Radio Stations. Local radio arrived on Koh Chang in mid-2005 with the launch of the ‘poptastic’ Koh Chang Tourist Radio which later became SEA FM when it became clear no tourists listened to it. very few people travel with a portable transistor radio nowadays and the phrase ‘Turn on the tranny’ now has a completely different meaning.
To join the on air shenanigans, get your finger on the dial and mosey on over to 98.5FM broadcasting to all the areas of South East Asia that lie within a couple of kilometres of Koh Chang.
From my one and only listening experience, conducted in the name of research, the output consisted of 70% Issan hits from the 80s, 25% advertising for laundries, noodle shops and motorbike repair centres (adverts in English come courtesy of two guys with French & German accents, which, when you hear interspersed with crap Thai pop, sets the surreal tone perfectly.) and 5% Bee Gees, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton and an hourly playing of ‘Hotel California’ and other easy listening favourites etc – which is for you . . .the foreign visitors.
Rain. When it rains it really does piss down with a vengeance. For anyone, myself included who is used to Bangkok’s rainy season weather i.e. a storm then a couple of days sunshine followed by another storm and so on, the rain on Koh Chang will come as a bit of a shock. It can rain solidly for a week or more., although this is pretty rare. But you do get long periods where everything from your house to clothes remain in a state of semi-dampness for weeks. Trips to Koh Chang’s waterfalls can kill a day but after that your best bet is to check into a rainproof hut and get hold of a few good paperbacks or hunker down in an internet cafe and catch up on all the porn you’ve been missing whilst being away from the office.
The main rainy season is from June – October. During this time it will rain during your stay on the island. Just how much is down purely to luck. With luck on your side, they’ll be a shower in the morning , clouds will clear and the afternoons will be sunny. Unlucky, and you’ll be huddled in your hut only venturing out when the clouds break and there is a brief respite long enough for you to get to a restaurant, eat and get halfway back to your room before it starts pouring again – leaving you a sodden mess.
Real Estate Agents. None of the large firms that operate in the busy tourist destinations such as Phuket, Samui or Pattaya have an office based in Koh Chang yet. One tried, lasted a few months chose the wrong partner here and then disappeared.
There are a couple of small offices all of which seem to have pretty much the same selection of land for sale. But they all face the same problem of a lack of small plots of titled land that are affordable and suitable for housing. Also for most, selling land etc is secondary to selling tickets for snorkelling or elephant trekking trips to tourists. So it’s unlikely that the staff in the office can give you any additional information other than what’s written on a piece of paper in front of them.
Renting or leasing land/property. Anyone making a quick visit to Koh Chang in the hope of snapping up a nice plot of land or property to rent easily will probably be in for a disappointment unless they are happy to pay over the odds. Virtually all rentable real estate isn’t advertised anywhere in Thai or English and the stuff that is is often overpriced and/or not worth renting in the first place.
As with buying land, the best way to find out what’s available in your preferred area is to put in a lot of leg work and ask around. The most recent, laughable attempt to price a resort for rent resulted in an asking price of 4,500,000 baht annual rent for a small newly constructed resort in one of the quietest areas of the island that would require a hard to achieve 200% occupancy rate in order to make a profit.
The one main fact to bear in mind if you do decide to rent land or a property is that unless the owner will register the contract at the government Land Office in Laem Ngop, the contract is only legally binding for 3 years – regardless of whether the contract says it is for 9 years, 30 years or whatever. A related fact is that the vast majority of landlords wont give registered contracts. So you have to make a decision based on what you deem to be an acceptable level of risk for the amount of money you are putting in.
Resort Owners. Anyone thinking that people who stay in large hotels are putting cash in the hands of big corporations whilst those who stay in backpacker huts are putting cash in the hands of locals are deluding themselves on the second point.
Businessmen have long realised that backpackers are a good source of cash, sure they don’t spend as much on a daily basis but it’s far easier & cheaper to knock up a few wood huts than it is to build a luxury resort and staff it. For example, one of the most popular places to stay on Lonely Beach is owned by a well-known politician another by a very wealthy businessman who also owns resorts. A few locals, however, have refused the blank cheques offered by businessmen – the prime examples being the family that owns most of the Kai Bae beachfront properties.
Restaurants. I’ve never got round to reviewing restaurants properly for the simple reason no-one’s yet offered me a lifetime of free meals in return for a favourable review. The places mentioned below all serve predominantly Thai food and seafood.
I’m not a fan of the vast majority of western food served up on Thai islands as it tends to be crap and if I’m paying a few hundred baht for a steak I’d like to know that the guy cooking it knows the difference between ‘rare’ and ‘well-done’ at a minimum.
Therefore, in no particular order here are a few places that I’ve tried and rather like:
Cookies, White Sand Beach – On the beach and very popular, good food, good prices and good size servings. Popular with Thais too. Not a gourmet experience but with so many options you’ll be able to keep even the fussiest of family members happy and well fed without breaking the bank.
Sangtawan Resort, White Sand Beach – Just north of Cookie, almost as good and prices are low. If you’re staying in a beachfront resort nearby, don’t feel compelled to eat there. Choose a beachfront restaurant which might not be as fancy but will serve food with some flavour and not the ‘toned down to the point of being tasteless’ crap that I’ve had at a couple of large resort restaurants on White Sand Beach.
Texas Steakhouse, White Sand Beach – A place to go to when you get bored of seafood and need red meat, carbohydrates, starch and a few pieces of salad or veggies to make you feel as though you’re eating healthily. The chef ensures you get western food the way western food should be cooked and well trained Thai staff provide the service in this small, 30 seat rooftop restaurant. Limited menu, with some Thai dishes, but the ribs are as good as I’ve had anywhere. As a bonus they make some of the best cocktails on the island. If you have never had a cocktail containing sweet basil leaves then you should give it a go. (If you just want a large well built burger washed down with a couple of beers then the nearby Buffalo Bills is a better bet.)
Invito, White Sand Beach – In Para Resort, on the road south out of White Sand Beach. Probably the nicest stand alone restaurant on the island. Decor, design and service are top notch. Very good, but pricey, Italian food and good place to go if you’re celebrating something. But current location far too noisy to make it a place for a romantic meal. If you visited Invito in it’s previous incarnation when it was located adjacent to a dozen loud beer bars, try the new restaurant for a similar quality meal but at a far lower decibel level.
Bamboo Restaurant, Bamboo bungalows, White Sand Beach. Pretty good Thai food and a ‘better than you’d expect’ Italian menu too. OK, so it’s not as good as the best Thai & seafood resturants and it’s not as good as the best Italain restaurants on the island. But prices are good and the Italian food that I’ve had there is much better than average. Another place to go if you want to eat Thai or seafood but your partner or fussy kids want pizza or pasta. Or better still just combine the options and have a four cheese pizza with your green curry and BBQ snapper.
Somtam shop, White Sand Beach – Located pretty much opposite Para Resort on the road heading south out of White Sand beach at the sign for Giant Bungalows. It probably has a name but I can’t remember it off the top of my head and there’s no sign in English anyway. Not much of a menu in English either. But it’s easy enough to order Somtam and sticky rice and point to chicken or pork on the BBQ. The somtam is the best you’ll find and they do very nice deep fried, marinated sun-dried pork in sesame seeds ‘Moo Det Diaow’ in Thai. Really good. Always gets packed full of Thais from Bangkok at the weekends and high season.
Chumnan Restaurant, Klong Prao. At first glance this may seem like a home for alcoholic expats as you may well notice several nursing their beers here at 10am in the morning in High season. They are here because a large Beer Chang is 44 baht – the cheapest on the island. Don’t let that put you off, the food is just as cheap, with most dishes going for 30 baht. they also do a selectiuon of western food and have a menu in English. The food is also very good, I regularly get lunch here. The only downside is that it is run by a local family who aren’t that used to cooking for more than one person at once. Go to a busier restaurant and you’ll see the cook has three burners on the go at once. Here everything is prepared one by one, so best to eat luch or dinner a bit earlier or later than usual to avoid a wait. Located on the main road next to the temple.
The Spa Koh Chang, Salakkok – Way over on the east of the island but if you are into healthy eating it’s a must if you find yourself passing by. Give the Thai dishes a miss and go for the vegetarian options washed down with concoctions such as a cayenne pepper, lime and honey cooler. Dessert is a ‘Softy’ – which is basically either ice cold banana, mango or pineapple pushed into a juicer. The resulting pulp has an ice cream like texture but is 100% fruit. Served topped with cinnamon honey. The resort and restaurant are also extremely well designed.
Yummy Hut, Klong Prao – About 50 metres north of the turning for Tropicana Resort, but on the opposite side of the road. Run by Rak and her husband. They’ve both got years of experience in the restaurant business and speak very good English. Their dishes are usually a little different to the regular Thai food, they like to experiment a little and substitute ingredients which makes their food stand a out from the host of other similar restaurants in the area who serve generic Thai dishes. If you’re staying at Tropicana or Barali Resorts, then this is a place well worth visiting.
Sassi Italian, Amari Emerald Cove Resort, Klong Prao. If you want to impress someone for whatever reason and you know that they are the type of person who wants not only good food, but good service as well then this is the place to go. Great Italian food, fairly formal ambience but with staff as good as you’ll find anywhere. One restaurant where you can order a starter, main course and dessert and be sure that they will arrive in that order and also that you wont have finished your entire meal before your partner’s soup makes it to the table.
P’ Nid’s Restaurant, Kai Bae – No signs in English, other than one that says ‘Thai Food 25 baht’ this is the place to go for 25 – 30 baht meals. They have an extensive small menu in English and a bowl of the best Tom Yam Gung on the island will set you back about 60 baht . The staff and owner, who’s from Kai Bae, don’t speak much English but you wont care when you eat the food. We’ve been going there for over 5 years and have yet to have a bad meal. Located about 50 metres just south of ‘Blues Cha Cha’ but on the opposite side of the road. Look for the phone booth roadside, which is in front of the restaurant.
Pak Pao Noodles, Kai Bae – Midway between the two 7-Elevens, near LaLuna guesthouse. A standalone building set back from the road with plenty of parking. Khun Anne, the middle-aged owner speaks excellent English and attracts Thai in droves with a franchise for extremely hot noodles from the north of Thailand. The secret is in the way the meat is prepared and the spiciness of the chilies. But they can make it milder. On the face of it all they sell is variations on this one type of pork noodle soup. But they do have other food and regular Thai food as well.
KB Hut Noodle Shop, Kai Bae. Take the turning signposted to KB Hut,opposite the southernmost 7-Eleven in Kai Bae. Head 50 metres down and you cant miss the large open sided restaurant on your left. Menu in English. Very good noodles and all Thai dishes for around 35 baht / plate. Always busy and great for people watching,. There are lots of cheap places to eat but you know this one is good as Thais working elsewhere on the island will regularly hop on their scooters and ride a few kilometres to eat here.
KB Resort & Kai Bae Beach Restaurants, Kai Bae – You cant really go wrong at either of these places. More expensive than the places I mentioned on White Sand Beach but serving consistently good food. Not a really great culinary experience but on the list as a good combination of location and food where you can;t go wrong. The resorts are next door to each other so easy to try both places during your stay. KB Resort wins marks for presentation and use of coordinated tableware. KB Beach has a restaurant right on the shoreline and every dish will arrive in a totally mismatched plate or bowl.
Treehouse, Lonely beach. Spend a night hanging with the travellers. Sit on the open deck by the sea, eat surprisingly good dirt cheap food which is not as toned down as you might expect in a place catering solely to young western palates. Wash it down with a bucket of your favourite cocktail
If you now have too many options, I’ll keep it simple for you. The one restaurant that you shouldn’t miss eating at while you are on Koh Chang is:
Kati Culinary, Klong Prao. On the main road 100 metres before Chang Chutiman Elephant Camp, 50 metres north of the turning for Tropicana Resort.
Run by a mother and daughter, using the mother’s recipes. She’;s in the back cooking and Ning is out frotn taking orders and looking after diners. I haven’t had any Thai food that is better than this on Koh Chang. There are only around 10 tables, so arrive early or call them to book a table in high season. One thing to remember is that everything is made fresh to order and so don’t expect a fish to arrive at your table in 10 minutes, figure on nearer 45 minutes – the time it takes to prepare and cook from scratch. Veggie options are available for all dishes and make sure you leave some room for desert – home-made ice cream or friend banana with cinnamon honey.
And as Plan B, if you prefer to dine by the sea . . .
Saffron on the Sea, Pearl Beach. Take the signposted turn towards the beach, just north of the Post Office. Another small place where you feel like you are eating in someone’s garden rather than in a restaurant. The resort only has a handful of bungalows and the restaurant consists of even fewer tables in a very nice garden setting by the sea. Ideal spot for a romantic meal with no music from karaoke, fire juggling shows or traffic noise, just the sound of the waves. As with Kati, everything is prepared from scratch, so you will have to wait a while for your food to arrive. But the wait is well worth it – guaranteed. The kitchen is open so you can watch everything being prepared.
Roads. Overall the roads on Koh Chang are in good condition. You’ll have no problem driving a small rental car around the island. No need for pick-up on the majority of roads as an asphalt road almost circles the island. Around the east coast the road is relatively flat, on the west coast there’s a very step climb between Kong Son & White Sand Beach, from there it’s flat road until you leave Kai Bae and the road morphs into a mini rollercoaster until you reach Bangbao at the far south of Koh Chang. The 10.157km (according to the sign) between Salakphet and Bangbao is a dangerous, narrow gravel topped road for motorbikes and bicycles only . . . or it would be if the central section had actually been completed. As it is, the road just stops in a dead end in the jungle after a couple of kilometres. You can go along the southeastern stretch to a beach called Wai Check, which is very nice – but only by motorbike as bridges are now washed out.
If you want to experience great views and the worst stretch of road then head to the far south-east of the island and drive to Long Beach. This 7km road is paved for half it’s length but with every rainy season it falls into a worse state of repair. Landslides and erosion is a big problem and before long large areas will start to crumble and slide down the hillside. But there are some spectacular vistas to be had as the road runs along a hillside overlooking Salakphet Bay. If you want to continue after the paved road ends, it’s better to have a 4×4 or a good motorbike.
A lot of complaints are made about the roads on Koh Chang being too narrow but plans were approved to add footpaths and widen the road in certain places on the west coast. In mid-2006 the road was widened from White Sand Beach down to Kai Bae to include an additional bicycle lane / parking area / area for setting up market stalls which runs along the beach side of the road. it isnt raised, so although it can be used as a footpath it is clear that providing for pedestrians isn’t top of the planners’ agenda.
The road widening continued in 2007/08 with a 100 metre long section in Klong Son village being widened to remove a kink in the road that caused drivers to have to slow down in their rush to get to the ferry. With the road wider and straighter there’s no need to change down into second gear when you pass through the village.
In mid 2008, a section of road on the hill at the southern end of White Sand beach the hill section was widened with the addition of a pointless inside lane that provides a place to park cars and what should be a lane divider full of plants, but which is only inhabited by weeds.
Romantic Restaurant. Go back and read the ‘Restaurant’ section above. ‘Saffron on the Sea’ is the place to be for great food, intimate atmosphere by the sea or if you want aircon, a multitude of knives and forks and extensive wine selection then ‘Sassi’ at the Amari Emerald Cove is for you.