Visitor guide to Bangbao Fisherman’s Village
✔ 90% tourist shopping mall & 10% fishing village
✔ If you’re a Chinese or Russian package tourist with a penchant for souvenir junk you’ll love it.
✔ Some good restaurants & great views from the end of the pier. A departure point for most dive trips and snorkelling tours
So you’ve read the glossy tour brochure and your out of date Lonely Planet and come to Bangbao to expecting to see ‘ Ye Traditional Olde Fashioned Fishing Village’ . . . Boy, are you are in for a shock.
Bangbao fishing village has now jumped the shark and is basically a claustrophobic alleyway lined with all manner of tourist related shops. Most of which sell the same crap you can buy anywhere, yet, for some reason feel you should buy when you are in Bangbao. I presume that’s how people feel as it’s the only way to account for the number of places selling the same t-shirts, ornamental shells and brightly coloured flip flops.
Until mid 2013 the walkway between the houses was open to the elements. Sure it got a bit hot at times and visitors got a bit wet when it rained. But it had some charachter.
However, being exposed to rain and sunshine is never a good thing and so the inhabitants of Bangbao decided to build a roof over the entire 350 metre length of the original pier. Thus making it resemble an indoor market – which it now is as virtually all traces of it ever having been a fishing village have been eliminated from view hidden behind dive schools, tacky souvenir shops, seafood restaurants and a 7-eleven minimart, plus a couple of rows of ugly shophouses.
All this has pretty much destroyed any original, authentic charm the village once had.
What to Expect?
Tourism has long since replaced fishing as the main source of employment and income for the locals who haven’t yet sold up and moved on. And with expats willing to pay several million Baht for a rickety house here the temptation for locals to sell and therefore turn Bangbao into a tourist ghetto is pretty high. But having turned the place into a market, it looks like businesses are suffering as you’ll notice that many of the houses and businesses have ‘For Sale’ signs on them.
Several dive schools have their main offices near the entrance to the pier and along the pier itself, so if you are interested in diving and want to talk to a few schools before making a choice then head to Bangbao pop into good companies such as BB Divers , Scuba Dawgs or Diving Scool and you’re sure to find one of them who can accommodate you on a course at a price you like. (You’ll find published prices are virtually the same as dive companies run a little cartel to ensure this. ) However, there is a lot of competition, so walk in & haggle and you will get discounts at all but the busiest times of year. Many dive operators also throw in basic, free accommodation for anyone taking a PADI Open Water course or similar. The PADI O/W is a 3 or 4 days, entry level course that will allow you to dive pretty much anywhere in the world.
There are still a few fishing boats that are actually used for fishing and not for taking visitors on snorkelling trips. You can sometimes still see catches of prawns & squid being sorted at a couple of small seafood wholesalers near the end of the pier. However, as the quality of their catch is pretty high, virtually all the seafood caught off Koh Chang goes for export. Very little is sold in Bangbao, many restaurants here will buy food from wholesalers elsewhere on the island or even order from the mainland where prices are cheaper.
You can catch fish yourself, off the end of the pier. There are usually a couple of fishing boats moored in the area and when they are cleaning their decks this attracts a lot of larger fish. You’ll often see some of locals casting their rods down by the lighthouse.
What you will find is that most people don’t stay very long in Bangbao and these that do just wander up and down the pier.
That’s worth bearing in mind if you’re opening a business there that relies on passing trade. The simple reason is that once you have walked along the 350 metre long, metre and a half wide walkway that connects the houses built over the sea there’s not a great deal to do other than continue walking another 350 metres to the end of the extension to the pier, which was completed in early 2007.
In 2013 the piers received a facelift with the original pier being roofed in, to create a tunnel – which I’ve already mentioned – and the newer pier being far more tastefully refurbished with several open sided gazebos for people to sit; safety barriers along the sides, moorings for boats and new lights lining its length. The new section of the pier actually looks very nice and is well maintained.
The views from the top of the lighthouse at the end of the pier are impressive, with a 360 degree panoramic view of the village, mountains, bay and outlying islands. But, for the past year or so the doors at the base of the lighthouse have been locked. As with most government projects there is a budget to build it but not to maintain it. But if it is unlocked ( or the door is broken ) and you do venture inside, past the broken bottles and garbage at the entrance and up the spiral staircase to the viewing platform – don’t lean on the rails – they’re falling apart.
However, it’s still worth the walk for the photo opportunities from the end of the pier.
Having done that, it’s time to browse the shelves of ‘Made in China’ seashell souvenirs, wooden trinkets and t-shirts that are for sale. ( My favourite t-shirt had the words ‘Koh Chang, Thailand’ beneath the picture of a panda. There probably are still some mammals hiding undiscovered in the jungle . . . but pandas are pushing it a bit.)
Probably the best of these souvenir shops is Bangbao Shop, located on the right about 10 metres from the start of the pier, they have some unique Koh Chang t-shirts, unlike other vendors that sell the same stuff as each other.
One saving grace is Peace Moon, which was one shop but is now three – all in the centre of the pier. They have handmade leather goods and jewelry and sell some really nice items. They also have a branch on White Sand beach. This is definitely one place you should think of buying something if you want a unique memento from the island.
If you’re on a budget grab a fruit shake or snack at one of the rather nice cafes that are beginning to sprout up along the pier. Or if you’re travelling as part of an organised tour, who’s sole purpose for visiting the island is to spend as much as possible in the guide’s choice of seafood restaurant, you’ll be tucking into a seafood buffet.
Avoid Bangbao at 9am and 5pm when all the dive and snorkelling tour boats are leaving and arriving and also lunchtime at weekends when minivans of weekending Thai visitors arrive for lunch. Outside those times it can be deathly quiet and the pier is much easier to walk down when you aren’t surrounded by hundreds of people rushing to or from boats.
Where to Eat?
Nok Noi and Chowlay are long established, seafood eateries – the latter being very popular with Thai tour groups. And ‘Ruen Thai Seafood’ was rated by many who know their fresh sea crab, prawns and fish as the best place to eat in Bangbao. However, it seems to have sold out and started making blander, package tourist food for some reason. So is now off my ‘Best of ‘ list. I don’t think there is one place that stands out for having the best seafood now. At the other end of the spectrum are the places that attract almost exclusively foreign visitors in need of fruit shakes, nice decor and snacks you recognise from home. ‘Buddha View‘ falls into this obviously touristy category but does have a very nice ambiance and is a great spot for a sunset cocktail.
For something different, there’s a very nice little Greek restaurant ‘El Greco‘ just off the main walkway on the left. Surprisingly good Mediterranean food, something not found elsewhere on the island. That would be my choice for a healthy, light lunch away from the tour groups. They also have rooms for rent if you fancy staying on the pier.
Near the end of the pier is a lovely little place ‘La Madrague’, a beautiful 2 room guesthouse run by a friendly, retired Frenchman who can tell you stories of his time working as both Brigitte Bardot & The King of Morocco’s personal vet. Nearby are a couple of cheap guesthouses – Ocean View and Ploy. Both with budget AC rooms.
Although most people just make it to the pier, there is more to the Bangbao area than this. Before you reach the turning for Bangbao, you can explore a little by taking the dirt track that is signposted towards ‘Nirvana‘ (the luxury resort whose tiled roof bungalows can be seen from Bangbao pier) and ‘Cliff Cottages‘ (the huts hugging the hillside) plus a couple of newer resorts. Head along here and you’ll first come to ‘Remark Puzi Bungalows’ – these aren’t much more than usual wooden backpacker huts, the difference being the owners have made an effort to landscape the gardens and present them in a very nice manner.
A few hundred metres further, an eco-friendly, German designed luxury housing development – The Edge Village – has ground to a halt. It’s a pleasant enough spot a few minutes walk from the village but as nowadays no-one is looking for a million Euro home in Thailand, the entire project is for sale. If you’re interested in buying, check the balance of your bank account – it it isn’t at least $50 Million then best to move on and look for something smaller.
Next up is the mundane Cliff View Resort, with regimented bungalows on the hillside over looking the bay. Nothing wrong with the bungalows themselves, but it lacks soul and character.
The same cant be said for the adjacent Cliff Cottages, which for years has been providing budget travellers with a laid back place to rest. No fireshows, guest DJ’s or vodka/redbull buckets here – just peace and quiet. Cliff Cottage have their restaurant hidden away on the western side of the peninsula overlooking a cove that’s one of the best places for fishing and snorkelling on the island.
The basic fan bungalows were replaced in late 2014 with Mongolian style tents – these are furnished tents with fan, wardrobe , rugs and a bed. Some can sleep up to four people. There are also some new AC bungalows with great sunset sea views.
The track appears to end next door at ‘Nirvana’, a luxury boutique resort with walkways through the jungle , a small beach, pool and beautiful wooden restaurant overlooking the bay. However, it doesn’t, just keep walking/riding/driving and follow it to the end – past a small hut resort called ‘Homestay Beach’ – and onwards until you reach the end of the peninsula.
The road climbs up onto the hillside and heads past the rear of a couple of new resorts Bhuvarin and Resolution Resort. There are great views looking down onto the bay from this stretch of road. Finally the road drops down to another small bungalow resort , Khao Nok Homestay run by a family who has lived in the area for generations.
Walk out onto the pier here for great views across the bay and if you look closely behind the bungalows you’ll see a very narrow worn path leading along the shore. Follow this and you’ll come to a shrine to the father of the Thai Navy, Admiral Krom Luang Chumphon Khet Udomsak. This was built to commemorate sailors who died in the WW2 Naval Battle of Koh Chang.
Getting to and from Bang Bao can be a hassle outside High Season unless you have your own transport, as pick up truck taxis can be few and far between at quieter times of year. The alternatives are to catch one of the irregular pick-up taxis or hoof it from Lonely Beach – a 4km walk away. 4km isn’t too far but throw in a few steep climbs and the Thai sun and 4km quickly feels like 40km.
In fact, it’s only the prospect of having to get sweat stains out of my car’s upholstery that has so far prevented me from offering a lift to any of the puffy red-faced, young travellers I’ve seen plodding along the road. (I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this, so a tip for anyone attempting the walk – try not to perspire too much and you may get a lift.)
So, you may find that, outside high season, you have to negotiate a fare to & from Bangbao. And if you fancy a night out on one of the main beaches, then you’ll find that it usually takes at least an offer of 300 Baht to persuade the driver to take a couple of people up to Kai Bae or Klong Prao. But in the high season you’ll be able to get there and back without too much difficulty. The increasing popularity of the neighbouring Klong Kloi beach has now also helped make getting to Bangbao much easier.
As the pier in the village is off limits to scooter riders ( unless you happen to live or work there – in which case you will ignore the ‘No motorcycle’ signs ) , this ride through video doesn’t include much about Bangbao village. Instead, it focuses on the peninsula nearby which has some of the best views you’ll find on Koh Chang.