbs and stuff being used for medicinal purposes, but does it take a long time to prepare - 40 minutes mashing up chillies and other stuff in a massive stone pestel and mortar is no joke.  We've also went elephant trekking through the jungle which was great.  I got the chance to ride on her head like the mahouts do - not as easy as they make it look as there is nothing to hold on to, and it's a fair way to drop if you slip of.  We finished up by taking them down to the river for a wash and play and we got in with them - well I got in, Zuby bottled it and stayed dry on the bank.

Our friends Karen and Mike, who we met on the last leg, tell us this is phase two of world travel, where your philosophy changes from the need to see everything you can to finding one spot you really like and staying until you need to move.  I think they have hit the nail on the head, plans to go back to the Philippines or explore more of Thailand have gone.  We have to leave because our visa only lasts 30 days, so Saigon comes next for food for four days and the visa run, then we head off back to Koh Lanta for xmas and new year.  But our return tickets are bought and we come back to Chang for the last two weeks of this trip.  I think we have finally found where we both want to live.....



Elephant building
Elephant bush
Saffron restaurant view
Zuby chilling


January 2, 2012
happy new year xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Andrea Taylor:
January 3, 2012
Hi Dina and Zuby,
first I have to apolgice since I havent written in a long time. Second, a happy new year from us too.
If you are still in Koh Lanta, please send our best regards to Tam and the sweetest 3 moms in the world.Reading the your story about Koh Chang freaks me out Dina. It gives me shivers down my back. Because in way, I know exactly what you mean. Sitting here in Germany, where most of the time at the momente everything is rather grey and depressing, makes it even harder to read about your trip.As a matter affect, or what a fluke, I have a girl friend here in Germany, and they fly since many years to ko chang. She and her husband actually own a house down there and several appartments they do rent. Must be right on the beach aswell.They fly to K. C. end of january and stay there 2 month.If you are still there, I be happy to give you their adress, so you could contact them. In this stage, I dont no yet if we go to Thailand this year. I was selling my BMW and bought a small Toyota. GRRR, what a difference.
From the sounds of it you and Zuby have a fantastic time. But this is the way it supposed to be.
I still think back, having a really good time, espesciale fun time with you and Zuby.
Last night Stefan and me talked about getting a place in thailand, and maybe live there. But I believe as long as we have our dogs, we stay here in germany. We will see. And of course the financial part must be ok too.
Maybe one day we all end up living in KC. Drink beer, talk dirty, eat insects,( or not) and have a blast.
Until then, enjoy as much as you can (oh because I have to tell you)
Andrea and Stefan
January 6, 2012
Hello you lucky, lucky campers!!
Happy New Year to you both, looks like your having a simply wonderful time.

I am so jealous about the elephants, this is a place I must def see before I'm too old to get on one!! Dxxx
Anne F:
January 8, 2012
I'm glad you've both found your paradise Dina. It sounds wonderful even for a hol. Looks stunning and of course, you have the elephants!
January 21, 2012
Sawasdee pee mai na krap ! ;)
Koh Chang dee mak !
February 5, 2012
Hey, glad to read that you are finding 'your place'. Please tell us more and upload many more pictures. Thinking of you.
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