July, 2010

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The 2010 Koh Chang Chronicles – Week 1

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind


Day 1   (July 5th)

The first morning on the island was, as anticipated, accompanied by wonderful weather and a good breakfast on our garden bungalow’s terrace. The little bit of stress from yesterday’s trip was quickly wiped off, during the previous night’s sleep. Here we were now at White Sand Beach on Top of the cliff in the Top Resort, which has been a home for us on all previous trips. We now have Bungalow B 2, which is halfway down the cliff and stretches our way to the superb pool to 15 m. B 1, the family bungalow, was now occupied by a Danish family with 2 or three little girls. B 1 is only steps away from the pool, and had been a home for us only weeks ago, when we were traveling with my sis-in-law and my niece.:)

Whilst Melona was attending our newborn, I sat on the terrace facing the tropical garden, watching huge butterflies dancing around the flowers right in front of me. A pair of beos  (tropical birds) is nesting directly overhead. I thought of my cellphone having a camera, which enables me to share this with you. This photo shows one of the birds approaching the nest, gives you an idea about the weather and shows the roof of the hotel building, that also hosts our little strip mall with an internet-cafe, a hairdresser/barbershop, a gourmet store with a daily fresh European bakery and a few other businesses, along the island’s ring road.

We’ll show you more of the island, but for now we indulge in this great place and share our daily experiences with you for a while.

This picture, taken on the 5th of July before lunchtime, shows the viewing and eating terrace of Paul’s Restaurant on the left and the pool on the right. Note the solid umbrella-type things, which aid the taller trees to cast shadow in abundance. Great for our baby, most of the pool is shady during the day.

The afternoon was pleasant as well, and we didn’t witness a single raindrop all day. Brochures call this time of the year “rainy season“, which hammers prices and tourists arrivals down to a low level, great for us as this paradise is more affordable now.

Melona and her friends grabbed plenty of oysters for their dinner and obviously enjoyed themselves, Filipinas are seafood lovers (unlike me) and they never pass on a chance for free protein, fresh from the gulf’s warm waters.

A handful of swimmers from other resorts converge in the evening on White Sand Beach for evening swims in the sunset. The TV reports on a flooded Bangkok and torrential rains there, we’re sure glad to have escaped that just in time. Did hang around at the Poolbar back at the Topresort after dinner for a while. A very international crowd was here, with each guest originating from another country.

For being the easternmost of the islands with facilities, we’re once again thankful for another lovely day out here, during the middle of the so called rainy season. To be continued daily (at least for a while )


Day 2

It started as pleasant as the previous day, with a lot of sun and a great breeze from the ocean below. The blooming hibiscus bush right in front of my little terrace, attracted a specific kind of colorful small bird with a long, straight beak. Reminding me of the colibris, some sort of hummingbird, that I saw in Central America. The colibris I do remember, had a curved bill and were able to hover. The Thai nectar drinking birds had much more legwork to do, finding a twig to hold on to, whilst drinking their flower liquids from those huge flower buds.

The large tropical garden here is a great mix of palms, other trees, bushes, cacti, ferns and shrubs. Below picture shows my view up from the terrace to the cliff’s top with the pool bar’s rooftiles being visible in the left upper corner.

Around midday, the sun hits the pool merciless, and you’ll have to wait 30 minutes, until the tall trees catch the harshest rays again and the sun chairs and other pool furniture can be moved in the shade again. Regular sun umbrellas complinent the fixed ones and can be moved. The pool bar is attended by a charming lady. Thick cushions and pads make the loungers very comfy, sun worshippers may love this, but we keep dragging them out of the sun for our use.

Our son just loves his newest toy, which he received from Vivien (a good friend), an inflatable rhino. He can’t walk or crawl yet (3 1/2 months old), but sure seems to love exercising his legs and paddle a bit in the water. Chances are, he’ll be a real water rat soon :P.

His mom and dad took turns playing tugboat for Teddy and his blue rhino, we “wasted” an entire day, just having much fun and enjoying the great weather we were blessed with, on this island. We sure call this “quality time”.


Day 3

We take the opportunity and dip into the pool right after breakfast. The gorgeous weather seems to continue and we have no objections. We swim in the morning, because the pool is still fairly shady for Teddy. The water temperature is 31 to 33 degrees, a bit warm for me, but perfect for our baby boy. He is getting accustomed to the water and no other guests are up this early. No wonder with plenty of entertainment places further down in the town, some guests return late and sing happy songs. Their teams probably advanced in the presently running soccer worldcup, we’re much more interested in the continous advances of our child and went to bed early so far. Relaxation a main goal of our trip, but we promise to show you more of White Sand Beach and Koh Chang, as time progresses and more friends arrive:)

The evening faded out, with a picturesque sunset during a dinner with friends on their seaview porch.  An Original Swiss cheese raclette is something, we aren’t treated to too often (yummy!)


Day 4

Unbelievably, we had a 4th day of great weather, but finally a few more clouds, which served us a 5 minute shower in the afternoon, so our friends on Phuket and in Bangkok with their storms and floodings were not lying, it’s rainy season here too. But they have reason to complain about the missing sun and an overload of precipitation.

My sunburn is mild, because we avoid direct sunlight during most of the day, but we sure have no deficit in sunshine. The days here are so identically idyllic, I caught myself giving names to my favorite beos already. Jack ‘n Jill are almost done with their nestbuilding, the pool was a tad warmer today (33 degrees), but we were too lazy to leave the resort. For tomorrow we plan to do so and have more pictures for you. Today, we share this sunset with you, the picture was taken by Rogielyn, my wife’s wonderful friend – it beats our crappy version, taken with the cellphone, hands down.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of the Koh Chang Chronicles with pictures from outside the Topresort. Besides, this place can be booked by anyone for less than 1000 THB/day presently, with A/C, fridge, cable TV, DVD player, roomsafe and the whole 9 yards. There are cheaper places to be had (none this nice) on Koh Chang and pricier high-end hotel rooms as well, we’ll get to those later.


Day 5

Only the first half of the day was sunny. It stayed dry, but big cloud layers drifted ashore, coming from the West. The mountainrange, which protects White Sand Beach from most rainclouds coming from the East. Our plan to venture outside was postponed to tomorrow. We will borrow a salaeng (local tricycle) for that purpose and zoom a bit around. Sorry for not keeping our promise to get you the island pictures yet, but we were a bit scared to expose our baby to a possible torrential monsoon rain. We will make up for this lapse at the first possible chance!

The fun seekers were enjoying the warm waters and took a break from sun bathing. We had another happy day here, despite an overcasted ceiling.


Day 6

Today, the great weather with very little cloud cover returned to our surprise, we took the tricycle for a spin and ended up with a number of pictures outside our beloved Topresort. Below picture shows almost the whole village, we’ll end this 1st part of our report after tomorrow to reduce your scrolling needs and to be able to serve you some more details on Koh Chang. Martin (the Germany dude in the raclette picture) will help out Team Hinigugma with some of his snapshots, he also stays at Topresort and is a first timer to Thailand!

The rip currents here can be fatal to inexperienced swimmers, signage explains, warns and teaches the swimmers here.

We’re here near the first resort on White Sand Beach, once you cross the hill and the road reaches sea level, when coming from the ferry. Melona is standing out there, on the sand, doing a camswing for you;).

Here´s a short video clip by Melona with a full 1800 View of White Sand Beach, you can’t ask for a better proof of quality:

The sandy beach is a 400m walk down the road from the Topresort and stretches for roughly two miles uninterrupted to the North. Melona’s camswing gives you an idea about the dimensions of the sandy beach paradise here.


Day 7

Our first leg of this report ends today and will be followed by a sequel immediately. Today, we’ll show you the secluded pebble beach below the cliff of the Top Resort, just follow the path to the right of the Sea-view Bungalows down. A steep stairway leads down, it is illuminated after dark.

On the bottom, chrystal clear waters and a small, private pebble beach awaits you for snorkeling or a swim in the warm waters. Plenty of privacy in this cove here, as only the guests have access. Watch the occasional fishing boat go by or watch the sun from midday until it dives into the ocean due West of here.

A bunch of crabs call this mini-beach a home presently. Further developments of the resort may include some pier at this location, but at present, it just stays as it is for now.

We conclude this first week of our vacation diary and will progress into week 2 tomorrow with a big party. We’re all invited to a big birthday-bash, resort-owner style and will surely take a lot of pictures, of which the best ones will be shown in the sequel to this report.

Koh Chang, Trat – Transport Options & Issues

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

The island of Koh Chang is the largest of all real natural islands in Thailand. If you take the bridge-connected Phuket, with its few meters of waterway, that separates it from the mainland, from the list.

Koh Chang has a long personal history for me, as I was privileged to witness it well before the Millennium. Back in my wild years, Koh Chang offered a lot of freedom and it hardly had any significant developments, other than the fishing village of Kai Bae and the small Resort area of Hat Sai Khao. Hat Sai Kho turned into White Sand Beach by name at a later time and a narrow asphalt road was replacing an off-road dirt track between the villages. Koh Chang has changed a bit in the years between then an now, but it surely didn’t get overtouristed like Phuket or Koh Samui. There are now a number of Resorts and Hotels along the ring road, but the immediate shore area is the only developed stretch of land on the island. Ferries are plentiful, the one from Ao Thammachad leaving roughly every hour, the Centerpoint Ferry operates at a less frequent schedule. A crossing is executed in well under one hour and costs 100 Baht one-way or 120 Baht return. Travelers have reported and complained about Centerpoint Ferry not offering the cheaper return tickets to foreigners, but that is just a cheap scam and can be avoided by chosing the right ferry. The Ao Thammachad ferry is the one the locals and expats use, I took their advice and made sure, that we did not get taken. Both mainland-side ferry ports are near Laem Ngop, easily accessible from Trat town, a little trickier from Chantaburi. Busses and scheduled minivans service directly the pier at Ao Thammachad but when you arrive via Trat bus-terminal, you’ll have touts and scamsters luring you onto the Centerpoint ferry. Keep this in mind and avoid being ripped-off. Further details on another Centrepoint scam island-side will follow here.

Attention: The Trat bus-terminal has been relocated to a remote spot outside of town! Exit at the market or near it, in order to avoid further transport scams. Taxi usage is almost unavoidable at the new Trat bus-terminal!

The state run “government” bus system leaves from Ekkamai station on Sukhumvit in the eastern part of Bangkok. Their meager schedule is offering only 3 buses to the Koh Chang pier, very early in the morning. 2 buses leave prior to 8 o’clock and the only one leaving later is the one departing at 9:45 hours, which is often sold out. This bus service was for the longest time the only other option to flying.

Trat does have a small airfield, which is serviced exclusively by Bangkok Airways, they have a reputation to max out possible airfares due to lack of competition. Trat airport with its open air terminal and short runway, reminds one of the Samui airstrip of earlier days. Insider know, that Bangkok Airways owns both airports and has built them very cost saving.

Update:  A direct flight to and from Koh Samui as well as Phuket is announced for the 2010/2011 high season, please inquire with Bangkok Airways, if interested. Signage near Klong Son  on the road side advertises flights to be bookable as early as December.

The bus is bragging with a transit time of 4 1/2 hours for the journey, a regular estimate is closer to 6 1/2 to 7 hours. This particular bus is the same, that also stops also at Bangkok Airport to scoop up passengers! It also stops normaly in Klaeng and Chantaburi, and has frequent drop-off stops, prior to the final destination.

My driver on the last trip, that I ever took with this bus connection, was the unfriendliest Isaan “Hell’s Driver” that I ever encountered in Thailand. It took close to 7 hours to cover the slightly over 300 Kilometers from Bangkok. A disgusting attitude and a driving style, that jerked passengers unnecessarily around. Tailgating others permanently and honking his horns like a madman. On top of this, he entertained himself with some ethnic music, that was annoying – when he had breaks from chatting on the cellphone, whilst tailgating someone at 100 km/h+. He had to run these speeds, because he wasted excessive time in Suvarnabhumi, Klaeng and Chantaburi. In the Chantaburi bus terminal alone, he idled well over 30 minutes, to fill the bus up with young students in uniform. It then took forever to drop them at their various stops along the way, sometimes only a Kilometer from his previous stop. Unbelievable, but the government calls this a 1st class bus and charges accordingly! The fare has been raised to 350 Baht one way. Pretty steep, if  you are considering the Chantaburi bus fares (with the last 60 km to Laem Ngop missing), being just under 200 Baht.

Those who take the bus to Trat will be introduced to their brand spanking new bus arrival station, where blue colored songtheauws park, already waiting for their coaches full of victims. Sometimes, one’s luggage may be stowed onto the songtheauw and taken from the buses belly, if it is identifiable, being a foreigner’s backpack or suitcase and not a cardboard box or plastic bag. Try to avoid getting dropped at the new Trat Bus Terminal, you’ll be way out of town there and need further transportation, which eager unmetered fly-by-night taxis (ordinary sedans) will gladly provide for a wildly exaggerated fee. Try to arrange to get out at the central market (Thalaad Trat) instead, you have better options from there to get to the pier, without getting ripped off.:)

Blue colored songtheauws, like the one shown utilize touts, and all other means to lure you into them. The fare to the Centerpoint ferry pier is 60 Baht, but frequent lies are common. “The ferry leaves right, when we arrive!” and jokes like that. The worst fact is, that you will fall into a series of scams without much chance to get out of the scheme!  First the lesser frequency of crossings, then the trick with one-way tickets only and then the grand finale. The island side ferry pier for the Centerpoint ferry is located further South on the eastern side of Koh Chang. Hardly a local takes these ferries, so chances are high that there won’t be a songteauw waiting to transport you at a scheduled and fixed rate. Instead you will be asked to hire the entire vehicle for a whopping rip-off price. AVOID BLUE, when going to Koh Chang! A Blue songtheauw is pictured below.

The decent transport option to Koh Chang from Trat features white colored songtheauws, they drive a little further, but you will arrive at the much more frequent ferry at their pier in Ao Thammachad. 60 Baht is the fare and the trip lasts under 30 minutes. This is, what the locals use and I had no friction with them on plenty of trips. They schedule their departures at the market in Trat, in order to get you to the pier in time for a quick crossing. They are also available for a trip from the pier back to Trat. The ferry docks on a pier island-side further north and due to their high frequency of locals, there were always songtheauws waiting to take you to your island destination. The fare to White Sand Beach is 50 or 60 Baht.

A smart alternative to the crappy government bus is being offered without great fanfare at the Ao Thammachad pier. New minibuses ply the route to Bangkok hourly in high season and every 2 hour in off-season. A ticket costs 300 Baht one-way and they drop you off at Victory Monument (BTS) or Mor Chit. They start their services at 7:00 hours and leave after the last ferry to the mainland arrives at 19:00 hours. Transit time via the tollway (included) is 4 hours on average, as they make only one pit-stop halfway. A drop-off at the Bangkok airport can be arranged for at no surcharge.

Koh Chang bound passengers best board the minivan  at Bangkok’s Victory Monument, their starting point is in front of  the Rajavithi Hospital there.

The vans were always new (still had red plates!) and clean, the below pictured hut has been taken down since last year, but you can’t miss the ticket booth, if you bear to your right hand side, past the cafe outside the ticket booth for the ferry.

UPDATE! The booth moved to the left hand side of the large bus parking place, 100 m across the road to enter and exit the ferry loading dock. A second line offers other destinations on Sukhumvit Road, Khao Sarn Road or Ngam Wong Wan Road, their fare is 350 Baht one-way.

The interior is roomy and not as cramped as on old style minivans. Headrests, seatbelts, you won’t miss a thing.

The used ferries are of the roll-on-roll-off variety. Toilets are on board and a snack shop with a drink selection. Bring your Coke along, if you are a Cocaholic, like me – they serve P….products, which may make me seasick.

Enjoy your stay on this great island and don’t hesitate to ask in a comment here, if you have any questions. We will depart Bangkok within hours for Koh Chang and give you a second Koh Chang SIAMPEDIA Report about some selected places and resorts, eateries and so forth.