Safety. The perception that most tourists have is that Thailand is a smiley, happy, friendly place – a kind of utopia. In reality it isn’t. The murder rate here is higher than most European countries. But on the whole it’s Thai v. Thai and so tourists are usually safe. But you shouldn’t be complacent. It’s unlikely someone will whack you over the head and steal your wallet or knife you for no reason whilst you are on Koh Chang, but thefts and more serious incidents such as rape and murder do occur here – although they rarely get reported as that would be bad publicity for the island.
Sailing. Salakphet Bay is where all the yachties hangout. There are no sailing schools on the west coast but if you want to charter a yacht or learn to sail this can be done at ‘Gulf Charters’, located at Island View Pier in the village of Baan Rong Thian on the western shore of the bay. Also, the well-known, world wide yacht charter company ‘Sunsail’ has a fleet of yachts moored at Koh Chang Marina a kilometre to the north.
Private yachts can also be moored at both Island View and Koh Chang Marina. Both places also offer accommodation on land in good value bungalows and apartments. This area is getting increasingly popular with sailors and anyone looking for a quiet home with easy access to a mooring for their speedboat.
The sailing here is far more of an adventure than around Phuket, for example. You will be able to call in at small fishing villages where no one speaks English and barter a bottle of booze for a few fresh fish or crabs and you will be able to moor off an untouched beach and wake up without having a dozen other yachts within eyesight.
Salakkok. More a strip of a couple of dozen fisherman’s houses on the shore of a large inlet than a village. Not often visited, but try to make the effort as there are some great views of mangrove forest. The view across the bay from the eastern shore is one of the best anywhere on the island. In this area you’ll find The Spa – a very nice place to stay for a week if you enjoy daily colonic irrigations; and also Salakkok Kayak Station, where you can rent a canoe to paddle through the mangroves for an hour or so.
Locals also run dinner cruises aboard traditional wooden gondoliers. You are paddled out into the centre of the bay where you can enjoy a meal aboard your boat under the stars. On a clear night it’s like dining in a planetarium.
Salakphet. Small relatively uncommercialised fishing village on the south east of the island. No resorts in the village but there are a few homestays. It’s a long motorbike ride to get there but worth it for the views of the bay. In the village, kayaks can be rented for 100 baht/first hour plus 50 baht for subsequent hours – hire one, paddle out to the nearby islands in the bay and enjoy the view of the mountains behind you and islands to the south of Koh Chang in front of you. You’ll also see the local fishermen with their boats moored outside their houses, something that you’ll miss if you just drive through the village.
Sandflies. These 2-3mm long insects are more of a pain than mozzies on most beaches. They are more of a problem on quieter beaches and outside resorts that dont rake the sand daily. Raking the sand kills the eggs that are laid and so the number of sandflies is reduced dramatically.
You can hear a mozzie but you cant hear a Sandfly, so the first you will know about them is when you feel something bite you and when you look all you will see is what appears to be a small piece of dirt or cigarette ash, half black and half white. This is a Sandfly. If you’re lucky the itching from the bite will go in 5 minutes, if you’re allergic to them then you’ll end up with one centimetre diameter red circles on your skin. It’ll look like you have measles. And they will itch a lot. Before you scratch them and they get infected, go to the nearest clinic or pharmacy and get some extra strength cortisone cream to relieve the itch and you’ll be fine. Bear in mind that most mozzie repellent doesn’t work with sandflies, but you can buy stuff from local clinics that keeps them away.
Satellite Views. Google Earth expanded their high resolution coverage of the west coast of Koh Chang, in 2007 so if you know where you are staying you’ll be able to get a satellite view of your hotel. from the ‘Maps’ section of this site. Since then more high resolution images have been added for Koh Mak but they arent recent photos and many resorts aren’t shown.
Schools. There are six schools on the island in Dan Mai, Klong Son, Klong Prao, Salakkok, Salakphet and Bangbao. All are abysmal. Islanders with some common sense send their kids to school in Trat, which either entails the kids getting up at 5am and getting home around 7pm or having to board and spend the week on the mainland. Neither of which are good options – still it beats juvenile delinquency. Islanders with a lot of sense send their kids to study in Bangkok .
The school in Klong Son occasionally has a signboard up in the village appealing for volunteer English teachers. If you want to do some good, and thus avoid reincarnation as a lower life form, then kid yourself that spending a hour having a one sided conversation with a class of 40 bemused 7 to 10 year olds of widely varying degrees of English proficiency is one means to this particular end.
Sea Lice / Sea Fleas. This is the name given to the things that can cause a prickling feeling when you swim in the sea at certain times of the year. It feels as though there are dozens of small pins sticking in your skin, not that painful but certainly noticeable and enough to make you get out of the water. But the prickling sensation will stop after a good shower.
These aren’t fleas or lice but are jellyfish larvae and the prickling is sensation of the poison entering your skin. The small jellyfish found off some of Koh Chang beaches only possess mild stingers, and if they sting you it feels more like the burning sensation caused when you rub an analgesic such as Counterpain onto a sore muscle. Nothing to panic about.
Seafood Restaurants. A seafood BBQ is another item on the ‘must do’ list of most visitors to Koh Chang. Judging by the signs outside all the large restaurants have been featured on one or more Thai TV shows at some time in the past. Prices don’t vary too much providing you steer clear of the fancy hotel restaurants. Don’t automatically rush to the beachfront restaurants though. You can eat seafood away from the sea.
Consider places such as ‘JE Seafood’, just south of the waterfall turnoff in Klong Prao. This unremarkable looking seafood restaurant hardly gets any foreign visitors. But pass by in the evening and it’s more often than not you’ll see cars and minivans lining the street. at long weekends it must be the busiest restaurant on the island and the road outside looks like the parking lot of a BWM and Mercedes dealership.
It’s where very wealthy Thais who could eat anywhere come to eat seafood when they are on Koh Chang. This restaurant is well known for the low price & high quality of the seafood, rather than for it’s decor or location. A similar place is ‘Mam Seafood’, another couple of kilometres south, 200 metres past ‘Big Elk’ steakhouse. They are a wholesaler but will also cook your seafood for you in a variety of styles. Eat it there or take away.
If you have any access to your own BBQ then you should stop off at one of the wholesale places in the Klong Prao area – just look for the very large red and blue plastic cool boxes piled up. This is where most of the resorts buy their seafood. 100 baht will buy you a decent size snapper, 200 baht for a couple of crabs, another 150 or so for half a kilo of good size prawns, 50 baht for half kilo of squid and finally 20 baht for another half kilo of mussels. That should feed 4 people easily enough
7-Elevens. In early 2003 there weren’t any 7-Elevens on the island, by early 2004 there were three. Two on White Sand Beach, at either end of the beach and one in the centre of Kai Bae. In late 2004 another was added in Bangbao. April 2005 and Klong Son now has one too. March 2006, Kai Bae now has two. Jan 2008 and White Sand Beach now has three of them.
Say what you like about big corporations making the island too touristy, and putting local shops out of business but having a 7-Eleven nearby means that all visitors to the island no longer have to pay inflated local minimart prices for a bag of ice and that’s got to be a good thing – unless you happen to own a minimart near a 7-Eleven in which case you’re screwed.
Or rather, you would be screwed in any country other than Thailand. In reality a minimart can still get away with charging 10 baht for a bag of ice that is sold for 5 baht in the 7-Eleven even if the shop is only 5 minutes walk away from it. The exploitation of human laziness knows no boundaries other than the laziness of human beings.
Shipping Containers. Why let illegal Chinese immigrants have all the fun? On Koh Chang there have been two resorts constructed entirely of shipping containers. ‘Cabin Resort’ on White Sand Beach and ‘Charmed Resort’ – formerly known as ‘Container Staid’ (Yes, really) on Pearl Beach. To be fair, they do have door and windows and ‘Charmed Resort’ even go as far as to put a few pieces of wood on the exterior to give the appearance of a gigantic coffin . . . again, in keeping with the illegal immigrant experience.
Slums. Bang together a few sheets of corrugated iron and supporting poles and Bob’s your uncle – an open sided multi-use shack for less than the cost of a slap up seafood dinner for two. On the main road these are now being replaced with concrete shop units and shophouses.
But if you’ve ever wondered where all the workers live on Koh Chang then, for example head up to the old Monkey School near the International Clinic on White sand Beach. Or for a real, Rio de Janeiro type of slum sensation, take the dirt road that lies almost opposite Ramayana Resort, Klong Prao. This makeshift community is home to around 2,000 Cambodian workers who live in conditions that are frankly Cambodian. It’s an eye opener to see where many of the restaurant and lowly paid staff actually live. A Dutch couple have built a school for the Cambodian kids in this area to give them somewhere safe to stay, play and study whilst their parents go to work. More details here
If you want to continue the poverty tour then you’ll find a couple of inland areas in Klong Prao village where you’ll see row upon row of tin shacks with wild pigs running wild.
Snorkelling. A day spent on a snorkelling trip is a day well spent providing you aren’t unfortunate enough to be sharing the boat with either Thai snorkellers, who in the main tend to be non-swimmers who love nothing more than standing on coral in order to pose for photos, or a tour group of 50 Europeans all of the same nationality.
Moving on . . .the visibility is usually good and you should be able to see wider variety of fish than in Krabi / Trang for example – at least that’s what I’ve found. at busy times, try to avoid going on one of the large boats. Not that there’s anything wrong with travelling with group of eighty other people but if I was a fish I’d piss off and hide somewhere quick as soon as dozens of large land mammals leapt into the water outside my front door. Try to take a small boat or speedboat tour. but outside the peak times the big boats are rarely over-crowded and more often than not you’ll have a very enjopyable day out.
Day trips should be 600 baht/person, unless you want to go on Thai Fun, Kon Tiki or other fancier converted fishing boats with western buffets that charge 1250 – 1500 baht/person. There’s no real reason to pay extra if you want to go snorkelling. The more expensive trips include more sightseeing and less time in the water.
Snorkelling Sites off Koh Chang. There are a couple of average sites for snorkelling near the shoreline on Koh Chang. If you’re staying near Pearl beach then get hold of a mask and snorkel and swim out from the shore a little way, here you’ll see living coral and a variety of fish. An alternative is Chai Chet Cape, at the northern end of Klong Prao beach, swim out and around the rocky cape and you should see quite a few fish, but no coral.
Down in Bangbao the cove at Cliff Cottages affords some pretty good snorkelling too. But the best close by to Koh Chang is at the islands offshore from Klong Prao and Kai Bae beaches which often have clear water and plenty of fish on display. But you’ll need a sea kayak to get there or have to get someone to take you out in their boat.
Somtam. There are numerous somtam restaurants on the island. One consistently good cheapy is adjacent to VJ Supermarket in Klong Prao. The BBQ chicken is also good as is the deep friend sun dried pork ‘Moo Det Diow’.
In second place is the stall in Klong Son, opposite the 7-Eleven which sells dirt cheap fried chicken and excellent somtam.
However, for the real Thai experience you need to head to the somtam & BBQ chicken restaurants at the entrance to Klong Plu waterfall. There appears to be more than one restaurant but in reality they are the same place run by different members of the same family, so prices & quality are the same. When Thais travel in large groups they will often head to a somtam & BBQ chicken place as you can feed everyone easily. A dozen plates of spicy somtam, couple of tubs of sticky rice, a chicken or two, coke for the kids and beer for the adults – easy. You can even sit near the river in the shade.
Speedboats. If you want to take a look at some of the other islands around Koh Chang, the best way is to travel by speedboat as the distances involved are pretty big. However, as speedboat hire starts at around
7,000 baht/day for an 85HP boat, more for a larger boat with 200HP outboard, you really need to get a group together for the cost vs. convenience argument to swing in the speedboat’s favour.
If you’re Thai this isn’t a problem as it’s odds-on you’ll be travelling with at least a dozen of your best mates/co-workers.
If you’re a foreigner then you’ll have to resort to attempting to organise something will fellow guests at your bungalows and, as anyone who has ever attempted to organise a disparate group of tourists knows, this is a nigh on impossible feat. Come the morning of the planned trip, the Japanese guy will have got lost somewhere, the hippy chick has signed up for a journey of self discovery via a meditation class on the beach, the two unfeasably chiseled Swedish guys will have got off with local girls and the Brits will be too hungover to find the boat let alone be allowed anywhere near open water. Thus leaving Joe and Melinda, the tanned, enthusiastic American couple who organised the multinational event, wondering WTF happened to their coalition of the willing.
Spirit House Graveyard. At the top of the hill between White Sand Beach and Klong Son there was a collection of discarded spirit houses lining a 20 metre long stretch of road. Virtually all Thai houses and businesses have a spirit house outside them, the owner will make an offering to the spirits of the land every morning and ask them to help make their business profitable etc. (This is a hangover from pre-Buddhist animist times) When the time comes to get a new spirit house, you can’t simply trash the old one. It has to be taken to a spot where it can be with other spirit houses and where it can offer a home to spirits who are trapped and can’t yet ascend to heaven. However, in 2009, the powers that be on Koh Chang, in their infinite wisdom, decided to remove all the spirit houses and replace it with a couple of pointless wooden benches thus depriving future visitors of a slice of traditional island life.
Squid Fishing. Boat operators have come to realise that tourists will pay good money to see how squid – or more accurately cuttlefish – are caught. For a sum of 400 – 600 baht, the same as you’d pay for a full day snorkelling trip, you can go out at night for 2-3 hours and try your hand at culling the cuttlefish population. Providing you have brought your own beer with you and the conditions are right for catching squiddies it’s actually quite good fun. To tell if conditions are right, simply look out to sea at nighttime – if you can see literally dozens of boats with their lights on then conditions are right as these lights are from the professional squid fishermen’s boats.
Squid are attracted to the light, meaning that so long as there are actually some of them in the vicinity of your boat catching them is relatively simple. On the boat you’ll be given a razor sharp, upturned mini-chandelier of barbs for use as a hook. This is attached to a length of line, throw the hook over the side when you get to the fishing area and slowly move it up & down – that’s about all there is to it. One of the crew will BBQ the squid for you to eat as you fish and get pissed. Life is good.
Suzuki Cariban. Suzuki, a company that has the ability to produce engineering marvels such as the Hayabusa, a 200mph motorbike, is also able to turn out some of the worst vehicles ever to come out of Japan. A case in point is the Suzuki Cariban, the skinflint’s rental vehicle of choice whilst on Koh Chang.
Although retro styling is now in vogue, the Beetle, Mini, Fiat 500 for example, the Cariban is based on the classic ‘brick’ shape and is an example of designers simply not be arsed to attempt to design a car. Automotive folklore has it that it’s based on an extremely unlifelike sketch of a real ‘Jeep’ drawn by 4-year old Noriko Yamazaki, Suzuki Motor’s Chief Designer’s youngest child.
From the unsprung seats to the oversprung suspension everything about this offroader is wrong. (The offroader tag applies to the amount of time it spends in the repair shop.) And if responsive means the steering wheel does a 180 degree turn when going over the smallest of undulations then ,yes, put a tick in the ‘Responsive Steering’ box. The makers saw fit not to include any mechanics inside the gearbox with the car, instead you get one that appears to be filled with jelly. First, neutral, reverse, fourth . . . it’s nigh on impossible to guess what gear your in simply by looking at the six inches of wildly vibrating black plastic beside your left knee.
0-100km/h acceleration takes long enough for no-one to have ever successfully managed it. You’re more likely to run out of fuel before hitting top speed on the flat. Part of the problem stems from the aerodynamics which are akin to those of a caravan.
However, if you feel a cramped ride with tractor like performance will enhance your Koh Chang vacation please mention me when you rent one. (I cant afford morals when it comes to commission.)