Mention Koh Chang to those who live in Thailand or who have traveled here and many will say they have been there or know the place. Koh Chang in the Trat Province is well-known, increasingly popular tourist destination. I went there five years ago and was impressed. It is beautiful, there are nowhere near as many tourists as Pattaya or Phuket, and if you want peace and quiet, you can still find it. What many people do not know, including many Thais, is that there is more than one Koh Chang.
When I set off on my latest excursion, my mission was to find a place still relatively untouched by man and quiet enough for me to hear more quiet and less noise. After several days of research, I came up with Koh Phayam in Ranong Province. Bungalows on the beach for 400-500 baht ($10-$15) a night, great beaches, and even less people than Koh Chang. It sounded perfect so I made the arrangements, hopped in a taxi, and headed for the bus station.
The bus left at 8PM and arrived in Ranong at 5AM the following morning. The 24-seat VIP bus was the most comfortable bus I think I have ever taken and the seats reminded me of flying first class. They were big enough for me to stretch out and sleep without any discomfort. The cost for this luxurious, limousine-like ride — 775 baht. Well worth the money.
A group of travelers and I jumped in the back of an awaiting pick-up truck and headed for the pier. Some moaned and groaned about paying 50 baht for the 15-minute ride but I thought the price reasonable. I sat with the driver and talked to him about the price and he seemed on the level.
"Sometimes I have only one or two people to take," he said. "I used to charge 40 baht but by charging 50 baht instead of 40, it helps offset my losses when there are very few passengers." Like I said, the price was more than fair and at 5AM, why quibble over a lousy 10 baht anyway?
The driver made a phone call and woke up two shopkeepers. One to serve coffee and the other to help those who needed accommodations. Within a few minutes our groups was sipping coffee and talking about Koh Phayam. An elderly German man came and sat down next to me. Neither of us said a word. I had overheard him saying his English was terrible and the last thing I wanted to do was try and converse in pigeon English and German at 5AM.
I had some toast and jam, polished off my coffee, then decided to take a walk around. The young woman who was the travel agent kept asking me if I had a room and I lied and said I already did. Several minutes later, I heard here speaking with the German. I only caught tidbits of the conversation but I managed to catch him telling her, "I'm going to Koh Chang." Turns out the guy had been going there for the past 14 years.
It was then I decided to walk over and talk to him. There were approximately 20 people in our group and according to the travel agent, there would be several other groups coming to catch the 9:30AM boat to Koh Phayam.
"Wait a minute," I said. "Are all of these people going to Koh Phayam?"
"Yes," she said.
A quick calculation in my head told me that Koh Phayam was quite a bit busier than I originally anticipated.
I turned to the German. "How is Koh Chang?" I asked.
He laughed. "I have been going there for many years and I love it. For me, it is perfect."
This was all I needed to hear. The boat to Koh Phayam has 50-60 people on it. The boat to Koh Chang had 8. I decided Koh Phayam was a no-go and paid for the 200-baht boat ticket. The island was nearly two hours away but once we left the harbor, time flew by. Klaus the German recommended I stay where he was staying, at the Cashew Resort. Bungalows were only 400 baht a night and he assured me the food and service were very good.
We reached Koh Chang and the boat first pulled up to the Contex Resort. A couple of young guys jumped into the water, grabbed their bags, and walked on to land. Our next stop was at the Omtao, where a long-haired woman was standing on the beach, apparently waiting for an arrival. An older guy jumped off the boat, the hugged briefly and went behind the trees to an awaiting bungalow. Finally, we pulled up to the Cashew Resort. A couple of young guys ran out and grabbed my bag and the Klaus the German's, we hopped into the sea, then strolled over to the outdoor check-in area.
It wasn't much of a check-in. We said hello to the owner, he grabbed a couple of locks and keys, and walked us to our bungalows. I threw my stuff inside, checked out the bathroom, then sat down on one of the chairs on the front porch. All I heard was the ocean. Peace at last!