Off-Season Charm of Koh Chang

May 30 to June 3, 2018

IMG_3974Our first island adventure since arriving in Thailand was to Koh Chang, a small island off the coast of Ranong in the Andaman Sea. This small island is sometimes confused with another also named Koh Chang, yes there are two! The other Koh Chang is located in the Gulf of Thailand, it is considered more popular amongst the backpackers and known for it’s lively parties. If you happen to make the mistake and confuse the two you will notice almost immediately. Koh Chang, Ranong is known for it seclusion; most properties have very limited, if any, electricity. There is no taxis or moto rentals, at least we didn’t see any. Typically, the boats will drop you off in front of your hotel and you wade to shore during busy season. However, we stayed in off-season so that was not the case. We were picked up at the pier by our host whom I called prior to our arrival, after a few locals recommended that we make sure something was open. Rainy season often means vacation time for many of the property owners on the island. I contacted several places before getting someone that said they were open. If you are traveling the west islands during off-season it is best to call a head of time, don’t always believe the booking sites because I found a few places that said they were not open even though they were listed as available on bookings.com. Emails and FB messages don’t work either, I tried.

Koh Chang and Koh Phayam Pier

In the morning we left the Smiling Seahorse, the place we are house sitting all summer, for a three night adventure to Koh Chang. We were outside only a few minutes before being picked up by a songthaew. The songthaews run quite regularly around the city, the drivers are very observant and always looking for those who need a lift. They will stop and ask where you are headed or call out the popular drop-off locations on their route, the driver often repeat the destination you have told them a few time shaking their head yes or no signifying if you should get in. Don’t be fooled by the writing on the windows, some have Koh Chang and Koh Phayam decals on their windshield but that doesn’t mean they are headed to the pier.

IMG_1360Once in route the driver may take a couple detours to see if he can pick up more paying costumers. We left the house a few hours before our boat’s expected departure time. Since it was off-season the posted schedule times varied and there was only one afternoon boat to the island. We also didn’t know how long the travel time between the house and the pier was, we had attempted to ride there on the bicycles but had ended up somewhere else. The driver was very sweet, he offered Francesca a glass of cold water and would turn around to wave at her or glance in the rearview mirror every chance he could. The five mile trip to the pier probably took us about 20 minutes, when we approached the road that accessed the pier the driver stop for us to get out. The ride cost us 20baht, 10baht per adult. We then followed the street about a half mile to the pier where a row of tables are set up to purchase tickets to the nearby islands. Since it is off-season the only option to Koh Chang was a long boat that was schedule to depart at 2:00pm. Tickets were not purchased ahead of time, instead someone on the boat would collect the fare before you arrive to the island. However, letting the boat crew know your intention of traveling to Koh Chang is recommend so you won’t be left behind.

We had a bit of time before the boat depart for our two hour journey across the Andaman Sea so we sat down at a local establishment to enjoy a cold beverage. We watched the trucks pull in and out delivering supplies that were headed to the island. We had not eaten before leaving the house so I purchased some fruit and a few pieces of fried chicken from the food carts stationed in the parking lot. Daniel was quite impressed with the fried chicken and said it was the best he has tasted.

Long Boat to Koh Chang

When it was time to board the passengers walked a wood plank laid across the stairs to the bow of the boat then climbed down into the cabin, crawling over bags of goods, to find a seat. Long wooden slats ran the width of the boat, suspended over the supplies IMG_4697that had been dispersed throughout the cabin. We carefully maneuvered over and around the precious goods, finding seats on the starboard side nearer the aft; as the boat filled with people Francesca and I found ourselves positioned on a pile of rice sacks peering out at the mangroves. The sacks were more comfortable then the hard wooden planks on which we started. Francesca hung out the side of the boat reaching for the murky water below, until we exited the canal and picked up speed. Before we docked on Koh Chang, a man came around collecting the fare from the passengers; 200 baht for foreigners and Francesca traveled for free. Once at the pier the travelers grabbed their belongs and exited the boat. Then the supplies were brought ashore to be handed off to their purchaser, who were patiently awaiting the boats arrival at the pier. Our hosts, a husband and wife team, from the Koh Chang Resort was there to greet us, they gathered some supplies.

The five of us piled on the moto with an attached side trailer, Daniel sat behind the driver on the seat while the three ladies straddled the supplies in the side trailer. We took off down the concrete paved road that measured about seven feet in width. On ourIMG_4716 journey we passed several rubber tree farms, easily identified by the perfectly spaced trees with bowls hanging near the base collecting the rubbery sap trickling down the grooves sliced in the bark. We passed through “town” which was a cutely decorated area that consisted of a general store, coffee shop, a restaurant, guesthouse and a gas pump at a crossroad. Continuing through the jungle we passed the island’s “school bus,” a most intriguing site; it was moto with side-trailer, similar to what we were riding but with an awning, packed with children coming home from school. There must have been ten or more kids packed in the trailer and a few hanging on behind the driver. I attempted to get a photo but wasn’t quick enough.   

Koh Chang Resort

IMG_4211When we arrived at the Resort we were greeted by the resident pack of dogs and noticed a foreigner hanging around. Come to find out the man was not staying at the Resort but just visiting, he was German that had lived in Thailand for 12 years and seem to hold a residence somewhere near by. We saw him wondering about the island while we were there. We discovered Germans were quite fond of Koh Chang, evidently the island had appeared in some well known travel writings in German, years back, and had become a popular destination amongst German travelers. We didn’t see many foreigners while on the island, six total, and five were German. After our cordial hellos we were taken to our bungalow which had been built on stilts high above the beach. We had requested the mid-price accommodations, which in off-season were 500 baht a night; that included a sea view bungalow with balcony and lounge chairs, king size bed with mosquito net, small table and chairs, private bath, and a wall mount fan. However, electricity was only available from about 6pm to 10pm so the fan was a bit useless.

IMG_3995It was low tide when we arrived, we settled in and went for a stroll along the beach in front of our bungalow. The area was rather rocky and we were advised that it may not be the safest area to swim, due to the terrain. There was a less rocky area a short walk away that would be better for swimming. Since is was getting close to sunset we stayed near the resort.  We walked around the barnacle covered rocks watching the crabs scurry away, their eyesight is amazing and they can see you coming from far away. The beach was a fine grain soft sand, predominately, a light khaki color with veins of black that shifted with the movement of the waves. We spent awhile chasing the ghost crabs and watching them burro into the sand, expelling perfectly round sand balls that measured fractions of a millimeter in size and formed beautiful patterns along the beach. We practiced artistry on the shore using mangroves seedpods, the perfect instrument for drawing dragons in the sand. Once the sun began to sink below the horizon and the darkness of the night began to engulf the island we made our way back to our bungalow to prepare for dinner.

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That evening we enjoyed the best Green Curry we have had thus far, it had been made with fresh coconut milk on sight. The coconut was cracked then grated using a special coconut shaving contraption, a machine fastened with a spiked ball that pulverized the meat of the coconut, taking most of the manual labor out of the process. The curry was divine, rich and creamy. Afterward we retired to our bungalow, the tide had shifted and the water lapped at the pillars that held our house up; the waves had swallowed forty feet of the beach and was still rising. The night air was stagnate, no breeze swept across the sea to cool us down, we were hot and sticky. We laid awake for hours tossing and turning trying to get comfortable, it was hard to sleep. We awoke before the sun and prayed the day would bless us with a breeze.

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A day at the beach

IMG_1362After our breakfast we slid into our bathing suits and headed for the neighboring beach. We followed a path down the hillside to a cove, the tide had been receding so we were able to make our way across the small beach and around the rocks. We climbed through the mangroves to a path that took us through numerous properties. Occasionally, we would see a local but most of the thatch huts and bungalows were desolate and closed for the season. The multicolored beach was scattered with debris and rubbish that had washed ashore, we wondered if the locals cleaned it in high season when the tourist were around to make it more appealing. We stopped in front of a spot that had a large tree and picnic tables out. Francesca and I went for a swim in the cloudy warm water, not as refreshing as I had hoped. Currents of cool water would grace us every so often then be pushed away by the incoming waves. Francesca didn’t care what temperature the water was she just wanted to swim, which meant I held her as we bobbed around in the waves. She would request to go out further but I wanted to be able to safely touch the ocean floor and get out in a hurry if needed. I couldn’t see anything in the murky water and kept feeling the mangrove seedpods tickling my legs, which was freaking me out.

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Back on shore Daniel was taking photographs, exploring the workings of the Canon camera his father gave us to take on our journey. When we adventured out of the water there was a woman sitting under the tree enjoying a book and a bite to eat. We sparked of a conversation with her; Jules had lived in Thailand for 20 years. She had a home in Chiang Mai and was on a vacation; Koh Chang was her favorite spot in the world. She loved the peace, tranquility and the fact the island hadn’t changed much in the decades she had been visiting. It had been the first time she had visited  in off-season and had not planned accordingly. Normally, she stayed at place a couple miles away, however the hotel had been closed for the season. She had luckily ran into the owner of the huts, where she was staying, on the pier and was offer accommodations. We chatted with her for sometime, taking random breaks to return to the water when Francesca demanded to go swim. Jules told us about some things to see on the island and what to avoid like picking up cashew nuts. Evidently, cashew shells contain a highly toxic oil similar to that of poison ivy and will cause severe skin irritation and burning, she had found out the hard way. We told Jules where we were staying and invited her over the next time she was off exploring.

Once exhausted by the sun and feeling famished we return to our resort where we shared a delicious Som Tom and Pad Thai for lunch before taking a short nap, or at least IMG_4021Francesca was able to sleep in the heat. Daniel and I enjoyed the sounds of the ocean as we laid on the lounge chairs waiting for the cool ocean air to bring us relief from the heat, but to no avail. When our little miss woke she was ready to play on the beach and chase the crabs. We climbed down the rocks to the sand below our bungalow searching for shells until the sand flies had annoyed us and we returned to our balcony to watched the sunset over the sea. With clouds on the horizon we could only hope to be blessed with a breeze so we could sleep through the night. For dinner that evening we shared a plate of Penang Curry, Daniel had requested the dish the night before but they did not have the proper spices. They made a special trip, earlier that day, to acquire the needed ingredients to accommodate us. The curry was amazing! Typically, I am a Green Curry girl but that dish left me wanting more and I knew we would have to order it again before we left the island. Although the day had not brought the wind, we had hoped for, the evening blessed us with rain. The night air cooled considerably, a breeze blew through the windows circulating the air in the room which allowed us to enjoy a good nights sleep.

Lake exploration

IMG_4312The following day we decided to take a walk to the “lake” that Jules had mention during our conversation. After breakfast we started our journey, as we walked though the jungle interior of the island we found ourselves being attacked by swarms of misquotes, the slapping and dancing around was almost comical if it wasn’t so awful. We tried to stay moving in hopes to keep the vampire bugs off of us. Francesca began to cry and the thought of turning back crossed our minds. Luckily, our host was out to run errands and stopped to offer us a ride. He kindly dropped us off at the road that lead to the “lake” and the rest of the journey we took on foot. When we arrived to the open area that surrounded the water we realized the “lake” was more of a reservoir, rectangular in shape and quite large. We saw no signs of fish or other aquatic life in the water which we found a bit odd. Needless to say we were not to impressed and didn’t spend to much time there before walking back toward the hotel.

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IMG_4412During our walk back Francesca fell asleep riding on Daniel’s shoulders. She was so cute with her hands folded on top of Daniel’s head trying to find a comfortable position to doze off. Her little eyes were heavy, her head began to bob around then she went limp, she was down for the count. Daniel repositioned her in his arms and cradled her all the way back to the hotel. This time we chose to walk the beach in hopes to avoid the blood sucking demon bugs, we were covered in bites from our last encounter and did not wish to endure their kiss again. We walked towards the beach and found ourselves on the wrong side of the delta, the tide waded out but the water appeared to deep to cross with the camera gear and sleeping baby. So we back tracked and cut through a property where we had spotted a plank bridge connecting the banks. As we approached the end of the planks I commented on the bridge being sturdier than expected, just in time for Daniel to step through a rotted board. Thankfully it was literally the last step on the stairs and the bank was only a few inches way. He amazingly kept his balance with Francesca still asleep in his arms and luckily escaped without a scratch. Last thing we needed was his leg being pierced with wooden splinter or worse. 

         

IMG_1364When we returned we laid Francesca down on the lounge chair to finish her nap. Took showers and lathered our bodies in a mentholated concoction that Thai’s use to help relieve the itch and inflammation of bug bites. Once our little lady was awake we did the same with her and then went to visit Jules, who had moved over to our hotel earlier that day. The rain, from the night before, had permeated her hut so she decided to spend a bit more for the comfortability of dry bungalow. The rest of the afternoon we spent lazily lounging around on the hammock, explored the grounds looking for cool things to take pictures of, watched the dogs eat bananas, read a little about Thailand in the Lonely Planet and watched a magnificent sunset.

We had to return to Ranong the following day, we wanted to spend the afternoon on the beach but we discovered the boat was scheduled to depart early in the morning and there was no other option to get off the island. So after our delicious dinner of Penang Curry and a bowl of Green Curry, that we had to have them one last time, we said our goodbyes to Jules and made sure we exchange information (she had offered us a place to stay in Chiang Mai when we made it north). We retired to our bungalow to lay underneath the star lit sky and enjoy the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Our short island adventure was coming to an end and we knew we would miss the oceans symphony when we return to the center of the city.

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Return to Ranong

IMG_1363We awoke with the sun and packed our things. Once everything was accounted for we made our way to the common area. Paid our bill which came to 4275Baht ($138) which included our three nights, food and drinks, and added a tip to say thank you. Once we were ready to go they drove us to the pier where we awaited for departure of the long boat. Storm clouds loomed on the horizon and sky was turning dark quickly. As we loaded the vessel plastic panels were lowered to protect us from the on coming rain. There was a nice German lady that gave Francesca some cookies and a family of Thais with a couple small children that offered her a drink; she tried to share her cookies but they politely refused. Even though the rain was coming down the sea was rather calm and when we docked in Ranong the sun was shining.

IMG_4368Our island excursion had come to an end and minus the attack of the mosquitoes it was quite enjoyable. Koh Chang is a perfect island for those who want to experience slow island life and are not to picky. If your into five star resorts, perfectly groomed grounds and someone waiting on you hand and foot I would recommend you sticking to the more touristy island like Phuket or Samui. However, if all you want to do is get away from the world, read a good book, do some bird watching and listen to the ocean waves this is a great island to explore. 

 

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