Ko Chang – escape to the islands

Posted: March 8, 2011 in South East Asia
Tags: , , , ,

To preserve mine and Muneeza’s Dad’s sanity, given the ladies’ penchant for city shopping, I organised a 5 day trip out east to the tropical island of Ko Chang near the Cambodian border. The day was long with a 07.45 bus from Bangkok’s Ekamai bus station to Laem Ngop for the 30min ferry to the lazy port of Ao Sapparot on Ko Chang. Though everything went to plan, we arrived rather hot and tired at Penny’s Bungalows in the small beach town of Hat Kai Mook. I’d singled out Hat Kai Mook because it sits midway between the major tourist enclaves on the west coast and offers a chilled immersion into Thai island tourism. The downside is the rocky outcrop that represents the beach but it’s the white sand that attracts the hoards and the noise.

We checked into our bungalows and were really happy with the quality of the place. The bungalows are spacious, clean and comfortable. The restaurant and bar area looks out over the pool and beyond lies the sea, glistening in the late afternoon sun. Surrounded by forest and enhanced by bird chorus, it’s a beautiful little place to hang out.

On to it, on to it all, she’s a waterfall

Behind the beaches rise steep jungle covered peaks that shelter the island’s tropical jungles from the prying eyes of tourists. Ko Chang is surprisingly verdant and whilst rapid development has wiped away swathes of the coastal forest track, the island is still dominated by tropical forest. It’s a beautiful sight. On our first day we booked a taxi south to the Nam Tok Khlong Plu waterfall inside the national park.

From the entrance gate, it’s a 700m hike through the forest, winding your way through the trees alongside the river until you reach the impressive waterfall. Flip-flops weren’t the best shoes to cope with the muddy tracks but we got to the waterfall sans probleme.

My clothes were shed quicker than a lizard’s skin and I eagerly jumped into the cool, refreshing pool beneath the waterfall along with a handful of other tourists. It’s a beautiful place; the water tumbles from 30m above and the pool is surrounded by steep rock face.  Having handed the cash to my jani to stop it from getting soaked, she then forgot and jumped straight in. 30mins later we all surrounded a rock to hold the notes out to dry. Special kid strikes.

I had a lot of fun diving into the pool from the rocks along with all the other blokes there. Some of them took it to the next level by climbing up the steep rock face on the other side but I opted to stay safe. Embrace that conservatism.

Back to nature with the Oliphants

Later that afternoon we took Muneeza’s parents to the Ban Kwan Chang Elephant Camp in the middle of the forest. Supported by the Asia Elephant Institute and an award-winning company for its eco-tourism efforts, we decided that this would be the safest way to see elephants and interact with them without cringing at their treatment. We made the right decision.

The camp is surrounded by forest and immerses of the elephants in their natural habitat. They aren’t chained at the ankles like other places and they have huge amounts of space to roam around in. First off we walked with our elephants, 2 females aged between 30 and 35 years, down to the bathing pool. The handlers invited us to jump in and wash the elephants. Nobody reacted, so I took the lead and dived in.

There was no way I was going to miss out on the experience but I was a little bit nervous. Elephants are huge and up close, they seem even bigger. These animals are accustomed to humans but at the end of the day, they are still wild animals. Elephants have been known to turn on and kill their handlers out of the blue, even after 20 years forging a loving partnership. As I sat on the elephant and scrubbed her enormous head and back, the starfish gave little twitches. I have a healthy respect for nature’s power and ascendancy. Back on terra firma, I couldn’t believe I had just sat on the back of an elephant and washed it. Wonderful experience.

Following the bathing, we had a 1hr elephant ride through the jungle. Muneeza’s parents were in front so we could see them laughing and enjoying the ride. On the way back to camp, our drivers jumped down and let us sit on the elephant’s neck and take turns at the wheel. Having first ripped it out of Muneeza for not being able to balance, I then realised how hard it was. As the elephant lumbers forwards, you are rocked from side to side and it’s really hard to maintain your balance. Their large, coarse ears flick back regularly and knock you further off balance, almost as if by purpose to have a little joke at your expense.

Back at camp we had 5mins feeding time, handing the elephants bananas. They took the banana from our hands with their long, hard trunks and it was a strange feeling. What we loved the most was that as we fed them, they clearly had a large smile on their faces. We both agree that elephants are the most charming and beautiful of all the animals we have seen on our travels. I was happy that Muneeza’s parents really enjoyed the trip and we enjoyed talking about the experience over a fat steak dinner.

The greatest anticlimax in beach tourism

I spent Sunday 6th and Monday 7th working on the new project I’ve been commissioned to deliver by end April. During both days the sun was shining and I was incredibly jealous that Muneeza and her parents spent a lot of time on the gorgeous white sand beach down the road. The photos made me ache with jealousy and a yearning to run wildly on a beautiful Thai beach.

So we hatched a plan over dinner (a cool outdoor Korean BBQ where you cook the food yourself using a strange wok/BBQ hybrid steam powered contraption) to return to the beach and spend our final day on the island sun soaking like lizards and enjoying the beachside massages. I was as happy as a heroin addict in an Afghan poppy field.

After breakfast, Muneeza’s parents opted to stay and chill in the bungalow so we headed off to the beach. The weather was average and strong winds meant the picture perfect beach was actually being ripped up by waves and the water clouded with sand. Still, the sun was shining and I didn’t have to work. The plan was to roast myself alive until I could take no more and go for a long refreshing swim.

10mins later the dark clouds covered the beach and the sun went into hiding. It made a brief glimpse for 20mins later on then disappeared for the day as the thunderstorm approached. My swim involved battling the strong waves in murky water. Reluctantly we headed back to the bungalow, chased down the road by heavy rains and ominous clouds.

Not quite the Thai island dream I had long hoped for.

Regardless of the weather disappointment, our visit to Ko Chang has been superb. We saw enough of the island to whet the appetite and spent plenty of time relaxing. Muneeza’s parents loved it and it was nice to kick back for a few days. We all wish we could spend more time here but now it’s back to Bangkok for 2 days before her parents fly home and we take the bus to Cambodia for Siem Reap and the temples at Angkor Wat. Keep on trucking.

Love jamer & muneeza x

Bathing elephants at Ban Kwan Chang Elephant Camp

Muneeza driving an elephant

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