Truly Thai island life

Koh Chang, Thailand

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Thailand, the destination that everyone wanting to travel outside of Europe clearly comes across first. Hearing stories of it’s culture, charm, beaches, tiger monastry, jungle, many shades of moon parties etc.. I will agree that Thailand, although quite commercialised is a unique place and an ideal first destination to go backpacking. Why? Well, commercialisation has its upside and everywhere is pretty much well connected by service roads and a railway system with convenient sleeper trains. Internal flights are easy and frequent, however booking during peak season is advised. When it comes to booking fun activities like jungletrekking, rafting, diving and even sightseeing, the Thais are well-prepared for the ‘farang’ (foreigners) and have convenient tours with English speaking guides almost everywhere.

As a result of all this, however, some of the truly Thai experiences are lost and the Thailand that existed before westerners strapped on a backpack in search of the simple life, is quite difficult to come by. One such place is Koh Chang – an island that sees few backpackers and still retains a Thai population that is steeped in culture and tradition yet still express a genuine friendliness to the foreigners that get to visit.

Not to be confused with the Koh Chang district in the Gulf of Thailand, this is a tiny island just off the border of Burma (Myanmar) in the Adaman Sea. We first heard about this place by a local in Koh Phangan and later on when we met a German friend who had been there and wouldn’t stop talking about the place, we thought this must be worth a visit.

There are no air strips on this island and the only way to get there is to first get to Ranong, by bus or train. From the Ronong jetty, where the Khot and Rue rivers meet there is a long boat that will take you on a two hour jouney to Koh Chang. Though quite a long time to be sitting in a long boat, the journey is pleasant enough and you get to see a bit of Burma’s seascape along with its flourishing fishing industry.

” We spent our first night in the common area, which was actually still comfortable, for the equivalent of €0.15 “

Accommodation is somewhat tricky. If you are lucky you will have found a mobile number of one of the owners of the various beach shacks and managed to book a room in these rustic yet comfy beach bungalows. However, if not you will simply get dropped off on one of the beaches and you’ll just have to try your luck and finding somewhere to rest your head. Walking from beach to beach to find somewhere to stay can be trying but is worth your trouble in the end.

We spent our first night in the common area, which was actually still comfortable, for the equivalent of €0.15. The bungalows cost €2. Yep, this place is definitely one that will not be too taxing on the budget, and as I said it was actually really comfortable. All the main facilities ran relatively well, except for electricity that only came on through a generator for about six hours a day. I wouldn’t really call it roughing up, but it was definitely a chilled and laid back life.

” The population of the island is small so everywhere you go you tend to fit in with the community that lives there “

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The island consists of six main beaches and many other smaller beaches, a small jungle that is quite untouched and is home to two species of monkey, various species of birds and reptiles. There is some really good snorkelling to do all around the island and I would highly recommend renting a kayak for two or three days to explore the whole island to check out the beachscapes and the small surrounding villages. On one of our kayaking expeditions we came across some dolphins and saw some monkeys coming out of the trees to snatch some crabs off of the rocks and then dart back into the trees as soon as they noticed we were there. We also came across an eco-friendly area run by an American man and his Thai wife.

There is definitely a lot of exploring to do on this island so do not let the laid back vibe of the place fool you. On Koh Chang you really can have the best of both worlds with tiring activites dominating one day followed by a chilled out day at the beach with a book the next. The population of the island is small so everywhere you go you tend to fit in with the community that lives there making it an ideal spot for learning new cultures and enjoying real Thai food.

I met a German on the island who told me “I’ve been to Thailand every year for the past 50 years of my life. I have seen it through and through, yet this island always gives me the sense of being here for the first time, the true Thailand.” And that pretty much sums this place up for me. If you want to just go chill out with a loved one, family or solo, I would suggest you find some time to stop by this place halfway through your journey.

Until next time, the world is your playground.

Marc Casolani