Bailan Bay, Koh Chang: 2013-14 Update
✔ Value for money accommodation. But ideally rent a scooter.
✔ More R-E-L-A-X than P-A-R-T-Y
✔ No good, natural beach. What there is, by Mercure Hideaway, is artificial.
Bailan Bay is the least developed area on the west coast of Koh Chang, which is why we liked it so much when we first visited back in 2003 and originally planned a small bungalow place here. The lack of white powdery stuff on the beach then meant that there hadn’t been the usual mad dash to buy up land and build resorts. Things are changing and there are a growing number of small resorts in the area plus one 4 star, the Mercure Hideaway ( formerly the Dusit Princess) Adjacent to the Mercure is Treetop Adventure Park, a ‘must visit’ if you or your kids enjoy a bit of exercise plus some thrills up in the trees.
The resorts that did exist until recently were low key affairs, intended for travellers who valued a bit of peace and quiet and who had grown out of the urge to party till the early hours every night. This in turn meant that the road through Bailan hadn’t seen any real development and therefore the quiet hamlet still retained a laid back local vibe far removed from that of Lonely Beach, a 15 minute walk to the north. That’s all changing now and the past couple of years have seen a mini boom in downtown Bailan, there are even a couple of two-storey buldings by the main road nowadays.
As you head south from Lonely Beach the first resort you reach is Bailan Bay Resort. You won’t see the bungalows but will see their restaurant on the right, on the roadside at the top of a rise. Steep steps lead down to the bungalows which are fairly simple but are in a beautiful location on the shoreline. No sound except the waves lapping on the shore . . . and the trucks on the main road above. A small headland gives great panoramic views south across the bay and north along the rigged coastline towards Lonely Beach Another, slightly more plush, but still laid back resort is adjacent, The Mangrove. A kind of designer hut resort with very simple, but nicely designed, wooden huts hugging a hillside that leads down to an open kitchen / restaurant area and small beach. It’s one of those places that doesn’t do any advertising and attracts customers by word of mouth recommendations.
In the past 2-3 years half a dozen new backpacker bungalow resorts have sprung up along the shore and by the roadside. Some are identikit wooden huts, but many are very nice little bungalows – mostly wooden and clustered around tropical gardens. Target visitors seem to be flashpackers who want a bit more comfort than the normal budget hut provides and also a quiet place to chill. But as this area doesn’t see many visitors outside peak months, so you can often find some good deals on rooms here and get far more for your money than you can on Lonely Beach.
On the beach, the grandly named Bailan Beach Resort has AC bungalows and a pool by a small strip of sand for 1,500- 2,000 Baht/night in High Season. It was a very popular, peaceful place. However, it’s popularity seems to be it’s downfall – at least as far as keeping it as a simple bungalow resort goes. A new hotel block has now opened and by the shore a large restaurant / reception area is now open. On the roadside, directly opposite the entrance to Bailan beach Resort is the French/Thai ‘Lazy Republique’. Only five AC bungalows for under 1,000 Baht/night, very nice owners and good food. Nearby, ‘Kwaimaipar Orchid Resort’ is attempting to take the wooden hut theme more upmarket and appeal to people wanting a more organic food / spa type of place to stay. A bit pricey for what it is though. Directly opposite lies ‘St Tropez’, a handful of fan bungalows plus restaurant and Petanque court / pitch – Yep, the owner’s French – and then you have then new ‘Tarzan Island’ , a large roadside restaurant with range of new wooden bungalows on the hillside at the rear. One more place to check out is ‘Jungle Garden’, which was formerly just a bar & restaurant – albeit a very good one – they now have brand new bungalows and the island’s only dedicated Hammock shop, with handwoven hammocks from a small village in the north of Thailand. Even if you aren’t staying there, well worth checking out.
Following the side street in the middle of the village will bring you down first to ‘Green View’, yet more pretty nice wooden bungalows in a garden setting and then ‘Janet Green Cottages’, owned by a Thai singer/actress and with fan & AC and a small pool, big enough to cool off in but you wont be doing laps. The design aimed at Thai visitors who know who she is, rather than foreigners who really don’t care one way or the other. Also down here are couple more relatively new arrivals, ‘Vanalee Resort’, seems to be more for Russian visitors, and Gu Bay which is better value than most budget resorts as it has a pool, large garden area, is by the sea and there’s some funky decor in the restaurant / reception / bar area. Rounding off the resorts, at the end of the track is Bailan Hut, some ‘interesting’ pre-fab AC bungalows right by the shore and more traditional ones behind. Also has a large restaurant and does some good deals on set meals. For at least a little bit of a sandy beach you then have to head back to the main road and south a couple of hundred metres to ‘The Whitehouse’. This has pretty good bungalows and a very nice freeform pool right by the sea. There are cheaper rooms in a hotel block at the rear of the restaurant, these look out over the car park. But as the resort is usually quiet, you should be able to get a good deal on a bungalow even in high season. They have a small beach which seems to be formed from sand that has washed over from the Mercure Hideaway next door.
The Mercure is a resort owned by one of the ferry companies but managed by first the Dusit group and now Accor. It aims to rival the Amari Emerald Cove an The Dewa as Koh Chang’s best hotel. It doesn’t though. The resort itself isn’t what you’d call attractive, it’s concrete and more concrete with not a lot of garden area or open space,other than the car park. But guests can expect decent 4 star service, a very expensive internet connection, contemporary room design and, at high tide, a picturesque beach.
In the past there was no real beach, just rock pools at low tide here. However it’s amazing what a couple of breakwaters and several thousand tons of sand can do. As if by magic, the resort had a nice little beach. But at low tide you’ll see the sludgy, rocky mess that still exists. Nice place if you want to relax by the pool, not so good if you want to swim in the sea or walk along the sand for more than 50 metres. You can’t. The big plus is that adjacent to the resort is a very nice little beach bar / restaurant called ‘Lisca beach’. if you stay at the Mercure you’ll probably find yourself hanging out beachside here.
Bailan bay itself is very beautiful, a kilometre wide crescent of shallow water. At low tide you can see locals and workers from the hotels wading out a couple of hundred metres to collect shellfish and crabs. The shore is still lined by mangrove in some places, although most resort owners have decided that their properties are more attractive to visitors if it’s cut down. Back in 2003, we met the guy who was supervising the land clearing in preparation for the construction of, what is now, the Mercure. He had a small shack on the land and used to get up early in the rainy season to watch the dolphins that could be seen off the southern tip of the bay. He’s long gone and so are the dolphins.
On the main road the village centre of Bailan is one of those ‘blink and you miss it’ places, it’s hard to tell when you are in the centre of the hamlet and by the time you realise you are, you are already heading up the hill and on towards Bangbao. In the centre there is a cluster of small restaurants and a couple of local families have also now turned their houses into small homestays and discovered that visiting backpackers would prefer cornflakes for breakfast rather than rice and Thai curry. A revelation made all the more pleasing by the fact that the profit margins on cornflakes, sandwiches and English teabags are far higher than those on a plate of ‘Pad kapow moo sap’ and a 10 Baht bottle of Coke.
A couple of other places worth a mention are ‘Bailan Herbal Sauna’, the first herbal sauna on the island and the only ‘adobe’ style building. They still do all manner of herbal teas and massages to ensure you are well and truly ‘chillaxed’ prior to a night out. Also in the same area are a cluster of small massage places, ‘Joy & Ya’ stands out as it is in a nice stand alone wooden building on the inland side of the road. The others are in smaller, dingier shop units opposite. A hundred metres to the south ‘Rock Inn’, the last place to stay before you leave Bailan, has a restaurant and bungalows overlooking the Mercure Hideaway.
If you are in need of a night out then there are a few hangouts in downtown Bailan, ranging from the small reggae place by the bridge, to ‘Tarzan Island’ which has live music. Or the nearby Jungle Garden which has a few tables and chairs in a laid back garden setting. They do great cocktails and western snacks and it quickly got a reputation as the best place to meet, talk and generally chill out after your evening meal in Bailan. And as of last High Season, ‘Filin Cocktail House’ has opened adjacent to ‘Jungle Garden’. In effect, allowing you to do a bar crawl of four very different places without having to walk more than 50 metres. What more could you want?
Adjacent to the Mercure Hideaway, on the cape, is the Treetop Adventure Park, an example of an eco-friendly attraction that provides fun, thrills with a unique way to see the island from way up in the jungle canopy. Safety is obviously a concern when there’s just a wire preventing you from plummeting to your death, but the multitude of ziplines, rope climbs, bridges and obstacles way up in the trees have been put together by a French team that specialise in such things. There are safety procedures and a mandatory training session before you are allowed to head off on your own. A deservedly popular attraction and one where you can easily spend a half day. There is also a course for young kids aged 5-9, so no need for to leave them locked in the hotel room whilst the rest of the family go out and have fun.
Just outside Bailan, in the no-man’s land that lies between here and Bangbao a couple of kilometres to the south, what used to be Nisa Cabana Resort is now home to a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, ‘DARA Rehab Asia’, which made the newspapers in November 2010 with a story on the, now former, boss being filmed taking methamphetamine with a hooker in Bangkok.
Whilst Bailan isn’t for beach bums and not really ideal for families with young kids, anyone looking for a place to stay long term, is looking for good value accommodation or planning a dive holiday should consider Bailan as a place to base themselves. The simple reasons are that it offers a fairly cheap, quiet place to stay whilst being only 5 minutes motorbike ride from the nightlife on Lonely Beach to the north and under 10 minutes ride to the dive centres in Bangbao to the south. Despite the current development it’s still far less tacky and loud than Lonely Beach, making it a good spot to do nothing except enjoy the views from your hammock and read a book.
Next: Winding down to Bangbao