Fire Department. In case you were wondering what happens if there is a fire at your hotel, fear not. Koh Chang has a fire department and they own a fire tender. (Note the singular.) This is based in Dan Mai, on the east coast, a mere 30 – 45 minute scenic drive from most hotels on the west coast. With that in mind, best to make yourself aware of where your hotel’s fire extinguishers are when you check in – as you’ll be helping the staff to put any blaze in your room out.
In late 2008 there was a large blaze at VJ Plaza, Klong Prao. A dozen shop units were destroyed by fire. By the time the fire truck arrived the blaze had just about been put out by locals with their own water truck. The fire engine was delayed as it couldnt’ get over the steep hill at the north end of the island with a full tender of water, and so had to fill up before going to put the fire out. Luckily there were no serious injuries to any of the occupants of the units. In the months following, the fire engine was then parked on Pearl beach, on the west coast in case of further emergency.
Fire Shows. In ‘B’ for ‘Bars’ I mentioned ‘Sabay’ bar. This bar gained it’s popularity from the nightly fire shows that it’s staff put on. If the sight of sweaty, well-toned, young Thai guys swinging balls of fire around their heads is of interest to you then be sure to stroll past at about 8.30pm every evening. Of course, the fire show’s popularity has ensured that virtually every beach bar on the island now has a fire show of a varying degree of mediocrity and danger to spectators.
The position of ‘Fireshow Guy’ now seems to be top of the career aspirations of local teenagers who, rightly, see this as their one shot at getting off with a buxom backpacker chick. And judging by the number of bikini clad babes seen practicing and taking private lessons the odds of that happening don’t seem to be too bad.
Fireflies tour. A tour offered by a few of the agencies on the island is a night-time one to see the fireflies at play in the mangroves. ‘Iyara’ restaurant in Klong Prao, combine a meal in their riverside restaurant with a free guided, 30 minute trip to see the fireflies by old style wooden gondola. Near by, ‘Phu Talay’ restaurant also offer their diners a free trip after their meal. The number of fireflies you actually see varies a great deal so it’s a bit hit and miss – but if you’re lucky then you’ll usually see several trees lit up with a constantly moving mass of lights. That coupled with the eerie surroundings of pitch black mangroves makes for an experience accurately described as “neat” by one American friend. Our house is a 10 minute canoe paddle from firefly central so we often get lost fireflies making their way into the house at night – the little buggers send the dog crazy as they zig-zag across a darkened room.
Very occasionally you also get phosphorescence underwater in the mangroves. As the gondola cuts through the water you get a green glow around it, causing one of our guests to ask if fireflies also lived underwater.
You can also see fireflies in the Klong Son mangroves, contact the Grand Orchid hotel in Klong Son for info on their firefly tour.
The largest mangrove forests are in the south-east of the island. If you are in Salakphet or Salakkok after nightfall you can see fireflies by the thousands in the mangrove forests there by canoe or on foot, along the public walkways.
Fishing. In the late afternoon it’s common to see young locals and construction workers sitting on pier or riverbanks with their rods in hand, having a ball. Fishing isn’t simply a matter of drowning worms for fun, it’s free food – which if you’re earning less than 150 baht a day and spending half of that on a large Beer Chang & 20 ciggies – is something which helps appease the wife. After seeing a few decent sized, edible fish in the estuary outside our front door I was almost tempted to borrow a fishing rod but was stopped by one of our builders who assured me that he knew a far less time consuming, and guaranteed successful way of catching fish.
It’s simple, highly effective and, as I later learnt, also illegal – so don’t try this, unless you want a bucketful of fish in less than 30 minutes. Take one 10 metre length of electric cable, throw one end in the water in an area where fish like to congregate and hold the other near a plug socket. Watch and wait. When a six inch fish swims within a metre radius of the end of the underwater cable, make a quick connection with the plug socket. This results in the fish slowly freaking out on the surface of the water thus enabling it to be scooped out with a net or by hand. If you’re lucky and fish are in close formation, you can snare five or six fish in one zap. Beats watching fish ignore your bait time and again. (The reason it’s illegal is that all small marine life gets fried indiscriminately when you power up – a situation marine biologists describe as being “not a good thing”.)
If you are into your angling, you’ll find rod and tackle shops in Klong Prao village and near Klong Prao Resort – plus most local minimarts sell cheap rods for a few hundred baht plus lures. Sea Fishing tours are available for around 1,200 baht/day, double what a snorkelling trip costs, but that’s partly due to far fewer people being interested in drowning worms whilst on holiday. More seriously, we’ve had a few guests go on sea fishing trips with a company called ‘Sea Hunter’ and they’ve all loved it. All report that the staff are organised and efficient, the equipment is good quality and the guys on the boat know their stuff when it comes to fishing. In the day time expect to catch Grouper and Snapper. At night there’s more Squid and Barracuda.
Footwear. Need a new pair of sandals . . no problem. You’ll be quoted 350 baht for a 99 baht pair of flip-flops that started life by being hastily stuck together in a Cambodian backwater by pre-teen workers. Be sure to buy a tube of superglue, you’ll need it if you plan to wear them for more than a week. If you want to buy crap, then haggle the price down to nearer 100 baht. Fake Crocs should be around 150 – 200 baht for adult sizes and are surprisingly durable.
Next option is to head to one of the markets and buy from the sandal vendors. They sell decent enough quality Thai brand sandals e.g. ‘Kito’ and ‘Adda’, for 200 – 250 baht. They’re comfortable and will easily last 6 months or more with no worries, I will usually lose one of a pair well before they fall to bits.
If you want brand name footwear, forget it. There were a couple of shops selling Danish ‘Ecco’ brand shoes and sandals, at prices cheaper than in Europe – as the shoes are made here in Thailand. However, no one bought them and the shops closed after a year.
Foreign exchange. Everyone knows that they get a very disadvantageous exchange rate when they change money at their hotel or guesthouse. So why do it? Laziness, that’s why. Get yourself to one of the forex offices run by Thai banks where Traveller’s Cheques and hard currency, i.e. not your stash of Lao Kip and Nepali Rupees, can be changed at the usual bank rates. There are exchange offices on White Sand Beach; at VJ Plaza in Klong Prao; near the northernmost 7-eleven in Kai Bae; and near the 7-eleven in Bangbao.