Elephant Camps. There are now four camps on the island. To me an elephant’s natural habitat is in the jungle and not tethered a few metres from the roadside. Whilst I’m sure that ‘Baan Chang Thai’, ‘Chang Chutiman’ and ‘Ban Chang Klong Plu’ camps ensure the mahouts look after their elephants well the idea of roadside, drive-in elephant camps just doesn’t appeal to me. These three camps are all in the same area of central Klong Prao.
Infinitely better is ‘Ban Kwan Chang’, the first camp on Koh Chang and run by K. Pittaya, who years ago set up the Asian Elephant Foundation and is regarded as an authority on elephant welfare. This camp is located in a valley about 3km from Klong Son village in the north of the island. There are 9 or 10 elephants of varying ages and personalities. A couple of the mahouts speak some English and there is quite a lot of written info available about the history of elephant handling in Thailand at the camp.
Pittaya has also written a very good coffee table book , in English, on the history of the Ta Klaeng valley, in Surin priovince near Cambodia, where villagers are brought up with an elephant in the family and looking after and training elephants is a way of life. What you wont find though are tacky souvenirs on display or elephants entertaining you with dance routines or stuff like that. Even if you aren’t up for a ride on an elephant you can buy some bananas, feed them and just enjoy the jungle scenery. Go there, you’ll like it.
Elephant Island. As you’ll probably have discovered – from reading the first sentence on virtually all hotel websites, the name ‘Koh Chang’ means ‘Elephant Island’ in Thai. But why? Surely, Koh Chang was called ‘Koh Chang’ well before the island was accurately surveyed or photographed from the air so the name coming from the shape of the island viewed from above seems a non starter. And you’d have to be smoking something stronger than menthol cigarettes to believe that the silhouette of the island resembles that of a reclining elephant, which is often given as a reason for the name in guidebooks.
As with many place names around the world, the name Koh Chang is derived from local folklore. This is the tale, which I have abridged but I kept the important parts . . .
Locals believe that long time ago a Buddhist saint came to Koh Chang and raised a herd of elephants on the island. He employed an old couple to look after the herd. The old lady was called ‘Yai Mom’.
One day an elephant called ‘Petch’ escaped from the herd onto the forest, met a wild elephant and had three baby elephants out of wedlock.
The saint found out about the matter and sent the old couple to look for the elephant and its babies. The old man went up north. The old lady went down south.
With the pachyderm equivalent of a cry of “You’ll never take me alive!” , Petch the elephant ran to north coast, leapt into the sea and doggy paddled to the mainland where she landed at the present day Baan Thamamchat. Being an unfit mother, Petch forgot that her kids couldn’t swim or at least not far enough to complete the 6 or more kilometres to the mainland. The three babies drowned and were transformed into 2 piles of rock at the head of Klong Son bay. Today, the Thai name is ‘Three Elephants Rock’. (Why three elephants were transformed into only two piles isn’t clear.)
Talking of transformations, whilst swimming to the mainland ‘Petch’, the elephant, needed a toilet break. Her bowel movements were also transformed into a rocky outcrop, now known as ‘Hin Kee Chang’ in Thai a.k.a. ‘Elephant Shit Rock’ – you’ll see this from the ferries as it is marked by a large buoy. (Obviously, Petch was extremely fortunate that her bowel movements turned to stone after they exited her body and not before.)
But that wasn’t the end of the totally unexplained transformations, the old lady followed the elephant onto the mainland, but fell into a mud pool and died. Her body transformed into a rock, now called ‘Hin Yai Mom’. Her hat fell on a rock at the end of the cape where there is now a lighthouse. The cape has since been known as ‘Laem Ngob’ (Hat Cape) and is now the departure point for passenger ferries to Koh Chang.
The saint expecting that ‘Petch’ would come back onto the island, asked for tenders for a project to build a large trap in the south of the islands the southern coast on the area that is now called ‘Ban Salakkok’. (This is the first recorded example of a pointless project costing an obscene amount of money being instigated by an individual in a position of power , and where the only real beneficiary is the person who commissioned the project in the first place. You’ll find plenty of latter day examples on Koh Chang.)
Petch the elephant did return to the island, but being streetwise and spotting what must have been a rather obvious, kilometre long, trap strung between two islands went into different direction. The saint therefore sent his men to catch the elephant.
In the end, the saint got so fed up with the hassle caused by ‘Petch’ that he cursed the island to prevent elephants from ever living there again. Since that day, there has been no elephant living on the island. (Until the advent of elephant camps for the tourists.)
Of course, this isn’t a true story but neither was it made up by myself in a drunken haze. This is the real local tale. To see a mural depicting the events above, go to Centrepoint Ferry pier on the mainland. Then drive east about 500 metres – in the direction of Trat – and you’ll see the entrance to a small temple on the left side of the road. Look at the old mural that is painted on the temple gateway by the main road.
Emergency. Who you gonna call? Police: 039 586 191 or just ‘191’, International Clinic: 039 551 555 or ‘1719’ If you have to wake people up in the middle of the night, those numbers cover all the bases in event of a true emergency. (The Tourist Police , 1155, may have nice patrol cars, but don’t have any investigative powers and so you’d call them if you had been ripped off by a t-shirt vendor but not if you’ve been shot, robbed and left for dead by the roadside.)
Entrepreneur Association. Koh Chang has one, comprising local business owners. Their sole claim to fame thus far has been to put up large banners island wide announcing a Koh Chang Grand Sale promotion for Low Season 2010. Then hold a launch party for the promotion. But not actually have any concrete ideas about what the ‘Koh Chang Grand Sale’ actually stood for, how visitors could benefit, what was for sale or how to advertise it off the island etc. According to a recent news report they spent all the money on banners and the launch party and so are now planning for 2011 and have given up on the 2010 promotion – after a month.
Exercise. Most hotels have small, feeble excuses for gyms. Usually a couple of dumbells, one exercise bike and either a treadmill or exercise bike. Keep fit by running on the beach, paddling a canoe, renting a bicycle or just enjoying a daily swim in the sea. There is a small gym, ‘Chang Gym’ in VJ Plaza, Klong Prao which has some free weights . ‘Gym 99’ is located at Paradise palms on Pearl Beach and also offers free weights. There is also a much larger gym, also called ‘Chang Gym’ , but not the same owner, over on the east coast about 400 metres south of Centrepoint Ferry Pier. this is the largest gym on the island and has a wide range of equipment but is more aimed at those wanting to pump iron. Not ideal if you are here on holiday but if you are staying here longterm and have your own transport then it’s the best place to work out.