Sunset over Koh Chang
My poor website, neglected out of travel, work, and a budding preference for passive entertainment over engaged life-sharing. How unfair I’ve been to you! The mistreatment you’ve suffered through transitions from mere neglect to full abuse when you consider the terrible iPhone-only post.
Moral of the Story? When you take vacations, you’re making a big hole in your life, but it’s worth it.
This is exactly what I did during my week on Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand, right near Cambodia, and I’ll tell you all about it after I introduce you to the fictitious interviewer, Lady Francis Bedweather, who is about as well-mannered and skilled at leisure as anyone could be.
Lady Francis Bedweather’s Interview with Miss Susan Regarding Her Recent Travels to an Exotic, Tropical Island:
Lady Francis Bedweather: Shall we dispense with all the normal hum-drummery, and move quite towards the point? What in Her Majesty’s Kingdom is a ‘Koh Chang’?
Miss Susan: Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Lady Francis Bedweather. How nice of you to give up a day embroidering with your homies to chat with me. I appreciate your balls-out approach to this Q&A session by refusing to engage in the cultural niceties required in all other aspects of your social life.
To answer your question, Koh Chang is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, quite near Cambodia. It’s the second largest island in all of Thailand, coming in second only after Phuket. Koh Chang translates in English to Elephant Island. It’s named after its shape. While there are lots of elephants living on the island now, it’s not indigenous.
A little piece of paradise.
LFB: Why, with your muck-about lifestyle and indulgent, unwed “partner” did you chose to spend a week on the proletarian Elephant Island, when so many fabulous and reputable options abound? I’ve not heard of this rumored island. Is it even civilized?
MS: Basically we chose to visit Koh Chang because the internet told us to. Not only is it closer to Bangkok than many of the other islands, thus reducing our travel time, it’s also considered less of a resort hot spot, which for Andy and I is a benefit. While any easily navigated and accessible beach experience in Thailand is going to be quite touristy and Westernized, we wanted to at least feel tropical and somewhat isolated if we turned our backs to the island and faced the Gulf.
The island is quite civilized, with the Western coast beaches being occupied primarily by industries for tourists, such as accommodations, restaurants, and souvenir shops, and the East coast being home to several Thai villages and a rocky shoreline. There is even a paved road that nearly wraps around the island! This is a relatively new development, and many longtime residents and beach bums mourn the loss of the dirt roads that slowed construction and tourist flow.
Sunset over Bailan Bay from Gu’s. Note the fisherman and his kids.
LFB: Well, I should quite agree with those ‘embeached bums’ you mention; no need to improve nor expedite any means of their contact with more cultured visitors. Aside from such miscreants and other dregs, what sort of other characters might one encounter on this lay about’s paradise?
MS: We stayed on Lonely Beach, a part of the island known for catering to backpackers and hippies, so many folks were young people from Europe, Australia, and the US. The UK has its head on straighter than a lot of Americans when it comes to traveling young, so much so that they’ve established a tradition called a “gap year,” when recent high school or college graduates set off globe-trotting, often in the developing world, on a small stipend from their parents. Sometimes these kids are totally obnoxious, but I think they’re better off in the long run having gotten the wanderlust part of life done with sooner than later.
There were also a ton of nearly naked Russians and Germans old enough to be the parents of many backpackers roasting themselves to the color of a rotisserie chicken on the sand.
And of course the Thai and Cambodian people who live on the island either seasonally to support the tourist industry or year round. If I have the opportunity to return to Koh Chang for a longer period, I would love to volunteer at the school for undocumented Cambodian children whose parents are afraid to put them in the Thai school system.
A street dog, triumphant with a piece of coconut in front of a rotisserie.
LFB: It sounds a regular rogue’s gallery of undesirables. I should hope that your quarters were not too lacking in refinement? Do tell us of your accommodations.
I originally booked three nights at a low-maintenance, easy-going, slacker beach resort Gu’s Bay, which I wrote about here. The place was just off Lonely Beach in Bailan Bay, a bit further removed from the house music-happy bars. Gu’s Bay was unbelievably chill, with an open air restaurant and bar overlooking a swimming pool and rocky shoreline. A few times during my stay I sat in a hammock with a beer and a book and truly felt the fully relaxed sort of ecstasy one can only experience in paradise.
Unfortunately, I booked the very cheapest room available, which did not have some of the comfortable amenities to which we’ve become accustomed. Amenities like air-conditioning and windows that fully lock. Since we knew we were going to stay longer, Andy took the initiative to find (and pay for) more posh hotel for the rest of our trip.
On we trekked to Bhumiyama Beach Resort, home of the barely clad, rotisserie Russians along with beachfront lounging areas, complimentary breakfast, HBO, and swim-up bar. While I initially complained about how the hotel felt like it could be anywhere in the world, I warmed up to it after my first bath in four months. By the time I’d been served complimentary fruit and a fresh, herbal towel on a shaded beachfront lounge, I was enjoying myself.
While TripAdvisor reviews of the place complain about the service, my favorite part of our stay here was the staff. We developed a reputation based on our limited Thai language skills, and by the end of our stay I’d practiced Thai with most of the bar staff and beach attendants. To top things off, when it was time to head home in a torrential downpour the front desk boss lady went out to the street herself to hail a cab.
If you want to stay at Lonely Beach, which looked to be the best part of the island for visitors, you may want to do your research first. While a room without air-conditioning in Chiang Mai would be quite livable this time of year, the tropical heat and humidity on Koh Chang can do a number on the heat-sensitive. In the peak winter months you can expect to pay a larger sum of money for accommodation. Additionally, internet rates might not always be less expensive than just showing up at a hotel.
Bhumiyama Resort on Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand.
LBF: And aside from pestering the poor footmen and chambermaids with your dubious language skills, in what sort of sport and entertainment were you engaged?
MS: The entire point of a beach holiday is to do as little as possible. If you’ve laid in the sun without getting terribly burned, played in the seawater, eaten some seafood, and drank a fruity cocktail, you’ve successfully completed a beach vacation.
In addition to the activities listed above, we also played many games of Gin Rummy and swam in a variety of pools. I read two Hunger Games books in as many days, and Andy nearly lost a full month’s worth of work on his current project.
If Koh Chang was part of a shorter stay in Southeast Asia, it might be worth it to venture further inland. On a couple of scooter rides (which I would only recommend for folks with experience driving scooters in inclement weather) we saw elephant camps, waterfalls, parks, massage parlors, and tailors–basically all the popular activities for a quick Thai vacation.
Night train cutting through smog.
LBF: Surely, this uncharted archipelago must be an absolute bear to travel to? Was it an ocean voyage, or did you sally forth on a dirigible?
That’s a good question, LBF. From Chiang Mai, the journey south is quite arduous if you’re not flying directly to the Trat airport, on mainland Thailand across from Koh Chang. If you were operating on a full Western salary and budget the flight from Bangkok or Chiang Mai would seem quite affordable and would definitely be the best option in terms of time.
I, however, do not have a Western salary. Instead, I’m rich in time. Our journey to Koh Chang had many legs. We started by hailing a cab to the Chiang Mai airport where we hopped on the hour-long flight to Bangkok. From Suvarnabhumi Airport, we hoped on the airport train to the Bangkok Sky Train (BTS), which we took to the Ekkamai Bus Station, where we barely made the 11:00 am bus to Trat.
If you plan on making this journey, you should know that the Ekkamai BTS station exit that points to the bus station lets you out in the wrong direction on Sukhumwit Road to find the bus station.
Our second class bus took 6.5 hours, and let us out at a sketchy travel agency instead of the last stop on the bus route– the Koh Chang ferry station. From the sketchy travel agency we took a songtheaw (literally “two rows”) to the ferry and the ferry to Koh Chang, where we caught yet another songtheaw to Gu’s Bay. It was an ordeal, I’ll tell you what.
Obscured mountains and agricultural field as seen from the train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
The way back wasn’t much simpler. After leaving our hotel around 10:30 am, we eventually reversed the steps of our travel back to Bangkok. We caught a bus directly at the ferry after a wait of several hours that took us to the bus station in Bangkok. From there we took the BTS to a station that crossed with the metro line that dropped us off at the train station.
Are you tired of hearing my travel stories? Because I am. And I’m not even done.
We boarded a train to Chiang Mai at 10 pm. Our second class, air-conditioner-free sleeper train was quite alright, though I will choose curries from the train stop breakfast vendors over the pre-ordered train food next time. Andy took the bottom berth with the cool breeze and kamikaze bugs while I climbed up to the narrower top berth with fan access. I really like the lulling motion and slow pace of train travel, though I could have gone apeshit on the be-dreaded British girl screaming at the top of her lungs outside the bathrooms. Luckily someone else stepped in and told her and her buddies to shut it around 2 am.
We chugged along through the smoke-choked countryside until we finally reached Chiang Mai around 2:30 the next day.
Thanks to LBF (penned by one Andy Boggs) for dropping by Splendor and providing such delightful interview questions that prove much more entertaining than the post itself.
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