As we stepped off the plane in Bangkok we were hit by a wall of heat and humidity. It was wet, our skin instantly felt damp and after a long day flying from Uzbekistan we probably smelt damp too. The temperature was 10 degrees cooler than the Stan’s yet the humidity was quite stifling. It wasn’t just the heat that hit us though, it was the familiar smells and sounds. Cars were honking and the locals were speaking in their tonal language which made us instantly smile hearing the exaggerated “Kaaaaaaaaa” all the time. It was our fourth visit to Thailand and we were so happy to be back. This trip wasn’t going to be our usual sort though, we weren’t backpacking around many destinations, we were purely here for the tasty food and a cheap beach holiday on Koh Chang Island.
Before the island we had a couple of nights in Bangkok so we headed to Khao San Road, checked into a minuscule but clean room and went out for dinner. It was already 10pm yet the area was buzzing with life. Electricity cables still hadn’t been modernised in the past five years, in fact it seemed like they’d only added to the mess and every road looked like it had giant balls of black yarn all tangled up. We found a place in the back alleys where we ordered an ice cold Chang and aromatic Green Curry. I sat there uncontrollably dripping with sweat, like I’d just stepped out of the shower and I was frantically swobbing my face with tissues which just stuck to me.
The next night we went to a Train Night Market, travelling by tube to reach the place. The train was almost as busy as in Japan and people squeezed on with their faces smudged across the glass door as it closed. The market had rows of colourful marquees selling retro Hawaiian shirts and street food galore. There were meat skewers, sweet roti pancakes, whole barbecued fish and massive seafood platters which the locals were digging into with plastic gloves on. It was a very funky market with old vans, cars and container ships converted into bars which lined the outskirts. We waited in the rain for a bus back but it didn’t come. A motorbike taxi offered us a good price to Khao San but we questioned the three of us squeezing onto the bike plus two day packs. The driver was a chubby lad so we were already limited on space but we managed to get on with me sandwiched in the middle. I didn’t feel very safe, we rode like this a lot 9 years ago when we first came to Asia but now that we’re older and wiser it seemed like a stupid idea. The roads were wet from the rain and the bike kept stalling so it was a rather wobbly trip and I was hugging the driver like he was a huge teddy bear I’d just won at the fairground.
A minivan took us south east to Koh Chang the next morning. We’ve been there before, many years ago, it’s a big island mainly consisting of dense jungle, steep hills and beaches. The beaches aren’t wow, but it’s a nice place to kick back and relax on the cheap. We booked a nice bungalow at Lonely Beach but it wasn’t available for the first two days so we decided to go to Bang Bao for those two nights. When we arrived at the ferry port the mini van company we were with offered to take everyone to their hotels on the island which was great. When we told the lady in charge that we wanted to go to Bang Bao she puffed out her cheeks “ooooh, very far Bang Bao, better you go lonely beach…long long way….so far….”. We reconsidered our decision and went against her advice, getting a ride 1km beyond Bang Bao to Klong Koi which was a lovely little beach village. I don’t know why the lady made it seem like such a long distance, it was only 10km past lonely beach and we paid extra anyway.
We quickly found a bright green bungalow just a 30 second walk from the beach with a private balcony overlooking a lake and forested mountains. Gigantic butterflies clumsily flew around the water and lizards basked in the sunshine. It was a lovely area and there weren’t many tourists as it was off season so it really felt like we’d found a hidden gem. The beach was protected by islands so it was very calm albeit not very clear water due to the rainy season. It still felt damn good to sink our bodies into the warm water though and was quite a difference in temperature from our last sea dip in Norway!
If you’ve ever been to Thailand you’ll know that everyone wants to sell you something. It’s instinct for them to call out what they offer when a tourist passes. So when we walked around the back of the beach searching for a place for dinner a lady swinging a machete in her hand casually offered us a massage and then she realised she was holding a machete, looking down at it as if to say “who put that there” and we all laughed. Then I made things awkward and said “special massage haha” before I could stop myself and realise it might have a sexual context.
Anyway…we found a delightful spot for dinner which was well priced and our table was right on the sand just a few meters from the sea gently lapping the shore. We drank beer and ate the most delicious red curries while watching dozens of friendly stray dogs lounging in the sand and lazily playing with one another.
The time came for us to leave our little piece of paradise and head to Lonely Beach so we waited on the roadside for a pick up truck taxi. It was raining and an English guy that lived on the island said it would be better to catch one in Bang Boa as it was a quiet weekday. So we set off walking up the jungle-lined road past troops of boisterous monkeys. Then the English guy came and found us, saying he’d whizz up the road on his moped and send a taxi for us which was very sweet of him. Although I’d prefer it if he hadn’t as he also arranged the price and it was way more than we’d anticipated. We didn’t have much choice though so we were on our way to Lonely Beach. It’s known as being the area where backpackers stay. It’s a pretty small place with shops, eateries and hotels lining the main road and a wild jungle backdrop.
We were staying in a lovely new place where we got a massive modern bungalow for only $14. On our last visit to Koh Chang we were in the classic natural bamboo huts where the bathroom had no roof and we watched a yellow and black snake crawling up the banister of the bungalow next to ours. I do love the rustic bungalows but I must say it was bloomin’ good to be in a classy unit without all of the insects.
We were a 10 minute walk from the beach so we headed there in the afternoon and were a little shocked at the state of the area. The place seemed really run down with derelict bungalows, rubbish and rubble. Then we reached the beach and the sea was a wavy mess, the sky was grey and it didn’t look very appealing. Now I really wished we hadn’t left the southern area.
There was a pretty eccentric American guy staying at our place and he spotted us in town and was quick to tell us to head along the next lane “so many nice nooks to check out that way”. We headed where he suggested and were left rather confused. It was just empty reggae bars and a weird hotel with a prison style fence surrounding it. So Craig and I ended up laughing about how shit it was, passing a washing machine in an empty building “man, just look at these amazing nooks” in our best American accents.
Things picked up though and after a couple of rain, the rest of our holiday felt very unlike rainy season with plenty of blue skies and scorching sunshine. It’s funny as we were nervous about coming to Koh Chang in rainy season as they say it’s one of the wettest islands which is also located in one of the rainiest areas of Thailand but the weather really wasn’t bad. The sea became less wavy and was lovely and clear in the shallows, in fact the beach was very beautiful, backed by jungle covered hills and not a sun bed in sight. The dilapidated bungalows were being renovated and suddenly everything felt just right and we were very happy relaxing there for 10 more days.
We celebrated our 11 year anniversary on the island and we treated ourselves to a huge veggie burger at a lovely spot up a steep hill. The restaurant was made of wood and bamboo and had a great vantage point across the jungle and sea. For an even better view we climbed up some steps covered in gecko poo to reach the top of a tree house. It was a really tranquil spot and built directly in the jungle so the area must come alive at night with the screeching noise of all the insects. Just on our 5 minute walk there we passed a massive black scorpion and saw a snake in the tree. Apparently Koh Chang is even home to the king cobras and that day at the beach we were sunbathing when we realised a 1m snake was right in front of us with a lizard in its mouth. The tail and suction-style feet were hanging out of its mouth and desperately gripping on, and as luck would have it the lizard managed to get out and the snake came right for us. My god it was fast, I stepped back and he slithered past us and up a pole. I really don’t think a human could outrun a snake.
We spent most sunsets either on the beach or along a section of coast near our hostel where a lone swing was. Lonely Beach faces west so we were treated to some wonderful sunsets with intense colours filling the sky and reflecting in the sea.
Our day leaving the island wasn’t quite as successful as our arrival. The minivan was an hour late and as we positioned ourselves to drive onto the ferry our driver was told there wasn’t space so we had to wait another 45 minutes for the next one. The other guests in the van all got dropped off in random hotels around Bangkok and we were the only ones left going to Khao San. The traffic was atrocious and we spent two hours driving sluggish speeds through the city. Then the sky turned rather apocalyptic with menacing black clouds filling the sky. With only 5km left to go (which took an hour!) I was hoping the rain would hurry up and finish up but alas, it came right as we left the van. The wind was intense and many trees had snapped and fallen onto the pathways. With ponchos on we ran through the pouring rain to a restaurant, got our final red curry of the trip which was the worst one yet, really thick and pasty with a funky taste. Then we had to wait for a bus to the northern airport…while standing in the pouring rain. We clipped our backpacks onto a fence and wrapped our ponchos around us and the bags. After 30 minutes waiting we felt like we couldn’t give up and get a taxi, we’d committed too much time so we stuck it out on the rainy street corner and just over an hour later we saw our bus. We saved $8 by not catching a taxi, maybe it wasn’t worth the saving looking back at what a long day we’d had. We arrived at our hotel near the airport at 9pm, and then our bellies turned from the final curry and we both had the shits! Bit of bad end to a lovely holiday but now it’s time for us to move on and fly to a new country, Myanmar.