Getting some sun in Koh Chang

Trip Start Oct 15, 2010
Trip End Jan 11, 2011

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Green Cottages

Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Perhaps missing the bus to Koh Tao was a fortunate mistake. Since having booked we had realised that, weather wise, November is one of the worst times of year. Instead we spent a couple of additional nights in Bangkok working out what to do, then caught a bus towards Koh Chang, an island off the northern coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

Having taken several buses in Nepal one would expect Thai buses to be a comparative breeze. And indeed, the road was smooth, we sped along at a much faster pace than the Nepali average of about 30km/hr and the we had comfortable upstairs seats on a double decker. Yet the trip was horrendous. For five hours there was nothing - absolutely nothing - to look at. The land east of Bangkok is completely flat, dotted with industrial estates. I guess this is where all those MADE IN THAILAND products come from. To add the the boredom we drove on motorways the entire way and while the bus was air-conditioned it was pretty ineffective. We were both glad to get off the bus and board the ferry to Koh Chang.

Because we had only planned to visit Bangkok and Koh Tao while in Thailand we knew nothing about Koh Chang when we arrived. It's a stunning island with beautiful beaches and is covered in thick jungle. We've since learned that the area is a national marine park and that the wildlife includes king cobra, python and barking deer. Besides the beautiful fish and other sea creatures the most exciting things we saw though were the cute little dog that lived at our favourite restaurant, two frogs that made our bathroom their home and an abundance of geckos which Nathan loved to watch. Perhaps it's a good thing, I'm not sure how I would have reacted faced with a python and even the deer of the island sound intimidating!

Luckily we were given a free map on arrival which helped us orientate ourselves. We caught a bus to the most popular beach, called White Sands, and found ourselves a cheap bungalow for the night. To be honest it was overpriced, poorly constructed, and we later realised it seemed to be located on a rubbish dump, but it was raining and we wanted to put down our packs. The next morning we found we had had a little night visitor who had taken it upon himself to chew a hole through the lining in Nathan's day pack to get at our muesli bars.

The beach itself was a beautiful, long stretch of white sand lined with everything from top-end resorts to places such as ours. The water was spectacularly warm and we had a great dinner and cocktails at a beachfront restaurant. The next day we decided to go to one of the quieter spots on the island. We got dropped off at Lonely Beach but when we couldn't find any suitable accommodation we walked over the hill to Bai Lan - not a small feat in the midday heat with all our luggage. There we found a wonderful, reasonably priced bungalow very close to the beach and spent the rest of the day lazing about.

On our second full day on Koh Chang the weather cleared up completely and we explored the island by scooter. This is a preferred mode of transport for tourists and locals alike. Nathan had a great time riding 'the hog' and, once my nerves relaxed a little, even I enjoyed clinging on the back. We started by heading south to the small, pretty port of Ban Bang Bao. Then we went as far around the island as the roads would let us go, which took a good couple of hours, to where the map told us we would find a fishing village. Sadly this was disappointing, very spread out with little to see.

That evening I noticed a rash had started to develop under my chin. By morning it had spread to my cheeks and while it luckily wasn't too red the skin was lumpy and my face was swollen. I worked out that it was a reaction to the malaria medication we had started taking since arriving back in Thailand. I stopped taking it immediately and am pleased that I'd decided to buy a course of the emergency treatment before we left New Zealand.

We spent the next day on a boat being ferried to good snorkeling spots around some of the smaller islands off Koh Chang's coast. The weather was great, the fish abundant, the staff on the boat amusing and the food surprisingly good. We jumped into the water from the top deck of the boat - the more skilled doing flips and dives from the roof. The islands were beautiful, covered in tropical jungle and the water was clear and as warm as always.

A common side-effect of malaria medication is heightened sensitivity to the sun. Being well aware of this we were careful to apply sunscreen and sit in the shade. Despite this we were both bright red by evening. Adding to this my face was still swollen, I couldn't see properly because the salt water had affected my contact lenses and my right ear was painful and not working well because I had damaged it when diving underwater. I was not a pretty sight.

Luckily most of these ailments had cleared up by the time we left the island the next day and started the long, arduous journey back to Bangkok. We'd loved our time on Koh Chang. It's got a really laid back atmosphere that reminded us of the Pacific Islands. We ate every meal that we had at Bai Lan beach at a little place called the Coconut cafe: a simple construction that served great, inexpensive food and was run by a lovely woman.
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