For 2007

October – December 2007

loy-krathong-fire

3 October – Been on holiday for a few days as I needed some sunshine and there wasn’t much on Koh Chang. This time it was south to Hua Hin, Ban Krut & Chumpon.

In the news . . . a biogas plant is supposedly due to open at the end of the year on Koh Chang. Full Bangkok Post story. As with most stories concerning the development of Koh Chang minor details such as where the 100 tons of waste that are required daily will come from and how it will be delivered to the plant aren’t addressed. “Details, Schmetails” as Koh Chang’s Yiddish community would say – if there were one.

But it’s a nice idea, the biogas plant that is, not the Yiddish community, and ties in will with the multi-coloured garbage bins that now adorn the roadside in numerous spots on the island complementing the island’s natural beauty.

The Black bin is for recyclable garbage; Yellow for organic matter and Red for Hazardous materials – obviously not intended for the disposal of anything too hazardous as the red bins are only emptied once a week. And there I was thinking that the bins were just pretty colours and wondering where to buy red & yellow plastic garbage bags to match.

Anyone planning a holiday in Rayong? No, I didn’t think so, but for anyone who gets stuck there, Soren is in the process of putting together a new site with all the info you need about the town, beaches and places to eat. See www.rayonginfo.com. Laem Charoen Seafood & Society House are two places that are definitely worth a meal if you’re in the town.

If the novelty of having to endure Filipino house bands and acoustic Thai folk music during your evening meal is beginning to wane and you’re heading back to Bangkok and feel the need to see a real band play a real gig before you leave Thailand then take a look at Worathep.com and in particular ‘The Bkk Bus’ for details of bands you have heard of playing in Bangkok in the coming month – Black Eyed Peas, Beyonce and Linkin Park and Megadeath will all be here.

Also on the list of sites I’ve been asked to mention Koh Chang Booking and Information another site with some good info and where you can book your hotels, trips and tours online. Although why you’d want to book your snorkelling trip or elephant trek months in advance is beyond me but I’m sure some people must.

One of the highlights of my life is having the opportunity to re-write hotel brochures occasionally. This provides me with some light hearted moments as I look to escape from the stress and strain of having to think of faintly amusing things to say on this page. A couple of weeks ago I was asked to edit a few paragraphs, or to be more accurate a collection of words from the English language thrown together with no regard for grammar or meaning, for one resort.

An example: ‘The resort’s distinctive setting is enhanced intimate principal living in a graciousness of the nature spirit’.

If you’re still looking for mid-range rooms over New Year try Chang Park Resort, Kai Bae (bungalows available, Grand Cabana Resort and VJ Hotel & Spa, Klong Prao – all by the beach. Also Thai Garden Hill Resort, Klong Prao by the roadside. All bookable through numerous websites.

For a couple of smaller places you wont find listed see Island Lodge, White Sand beach www.islandlodge-kochang.com 200 – 800 baht/night. Coral Resort, Kai Bae, www.kohchangcoralresort.com AC bungalows from 1,500 baht upwards

Back to the interesting stuff . . . holiday photos . . .
View from the new temple overlooking Ban Krut Beach, Prachuap Kiri Khan. Ban Krut should be on the tourist map in the coming years. Several resorts are under construction now and there are already a couple of very nice places to stay.

What the beach lacks in sunset views it more than makes up for with lots of powdery white sand even at high tide. Photo taken at Rachavadee Resort – a very good deal at 1,800 baht/night. (Beachfront land for sale nearby for only 3.5 million/rai Chanote title.)

Forget the star rating for hotels, a quick look at the in room reading material tells you all you need to know about a hotel. Below are two examples, one from Chumpon Cabana Hotel and the other from the Evason Hua Hin. Try to figure out which is from which resort. At one resort you have well over 200 pages of blurb detailing every aspect of the resort, bound in numerous coconut wood folders. In the other you’ll find a copy of a Dutch gardening magazine, what appears to be the May 2005 edition of ‘Squat Toilet’ monthly and a trade magazine for anyone with an interest in industrial circuit breaker innovations circa 2004. (I later also found a June 2000 edition of Kinnaree, the Thai airline inflight magazine.)

This is not only a TV with a blinking eye in a large clay jar but also art, in case your didn’t realise it. You know it’s art because it makes you think, in my case about how pointless it is. You’ll find the jar at the Evason Hua Hin.

The Evason is a cracking hotel, not only due the volume of reading material, an eye in a jar, the beautiful room, the excellent service or because we got a room dirt cheap; but also for the 80 baht cocktails they sell in order to dissuade guests from visiting nearby beach bars which sell them for 90 or 100 baht. Happy hour is from 6-7pm, buy 2 get 1 free. We arrived at 6.30pm and managed to spend 320 baht on six cocktails.

No holiday would be complete without a visit to an old wooden palace. This is part of Mrigadayavan Palace, Hua Hin which in addition to being built by Rama V is also worth around 79 points in a game of Scrabble.

The perfect way to end your trip, a stop off at Premium Outlet Mall, Cha-am. Shopping, eating and more shopping.

10 October – Woohoo . . . more houses being built on Koh Chang.   Logans Thailand, a Scandinavian owned company have just launched their ‘Sunshine Villas’ development on Koh Chang in Salakphet Bay. This follows on from their previous developments in Bang Saen & Rayong on the eastern seaboard which have attracted a lot of interest from Scandinavian home buyers in particular as they combine functional but aesthetically pleasing design ina quiet location, with a high standard of construction and place a high priority on preserving the environment in which the developments are located. Prices from 4.9 Million Baht (105,000 Euros).

The above banner was recently erected at the Koh Chang ‘Entertainment’ Complex. At first glance a ‘Miss Thonglor Centre Bare 2007’ competition looks rather interesting and I’m sure quite a few people will have made enquiries about attending the event. However, the Thai language makes it clear that this is some kind of event for ladyboys only. Hopefully, in light of the news that it will be shemales and not females on display, the ‘Bare’ is a misspelling of Bars, Beer or even Bear.

New page of photos of the interior of a completed condo unit at Tranquility Bay Residence, Bangbao . . .and very nice it is too, and will be even better when they figure out an aesthetically pleasing and yet ergonomically friendly location in which to place the where to put the towel rail and tissue holder in the bathroom.

Guys in search of a better class of real, and not man made, Thai totty will have more luck if they loiter as inconspicuously as possible around Aiyapura Resort & Spa on 23-24 October when the 18 finalists of the Miss Thailand World pageant will be strutting their stuff; banally answering banal questions and generally spending 2 days sheltering out of the sun in order to preserve their lillywhite skin, in an effort not to derail their chances of a Top 10 finish and therefore achieving their goal of landing a dream job as a Thai Airways trolley dolly once their 5 minutes of fame is complete.

‘Upper Crust’ is now open in Klong Prao – opposite the temple. This is the deli / gourmet shop / epicurean training centre follows on from the success of Crust bakery. All manner of bakery items, cheeses, cold cuts, dry goods, spirits, hard to find beers and wines are in stock. Well worth a visit if you are in the area and have a love of good food and it’s fast becoming the meeting point for the expat community on Koh Chang.

Today’s Bangkok Post, and the Thai papers, carry a story on the perils that can be faced when trying to sell your small resort on Koh Chang ‘Briton, wife lodge CSD complaint over alleged assault’ covers the story of the British & Thai owners of a small resort on Pearl Beach who were (allegedly) beaten up last weekend by the would-be buyer and his gang of hired hands when they refused to lower the selling price, matters weren’t helped when they were then refused help by the police on Koh Chang, according to the story.

BUT . . it’s worth bearing in mind that the article doesn’t include any comment from the Koh Chang police, unlike the articles in the Thai language papers, which present a slightly different view of events. Get your Thai to English translator out from in front of the TV and ask her to read the article in today’s Matichon newspaper.

This week we had several guests who wanted to do a bit of kayaking. The sea was a bit rough so paddling out to the islands offshore was off. So we headed round to Salakkok for a spot of mangrove kayaking and very nice it was too.

Salakkok Kayak Station was founded by K. Pittaya who also set up the excellent Ban Kwan Chang elephant camp in the north of Koh Chang. The kayak station & restaurant are run in partnership with local families and the enterprise has been designed to be as eco-friendly as possible. Canals through the mangroves and are easy to follow, there are a couple of routes marked both on a map on the wall of the restaurant and also denoted by numbered markers once you are out on the water. But a guide can also be hired if you are geographically challenged.

It was a bit overcast and late in the afternoon when we arrived so the photos aren’t as good as they could be. But they should give you an idea of what to expect . . .

It’s easy to spend a couple of hours paddling around and it’s better to visit at high tide if possible. The only downside is that as the kayak rental is only 100 baht/hour there isn’t any pick-up service provided for people staying on the west of Koh Chang which is 30-40 kilometres away as this wouldn’t be cost effective. So to get there you’ll need to rent a car or scooter or join an organised tour. Make the effort, you’ll be happy you did.

19 October – It’s official – the sun is shining, the sea is calm and the hotels are empty here on Koh Chang . . So what are you waiting for?, other than a cheap flight and permission from the boss to take time off work, as apparently some people work in small cubicles in concrete office blocks in city centres which can’t be much fun.

Koh Chang is awash with restaurants, for example, here’s a recommendation from a visitor to this site for a place most people wont ever find:

…there’s a place I’d like to recommend, for food or just “falling in love with”… ‘Blues and blues arts and food’…the guy who runs the place is amazingly friendly, so sweet, and the food is simply great. The best tom yum I’ve had till now…its not only the food but also the environment of the place. Since he’s an artist, he decorated the place himself. To me its really a work of art. If you’re on Koh Chang, do go check it out…

No idea if it’s any good or not, but she seems to like it – it’s located on the road to Baan Kwan Chang elephant camp in the north of Koh Chang.

Other restaurants make a point of advertising just how good they (think they) are. e.g The Spa Resort in Salakkok that likes to mention that a magazine chose the restaurant at their parent resort in Samui as one of the ‘Top 50 Restaurants in the World’. Obviously, this means absolutely nothing when it comes to the food at The Spa Koh Chang. The good news is that if you stick to the salads & western food then it’s pretty good, but don’t go near the Thai food and don’t expect service to be any different than in any restaurant anywhere i.e. pretty bad. But it’s well worth stopping there for lunch if you’re in the area and want something healthy, otherwise go a few kilometres further to Salakphet Seafood. But you can at least console yourself with the great views from The Spa restaurant as you’re waiting for the kitchen staff to ease themselves into life . . .

If, like me, you’re old enough to remember when ONE MILLION DOLLARS!! was an unfathomably large amount of money, then you might be surprised to learn that it won’t be enough to buy you a posh house at Tranquillity Bay on Koh Chang.

You’ll need to stump up a minimum of 44,000,000 Baht to be able to afford a villa there. But if you have got a little bag of blood diamonds sitting in a Swiss bank vault; elderly parents with equity in their mini-mansion that was bought for 27 new pounds and a bag of coal in 1971; or are simply a poor person who likes to watch ‘Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous’ on TV and can only dream of having George Hamilton’s tan, take a look at these amazing homes. This is a single, Type C villa with almost 600sqm of living space which means you can live in the same home as your in-laws but never actually see them:

29 October – Tripadvisor.com listed it’s Top Ten World Destinations for 2008 recently. Two were in Thailand, neither of those was Koh Chang. The couple of places that will be ruined by the sudden influx of tourists over the next 12 months are at the Phang Nga area, between Krabi & Phuket and Koh Pha-Ngan, near Samui, which come in at 3rd & 7th places respectively in the Top Ten.

Koh Chang is slowly gaining in popularity and not just with Russians who are heading here in ever increasing numbers both on package tours and travelling independently. I only mention this as I’ve just finished a bottle of Dagestan’s finest brandy, no idea of the brand as the writing is all in Cyrillic but it was extremely drinkable and if anyone from any of the ‘Stans’ or Russia is visiting – stick a bottle in your suitcase for me. Thanks.

Last update I mentioned that the Miss Thailand contestants were heading to Koh Chang for a couple of days. It wasn’t as though their time on Koh Chang was wasted, they took time out from their intensive skin bleaching sessions to do their bit for the environment. In case you ever wondered how many beauty pageant contestants it takes to plant a tree the answer is here, as five of them are pictured below getting up close and personal with a sapling on Koh Chang. Next time you see these girls they’ll probably be wearing a shiny silver miniskirt and draped over a new model Camry at the 2008 Bangkok Motor Show.

More and more people are emailing about finding good quality long stay accommodation on Koh Chang, if you know of any nice, furnished small houses / bungalows in quiet areas but within easy reach of the beach, let me know.

If you want a quiet, laid back place on a river estuary about 100 metres from a good beach, try Blue Lagoon Bungalows, Klong Prao – friendly local owners, been going for over 10 years and they have just repaired & renovated all the bungalows – fan rooms from 500 baht/night, AC for 1000 baht/night, walking distance to shops / ATM and easy to get to Kai Bae or White Sand beach if you want to party. Some bungalows are built right next over water.

This week’s riveting addition to the ever growing list of tourism related websites covering Trat and Koh Chang is www.trattourism.com. Three factors which may count against it becoming a ‘must click’ site for millions of tourists are 1) it’s only in Thai and 2) it only contains information relating to various meetings held by the Trat Tourism Authority and 3) it’s only in Thai and only contains information about tourism meetings. But if you like seeing photos of local officials standing in lines and engaged in discussion then this is the site for you.

We’re always on the look out for new places to eat and this week found a couple, both good value – as they aren’t on the beach and so you don’t pay the sand in your food premium.

Khun Mee’s Restaurant, Klong Prao
Forget the silk clad waitresses, celadon tableware, carved fruit centrepieces on the table and Royal Thai cuisine. Real Thai food comes from places built of wood and corrugated iron where there’s no menu, no decor other than a dozen cases of empty beer bottles and a few fading posters of Thai monarchs past & present, the drinks list comprises consists of Water, Coke, Red Bull and Small or Large Chang Beer and the staff are the owners children or an aging relative who moves at glacial speed. Also at busy times customers have the choice of wandering into the kitchen area and cooking their own food if they want it quickly, or waiting for the owner to get round the their order in due course. Suck a place is Khun Mee’s small restaurant just south of Chang Chutiman Elephant Camp. No sign of any kind but there’s usually some kind of meat being BBQ’d outside. Really good food, large portions and very cheap.

Baan Captain, Klong Prao
But for those of you who aren’t willing to risk an increased chance of catching any one of a number of communicable diseases in an effort to be as one with the Thai people, have a look at another new restaurant ‘Baan Captain’ 100 metres south of the turning for the Amari Emerald Cove. Good value Western & Thai food served up in a spotlessly clean, if not very exciting, restaurant by the roadside. How do you know you’ll get good food? Simple – until recently the owner, Khum Prem, was a chef at the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide, so she can make Thai food as good as you’ll find in any local Thai restaurant and western food as good as you’ll get in a 5 star hotel. Well worth a meal or two if you’re staying at the far south of Klong Prao beach and value English speaking owners, good service, and food you can recognise.

Someone wanted a photo of a ferry – I think they were nervous about the crossing from the mainland to Koh Chang. It’s also interesting to note that there isn’t a word in the Thai language for ‘unseaworthy’. Below is the pride of Centrepoint Ferry Company that operates ferries between the mainland and Koh Chang. These run on a need to know basis, problem is that their customers aren’t included in the list of those who need to know when the next boat may come along. However, the sleepy girl in the ticket office will be more than happy to let you know that the next boat will be leaving in 15 minutes. An hour and a half later you realise this may have been guesswork on her part and that she too isn’t on the ‘need to know’ list either.

6 November – The oldest person on Koh Chang? 80? 90?100? Try 108 years old and still active. At least that’s what she reckons her age is, but as there’s no official record of her birth, she was born on Koh Chang, no-one is quite sure. However, family members are certain she is over 100. The elixir of life can apparently be found in her daily ration of Thai whisky. You’ll see her pottering around Kai Bae Hut Resort.

New Pool Villas at Siam Beach Resort. Get your Romantic Vacation Wish List ready:
*Privacy – Check
*White sand beach right outside your door – Check
*Your own secluded sun deck and plunge pool – Check
*Huge flat screen TV with home theatre – Check
*Jacuzzi bath for 2 (or 3) – Check
*Dungeon full of lingerie, French maid’s outfits, assorted whips, chains, vibrating electrical equipment and furry handcuffs – Unfortunately not . . . . which just goes to show you can’t have everything.
However, if you have got around 10,000 baht/night to spend on accommodation there aren’t many better ways to spend it.

A new game called ‘Koh Chang Construction Roulette’. Take a look below at who’s building what where. Did you just book two weeks on a palm fringed paradise beach or a fortnight on a building site?

K.C. Grande Resort, White Sand Beach: The construction of a new hotel building is well underway, due for completion in April/May 2008, construction site is an eyesore, but there again so is most of White Sand beach.

Koh Chang Lagoon Resort, White Sand Beach: New hotel building by the roadside almost completed. I’m still wondering where the Lagoon actually is unless it’s the Thai word for ‘small swimming pool’.

Paradise Resort, Klong Prao: Started construction of 12 Jacuzzi Villa’s next to the restaurant – but away from existing bungalows. Hopefully completed by September 2008 if the local builder’s merchant stocks the correct kind of nails, 2010 if it doesn’t.

Koh Chang Resort, Klong Prao: New conference building will be completed in late November. It’s taken them long enough and in keeping with the rest of the resort it looks a bit of a train wreck.

Tropicana Resort, Klong Prao: Started the construction of 100 more rooms to the south of existing resort and around the front entrance. Huge project but it’s outside the resort, there will be some noise in the reception area and some bungalows on the south side of the resort. They’ll finish banging around sometime in mid-2008.

Baan Rim Nam, Klong Prao: We’re planning to fix up the old outside toilet. You know, give it a lick of paint, add a western toilet, a few plants, move the washing machine a couple of feet and maybe add a few clear roof tiles for more light, that kind of thing. Completion date “Up to you” according to our builder.

Cliff Beach Resort, Kai Bae: Started the construction of a hotel building up on the cliff, completion due in Q1 2008. They’re also responsible for all the crap shop units by the road – but that’s another story.
Bhumiyama Resort, Lonely Beach: New Spa building is going up in front for the Superior Garden View rooms. Should be completed by December when presumably the rooms will be renamed ‘Superior Garden and back of the new Spa View’.

Dusit Princess Resort, Bailan: Open as of 1 November but still some construction work ongoing until end of 2007. No pithy comments as I’m holding out for a free meal here at some point in the near future.

Nisa Cabana Resort, Bailan: Pool Villas still under construction until January 2008. This is a new resort you have never heard of – don’t worry about it, you won’t have booked rooms here unless you left your travel plans to a tour agent.

Another treat for lovers of luxury accommodation. If pool villas aren’t your thing, here’s a sneak peek at the interior of a Sea View Deluxe Room at the Dusit Princess Koh Chang Resort.

13 November – Large backpacker hut resort, plus bars, chillout lounge & restaurant with approx 80 metres roadside frontage sitting on 4 Rai (6,400sqm) of land. 12 year lease. Price reduced from 12 million to 9 million baht. All 18 bungalows and 4 houses are full at the moment – 100% occupancy.

Also down that way Sunsail have just opened their office at Koh Chang Marine in Salakphet. They have eight yachts for charter. Bareboat charter from just 13,600 baht/day for a 6 berth, 33′ yacht. For anyone who’s into sailing, you’re probably thinking this is an extremely reasonable daily rate. For anyone who isn’t into sailing, you’re probably thinking you could buy a racehorse for less – but there again a racehorse doesn’t sleep six. More info on the Sunsail website

The problem facing yacht owners has long been the comparative lack of mooring berths on Koh Chang. There’s Island View pier and Koh Chang Marina both in Salakphet but both are relatively small and well away from the popular beaches and hotels on the west coast. The good news is that Siam Royal View have just made details of their new Marina public. Wet berths are on sale to residents of the development and non-residents alike. So if you need a spot to moor your yacht this is it. Berth ownership from 900,000 baht for non-residents.

What did I do this week?

Take one wooden footbridge in need of spraying for termites, then add one guy with a spray gun walking around under the bridge not looking where he’s going, throw in an old plank of wood with a two and a half inch rusty nail protruding upwards and finally top off with the fact the protective footwear being worn consisted of 49 baht flip flops. Guess what happened next?

The hole in my foot was about an inch deep but the hole in my wallet was considerably less painful. The choice was private clinic or local clinic. Usually I’d advise people to go to the private clinic where you can discuss symptoms of any ailments with an English speaking doctor whilst sitting on a designer sofa in whitewashed surroundings and being served complimentary hot sugary tea and nibbles. But seeing as it was pretty obvious what the problem was and I was nearer the local place it was there that I went.

Having interrupted an important MSN messenger chat the receptionist/nurse/only person in the place was having, I hopped round the back of a partition trying not to inconvenience her too much by dripping blood all over the freshly mopped floor.

I stuck my foot up on the treatment table and she gave it a quick once over. Then looked at my sandal with small hole in the centre, back to the hole in the sole of my foot and finally to my face and gave me one of those smiles that simply says “Another day, another idiot“. I flashed her an “I know what you are thinking.” smile in return.

It was a bit disconcerting to see all manner of sharp metal objects being brought out of sterilised stainless steel containers. These implements included what appeared to be a stainless steel knitting needle, but at least I could console myself with the thought that the local anesthetic would be on the way soon and the nurse could then get on with the job of digging the bits of rust out.

She got on with the excavation quickly which was good, the downside was that no local anesthetic was forthcoming. So it stung a little as I discovered that the knitting needle was used to wrap iodine soaked gauze around and was then inserted into the hole and wiggled around about a bit. “Jep mai?” (“Does it hurt?”) she asked, “Nit noi” (“A little” ) I replied.

Had this been said in a gruff, Chuck Norris, man-of-steel type of manner it might have been convincing, but when said with watery eyes and a high pitched voice it probably didn’t. She gave me another smile, this one said “Liar“, I flashed back a “Yeah, I know that you know this f@*king hurts like hell so why ask me in the first place?” smile in return.

But 15 minutes of digging, prodding and scraping later it was over. A tetanus jab was given and I was out the door with a small bag of painkillers, a small bag of antibiotics and a bill for 170 baht. Since then I’ve been back daily to get more rust picked out and new bandage applied – price 50 baht per visit. The waiting area is just outside the the main building, with the window of the small treatment area nearby. So, as I did a couple of days ago, you can sit and wait and hear muffled screams as people get their calf burns from motorbike exhausts cleaned up.

However, if do something stupid like I did, get mauled by a gecko or fall off your bike then head to one of the local clinics, point to the problem and they’ll fix you up very cheaply and also do a good job. It’s been less than a week but my wound has healed over fine, no infection and I can walk around pretty normally now. Just remember to bring something to bite down on if you think the nurse might need to dig into you.

18 November – On November 24th, it will be time to grab a few hundred baht’s worth of the finest Chinese weapons grade fireworks, a couple of large Beer Changs, and head down to the local river, ocean or large pond to celebrate Loy Krathong – the Thai festival of something or other. Exactly what isn’t important as it’s an excuse to play with fireworks and drink beer if you’re a guy; or to sit with your friends and make decorative floats out of banana leaf, then drink beer and play with fireworks, and then do the washing up if you’re a girl.

Once the beer’s been drunk and the child who carelessly lost a couple of fingers when a rocket blew up in his hand taken to hospital; it’s time to go down to the river and place your decorated ‘krathong’ in the water. This then gently drifts off on the current, carrying with it your sins from the past year. Obviously, the symbolism may be lost in locations Loy Krathong is celebrated by the sea where the wind and the waves can conspire to return your krathong to you. If you held your ancient animist beliefs close to your heart that would be you screwed for the next 12 months.

And where can you experience a cultural feast such as this on Koh Chang? – well pretty much everywhere. Buy a krathong from the stalls that will pop up by the roadside on the morning of the 24th and your hotel will have somewhere you can float it.

If you want a bit of a classier Loy Krathong experience, then the Amari Emerald Cove is having a big Loy Krathong party complete with International & Thai food buffet, Thai Dance show, Krathong making, and Nang Noppamas* Beauty Contest. The fun starts in the morning, as do the Loy Krathong festivities, the evening buffet dinner is priced at 750 baht +++, including free transport between your hotel and the Amari. Call 039-552-000 for more info.

*Nang Noppamas was a royal courtier in bygone days and is credited with the invention of the Krathong, which in Thai eyes puts her up there with Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers. In her honour, every November full moon, women the length and breadth of Thailand celebrate her discovery by dressing up in traditional Thai style, applying way too much make-up, constructing elegant krathongs, drinking beer and playing with fireworks.

For budget celebrations, a mere 150 baht will get you a plate of food & a drink of some description; plus Thai dancing and a karaoke session in the traditional souvenir shopping village of Bangbao.

Evolution . . . Koh Chang style. To celebrate the imminent arrival of a third 7-eleven store on White Sand Beach, this one to be located in opposite Koh Chang Lagoon Resort and catering to people who can’t, or won’t, walk for more than a few hundred metres in order to buy a bag of ice, bag of mixed nuts and a toilet roll; here’s a quick look at the advances taking place in mini-mart signage on Koh Chang.

In the beginning there were local minimarts where the friendly local owners would happily rip off their neighbours and tourists alike, selling over priced expired products from a dingy, unlit shop. These were the kind of places where you could by everything from a replacement turn signal for your motorbike to a pack of sanitary towels and half a kilo of chicken’s feet. That all changed a few years ago when the first ‘7-eleven’ opened on the island.

Noting that everyone now made a beeline for this shiny new air-conditioned store, many local mini-marts struggled, supported only by backpackers who insisted in giving their money to the native traders and not to franchises of multi-national conglomerates. But they soon relented when Lonely Beach became home to this store designed to lure in those adverse to shopping in a real 7-eleven

Time passed and on the roadside in Klong Prao, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, a new mini-mart opened. Trade was slow, a remedy was required. Monks were consulted and a change of name was recommended as the only cure. And thus the ‘7 years’ mini-mart was born, but in this case no-one paid much attention as the name’s just taking the piss.

25 November – Health and Safety Advisory for visitors to Koh Chang: Look after yourself, because no one else will.   Last night was Loy Krathong, a fireworks and beer type of celebration.

Many hotels had firework displays and some also had flying paper lanterns from the north of Thailand. The paper lanterns use a candle to generate hot air which then lifts the lantern into the sky, where it blows away on the wind. Sometimes they come back down to earth where they aren’t supposed to as happened last night. If they burn out and come down as the hot air cools, then no problem. If there’s a strong, swirling wind blowing and they come down still burning and land on an area of dry grass and undergrowth then you have a problem . . .

On the right side of the photo above, just out of shot, over 100 tourists were having their Loy Krathong dinner and being ‘entertained’ by some Thai dancing – oblivious to the large fire burning about 200 metres away from the wooden hotel restaurant where they were dining.

If you were on holiday and a large fire broke out nearby would you expect the hotel management to a) have erred on the side of caution and mentioned to guests that it might be better to leave the festivities temporarily as there was a large fire burning nearby or b) done nothing. Anyone answering a) would have upset a lot of guests for no reason the hotel didn’t burn down anyway. And so b) was obviously the correct choice, as if you’re going to die in a fire then so it will be, you can’t change fate.

The restaurant below was evacuated, or at least all the customers left when the place filled with smoke and it looked like their steaks would be well done instead of rare.

Fortunately the fire department were on hand and roughly 30 minutes after the fire started Koh Chang’s two fire tenders arrived. It took a bit of time as they are based on the other side of the island, a safe distance from any fires that might break out near restaurants or hotels. Another 30 minutes later the fire burnt itself out.
So in the end the hotel management were proved right – there was nothing to worry about after all.

Tourists visiting this high season can sleep soundly knowing that those in charge of their safety can forsee the future and predict winds and paths of fires accurately . . . . hopefully.

3 December – I came out of the bank on White Sand beach yesterday and a Thai guy stopped me as I was getting on to my bike. At first I thought he was going to try to sell me a suit, as that’s usually the only reason any Thai guy will stop you in the street for no apparent reason, unless of course he wants to shoot you.

So I was kind of flattered, thinking at least he figures I have enough cash to spend on a tailored 3 piece or two. But in reality he wanted to sell me a few nights at some bungalow place for 200 baht/night. Which got me thinking that I’ll have to make a bit more of an effort to dress up next time I go out. Being mistaken for middle-aged backpacker with a 5 dollar a night budget wasn’t one of my highlights of the week.

Good news for visitors to Koh Chang’s waterfalls, as of 1 December the entrance fee has come down from 400 baht/person to a mere 200 baht. This is due to Koh Chang now officially being in the second tier of National Parks in Thailand and so visitors don’t qualify to be ripped off charged 400 baht to see water running downhill . . .as they did until a couple of days ago.

2008 is shaping up to be entered in the annals of history as the year that mid-price housing estates came to Koh Chang. Two are planned for the Klong Prao area – one on a rather nice plot of land near Ramayana Resort (see below)and the other a couple of kilometres south. Both will also include huge numbers of roadside shophouses ideal for anyone who feels the need to pay 4 million baht or more to live in a terrace with cars rushing by a few metres away from your front door.

Koh Chang was almost made famous by Fashion TV last week. Their cruise ship moored off Bangbao and a photographer planned to bring a dozen or so models ashore for a visit to an elephant camp and a photo session on the beach. Fortunately, I managed found time in my hectic schedule to arrange to meet them and help set things up. But unfortunately their boss killed the plan and the ship sailed on rather than stopping overnight here, so the models never made it ashore and my dreams of an IaMKohChang.com swimsuit edition were dashed.

Sassi vs Invito. And the winner is . . .
It’s rare that I eat fancy foreign food as it’s not often you’ll hear me utter “I’m starving, I could just do with a nice ‘Gran grigliata di pesce su letto di verdure‘”. But this week I was fortunate enough to eat at the best Italian restaurants on Koh Chang within the space of a few days. So it gave me a chance to compare the two. (Obviously someone else was paying otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered.)
Service – Nothing between them, attentive staff at your beck and call in both places.
Views – Not particularly inspiring or romantic from either, choose from main road & bar girls at Invito or car park and tailor’s shop at Amari.
Decor and ambience etc – You have to give it to Sassi hands down.
Price – About the same but I didn’t pay too much attention.
However, as far as the food went, Invito definitely had the edge – even a palate as jaded as mine immediately detected it was something pretty special. So, if your stomach is your priority, go for Invito. But if a quiet dinner in pleasant surroundings if what you need, then it’s got to be Sassi. Decisions decisions.

A new elephant camp ‘Klong Plu Ban Chang’ has just opened on Koh Chang. It’s still under construction and at present there are only a handful of elephants, but more are on their way. The treks follow paths cut into the hillside above the camp and will give visitors some pretty nice views of the mountains inland. Find the camp about 200 metres along the road leading to Klong Plu waterfall.

That building on the top of the hill overlooking Klong Prao beach is the new Middle School ( Mattayom 1-3 i.e. Grade 7-9) It won’t be open for a while so you can ride a motorbike up to it on the track cut into the hillside, and you’ll get some great views. Obviously designed with the need to get local kids to do more exercise in mind, as the track up to it is pretty steep in places.

12 December – Congratulations to K. Pittaya founder of Baan Kwan Chang Elephant Camp and Salakkok Kayak Station, he’s in Bangkok tomorrow night to receive an eco-tourism award for the Salakkok project at the annual Tourist Authority of Thailand showcase for the best in Thailand’s world of tourism. This project involves involving all the local families in the business, they all share in the profits and can be involved in the day to day running as much or as little as they like.

He has also just set up a new eco-friendly project in Salakphet is ready to be launched in the next couple of weeks. This will be the first of it’s kind on Koh Chang and also involves locals living in the area. More details of this after Xmas.

Elections will be held in Thailand on 23 December and so you’ll notice candidate’s posters adorning roadsides in the hamlets around the island. Below is one from one guy who looks like he’s made the promise of ‘Casual Friday all day every day’ the centrepiece of his campaign.

Klong Kloi Beach is a nice spot for a bit of sunbathing and good views out to the islands south of Koh Chang. I was down there twice last week – taking people staying with us for a bit of sightseeing. I warned the guys I was with about what to expect as the last time I visited it was populated by a fifty-something Russian tour group. If swimsuits were war, then some of those being worn by elderly visitors recently would be hauled off to The Hague for atrocities and hung.

However, this week things were looking decidedly perkier, the fifty-somethings having been replaced with a far younger crowd for whom a bikini top is too much hassle to put on first thing in the morning. “In the distance you can just make out the silhouette of Koh Kood, the flat island is Koh Mak, in front of that is Koh Wai and about 5 metres from where we’re standing you’re probably having as much trouble as I am trying to ignore a couple of really cute semi-nude girls bouncing around in the surf.

Please note, that I cannot be held responsible for lack of Russian totty on view or the quality. Nor do I in any way condone Maria Sharapova look-a-likes getting their tits out on Koh Chang’s beaches as this is technically illegal. (Insert obvious police related ‘busted’ gag here)

Nothing at all to do with Koh Chang, but there’s a new website worth a look is Not The Nation, which satirises ‘The Nation’ newspaper’s site and has far more interesting stories.

Last year we had a Grande Xmas Charity Appeal which raised a smile and some cash for those in need – or it would have done if only the admin fees hadn’t eaten up 95% of the donations and I’m sure this year will be no different.

But the problem is deciding who to give to when there are so many deserving causes in the community. Therefore, this year the choices have been narrowed down to an elephant, a cute kitten and a Cambodian worker.

Simply insert your choice of deserving causes into the blurb below and stick your credit card details in an email to me. Giving couldn’t be easier and less guilt free this year.

2007 Adopt a __________ for Christmas Appeal
Through IaMKohChang you can adopt a __________ quickly and easily online as a gift.
Adopting a __________ can really help. Koh Chang’s __________ population has decreased dramatically as their habitat is encroached upon by development and and agricultural clearance. This is a worldwide problem destroying nature, damaging communities and distorting trade. Around half of the world’s natural habitat for __________ has now disappeared.
From just £10.00 a month you can adopt a __________ . Your support will help us to safeguard the future of __________ on Koh Chang and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.
Your gift helps provide the huge amounts of feed it takes to keep a __________ happy and healthy. Plus ensuring they get a daily bath and routine medical care. All of this costs a lot of money! Your gift will help provide the best care that each __________ needs and deserves.
When you adopt a __________ you get a special pack and updates on how your __________ is doing.
As a foster parent you will receive the following:
A personalized foster certificate
A high-quality photo of your foster __________
Your foster __________’s biography, detailing their life before they were rescued
Two or three updates per year on your chosen __________’s progress as well as new photos
and a choice of either:
a) ‘ __________s’, a beautiful book which details their intricate society and strong sense of family.
b) a beautiful __________ soft toy.
c) A car bumper sticker which states “ASK ME ABOUT MY __________”

18 December – No beer last weekend and no beer next weekend!! Shock, horror, expats and tourists revolt at not being able to buy beer in the run up to the Thai General Election. Could life get any worse? – probably not for the people who are whinging about it on Thailand’s English language discussion boards.

So, last weekend on Koh Chang the sale of alcohol was officially banned but as usual enforcement was sensibly selective. Crappy little beer bars were shut down but big beachfront bars could stay open. 7-elevens & supermarkets couldn’t sell alcohol but you could still get it in beachfront restaurant or smaller out of the way places. At the big restaurant we were in on White Sand Beach last Saturday anyone could buy alcohol, Thais & foreigners, but beer was served in paper cups. Cocktails were still served in glasses as they don’t look like alcohol. So, no need for me to do the old ‘water into wine’ trick for my followers.

The obvious irony is that anyone who feels they can’t go without a drink for a couple of days, could probably do with going a couple of days without a drink.

Need to make merit?   You too can get your name on a coffin by donating 1000 baht to one of the many foundations that specialise in accepting donations in return for putting stickers on plywood coffins. In the near future, somewhere about 100km west of Bangkok, a pauper will be buried in my coffin and their family members will spot that it was sponsored by IaMKohChang.com.

Distraught relatives, now looking for a new life, will suddenly find their lives changed when their lottery numbers come up. They will then then pop down to their local internet cafe and impulse buy a 55 million baht villa at Tranquility Bay through this site, thus enabling me to travel around the world for a year on the commission I receive.

In MBA-speak this is called a ‘Business Plan’ and is based on the same level of delusion that drives people to open bars in roadside shop units in out of the way locations on Koh Chang. The difference being my plan has more chance of success than theirs.

Finally in the ‘I’ll be back’ section . . . anally retentive readers will remember me mentioning Mr Plodprasop, the guiding light of DASTA the organisation responsible for turning Koh Chang into the ‘Lost World’ themed ‘Maldives of Thailand’ i.e. the high end, car-free, eco-friendly tourist destination that it is today. He’s at it again and if his party win the general election he has pledged (according to The Bangkok Post): “The coastline between Trat to Surat Thani provinces will be transformed into major tourist destinations comparable to the likes of Nice in France,” Hmmm . . someone has obviously either never been to Nice or seen a map of the coastline of the Gulf of Thailand.

What to do on Christmas Day? . . A couple of ideas. First up . . .

Would you know what to do if Eastern European terrorists seized the Nakatomi building in downtown L.A. on Christmas Eve with you in it? Neither would I, but Bruce Willis would, because he’s got a gun and knows how to use it.

Learn how to protect yourself and kill people with funny accents. Learn to shoot on Koh Chang before it’s too late to save your family.

The sign simply says ‘Shooting’, what at isn’t specified but if you’re a bloke with tattoos, shaved head and a fondness for white singlets; then head down to Koh Chang’s very own shooting range and fire off a few rounds. Whoop with delight and applaud as your mates squeeze off a few shots. That warm, fuzzy, macho, bonded feeling? That’s how Bruce Willis feels all the time.

1250 Baht gets you 25 bullets and the use of a gun from which to fire them. Some kind of pistol is provided, not sure what make, but it’s matt black and so looks pretty damn cool. There’s also a pump action shotgun lying around on a bench. Instruction is given by a Thai guy in khaki, no idea of his credentials but he looks the part and that’s all that really matters. Additional bullets are 20 baht a pop.

The targets used are US Army standard issue, so you can choose to shoot a guy standing with his back to you having a piss.   Or perfect your head shots on annoying toddlers with these 2 foot high targets. Go ahead, it’ll make your (Christmas) day.

If unleashing hell on defenceless targets doesn’t get your juices flowing, then you’re probably either a woman, gay or don’t salute your boss at work. In which case, you’ll appreciate a quiet walk in beautiful surroundings . . .

This is the badly signposted Salakphet Mangrove walkway, which is much nicer than the badly signposted Salakkok Mangrove walkway which is a disaster. More photos and directions here. (But I bet 99% of you reading this don’t make the effort to go there.)

26 December – One of the things that suddenly struck me the other day was that I’d never actually paddled a canoe around the islands of Koh Mai See Yai and Koh Ngam I know, I know, it’s the first thing on most people’s ‘Must Do’ lists when they visit Koh Chang, but I just forgot about doing it. So what better time to go for a 16km paddle in the midday sun than Xmas Eve? More photos will be added when I get time.
Want to live on Koh Chang? Phase 2 of Tranquility Bay Residence will be launched in just over a month’s time. Prices for units will then increase by around 12%. There are still a couple of 60sqm condos for sale in Phase 1. Buy now and you’ll save yourself 800,000 – 1 million baht on Phase 2 prices. More info
The Amari Emerald Cove Resort would like me to mention their Christmas Meal and New Year Dinner. Xmas was yesterday so unless you have a time machine or a hole in the space time continuum in your bungalow you’ve missed out on what can only be described as ‘A new way of celebrating Christmas’ according to the blurb in their ad. But if you haven’t already been forced into paying for an obligatory gala dinner at your hotel and want to see in the New Year in in style then the Amari Emerald Cove is the place to be seen this 2007/08. See Amari info for details of magic acts, firework displays and ‘a lavish gourmet buffet to cater to every gastronomic desire’ Call them up and ask if this includes nyotaimori for around 4,000 baht a head you’d certainly hope so.

Cliff Cottage in Bangbao now has a shiny new website – see www.cliff-cottage.com for details. If you have 300 baht to spend on a quiet no frills bungalow with both sunrise and sunset views then this is the only place to be on Koh Chang.

Also in Bangbao, if you’re staying in the area or simply passing through and suddenly get the urge to ‘chill’ then a trip to Casa Del Mar is in order. This is a brand new Ibiza style chillout lounge / guesthouse in the fishing village catering to Ibizians and chiller outers of all ages.