A Visitor Guide to the Salakphet area
✔ Amazing views and a hair-raising drive on Koh Chang’s most scenic road
✔ Home of Koh Chang’s sailing fraternity
✔ Growing number of homestays but not a beach destination
Salakphet Bay encompasses all of south east Koh Chang. Both the east and western banks of the bay have very different highlights. If you’re already been to Salakkok then it’s easiest to continue down the road on the eastern side of the bay before heading back the way you came in order to get over to the western shore and Salakphet and Rong Thian villages.
This road runs from Salakkok through the usual tropical countryside for another 3-4km, ending at the hamlet of Ban Jek Bae. This is home to a few small resorts all squarely aimed at Thai package tourists travelling on 3 day 2 night tours which will include a snorkelling trip, an hour canoeing in the bay and a disproportionate amount of time spent eating large amounts of seafood and uploading photos of themselves doing it to Facebook.
There’s a very nice little resort ‘Karang Bay View’ down the track at the end of this road. It has a good restaurant and a small beach with some excellent views across the bay. Good spot for lunch.
The reason many tourists come down here is to try to get to Long beach. After passing Jek Bae hamlet, there’s a turning on the left, which is signposted to Long Beach Resort and Treehouse. the road looks like it’s in good condition. But be warned, the road is really only half finished, the final 3km being unpaved dirt track, drive-able only by pick up truck of motorbike. If you are in a small rental car, don’t bother continuing after the paved road ends unless your insurance specifically covers being an idiot and the loss of your exhaust.
The good news for this high season is that work is well underway on surfacing the dirt road. As of October 2016, I guess about 70% of the road has been paved. So, by the end of this year or early 2017 it will be possible to drive a normal car all the way to Long beach, and what what a slow, bumpy but leisurely scooter ride will now become a race to the beach. Not necessarily a good thing as having a bad road meant speeds were low and accidents few. That will change.
Once you get on the road the 7 kilometre long rollercoaster ride begins as its path hugs the side of a hill above the shoreline. With the sun shining and a clear view out to sea and back to the mainland of Koh Chang it’s a great trip for anyone who appreciates spectacular scenery. It’s the most scenic few kilometres of road on the island.
The best views are at a viewpoint about 1 Km before the concrete road ends. You can park at a small National Park office. Here you can buy gasoline for your motorbike and get a cold beer or soft drink. There’s a rickety shelter on the cliff top which has great views to the islands south of Koh Chang. The rocks nearby, by the flagpole, give panoramic views across Salakphet Bay to the mountainous inland of Koh Chang.
Further along the road, about 100 metres before it becomes a dirt track, there’s another spot for postcard views – looking along the coastline and into the bay. Nearby, virtually hidden by trees is a small concrete staircase was built to take people to the top of the hill where there’s another viewpoint. This has been neglected for years so it’s unlikely you’ll get any views. But worth checking in case it does get cleared, as it should provide great views out to the islands to the south.
On the way here, you’ll have noticed how the road is rapidly deteriorating with landslides a subsidence rendering certain sections rather narrow. You may also have noticed the concrete drainage ditch which lies alongside the road has been inlaid with small stones. This was all done by hand and makes you wonder about whether this work should have taken priority over the completion of the road itself. (I remember driving along here when construction was still underway, around 2003, and seeing dozens of workers sitting by the roadside pressing stones into wet concrete in order to beautify the ineffectual drainage ditch.)
In September 2014 there were several huge landslides on this road, due to heavy rain. Heavy machinery was brought in to clear the dirt and fallen trees so you’ll still see the scars on the hillside and huge trees laying around like matchsticks near roadside and at the bottom of the hills in some areas.
Needless to say, at present there’s nowhere to stop and eat & no toilets etc unless you call in at the Treehouse. The Treehouse has been in a cycle of opening for 3-4 months in High Season and closing for the rest of the year . At the moment ( Oct. ’16 ) it’s closed. But a sign by the entrance says it’s opening in November. However I’d expect it to re-open in December, as it has in previous years. The huts are very basic – just an old mattress, mosquito net and single lightbulb. But you cant expect too much for 200 – 300 Baht / night nowadays.
If they are too basic, on the hillside above, an ugly concrete hotel block, ‘Lonely Beach Resort’ has just been completed and the area around it is now an abandoned construction sites. It will be interesting to see who will actually stay here. During high season a pick up truck taxi leaves Lonely Beach at around 10am daily and takes people around to Long Beach.
This is a 400 metre long crescent of palm fringed sand. A stunning, peaceful location with untouched ( apart from the one new hotel block ) jungle clad hillside as a backdrop. You can imagine it being home to an exclusive luxury resort in the future – especially as the land is owned by one of the largest companies in Thailand.
The road ends a few hundred metres south of Long Beach. Just before you reach the end you come to at a 40 metre long strip of beach known as ‘Had Yuthanavy’. The sole reason for building the road was to get visitors to visit this spot as offshore is the location of the wreck of a Thai naval ship which sank during the defeat by the French Navy in 1941.
‘The Battle of Koh Chang’ is a textbook example of how to plan and execute a naval attack. Unfortunately, for the Thai forces, it was the French that attacked them, having sailed down from Vietnam and ambushed the Thai navy, and the whole battle was over in a couple of hours before breakfast. The end result was that the cream of the Thai navy was wiped out in one morning.
The Thonburi, which sank just off Hat Yuthanavy was originally put out of action some distance away but finally sank here after an attempt to tow it back to the mainland failed. You might see it listed as a wreck dive but in reality it is rarely, if ever, dived as the visibility is too poor to see anything and the wreck itself has now virtually disintegrated.
At the far southernmost tip of Koh Chang, the small Sea Breeze restaurant appears to have closed for good – just a shell remains. This used to do a nice line in basic Thai food, fresh from the sea seafood and fruit shakes. Sea Breeze was owned by a Thai / Vietnamese couple. She came here as a refugee. In the late 1980s many Vietnamese boat people tried to make it to Thailand.
The Thai government didn’t like this idea and so carte blanche was given to local fisherman to do whatever they liked in order to prevent the boats making it to the mainland. This resulted in refugee boats being rammed and sunk or refugees being dumped on rocky outcrops with no food or water. ( Such as the islands just off Salakkok Bay )
The United Nations knew what was going on but observers weren’t permitted to enter the area for a couple of weeks after the first reports of bodies being washed ashore were made public. This is the sort of local history you wont get any locals talking about but it’d be fascinating to know what really went on here just 30 years ago.
The small island off the southern tip of Koh Chang is Koh Ngam, it also has one resort , Analay Resort, which is now closed. If you want to visit Koh Ngam, just rent a kayak from Tantawan Resort for 200 Baht. It’s only a 10 – 15 minute paddle. You might find a few National Park guys hanging around on the island but other than that it will be deserted.
Tantawan Resort, on the opposite side of the bay, is an odd place. This was completed a few years ago but has never properly opened. Although it is open and you can stay there. But it’s just not advertised anywhere. It is worth a look around, they’ll be someone on hand to show you the rooms and you can get a drink and some basic Thai food in the restaurant. The rooms are very nice inside. They feature glass floors and a bathtub with views out to the ocean.
It’s now time to head back the way you came and rejoining the main road before heading around to the west coast of the bay.
Into Salakphet Village
As with Bangbao, Salakphet is a fishing village. Unlike Bangbao every trace of local life hasn’t been destroyed and replaced with dive shops, seafood restaurants and souvenir stalls. Sure there are a couple of seafood places and small homestays but that plus a small yacht marina. But that’s pretty much the extent of commercialisation round these parts. The marina, called ‘Koh Chang Marina’ is where private boat owners will moor up.
Salakphet itself is both the name for this area of the island and of one single village. The land at the head of the bay is all mangroves. From Salakphet village you can rent kayaks to explore this area. By road you only see half the village, most of the life is lining the canals in the mangroves. The village of Salakphet was until 20 years ago, a thriving fishing port. This was Koh Chang’s commercial centre but times change and it is now a rather sleepy fishing village. However, you’ll still some large wooden fishing trawlers moored up at piers in Rong Thian village, nearer the mouth of the bay, and smaller boats tied up outside locals houses.
To get to the main area of the village, ignore the well signposted right turn towards Salakphet Seafood and continue straight. Follow the road past the temple and continue slowly along the single track concrete road. There are a couple of places to stop for a drink here and the best place to stay in the area – Mangrove Hideaway – is located in the village. Stop at the ice factory 100 metres south of Mangrove Hideaway and walk out onto the concrete walkway by the side of the canal where you’ll see fishing boats tied up and can get some nice photos opportunities
At the front there is a walkway where you can see fishing boats and some local life. Back on the road again and you’ll eventually reach a small bridge that can only be crossed by foot or motorbike, there’s not much else down there apart from a couple more homestays and couple of good restaurants Fisherman’s Hut and Baan Yemaya are both good places by the sea for a drink or lunch.
As you pass by the temple in Salakphet you’ll probably stop to take a quick photo. But instead of just snapping the exterior, go inside. A mural, which took over a year to complete was finished in 2012. This covers the entire interior walls of the temple. A very impressive piece of work by two local artists. You have to pay a 20 baht entrance fee – but it’s worth it.
You should also check out the small building near the temple – which looks like a mini temple and that’s exactly what it is. It’s the original, 100 year old temple building. This is now a small museum. The murals inside tell the story of King Rama V who visited and stayed in the village during his reign. There’s also one of his old walking canes on display and a few other curios and artifacts including an ancient diving helmet.
To get back on the main road you can either head back past the temple and then follow the turn off for Salakphet Seafood or take the short cut – the narrow paved road near a telecoms tower.
An interesting detour on the way through the village is the mangrove walkway. As you pass the temple, you’ll notice a paved road leading off to the left. Follow this, head over the wooden bridge and follow the paved toad to the end, then follow the dirt track. If you follow the concrete electric poles you wont get lost. The track heads past a large prawn farm on your right and ends at the start of the walkway. This was rebuilt in 2013 and is a very pleasant walk through the mangroves and to the head of the bay.
There’s a small parking area at the start of the walkway and also an old information office and toilet block, both of which are falling into disrepair. You’ll also need to watch your footing on the walkway itself. It gets repaired every year or two when too many of the slats break. But it’s from this walkway that you get one of my favourite views on Koh Chang.
This is of the sea of green about half way along the walkway. You turn a corner and just get an awesome view across the mangroves to the hills in the distance. Different hues of green in all directions
Having walked back along the walkway and headed back to the temple, you can pass through through Salakphet village, you’re now on the road to the village of Baan Rong Thian on the west coast of the bay. The road meanders along for a few km, passes the start of the still incomplete road to Bangbao, and terminates in the car park of a restaurant called Salakphet Seafood. Along the way you’ll see signs for a few small resorts and homestays. It’s worth following a couple of the narrow concrete roads that lead off the main road to the left as these will take you to small fishing hamlets which are worth 10 minutes of your time to check out.
Also take a note of the garbage lying by the side of the road. You probably won’t see any. Now compare this to the west coast where you are bound to have seen and probably smelt piles of garbage and un-emptied bins by the roadside near your hotel.
Why the difference? Simple, the locals here keep their village clean whereas on the west coast most of the Thais aren’t locals and so there isn’t the sense of communal responsibility. Also pay attention to the verges at the side of the road, in many areas around Salakphet these have been planted with flowers and bushes which make the roadside far more attractive than any you’ll find on the garbage strewn west coast roads.
On the way down to Salakphet you’ll see signs for a couple of waterfalls – ‘Klong Neung’ and ‘Khiriphet’. Both have lovely narrow paved roads leading up to the entrance to the falls, the kind of small lanes that are really scenic. They are only a couple of kilometers in length but pass some locals’ houses, through fruit and coconut fields and end abruptly at the start of paths into the jungle.
Klong Neung is worth the effort, but it’s a real hassle to get to. So very few people bother. There’s no obvious path, and you will have to walk along the river bed and scramble up rocks to get there. It is Koh Chang’s tallest waterfall – approx 120 metres high. This cascades into a narrow gulley where you can swim. Very beautiful and eerily quiet. Although the pool is nowhere as big as that at, say Klong Plu or Kai Bae waterfalls on the west coast. If you fancy an adventure then here are photos and a quick guide on getting to Koh Chang’s tallest waterfall.
Khiriphet is a very little walk of a similar length but is much easier, the path ends at an easy to reach fall where you’ll see a couple of plunge pools – big enough to cool off in and swim a little. It’s possible to climb to higher levels but again the path isn’t easy to clamber up. However, if you’re in the area then this fall is a good detour. Note that entrance to both these falls is free – there are no National Park staff stationed here, although you will notice the remnants of old offices and toilet block.
Leave your ride in Salakphet Seafood car park and then walk out onto the small pier at the restaurant. You’ll see dozens of keep nets with all size and variety of fish and be treated to 180 degree panoramic views, from the mountains inland, across the bay and out to the islands to the south. Koh Laoya and Koh Wai are easily visible.
There’s a footpath from the car park that leads behind the fisherman’s houses that line the bay for another kilometre further down the shore. If you are into sailing, take this path and wander down to Island View pier. Here you’ll find yachts belonging to Gulf Charters and private owners. Rooms on the pier or in apartments overlooking the bay, are also available.
The islands in the bay can easily be visited by kayak, rent one at Island View or one of the seafood restaurants in the area. Koh Sai Khao, the southernmost of the three islands in the bay, is home to a rundown resort that is now deserted apart from a few staff. Interesting to wander around the crumbling ‘ghost resort’. There’s also a very nice little white sand beach.
If you have already decided, before you arrive on Koh Chang, that you want to stay in Salakphet, then it is possible to take a songtaew from the centre of Trat town on the mainland. A small blue pick-up truck taxi heads to Salakphet thrice daily. Catch it at 10.30am, 12pm or 3pm from Trat temple.
One of the highlights of a trip to Koh Chang is taking your rental scooter down the incomplete road down the eastern side of Salakphet Bay to Long Beach. The road has now been resurfaced and so it’s easy to drive down on a scooter. ( By the end of 2016, it should be possible to drive a normal car all the way to Long Beach. )