1) Getting to Koh Chang
The journey from Chiang Mai to Koh Chang proved arduous. We had a plane to catch, a metro rail to take, a 6 hour bus ride, a couple of cabs, and a ferry separating our apartment and the beach, dialing our door-to-door travel time up to 15 hours. Everything went fine on this journey until several miles from the ferry, the bus stopped and everyone going to Koh Chang was ordered off. This was a scam. A travel agency somehow arranged for the bus to stop, and we were all left outside a travel agency with no choice but to pay an inflated taxi and ferry price to our destination.
If we did it again, we would have stayed on the bus until the Trat bus station (the mainland town across from the island) and rented a scooter in town. We would have been able to get a decent rental price and would have avoided the inflated taxi charges to the ferry and from the hotel.
2) Sun Protection
Before leaving Chiang Mai, we stopped by a grocery store with lots of imports to find a reliable sunscreen with a label we could read so that we could avoid the sunburns that love to blossom on our white skin.
The best we could find was some water resistant Nivea with 20 SPF. We bought it and lathered ourselves down every time we went outside, arrived on the beach, left the water, or spent an hour or so dry outdoors. We rented an umbrella and found shade under trees, and avoiding direct sunlight except for when we were actively swimming.
It wasn’t enough.
I am livid with myself for thinking that sunscreen, even adequately applied, would cut it on my fluorescent skin. I am even more mad at myself for passing over a bottle of SPF 50 at the pharmacy when we were buying bug spray because it was “too expensive.” You know what’s actually too expensive? Sitting indoors with a sunburn in paradise.
3) Avoiding Westeraunts
One of the things I really wanted to do while on the coast was eat a ton of seafood. I’ve always loved fresh fish, and I always live in places pretty far inland, where fish is best if you go out and get it from a lake or river. Unfortunately, most people coming to this area seem to want a limited number of Thai dishes or foods like pizza, steak, and burgers. It’s been hard to find legitimate Thai food, which is about the only thing I’d want to eat on a tropical Thai island.
The other night I decided it was fish time, so we went to a place nearby that had fresh seafood on display. But… It wasn’t on the menu. Overpriced ham and cheese sandwiches and basic, mild curries covered the menu, from which traditional Thai fish dishes were conspicuously absent. After a bowl of heavily Westernized, expensive curry costing 5 times what I pay in Chiang Mai and a weak, green-tasting mojito, I was pretty grumpy.
Luckily we found an incredibly delicious Isaan-style restaurant with only slightly inflated prices, so I can’t claim complete failure. While the food has a Northeastern influence, they’ve done well with the seafood available locally. I ordered a whole fried fish last night and devoured everything but the large bones and the brains. ฿300 (about $5) covered one of the best fish I’ve eaten, soda water, beer, rice and spring rolls for both of us. A lunch at the same place ran about ฿150 for papaya salad, some sun-dried, marinated beef thing, sticky rice, and soda waters.
4) Communicating about Standards of Accommodation
For three nights we stayed at Gu’s Bay, a little mini-resort aimed at backpackers and the hostel crowd. I really liked the place; it had a pool overlooking the bay, hammocks, puppies, cheap rum, a young crowd, and NO Bob Marley or Jack Johnson on the stereo. I won’t lie, I like a little reggae myself, but the whole rasta island thing is EVERYWHERE here, and it is old, tired. Hearing some M.Ward was literally music to my ears, obviously. Both of us enjoyed all of these aspects of our first hotel.
The problem with Gu’s Bay is that I’d booked the cheapest room possible at ฿320/night. The room was basically a bathroom, a bed, a fan, and a mosquito net. Where I saw a fun, adventurous bargain, Andy saw three tortured nights of heat, humidity, tossing and turning in the tropical heat. Oops.
Now we’re sitting in a resort hotel with TV, AC, a bathtub, and beach access. When we checked in, we were handed cool, herbal towels and a cold glass of some purple-colored juice I can’t quite place. I can’t even tell you the price, because I’m embarrassed about the extravagance. All of the other guests are barely clothed old Germans or families. I feel out of place. This place is too sanitized to be the setting of a real adventure. I could just as well be in a resort in Hawaii, the Bahamas, South Padre, or any resort catering to rich vacationers anywhere in the world.
Andy, however, would like to mention that it costs less than the crappy Days Inn room we booked in Port Aransas this time last year. Touché, Andy. Touché. Also, my PJs smell very gamey after just a few days, which means I’m just sleeping through the sweaty, miserable nights. I know that sleep is as evasive to him as it is easy for me, and I should have considered that from the get-go.
What we should have done is rented a bungalow with AC initially rather than split up the trip into two segments. The whole expense of accommodations for our trip could have remained the same and we could have had a room with temperature control in a place that feels like Thailand from the beginning.
Our whole trip was inspired by a few days holiday from school and a desire to get out of the terrible air quality in Chiang Mai. We planned everything last minute. Almost all of our ordeals could have been avoided with a bit more research and a little bit less of a mad dash to just get it booked. While the tourist industry along the backpacker trails are open to last minute rooms and walk-in service, it’s hard for us to operate on like that on a stricter schedule. Trains sell out, desirable rooms fill up. We could get stranded. Our spontaneity runs more risks than the average 20-something showing up with just a backpack of belongings. Finding that sweet spot of ideal travel for us takes a little bit more time, which is a resource we’ve got lots of.
Written, photographed, and posted from my iPhone.
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