Sand between my toes on Koh Chang

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Waking blearily in a cheap guesthouse in Trat and rubbing two days of road grime from (or into) my eyes, the desire to do much of anything wasn’t high.

Bad luck, really – the minivan to the ferry port left in an hour.

Unceremoniously dumped a few metres from the water, we gazed up at the rusting hulk that was to take us to Koh Chang.  Suddenly the three dollar ticket didn’t seem quite so cheap – we suspected the old boat was only going to make it half way to the island before we had to make a swim for it, and sadly I’d forgotten my flippers.

Somehow making it to the island and bundled into a songthaew that cost as much as the ferry, we were soon winding our way around the coast road and desperately clutching onto anything that looked vaguely sturdy.  Not me, then.  Toppling out the back was a real risk as the modified pickup groaned up the steep hills, and the guys hanging off the rear looked genuinely scared.  As well they might.

Crawling past a long street of t-shirt stands and burger joints twenty minutes later, I was very happy to find that this was not where we were staying.  White Sands beach looked like it might once have been lovely, but had suffered the same fate as places like Chaweng on Koh Samui and Kuta in Bali.  Tourist hell.

Only another ten minutes down the road, Lonely Beach could be in a different country.  A place where Bob Marley never died, this backpacker haven is the definition of chilled out.  Dreadlocked hippies hand out flyers for optimistically-named bars offering happy hour buckets and all the reggae covers you can handle.  Basic bungalows line up along the waterfront and down the few small streets.  Shoes are optional.  Hammocks aren’t.

Banana pancake

There is nothing fancy about Lonely Beach. There doesn’t need to be. A couple of expensive resorts have popped up, but it’s the beach bums and backpackers that dominate. European and British accents fill the bars and common rooms, and conversations meander through well-worn topics like the best time to hit the Full Moon party and how bad the buses are in Laos.  Banana pancakes and American breakfasts are the breakfast du jour.

Usually I get sick of a place like this after a day or two, but Koh Chang was different.  Very different, actually.

I loved it.

After months of city living and mountain views, laying a towel out on the beach and lazily waving away the bugs was exactly what was needed.  When the biggest decision of the day is when to go for a swim or where to watch the sunset, it’s pretty hard not to feel relaxed.

Lonely Beach feels like one of those places that people come to for a few days and end up leaving several months later.  The bars blast dance music out until three or four in the morning – good for the party crowd, less so for those in wooden bungalows a few metres away – but the bucket-fuelled antics of the night before leave the pace of life during the day almost glacial.

Lying around working on your tan isn’t the only thing to do, however, although it often feels like it.  On our last day on the island we hired a dubiously-maintained scooter and went exploring.  There is only one main road on Koh Chang, and it circles the island – or so we thought.  After heading south a few kilometres around the winding turns and up the steep inclines, we came to a barrier with a couple of security guards beside it.

Wooden bridge, Koh Chang

Hmm.  So apparently the road doesn’t go all the way round the island then.  Instead it stopped at the Grand Laguna, a fancy-ass resort well beyond this backpacker’s budget.  Still, for 50 baht each we could get a guest pass to take a look around and enjoy the manicured beach and forest trails within.

And so we did.

Heading back the other way we had two bouts of simultaneous good and bad luck.  Shortly after filling up with gas the front tire went flat (bad).  Luckily we were just down the road from the guesthouse we rented the bike from (good), so only a few minutes later we had a new bike.

Lifting the seat and eyeing the fuel level (obviously the gauge was broken … again), I asked if it was enough to get to White Sands beach and back.  “Yes.  Maybe.  I don’t know.” was the reply.  Cool, glad we got that one sorted.

Seven kilometres from home on the way back, we had our answer.

No.

With a cough and a long drawn-out sigh we coasted to a halt (bad), just as I wondered whether to stop and check how much was left.  No need to do that, then.  Spying a few roadside stalls a hundred metres back down the road, I was very happy to see the ubiquitous glass bottle of gasoline propped up on the counter of one of them (good).

The idea of pushing the bike uphill for several kilometres back to Lonely Beach hadn’t been quite as appealing as you might expect.

Dinner at Sunset bar

And with that we were done, with just one final meal and drinks at the Sunset bar to cap things off.  Five days on Koh Chang had flown by despite the leisurely pace and it was time to pack our bags and board that dodgy ferry once more.

Pretty sure I’ll be back again though, either this year or next.  There’s really just no reason not to.

So in summary?

Go to Lonely Beach.

It’s awesome.

The end.

8 Responses to “Sand between my toes on Koh Chang

  • I loved this, “Shoes are optional. Hammocks aren’t.” Sounds like Paradise!!!

  • Love the sunset photograph

    Jackie

  • oh. i want to go. with a better motorbike.

  • Love it, mate. Really well written. I’ll be heading that way in a couple of weeks – if I survive Laos and Cambodia first.

    • Thanks! You’ll love it, I’m sure … just stay away from White Sands beach and you’ll be all good 🙂

  • Good article, but it makes me sad. I’ve been looking for Thailand islands that are not just about partying. I thought I had found it in Ko Chang, but I guess the info was a little dated. There has to be places in Thailand that haven’t fallen to the drunken college student?!?!

    • Yep, there are definitely places (and even islands) in Thailand that aren’t party spots. Koh Lanta, where I was last week, didn’t feel like one at all. There were parts of Koh Chang that seemed somewhat isolated from both the package holiday and party scenes. Koh Mak is much the same, I’m told, although I haven’t been there. There are plenty of options, you just need to seek them out a bit more than you used to. Accommodation options may be a bit more limited and/or more expensive than the backpacker places as well, as I found on my road trip round northern Thailand a couple of months back, but you will definitely be away from the parties.

      A lot of it depends on development levels too – there are still many islands that have little to no infrastructure at all, so if you really want to get that deserted island feel, take a tent and supplies, find a longtail driver to take you there and you’ll probably have the whole place to yourself.

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