Phones. Landlines are now installed in virtually all resorts and medium size businesses. A number beginning ‘039’ is a Trat province land line number. Blue public coin phones can be found in most small hamlets on the road around the island. Using these will be way cheaper than calling from a guesthouse/hotel. To make cheap calls elsewhere in Thailand just dial ‘1234’ before you dial the Thai number. This costs around 1.5 baht minute. So the next time a tour agent charges you 50 baht for a 30 second call to reconfirm an airline booking with an airline office in Bangkok you know you’re being ripped off.
Most payphones can also be used to make international calls. They have info in English about how to do this but if you use a ‘007’, ‘008’ or ‘009’ prefix instead of the usual ‘001’, you’ll get much cheaper call rates – sometimes as low as 6 or 7 baht/minute to many Western countries.
The payphones outside 7-Eleven minimarts take phonecards that can be bought inside. These are for making international calls and use VOIP, so are also far cheaper than making a regular overseas call. You can also buy International ‘Tourist SIM ‘cards from True, one of the mobile phone operators. These offer VOIP over a mobile at very cheap rates.
Skype is also available at most internet cafes, that will save you a small fortune if you need to call the folks back home regularly whilst on your travels.
Photo developing. The large Kodak Shop on White Sand Beach, in the roadside shop units at Koh Chang Lagoon Resort, is probably the best place to get photos developed. You can also get passport photos, for around 100 baht for a four pics, and they will do portraits and other tacky soft focus photos of you and your wife and child. Prices at this shop are far higher than in Bangkok, but are still much cheaper than getting pictures developed in Europe.
Photographers. It is possible to find a specialist photographer, or at least someone with a nice camera who can point it in the right direction, on Koh Chang, although unless you plan to get married here you probably won’t have any need. The locally produced free guides often have adverts for photography services, for one or two issues until whoever placed the ad realises that it isn’t a viable business here yet.
Pizza. There are now several places offering decent homemade pizzas Baan Nuna were the first and were followed by Invito Restaurant who deliver for free in White Sand Beach and for an additional 30 baht in Klong Prao & Kai Bae. If you’re in Kai Bae then try the pizzas from Kai Bae Marina, located nowhere near the sea, but near the southernmost 7-Eleven mini-mart and very tasty.
Planning Laws. On paper, very strict. In practice you can build what you want if you are rich enough and even if you aren’t you can ignore the local planning officers as the only power they really have is to stick a sign up telling offenders to stop building . . . . please . . . . otherwise they will come back and stick up another notice. Which of course will be ignored and once something’s built it’s extremely hard to get a court to convict someone of building something illegally on their own land and force them to tear it down.
More seriously, one of the problems on Koh Chang is that a lot of roadside construction is done on land with no title deeds. if the land is untitled farmland then technically you cant build on it. Therefore, it would be impossible for the Planning Dept to approve any plans for a structure build on this type of land. However, you do still have to submit plans, but they will not be officially stamped as being approved, you’ll get a verbal OK. This compromise means that the Planning guys know what is being built and get a little cash in their back pocket, but if there is any complaints in the years to come they can also show that they never actually approved any building work on the land.
This is why, although lots of people do build on farmland on Koh Chang, you shouldn’t spend your life savings doing so. If you are building a house, build it on titled land and have the plans approved properly. It will cost you a bit more but you’ll have peace of mind.
Plazas. Tourists like to go shopping – that much we know. But who told the Thai developers that the deep U-shaped plaza layout was one that would attract custom?
The problem is that most people don’t walk to the back of a U-shaped plaza, they linger at the front, near the roadside. Which means that those who have rented units at the back have a n extremely hard time attracting any business other than that which comes from regular customers i.e. other shop, restaurant, bar owners whose businesses are also located at the back of the plaza and therefore have plenty of time on their hands. VJ Plaza in Klong Prao is the definitive example of a death zone for businesses, with many units at the rear changing owners virtually every year. And the rear units at 339 Plaza in Kai Bae were only occupied for 12 months when it first opened, and until everyone saw how quiet business was. They have been deserted for 3-4 years now.
Police. A pretty laid back bunch. Most appear to be more interested in spending time on their outside business interests, which usually involve running bungalows, bars, acting as land & building agents etc than actual police work. Although I’m sure they’re fully committed to protecting & serving during office hours.
Many newcomers interested in setting up a business and on the lookout for help and advice often opt for assistance from the local men in brown. If you can’t trust the Thai police to help you out, then who can you trust? ( Rhetorical question)
When boredom sets in, as it does with all of us, police uniforms are donned and fun is had by setting up checkpoints and seeing who can pull over the most tourists on motorcyclists who aren’t wearing helmets. You’ll need 100 – 200 baht in your wallet unless you want to walk home and explain to the bike rental place how you were hauled in for a grilling by the fuzz. Don’t expect sympathy, expect to have to fork out a few more baht in way of a surcharge.
There are police boxes roadside on all the main beaches. I’m not quite sure of the purpose as the one time I needed some help they weren’t much help. I just wanted a brief report, in Thai, to say I had reported my phone as being lost, having this would enable me to get a new SIM with the same number from the mobile phone company. But I was told that this simple form couldn’t be issued at the police box. So I had to go 30 kilometres to the main police HQ in Dan Mai where initially I had to hang around for 15 minutes, until a commercial break in the program that was showing on the TV in the office. Then a weary officer whipped out a pad of paper and hand wrote a five-line report for me, stamped the police logo on the top, charged me nothing and sat back down to watch part two of the daytime soap opera.
Posh hotels. Encouraged by the Thai government’s plans for Koh Chang to develop as an upmarket destination for polite, middle-class families who like nature and gay couples who like to spend lots of money, developers have knocked up some pretty decent resorts.
As the foreseen masses haven’t yet descended on Koh Chang this means there are some very good deals to be had at the larger resort hotels. This was especially true in early 2009 and 2010 which, thanks to the economic downturn coupled with the closure of Bangkok Airport and demonstrations against the government, were both far quieter than previous years. A bit of shopping around meant that you could find very nice rooms for 30-40% lower than their normal rates. This will probably still be the case in 2010-11 High Season
The facilities at the luxury resorts are usually pretty similar. Infinity pool, spacious rooms – some with indoor & outdoor bathrooms, umpteen satellite TV channels and an overpriced restaurant which you swear you won’t use but you will, as you’ll be too lazy to wander out of the confines of your hotel when nightfall comes. Note that staff remembering your name isn’t just a sign of good service, it’s also a sign of how few guests they have.
Resorts such as Tropicana, Ramayama, Bhumiyama, Panviman, Aiyapura, Aana, the Chill, The Dewa and even Amari Emerald Cove can all be booked at the fringes of high season for the same cost as a night in an English Bed & Breakfast.
Postcards. You’ll find plenty of scenic view type postcards for sale island wide. However, if you want something a little different take a look at Curlykez Gallery’s collection of postcards. You can find these at several shops on the island. The arty pics make a refreshing change from the usual deserted beach, palm trees and sea view photos.
Post Office. There is a new one, by the roadside in Pearl Beach. look for the sign saying ‘Post Office’. It offers all services of the postal variety as you’d expect. For some unknown reason the postal service top brass that be have installed a postbox shaped like Flash Gordon’s rocketship at what once was a scenic viewpoint overlooking Kai Bae beach.
Power Cuts. The electrical supply tends to go off at least once every couple of weeks. Usually these outages only last a few minutes, however during the rainy season you can have several hours without power. If you’re in a resort then they will have their own generator and so you wont be affected. But all small businesses will have the lights out until power comes back.
Longer power cuts are usually the result of branches or entire trees falling on the lines. But lines are repaired far quicker here than in many countries – even if it means leaving live cables running along the ground whilst fallen trees are removed and new poles set in concrete.