A secluded archipelago huddled near the Cambodian border, Thailand’s Koh Chang is a seaside paradise perfect for the budget traveler
In This Thailand Article You Will Discover:
- The Draw of Koh Chang
- Why it Is Perfect for the Backpacker
- Pitfalls to Avoid During Your Visit
- What To Expect When You Arrive
Brady and I stumble off the industrial-transport-turned-ferryboat and on to the broken pavement of Koh Chang, a remote island located near the Cambodian border in the Gulf of Thailand.
Brady had managed to sleep a couple of hours during the daylong bus trip we had taken from Bangkok that morning. I, however, had barely managed to close my eyes since the previous morning — a hangover from the Lipovitan D, a syrupy energy drink that makes Red Bull seem like a cup of decaf, I had consumed while rampaging through Bangkok until 8 a.m.
To say I was bleary eyed would be an understatement.
Koh Chang, though, is the antithesis of Bangkok. Undeveloped, serene and difficult to get to, this is one of Thailand’s last true paradise islands, free of chaotic traffic and (some) of the tourist hoards infamous on islands such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. In fact, the entire archipelago (consisting of 52 islands and islets, the largest of which, Koh Chang, is 30-km-by-14-km) was declared a national park in 1982 to preserve its wonders: long, soft-sand beaches, mountainous jungles and pristine waterfalls. It is said that two-thirds of the tourists to Koh Chang are Thai nationals.
We wander to a songthaew — a taxicab pickup truck where patrons pile in the back — idling near the dock. Drivers schedule pickups for ferry arrivals to Koh Chang, so vehicle-less visitors never wait long.
The driver asks me where I want to go. I have no idea. Luckily, there is a crudely painted map on the side of the truck, with Koh Chang’s spots of interest scribbled upon it. I read aloud the most prominent waypoint.
I’m half expecting him to tell me I can’t, or shouldn’t, go there for some reason. But there are no problems and a few dozen baht exchanges hands. As we ramble off, the breeze cools the sweat from my chest. I want to sleep forever. But — I — still — can’t.
A short jaunt through winding, overgrown jungle-island roads, we arrive at Whitesand Beach. It is the tourist epicentre of Koh Chang, but that said, it seems like a ghost town compared to the Thailand I’d experienced thus far. Lining the waterfront, we find a few hotels and guest houses, a couple of souvenir shops and — gasp — the only 7-11 I noticed on the entire island!
Brady and I wander like zombies, our packs weighing too heavy on our backs, searching for suitable accommodation. We are ripe for the picking when a young man offers us a room for the low, low price of 1,500 baht per night. I can’t fight it. We pay for a single night, and it remains to this day the most I have ever paid to stay anywhere in Southeast Asia. We eat green curry on the beach and are asleep by 7 p.m.
Up at five a.m. for a sunrise swim in the bathtub-warm water of Whitesand Beach, we vow to find cheaper accommodation toute de suite. Destination: Lonely Beach, and the wonderfully rustic Siam Hut Bungalows.
This is Thailand Backpacking the way you imagine it: a breezy, bamboo oceanfront hut. Sleeping on a dirty futon with a mosquito net draped atop as a rusty fan groans away from above. A modified garden hose for a shower. A bare-foot, bare chest restaurant nearby. Barbecues nightly. Sunsets to follow.
We pay up-front for four nights and still hand over fewer baht than we did the day previous. Man, that rip-off stings me.
Rested for the first time since we arrived in Thailand, Brady and I are ready to take on Koh Chang. We rent two scooters in questionable repair, and, with no map, no sense of direction and having seemingly left all sense of personal safety back in Canada, we tear off in some ridiculous fashion, racing these scooters through the intermittent rainstorms the mid-morning had brought. May in Thailand holds unpredictable weather, even in the stable Gulf of Thailand.
This is Thailand Backpacking the way you imagine it: a breezy, bamboo oceanfront hut. Sleeping on a dirty futon with a mosquito net draped atop as a rusty fan groans away from above. A modified garden hose for a shower. A bare-foot, bare chest restaurant nearby. Barbecues nightly. Sunsets to follow. Paradise.
We howl through the twisty roads, avoiding the mangy sleeping dogs that litter the roadways and the jumping lizards that hop from the beachsand. The single-cylinder scooters somehow top 100 km/hr on the straight-aways. The only things louder than our motors are the screaming insects that populate thick jungle trees lining the empty, two-lane roads. Our fuel vanishes, replenished by streetside vendors doling out low-octane swill stored in used whiskey bottles. Afternoon brings an end to the rain and the beginning of a scorching day of equatorial sun.
Soon, the pavement runs out. A rocky, rough-and-tumble hill winding around a beige stone monolith intrigues us beyond all hope, and we follow the “road” to its terminus on Koh Chang’s southeastern-most point.
Long Beach — Koh Chang’s crown jewel, and perhaps the least-visited stretch of sand on the island, greets us on the backside of the rock. It is absolute Eden, rivaling even famous Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Leh, with its bleached-white sand and protected, warm and too-salty waters.
“This is the reason I came to Thailand,” I mutter to no one. We dive into the sea, desperate to be cooled from the sun’s now-torturous rays. The ocean offers no respite. We would later find out the water temperature was nearing 30 degrees Celsius. As an Australian snorkel guide would say, “It’s like swimming in your own piss.”
The sun presents a concern beyond comfort. When we had left that morning, it was mostly rainy and gloomy. Consequently, we had left our sunscreen back in the bungalow. I could feel my olive-toned skin blister, and Brady’s whiter-than-white complexion was ready to catch fire.
We needed to leave. Now. For Christ’s sake, neither of us even had even brought a T-shirt.
An hour-or-so later we are back at Siam Hut, our skin sizzling like the nightly chicken barbecue. Aloe vera lotion, please. Then chicken. Then Chang.
Then, lured by the thump-thump of nearby music, we follow a pitch-black path leading from Siam Hut into the jungle — and find ourselves at Koh Chang’s signature backpacker hangout, the Treehouse Bar.
What happens next is another chapter entirely….
Siam Hut Bungalows: www.siamhutkohchang.com