“Welcome to Trat!” proclaimed the sign at the airport. We admired the green topiaries that had been cleverly crafted into elephant shapes. After all, Thailand’s third largest island after Phuket and Koh Samui, Koh Chang is fondly known as ‘Elephant Island’ because of its mammoth size and elephant shaped headland. 🐘
Forming part of the Mu Koh Chang National Park, Koh Chang is located in the Gulf of Thailand around 300 kilometres east of Bangkok in the province of Trat. Known for its dense, steep jungles and hiking trails with impressive waterfalls, as well as offshore coral reefs and a shoreline that is dotted with beaches and villages. Koh Chang was given an unexpected tourism boost by the post-tsunami unpopularity of the west coast (i.e. Phuket) after 2004.
With 70% of the land mass covered in natural rain forest, the island is not densely populated and there are only about 5000 permanent residents, which gives an authentic and relaxed look at Thai living. A wide range of wildlife including a good selection of birds, snakes, deer and a number of elephants also call Koh Chang home, while the surrouding waters provide excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities to enjoy the abundant ocean life.
A friendly representative from our hotel, the Amari, met us and we drove approximately 30 minutes to the ferry port, then across the bay for another 45 minutes, followed by a short drive to the western side of the island. The Amari is a beautiful resort set on a beach with a glorious swimming pool and entertainment area. It was delightful to have air conditioning as it was very hot and humid. It took sometime to explain to us that New Year’s Eve buffet dinner and show was compulsory for all guests and would be added to our bill 🤨. (It turns out that this is common practice across all the hotels and the seafood spread was quite remarkable in the end 🦞)
Geoff had found an extremely helpful blog site of a guy who’d been living and working in Koh Chang for a few years. We took his advice on everything from his favourite bakery (Crust), massage parlour (Sima), restaurant (Kati’s), laundry (Pu) and cocktail bar (his own ). We made good use of all of his recommendations. He really showed us a good time!
The first thing we did was walk the couple of km’s to Kati’s where we ordered our favourite Phad Thai dish, chicken Penang curry and of course, Singha beer. It turned out to be our favourite restaurant on the island too!
We asked about motor-bike hire from the manager at Kati’s, and low and behold, they also rented out scooters. We were seriously sorted in a few hours of arriving! Having the motorcycle meant that we were independent, mobile and ready for a great holiday!
The flexibility of the bike allowed us to explore the island. There is pretty much one main road that goes most of the way around it. We enjoyed picking a destination and setting off to see the sights. We stopped to visit Wat Klong Prao, an ornate, pretty buddhist temple.
One of the nicest excursions we did was to visit the little fishing village of Salakkok. Completely peaceful with local people, going about their lives and mostly still fishing for a living as they have done for years. There also seemed to be a small fish sauce and fish packing business. We also passed a small boatyard where wooden fishing boats were being repaired.
The village is built to a large extent on stakes into the bay and many of the houses are connected with small timber bridges. The bay is approximately 1 kilometer wide, and around 2 kilometers long and connected to the sea by a narrow passage. It is scattered with dense islands of mangroves. This is apparently one of the best-preserved mangrove-forests in the whole of Thailand. Completely refreshing was that no-one tried to sell us any souvenir t-shirts or sarongs. Some people smiled or waved but most just ignored us and got on with drying fish, fixing nets, sorting crabs or whatever they were doing.
We wandered up and down the wooden walkways taking photographs of the colourful boats and nets.
For dinner we took another recommendation from our knowledgeable blogger and enjoyed a whole fried fish crusted in tasty chilies 🌶 and the obligatory green curry (ordered mai pet, or not hot!) Delicious!
We were meeting up with a group of friends to take a sailing trip later in the week, and our friend Marie, and her daughter Caila, had arrived and checked into the charming Aana resort nearby. Located along Klong Praow Beach, this resort had gorgeous views of the river, garden or mountains. It also had its own private beach reached via a short Thai boat shuttle. An exquisite setting where the river joins the ocean in a peaceful lagoon surrounded by a peaceful terrace and spa area.
High on our and Marie’s “to do” list, was a Thai cooking course. We all love Thai food and Marie had found and booked us into the Blue Lagoon cookery school, a short scooter trip from our hotel.
What a lovely setting. The friendly chefs showed us the Thai herbs that were growing in the gardens and introduced us to the plentiful and sometimes unusual ingredients that we would be cooking in our dishes. The colours and the aromas of the vegetables, herbs and spices were amazing.
We were delighted to learn to make Phad Thai with shrimp and peanuts and cashew nut chicken amongst other delicious salads, soups and desserts. Not usually a fan of eastern puddings, I was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of the sticky black rice with coconut and mango 🥭.
After a few days of living the local island life, it was time to meet Lawrie and Sue together with Marie and Caila and to pick up our eagerly anticipated yacht charter! The Sunsail base was located at Koh Chang Marina, Salak Phet. We all hopped into a tuk-tuk taxi and got driven to the marina. Milliebella is a sleek 43ft Beneteau with 3 cabins and 3 heads, just perfect for our needs.
One of the most indulgent things in the world is to be able to drop off the back of your yacht and float or drift weightlessly in warm crystal clear blue ocean. The sense of freedom is amazing. We usually tie a long line to the stern so that we don’t get caught by a unsuspected current.
Our first evening involved much laughter and hilarity. We puttered over to the restaurant on the mainland at Salak Phet and settled down to watch the full moon rise and to have dinner. Marie and I ordered the Penang curry and we were told by the feisty Thai waitress : “Not happening!” She repeated this holding her hands up emphatically. We wondered what politics were going on behind the scenes in the kitchen for her to announce that things were simply “not happening”. Only later did it dawn on us that she was saying, “no ha’ Penang” .
And then the karaoke started. Susie surprised us all by being first to the mic! She took it seriously and her performance was highly appreciated by the local diners who seemed fascinated to see a western woman singing and applauded wildly 🎤. We had to drag her off the stage.
Koh Mak is a delightfully small, rather flat, tropical island south of Koh Chang with a laidback atmosphere. It’s far from uninhabited but it felt very Robinson Crusoe as we approached with its strip of white beach, dense green foliage and palm trees. Our sailing charts indicated the best place to anchor which was well away from the crown of coral reef that surrounds the island. We were eager to get ashore to explore and have dinner. Piling into the dingy, we could see the reef below us in the shallow, clear water as we zoomed up onto the beach
An exerpt from our Mariner’s sailing guide: “The bay on the southwest side of the island is less populated and offers protection near the ferry jetty in 8-10 metres for overnight anchorage during the northeast season. Stay well clear of the fringing reef that runs the length of the beach and watch out for the thin lazy lines extending seaward from the jetty.” (South East Asia Pilot)
Oh yeah? Whatever… our holiday attitude was that no-one was really in charge and nothing really mattered too much, so we settled down to some Singha beers, mojitos and an assortment of delectable Thai dishes at the Sabay Jungle bar. Later, well fed and ready for bed, we wandered down to our dingy only to discover it was low tide and that surf was breaking over the coral reef that completely surrounded us. The gents went to discuss the situation with the locals who shook their heads and explained that there was no way anyone could leave the island until the onset of high tide, a good eight hours away. What!
Well there was nothing for it but to make ourselves comfy for the night. The staff at the Sabay Jungle Bar went out of their way to make us comfortable. We were shown to an area of deck chairs and they brought us some kikoys to keep us warm. It’s never very cold in Thailand, but relatively we were feeling the nip and were full on targets for the exuberant mossies. I found a hammock to curl up into but it left too much skin exposed to bites. Luckily Lawrie produced a half jack of scotch (as you do) and we all went more peacefully into that good night.
In the early hours, Geoff and Lawrie took turns going to examine the tidal progress in the moonlight. Seeing the white foam breaking on the reef was disappointing. Eventually, shortly before dawn, they woke us and we were a sorry, chilly crew that crawled gratefully into our cosy cabins.
After a few hours of sleep it became too hot to stay in the cabins and (after checking the tide tables carefully 🙄) we headed back to our friendly restaurant for a sumptuous breakfast. Well I guess we’d wanted a Robinson Crusoe experience! 🏝
Life on board was peaceful, jovial and the ultimate in relaxation. With no set itinerary, the biggest decisions were choosing whether to sleep or read, or dine ashore or on board. Mojitos were our go-to drink thanks to Marie’s talents.
Koh Kood, is an island almost 400 km south of Bangkok and close enough to Cambodia to see their shoreline on occasion. The only way to get to this island is by boat, making it deliciously untouristy. Scanning the shorelines of Koh Kood as our boat approached, I was delighted by the pristine coastline surrounded by gentle hills covered entirely in jungle. Located intermittently are beautiful rustic resorts with charming names such as Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook.
We anchored in crystal clear water with a view of a beautiful beach and we went ashore by dingy and tied up at the wooden pier belonging to the A-na-May resort. The beach was spotlessly clean except for a few winter leaves 🍁 . Even in the midst of the January high season, it felt fairly deserted.
We were welcomed to relax at the resort and have a drink or two before returning to our yacht. We wondered around taking photographs and attempting a spot of snorkelling in the nearby reef. In the evening we went ashore once again to watch a fire show where young men performed daring acrobatics while twirling batons of flames. 🔥
Appreciating Koh Kood fully, required a few stops along the coast and I don’t think you could find more perfect sailing conditions. Although there was very little wind in the morning, it was perfect for swimming and lazing about. In the afternoons we would sail and enjoy the light steady window of wind. By sunset, it was perfectly calm again.
While sipping Mojitos on our deck we would admire the colourful fishing trawlers that worked in unison to catch mainly prawns. When sailing we had to be careful that we didn’t pass between two boats trawling their nets underwater. We were amazed at how many people were on board and enjoyed taking pictures and zooming in on the young people.
Later I was horrified to read about the appalling plight of the underaged, migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia who are effectively enslaved on these boats.
“They said they had paid brokers to help them find work in Thailand in factories or on building sites. But they had been sold instead to boat captains, sometimes for as little as £250. Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.” (www.theguardian.com)
The Captain Hook resort was one of our favourite resorts and we dreamed of one day spending a week at such a place, relaxing in luxury while living in the tropical jungle. The resort stands on a sloping cliff at the estuary of Khlong Yai Ki on Koh Kood.
We took the dingy along the narrow Khlong Yai Ki stream, flanked by dense mangrove forests and eventually came upon a small white sandy beach, completely hidden at first. At the far end was a wonderful waterfall where we were able to swim beneath the refreshing cold water flowing from the deep forests. We amused ourselves on the monkey swing and watching a Thai lady and her elderly western boyfriend doing a private photographic shoot, posing without a care in the world. 🌺
Eventually it was time to return our boat to the Sunsail base and we then headed for Bang Bao, a fishing village, on the south coast of Koh Chang island. Tourism has long since replaced fishing as the main source of employment and income for the locals and there seemed to be a glut of dive schools operations.
The walkway between the stores and houses was open to the elements and was charming and full of character. We explored the alleyway lined with all manner of tourist related shops. We bought a few polo shirts, shell earrings and some DVD’s/CD’s.
What a privilege to enjoy the landscapes of these peaceful islands from a beautiful sailboat. This part of the world is home to some of the world’s greatest shallow-water coral reefs, considered one of the most preserved and beautiful in the world. Thanks Lawrie, Sue, Marie and Caila for a superb holiday in the sun and sea!