Koh Chang and Thailand

How Big is Koh Chang?

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand, Koh Chang News Leave a comment

Just How Big is Koh Chang?

Modern life can be very easy can’t it? If you want a fact these days, any little nugget of information from the collected wisdom of humanity, all you have to do is to type a question into a little box on your web browser and bang – instant knowledge!

You get so used to this that it comes as a bit of surprise when no simple answer appears. This happened some time ago when I was asked by a friend how big Koh Chang was and whether it was bigger or smaller than Koh Samui and Phuket. I answered right away that it was Thailand’s second biggest island – larger than Samui and smaller only than Phuket. But then I realized that this was just a fact that I’d been told and decided I’d better check it up. The results of a little research revealed some quite large differences of opinion on the subject.

A Google search of “Koh Chang Area” came up with an Agoda ad on the top of the screen that informed me that Koh Chang has an area of 154.8 sq. km. But when I looked a bit deeper it turned out that that is just the area of Koh Chang’s Northern half. Who on earth wants to know the area of half an island?

And what about the battle of the islands? Nobody seems to dispute that Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island – it just is. But things are a little less clear on the big match-up between Koh Chang and Koh Samui for second place.
Wikipedia gives Koh Chang an area of 217 sq. km.  and Koh Samui comes in at 228.7 sq. km.

To be democratic I did a Google search of “Thailand’s second biggest island” and reckoned up what the top ten hits told me.
Guess what – a tie. Five sites went with Koh Chang and five said Samui was larger. The plot thickens.

By this stage I was more than a little confused, then my friend David of www.sawadeekohchang.com came up with a magic solution by recommending a really clever tool at www.freemaptools.com
Here you can browse a map of the world, pick a place and map its area by dropping pins around it. I did this for Koh Chang and Koh Samui (yes, it takes time) and here are the results;

2nd Biggest Island in Thailand
Koh Samui – 233.3 sq. km.

3rd Biggest Island in Thailand
Koh Chang – 211.7 sq. km.

So there you have it. Samui is bigger. Koh Chang is Thailand’s third biggest island (unless anyone wants to suggest any more challengers).
But remember this, size isn’t everything. just come and take a look at Koh Chang and you’ll see what I mean.

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Je Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand, Koh Chang News, Koh Chang News 2015, Thailand Holidays and Festivals Comments Off on Je Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

The Chinese/Thai Je Vegetarian Festival

je vegetarian festival food logoMonday the 1st of October 2016 sees the start of the annual Thai-Chinese religious festival commonly known as “Je”. This is Taoist religious festival of self-denial and purification in honour of the Nine Emperor Gods. According to Taoist belief the Nine Emperor Gods govern the movements of the stars and heavens and comprise seven main stars of the Ursa Major or Big Dipper constellation as well as two fainter nearby stars.

Commencing at the beginning of the ninth Chinese lunar month, The festival goes on for nine days, one day for each of the Emperor Gods and participants in the festival must refrain from a number of activities during this period.
Observers of Je are prohibited from eating meat, fish or dairy produce. In fact the dietary restrictions also prohibit any “strong smelling foods” so even vegetables like garlic and onion may not be consumed, nor can coriander. Ginger is OK but shallots aren’t.  it’s pretty hard to figure out what’s allowed or not sometimes.

Additionally participants may not drink alcohol or have sex, and strict observers wear only white clothing. Individuals are prohibited from taking part in the festival if they are in a period of mourning or are pregnant or menstruating; unclean apparently.

je-festival-foods-smallThe Thai interpretation of the Je festival that is practised in Phuket is the best known around the world. There many people volunteer themselves as “Ma Song”, effectively offering their bodies as vessels for divine possession. They enter a trance-like state during which their bodies are often pierced with skewers, knives, spears and all manner of pointy things. There is much bloodshed and the images can look as if the “Ma Song” are suffering but the trance state is apparently so intense that they report feeling no pain. Preparation is meticulous, all involvement is voluntary, and those who take part report feeling a calm and serene state of mind in the period after the festival. It sure makes for a great spectacle though. Interestingly this physical side of the festival is only practised on Phuket and it is thought to be an amalgamation of the original Chinese festival with the Indian festival of Thaipusam, which has similarly spiky observances.

Fortunately or otherwise depending where you are situated on the squeamishness/bloodlust continuum you won’t see such extreme acts by Koh Chang’s Je celebrants. What you are more likely to spot are a large number of local restaurants offering special Je menus. They use the striking yellow and red symbol pictured to advertise the fact and local shops and supermarkets will display similarly marked Je-friendly produce. The food on offer is worth a try. It focuses strongly on Chinese tastes and flavours.  There’s lots of shitake and other mushrooms, fermented soy beans add complexity of flavour, meat-textured tofu features in place of meat and of course there are vegetables galore. Why not give a Je meal a try for a change? The break from meat consumption undoubtedly has positive health effects in common with the fasts that are a part of so many worldwide religious observances.

Chilli is still allowed of course. This is Thailand remember, the home of spicy food. Nobody here could ever deny themselves Chilli could they?

More Thai Holidays and Festivals

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Cycle Koh Chang

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand, Transport Pages Comments Off on Cycle Koh Chang

Koh Chang by Bicycle

cycling on koh changEveryone seems to be at it. The worldwide growth in cycling is a huge phenomenon driven by a combination of environmental concerns and recognition of the health benefits of riding a bike. Oh, and remember that it’s great fun too.

The number of cyclists on Koh Chang’s roads increases year by year and consists of both residents and visitors.
There is an ever-growing pedal-pushing community amongst Koh Chang’s resident population. Some of these are early birds who hit the roads just after dawn to appreciate the empty roads and (comparatively) cool air of the Koh Chang morning. Then there are the maverick mid-day marauders who show no fear of the sun and even dare to tackle the fiercest hills of Koh Chang in punishing noon temperatures. Unsurprisingly there are no Thai cyclists in this group. And finally there is a sunset club who hit the roads as both the sun and the temperature drop.
Add to these the growing number of visitors who hire a bike for a day or longer recognising that it is a great way to exploring the island. And then finally there are the hard core of travellers who are touring Thailand or even Southeast Asia by bicycle. These guys are easily identified by the ingenious panniers, packs and even trailers that adorn their steeds and also by their extreme fitness and sun-darkened, absurdly muscled legs.

So what does Koh Chang have to offer the cyclist? Well, hills, that’s for sure. A description of cycling conditions on Koh Chang is best divided between the East and West  coasts.
On the West Coast of the island there are ferocious hills between White Sand Beach and Klong Son, between Kai Bae and Lonely Beach and between Bailan Beach and Bang Bao. These sharp winding climbs can be brutal on unseasoned legs. They are achievable on the generous gearing of a mountain bike but present a real challenge to the road bike rider. Then again you can always push. And the descents are a great mixture of scary and exciting. In between these hills the roads that pass through the island’s main tourist centres are largely flat.
The East Coast presents rather less challenging cycling conditions. The road is far less busy and all the way from the ferry ports in the Northeast to Salak Phet in the far Southeast the road rolls for 35km over a series of gentle hills that offer an extremely pleasant ride.
Wouldn’t it be marvellous if someone saw fit to connect the east and west coast roads in the south of Koh Chang and then people could cycle the full circuit of the island? Of course it would but don’t hold your breath. It is discussed from time to time but seems to still be a long way from happening.

There are a growing number of places that rent decent cycles on Koh Chang. These are fine for casual rides but serious cyclists might want to think about bringing their own bikes.

And of course – like everywhere – there are hazards and dangers on the roads of Koh Chang that cyclists should be aware of.
In the high season the roads can get very busy – especially on the West Coast. Beware of motorbikes which are often driven by people with very little experience of driving motorbikes. Oncoming vehicles will sometimes overtake in the expectation that you’ll get out of their way onto the hard shoulder at the side of the road. Do so. Might is right on the roads of Thailand so be sure to cycle defensively and safely. Remember to drink plenty of water, or even better isotonic drinks will keep you hydrated. And remember that the sun is just waiting to toast you to a crisp. Be sure to cover up and/or use a high factor sun cream.
But most of all enjoy your experience of viewing the delights of the island and cycle Koh Chang in your own time and under your own power from the seat of a bicycle.

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Selfie Sticks

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Selfie Sticks

Selfie Sticks

koh chang selfie stick illustrationSelf-Pleasure
What’s going on? What on earth has social media done to our brains? Time was people would go on holiday, or to a concert, or for a meal with their friends and just enjoy the experience. Now they have to spend half the time photographing themselves having the experience so that they can show other people that they were there and then have an electronic conversation with their absent friends about it on Facebook – whilst the friends who actually bothered to show up grit their teeth and check the sharpness of the cutlery.
The latest abomination to surface from this global epidemic of self-regard is the accursed “Selfie Stick”. Here’s how it works; you stick your phone or camera or whatever on the end of a long telescopic stick and then force everyone around you to move out of the way so that you can take a picture of yourself with everything around you in the background.

WHAT’S THE POINT!

Do your friends think that you’re a liar? Will they suspect you of completely inventing your holiday if you don’t have your grinning chops at the front of every photo you shoot.
You may be homely, you may be stunningly beautiful; doesn’t matter. Do you really think that the splendour of a Koh Chang Sunset from Kai Bae Viewpoint will be improved by the unsubtle juxtaposition of your beaming grin? Do you think Michelangelo left a little space on the Sistine Chapel roof where he knew future generations would want to stick their heads when they photographed it? Isn’t the Mona Lisa really laughing at you?
Koh Chang, as a holiday destination, is increasingly beset by these instruments of self-obsession. Walking down some of the beaches you are in danger of being spiked on them like a Spanish bull and you’re forced to duck and dive out of the frame of photo after photo like a reluctant gymnast.
What happens afterwards? Do the takers of selfies go home and look through their photos whilst taking photos of themselves looking at photos? And then do they take more photos of themselves looking at the photos of them looking at the photos. And on, and on, to a hideous infinity.

And what about that beautiful sunset? The one that got forgotten in the selfie posting frenzy. Wouldn’t it be better to bask in its warmth and marvel at the dying glow of the crimson disk as it slips into the ocean, illuminating the sky, the land and the sea in a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colours?

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Thai Yellow Oil

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Thai Yellow Oil

Yellow oil is a traditional Thai medicine with Chinese origins. It is made from a number medicinal plants, including camphor and different tubers of the ginger family.

Different versions of yellow oil are made and sold all over south east Asia and China. The families who manufacture the oil keep their recipes a closely guarded secret and most Thai people will be able to tell you about one that they consider to be superior to all the others.

So what is this stuff and what does it do? Generally yellow oil comes in small bottles, often labelled with a pleasingly solemn image of the creator. People use it for several purposes. Firstly it is rubbed into the skin to relieve the effects of cuts, burns and mosquito and other insect bites.
A second use of yellow oil is as a kind of deep heat treatment. It is massaged into the skin to help with with muscle aches and pains, cramps, aching joints and arthritis.
A further use is to treat the effects of motion sickness by opening the bottle and sniffing the oil.
It should be stressed that yellow oil is strong stuff and is recommended for external use only. It should never be consumed or placed in contact with the eyes, nose, ears or mouth.

As you would imagine Koh Chang’s Trat province has its own celebrated brand of yellow oil, called Somtawin Ang-Ki Oil.

Mae Ang Ki Somthawin learned the secrets of making yellow oil from her family, of Thai and Chinese origins, and she began selling her home-made yellow oil from door to door in her hometown of Trat. Since Trat is one of the rainiest and most fertile places in Thailand, the plants used in the production of Ang-Ki oil are apparently of particularly good quality and this makes for a better final product.

The oil has been the recipient of a number of prizes and awards.

Mae Ang Ki has two shops in Trat, and dozens of shops sell her oil all around Thailand. The oil is still made in a small factory at the family’s residence in Nong Samet, Trat.

You can find out more at: www.somthawinyellowoil.com

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Tattoos by Jack

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Tattoos by Jack

Jack Tattoo Koh Chang

jack tattoo koh changSermsak Bualuang, or Jack as he is more regularly known, is a Tattooist who has been part of the White Sand Beach community since the early days of dirt roads and simple backpacker beach huts. His studio is located at Tantawan Resort on White Sand Beach. The fact that he has survived so long in a competitive business is probably due to the quality and technique of his work.

A native of Chantaburi province to the west of Trat Jack first came to Koh Chang eleven years ago. Jack differs from most of today’s tattooists in that he uses the traditional Thai technique of making original tattoos by hand rather than by using the more typical tattoo gun. Tattoos are very common in Thailand where many Thai people visit temples to have special hand-made tattoos applied for protection and good luck by monks skilled in the art. Jack learned his tattooing style by observing monks as they created tattoos by hand. Jack believes that making tattoos in this way gives him greater control over the fine detail of his work making the finished tattoo of higher quality. His customers seem to think so too since many come back year after year for new tattoos. In adapting traditional styles to modern designs Jack has of course incorporated modern methods of hygiene. All equipment is thoroughly sterilised and needles are used only once. He uses a combination of bamboo sticks with metal needles on the end and heavier metal tools to produce tattoos that are unique and lasting.

It’s a lot less painful than it sounds and if you pay him a visit Jack will be more than happy to give you a permanent memory of your visit to Koh Chang.

Unique handmade tattoos
by Jack at Tantawan Resort in White Sand Beach Koh Chang
ALL EQUIPMENT IS STERILISED
Tel:089 794 5848

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Thai Foot Massage

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Thai Foot Massage

Foot Reflexology Massage

foot reflexology massage chartThai foot massage is one of the more common massage treatments on offer from the various spas and massage businesses on Koh Chang. Technically foot massage is part of an alternative medicine system known as reflexology. The principle underlying reflexology is the belief that there are reflex areas in the feet, hands and ears that provide stimulus to all of the parts and internal organs of the body. The chart pictured below, versions of which can be seen outside massage shops all over Koh Chang, gives an indicator of which parts of the foot are thought to correspond to which parts of the body.

Reflexology massage does not use any oil but maintains that by simply massaging and stimulating the reflex points corresponding to a particular organ or part of the body the circulation and general health of that organ can be improved.

As with many alternative medical therapies the opinion of mainstream medical science is that the benefits of reflexology are far from proven with many studies showing no positive effects from reflexology treatments, although a few medical studies have seemed to show positive results. Reflexology therapists, however, always recommend reflexology treatments as a compliment to and never a replacement for conventional medicine.

And all of the above is missing one of the most important things about foot massages. They are incredibly relaxing and feel fantastic. So there is a school of thought that suggests that you should forget about all the debate and just go and treat yourself to a foot massage. If it improves your health then that’s a bonus, if it doesn’t, so what, it still feels great!

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Koh Chang’s Whale Sharks

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Koh Chang’s Whale Sharks

Whale Shark DrawingThe first thing to tell you is don’t get your hopes up. The majority of those who go Scuba Diving in the waters of the Koh Chang archipelago never get to see one.

BUT a few times a year fortunate divers and snorkellers are able to see and occasionally swim with a Whale Shark in Koh Chang waters.

This gentle and slow moving giant, Rhincodon typus if you’re a Latin fan, is the world’s largest fish. It is, of course, a shark and not a whale but if you’re thinking Jaws you’re way off the mark. Whale sharks feed on tiny ocean organisms like Krill and Phytoplankton by sucking in huge mouthfuls of ocean water and filtering out the good bits.

They are solitary creatures that spend most of their time in the deep oceans of the world’s tropical and warm temperate zones although sometimes they can be seen gathering in larger numbers in shallower waters to feed.
The individuals that are seen around the Koh Chang Marine National Park are generally juveniles. This means that they are (only) 8-10m in length in comparison to mature specimens which can grow up to 18 metres during a lifespan thought to extend up to one hundred years.

They pose no threat or danger to humans other than the risk of an accidental knock from their huge fin and indeed they seem relaxed and unconcerned in the presence of divers. When you’re that big you can probably afford to be.
The best way to find out if these placid giants will be holidaying at Koh Chang at the same time as you is to ask at one of Koh Chang’s dive operators. They will be sure to tell you if there have been any recent sightings and more than happy to take you to where they were last sighted.

Keep your fingers crossed and you might get lucky!

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The Mercy Center

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on The Mercy Center

The Mercy Center is a Pattaya-based humanitarian organisation who provide help to needy children in Thailand. The following is a broad outline of their main missions and the goals that they hope to achieve:

kids from mercy center pattaya– To provide a place for children who are at risk or who have been neglected to stay in safety. There are currently twenty four children under their care.
– To provide a scholarship programme that allows children who could not otherwise afford education to attend school by providing them with uniforms, books and learning materials and lunches as well as covering transportation costs.
– The provision and distribution of food, clothing and other necessities in slum areas.
– Visiting prisons to provide fruit, clean water and medicine.

The Mercy Center was established by Canadian Pastors Fred and Diane Doell. The pastors saw the poor conditions under which many underprivileged children in Thailand have to live and decided to do something about it. They founded the Victory Church in 2000 and the Mercy Center has been in operation since 2003. The organisation depends entirely on donations from individuals and organisations who appreciate their work and want to do something to help those less fortunate than themselves.

mercy center pataya koh chang visitIn March this year the Mercy Center brought twenty four children down to Koh Chang for a holiday. It was a great chance for kids who aren’t used to the holiday experience to enjoy the fun and excitement of a beach holiday in Koh Chang. Over three days they were taken Elephant Trekking and had a great time seeing the island, playing on the beach, in the sea and in the swimming pool. The Mercy Center were hosted by the owners, management and staff of 15 Palms Bar and Restaurant and Paddy’s Palms Irish Pub and Resort and they are grateful for their help in organising the holiday and making it such a success. The visit will now become an annual event and everyone is looking forward to next year’s visit.

If you would like to find out more about the Mercy Center, to volunteer your help or to make a donation or contribution then they can be contacted on this number: 086-688-5867, or you can visit their website at: www.mercypattaya.com

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Thai Spirit Houses

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Thai Spirit Houses

Houses of the Holy

thai spirit houseAs you travel around in Thailand you will see little shrines like the ones pictured dotted around in many places. They are known as Spirit Houses – or San Phra Phum in Thai – and are used to make offerings to the spirits that are believed by Thais to inhabit objects and places. Whilst Thailand’s primary religion is Therevada Buddhism most people still retain elements of earlier Animist religions in their beliefs and offerings to placate local spirits are commonplace.

The colourful little structures are decorated by all kinds of offerings such as incense sticks, candles, fruits and other kinds of food and drink.
You will find a spirit house of some kind in most houses, businesses and resorts on Koh Chang and since spirits are thought to inhabit the jungle itself spirit houses are also placed in forest locations.

If you travel by minibus or taxi expect your driver to toot his horn three times for luck as you pass the collection of spirit houses below between White Sand Beach and Klong Son.

Update 2013: The photagraphed spirit houses were cleared away a few years ago. Not sure why but the clearer must have had a strong constitution and a skeptical approach to the residents of the spirit world.

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Hornbills on Koh Chang

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Hornbills on Koh Chang

Hornbill on Koh ChangAmongst the profusion of plant and animal life that populates the lush jungles that wreath Koh Chang’s mountainous interior is the Hornbill. Those bold enough to undertake a guided trek into the island’s heart may be fortunate enough to obtain a glimpse of this beautiful and elusive bird species.

This photo was taken by Mr. Toon who leads jungle treks. You can contact him on 081-588-3324 to arrange your own encounter with the wild residents of the rain forest.

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Gem Mining in Thailand

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Gem Mining in Thailand

The rolling hills of Koh Chang’s home province of Trat and the neighbouring province of Chantaburi have a long history of being the source of high quality gemstones, most notably rubies and sapphires. This led to the area developing into a major gem mining and trading centre.

But before you grab a spade and head up to the hills of Koh Chang to make your fortune it is worth noting that Trat’s gem industry is centred on the small town of Bo Rai which is located close to the Cambodian border about 30 km north of Trat Town. Today there is a gem mining museum there that you can visit.

Whilst there is less gem mining these days the gem market in Chantaburi still brings serious gem traders from all over the world. The narrow streets of Chantaburi’s old town are crowded with gem shops and every weekend sees frenzied bargaining, bartering and haggling as precious stones from near and far change hands. Unpolished gems are often brought to Chantaburi from as far away as Africa to be treated by the town’s expert gem polishers.

The rubies and sapphires of the region are found in old river beds, usually at depths of about three to six feet. The mud and soil need to be washed away from the gravel and then this has to be painstakingly hand sorted to reveal the gems, a job of great concentration and expertise.

Rubies and Sapphires are both varieties of a precious stone called corundum, which is chemically a super-hard form of aluminium oxide. The “colour” of a gem depends on trace amounts of other elements found in the stone. The red colouring of rubies is due to the presence of chromium. Sapphires can be a number of colours ranging from pink to green, although the most familiar, colouration is blue. Shades of purple or violet are considered to enhance the beauty of the stone whilst green detracts from a stone’s appearance and value.

Rubies and sapphires along with diamonds and emeralds are considered to be the four genuinely precious stones with all other gemstones being classified as semi-precious.

It takes an expert gemmologist to trade with the professionals of the Chantaburi gem market, although there is of course no harm in visiting and soaking up the atmosphere of this interesting town. Fortunately though there are shops on Koh Chang where you are able to explore and learn about the delights of the region’s precious stones and of course they are available over here at far more reasonable prices than you will find back home.
Sources: www.allaboutgems.com, www.wikipedia.com

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Many Happy Returns

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Many Happy Returns

Successful author Andrew Hicks here shares his experiences on returning to Koh Chang, the setting for his bestselling novel “Thai Girl”.

andrew hicks thai girlSince my first visit five years ago, Koh Chang has called me back again, this time to celebrate my sixtieth birthday.  In my bamboo hut on the beach, there was no mirror and nothing to remind me that I am no longer a spring chicken so it was a bitter-sweet moment when I met someone in a bar who was reading “Thai Girl”, my novel set in Koh Chang.  He stared at me and, with a look of amazement said, “Thai Girl’s a really great story… I love it, but I’d no idea you’d be that old.”

Yes, it is a bit strange me writing a novel about travellers not much more than a third my age, but then ageing is all in the mind and I remind myself that you’re only as old as the woman you feel. Anyway, Thailand and especially Koh Chang should always be prescribed for anyone suffering from a northern winter or world weariness and then nothing really much matters any more, age least of all.

For us this time there was drinks on the beach at 15 Palms on White Sands Beach, a sensitively designed bar that’s magical at night, then great late night music at Oodie’s Place and HGX food and atmosphere at Thor’s Palace. Elsewhere I’ve described Thor’s green curries as “one of the world’s great sensory experiences”.

Who doesn’t love great places like these, not to mention the sand and seascapes, but as a freak for unspoiled tropical forest, I rate Koh Chang very highly indeed.  You need to walk up a watercourse to get into the jungle, so I share the Koh Chang Guide’s concern at the increase from 200 baht to 400 baht that you have to pay the National Park for entry to the Than Mayom and Klong Plu waterfalls. Surely their takings must have fallen sharply because of this unjustified hike in the price.

Anyway, advised as always by the Guide, I followed its map to Klong Nonsi waterfall. Passing the hospital on the east side of the island, you cross the river bridge and there’s a concrete track leading inland just past some foodstalls.  There’s no sign to the waterfall but it was worth the effort looking for it.  The watercourse was dry but further up I found a pool with no blue pipes running out of it that was big enough to bathe in.  The fish found me interesting and nibbled my extremities as I lay looking at the jungle around me. Somehow they must have survived the terrible flooding of the end of last rainy season and despite the drought they’ll still be there next year.

It wasn’t so much the ‘waterfall’ itself that was special as the sheer peace and tranquility of the durian groves and forest that I so love.  Another day, I drove to Klong Son and turned up the valley past Ban Kwan Chang elephant centre, surely one of the most unspoiled and spectacular places you could ride an elephant anywhere in the world.  Walking over the rocks up the dry river to the Nang Rom waterfall, I was amazed at the sheer scale of the trees, soaring upwards above me and of the rich greens of the vines, ferns and rattans that cover the forest floor, tropical jungle at its finest.  This river was much bigger than the previous one and there were many places you could still take a dip, which of course I couldn’t resist.

Five years ago, I stayed in the huts above the Plaloma Resort for two of the best weeks of my life, made some amazing backpacker friends and filled my notebooks with ideas, impressions and idiosyncratic characters.  You can meet them all in my novel, “Thai Girl” which now to my delight has become a bestseller.  (See www.thaigirl2004.com and www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com). That’s why returning to Koh Chang is always a bit of a nostalgic pilgrimage for me and why I can’t quite get it out of my system.  But then if you want to face up to a serious milestone of a birthday and have a good holiday, then there’s no better place to go and do it.

You can read more of Andrew’s observations on his life in Thailand in his entertaining Blog at www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com

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Soaring With the Eagles

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Soaring With the Eagles

Successful author Andrew Hicks keeps on returning to Koh Chang, the setting for his bestselling novel “Thai Girl”. This issue he gets a new perspective on the island.

koh chang mountain topKoh Chang is Thailand’s second biggest island, a dragon’s back of jungle clad mountains asleep on a warm tropical sea. As I sketch out this story sitting by my beach hut under the palm trees, the sky is blue, the horizon sharp and the gentle waves are swishing up a beach of perfect white sand. No wonder it’s called White Sands Beach.

This sounds like a parody of a southern paradise but I just can’t keep away. Cat and I were here for my sixtieth and there was no reason to wait for the earth to go full circle before coming back on holiday for a week or two.

Koh Chang is unrivalled for sea and beaches, though for me the mountains and jungle come a close second. The trouble is that even monsoon forest such as this is hard to get into and is potentially dangerous. I’ve scrambled up some steep watercourses here before on previous trips but it’s easy to break a leg and you’ll soon get lost if you’re too ambitious. Nonetheless I was determined to do some jungle walks, this time with a guide.
After breakfast at ‘15 Palms’, my favourite bar on the beach, my friend Mike and I went into Ann’s Island Travel nearby to ask about jungle trekking and were pleased to be offered brochures for three different guides.

I’ve always been fascinated by the sharp phallic peak that stands high behind White Sands Beach. For this reason and just because it’s there, this was the Everest we chose to climb. According to the map in the Koh Chang Free Guide we’d picked up in ‘15 Palms’, this is Khao Chom Prasat which is 626 metres above sea level and yes, we were definitely going for the big one.

Next day early, Mike and I met up with our delightful guide, Toon and his young ‘safety man’ he calls ‘the Boss’. He drove us a kilometre or so along the beach and parked and soon we were leaving the rubber trees behind and pushing upwards through the dry jungle. It was hard going, the slope often not far from the vertical, the surface a crumbly mix of loose soil, stones, dry leaves and twigs.

Slipping and sliding, clinging onto roots and trees, we made a good pace and eventually broke out into the open where we could look up at the sheer face of the peak. We stopped there for water and a breather and Toon pointed out the breeding place of a wild pig, a heap of leaves and sticks that still had a piggy odour clinging to it. All the way he and ‘the Boss’ kept pointing out birds and insects to us and it was great to be with two Thais with a deep love for their natural environment and for conservation.

Looking upwards I now wondered how we would ever make it to the top of so sheer a rock. Toon told us there was no track and offered to rope us together but we declined and set off regardless, climbing slowly through the trees and scrub to the top. Yes, it was tough and Toon was impressed when I told him I was in my seventh decade. Normally it takes them three hours to get to the top but we had done it in two.

The summit of Chom Prasat is flat with a low forest cover and we sat there and listened to the insects, birds and monkeys and ate the fried rice and fruit that Toon had brought for us. It was now 32 degrees and we were drenched with sweat but despite the futility and pain, there’s no greater feeling than making it to the top.

Toon then took us to some rocky view points where we could look out over White Sands Beach, across much of the island and over the water to Trat and Chantaburi provinces. It’s all spectacularly beautiful and quite out of the ordinary.

I sat precariously on a rock looking down at a 500 metre drop as an eagle circled above us. It had been a big effort to get there, earning me more than a blister and a bruise or two but this moment alone made it worth while.

Most of life is smooth and predictable with little that’s truly memorable. Just occasionally you can take your chance, step beyond your usual confines and wheel and soar with the eagles. Next time though I’m going to bring with me some decent walking shoes that don’t let me down by falling apart at the seams!

You can read more of Andrew’s observations on his life in Thailand in his entertaining Blog at www.thaigirl2004.blogspot.com

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Koh Chang Beach Cricket

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Koh Chang Beach Cricket

koh chang beach cricketKoh Chang Cricket Club

Picture the scene if you will: A lovely sunny afternoon stroll on the beach in Klong Son; a light breeze rustles through the palm trees, cooling the radiant tropical sun. Lazy little waves lap gently against a long stretch of pristine sand. All is calm and tranquil in this island paradise. Then suddenly up ahead you hear the sharp, unmistakable thump of a piece of wood striking another object. This is followed by a series of gutteral cries rising to a collective roar of HOWZAAAT! You realize with a kind of primal thrill that your peace has been shattered by that paragon of sports, that most noble of contests that is known to the world as Cricket.

Yes, a group of Koh Chang residents have brought regular games of beach cricket to Koh Chang. Games are usually played on Sunday afternoons around 3:30pm after the heat of the day starts to drop but times and days can change depending on the tides. You don’t need to know the rules to play; in fact it might be more fun if you don’t. Basically someone throws a ball at you and you have to hit it – easy! Sporting nutrition in the form of water or, for example, beer, is available at a friendly nearby beach bar restaurant. Since games began a couple of years ago visitors from many different countries around the world, even remote Australia, have joined in and had an entertaining afternoon.

If you would like to take part then the Koh Chang Cricket Club will be happy to welcome you. Games are played on Sundays on the large beach at Shambhala Beach Bar in the Siam Royal View complex in Klong Son.  For more information you can call 081-919-8219 or e-mail us at info@koh-chang-guide.com.

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Squid Fishing

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Squid Fishing

giant squid drawingAfter sunset If you look offshore from any of the beaches on the West Coast of Koh Chang you will see scores of bright and mysterious lights scattered across the sea. These aren’t ghost lights from a lost island that has mysteriously broken the surface of the water after dark, they are the lights from squid fishing boats. Fishing is a large part of the economy of Trat province and squid are a particularly attractive catch because they are fast-breeding and abundant. They are also very easy to catch. A squid boat is basically a traditional Thai wooden fishing craft that has had a large wooden or metal boom attached. This boom is covered in extremely bright white or sometimes green lights. Every evening these cumbersome and heavily laden vessels slowly make their way offshore to a spot that only experience and years of practising squid psychology (or a fish-finder) can determine.

After sunset, when the boat is stationed in just the right position the fisherman flicks a switch and the boat and surrounding waters are bathed in a brilliant light. Then the squid simply swim to the surface and the fisherman scoop them into their nets. Easy. Exactly why the squid are attracted to the lights is something of a mystery. Apparently squid are quite intelligent compared to other molluscs. However, the fact that most of their relatives never came back from going to look at the pretty lights doesn’t seem to deter their curiosity and off they swim into the waiting nets.

The fishermen will spend the rest of the night netting and sorting squid before daybreak and the long journey back to shore. Despite the ease of capture it is long and wearying work and a fisherman can expect to earn only a modest living. Just be grateful that the end result of their labours is that there is a plentiful supply of fresh and tender squid to the restaurants of Koh Chang.

Amazing Squid facts:

Jet Engines: Squid move through the water using an organ called a Siphon. This allows them to expel water jets precisely and powerfully, propelling themselves in the opposite direction.

Invisibility: A squid’s skin is covered in Chromatophores. These are cells that contain pigment and reflect light. They allow a squid to change colour at will to camouflage itself with its surroundings.
Squid also possess an ink sac that allows them to evade predators by suddenly expelling a cloud of black ink.

All Heart: Squid have three hearts, a main one and two smaller ones that provide blood to their gills.
Birds or Fish?: Squid have a sharp and robust beak that they use instead of teeth to capture, kill and consume their prey.

Giants of the Deep: Giant squid do exist but probably not off the beaches of Koh Chang. They are elusive deep water dwellers and just how big they get is something of a mystery. Specimens in excess of ten meters in length have been discovered.

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Thai Ghosts & Spirits

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Thai Ghosts & Spirits

Almost all Thai people believe in ghosts and are often very afraid of them. This might seem a bit unusual to a Westerner brought up on the likes of Scooby Doo but the Thai belief in spirits dates back from before Buddhism to old Animist beliefs. To give you a slightly better understanding of your Thai host’s fear of the dark and what dwells there we’ll tell you a little bit about a few of the ghosts – or ‘Pee’ in Thai – that inhabit the Thai spirit world. Get a cup of hot chocolate, move a little closer to the fire and read on.

thai ghosts and spiritsPee Am
This disembodied spirit accosts the unwary as they sleep and tries to crush them. Victims struggle to open their eyes or cry out for help and sometimes if they can’t draw breath they are smothered to death.

Pee Dtai Tong Gam
These are the spirits of women that have died in childbirth. They are considered very powerful and black magicians prepare an oil by burning the chin of a disinterred corpse that is applied and used, like the Brut 33 of black magic, to magically attract women,. A weak magician can, apparently, be taken over and destroyed by the spirit which seems to pretty much serve them right for grave robbing and general creepiness in the first place.

Pee Bpet 
These are the spirits of people who have behaved or spoken badly to their parents or to elders. In spirit form they are extremely thin and as tall as a coconut tree with skinny legs and long straggly hair. Think of a spectral Mick Jagger. If a Pee Bpet used to hit their parents whilst alive then their hands are hugely long like palm tree leaves. As a punishment for having spoken ill of people their mouth is tiny and issues an eerie whistling sound. Unluckily they can only consume one grain of rice at a time, probably explaining their poor disposition.
They travel around trying to find people to ease their suffering by performing rituals to make merit for them, and presumably haunting them horribly if they won’t.

Pee Krahang
These ghosts move around by flapping their wings which are made of the round wicker baskets used to separate rice. They always carry a walking stick and their unsavoury diet consists of faeces and other refuse. These delightful shades consider Placenta to be a great delicacy.

thai ghostPee Kraseu
This is a hostile and much-feared ghost that usually appears by day as a normal-looking woman or occasionally a man. The only way to tell a Pee Kraseu by day is to look into their eyes, they have no cornea. Consequently a Pee Kraseu will avoid your gaze. Be careful about mistaking shy people for ghosts though. At night things take a turn for the worse and the Pee Pob sheds it’s human form, or most of it anyway. They appear as only the disembodied head and dangling entrails of the host. Where a human heart would be there is a flashing light. They have voracious appetites and disturbing eating habits consuming faeces, refuse and placentas like their close relative the Pee Krahang. They transfer between hosts by saliva so be very careful about who you get friendly with in Thailand.

Pee Prai
These are water spirits that live in rivers, lakes, waterfalls and the sea. The only way to determine their presence is by a characteristic trail of bubbles. They lure unwary swimmers to their doom, first attracting them by calling to them and then dragging them to the depths. Our research on whether these spirits inhabit Koh Chang hotel swimming pools was inconclusive.

Pee Pba
These are very powerful spirits that inhabit the jungle. Perhaps originating in old animist beliefs they are often associated with a particularly large and old tree. As long as they are not offended they pose no threat to people. Hunters often leave offerings to them to ensure that they are appeased. With this in mind when you’re in the forest it is perhaps unwise to answer the call of nature against the sides of trees.

Pee Gkong Goi
You really need to be careful in the jungle. In addition to Pee Pba (and snakes, scorpions, centipedes etc. etc.) you can come across the Pee Gkong Gkoi. These hideous spirits take the shape of black monkeys. They like to consume human intestines and will tear open people’s stomachs to do so. On the positive side though, you can expect some prior warning. They cry out “Gkong Gkoi” frequently and can only move around by jumping.

Pee Pob
This ghost generally possesses a woman’s body but occasionally takes over men as well. They are constantly hungry and consume raw meat, eventually devouring their hosts from the inside out. Pee Pob are often blamed where people are suffering from a disease that doctors cannot diagnose.

Pee Doot Lueat
The good old-fashioned vampire almost comes as a relief after the horrors described above. Besides, since every Thai meal you eat will be liberally laced with garlic you can be reasonably confident of protection at least from this night terror.

There are a whole host of other Thai ghosts as well. Typically when a person is possessed by a ghost their eyes turn red. Other tell-tale signs are that ghosts throw no shadow and cannot be seen in mirrors.
So don’t say we didn’t warn you…

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A Koh Chang Timeline

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on A Koh Chang Timeline

ScratchersAs part of the Koh Chang Guide’s 10th birthday celebrations we thought that we’d give you a brief history of Koh Chang. This article provides a selective timeline of Koh Chang’s transformation from a sleepy backwater into one of the jewels in Thailand’s tourist crown.

30 Years Ago

Koh Chang is an isolated and almost forgotten island in the far south-eastern province of Trat. There are no roads to speak of and the few local residents live a peaceful life of fruit and rubber farming and fishing. Imagine this rural idyll as a bit like the Garden of Eden with some som tam and rice whisky thrown in.

25 Years Ago

Koh Chang cannot stay immune forever and the island catches the fast-spreading virus known as backpacking. Drawn to Koh Chang’s fantastic beaches and rain forest a new breed of independent traveller begins to find their way onto the island. They demand that the unsuspecting locals build them bamboo huts on the beach and erect hammocks in which they laze and smoke local herbs, listening to “Legend” by Bob Marley, over and over and over and over again.

20 Years Ago

Recognising that these strange invaders are a good source of revenue local residents build lots more beach huts and add a few restaurants and bars. The only ferry to the beaches stops at White Sand Beach Resort on White Sand Beach. In spite of their stated desire to keep Koh Chang as an unspoilt gem, everyone who visits the island tells ten of their friends how good it is. These friends then visit and tell ten of their friends. The tourist race is on!

13 Years Ago

The first road over the steep and scary hill between Klong Son Village and White Sand Beach is built. This coincides with the start of the island’s first car ferry service. These improvements in infrastructure open up the beaches of Koh Chang’s West coast to big trucks (at least the ones that make it over the scary hill) and as a result there is a construction boom of resort building and tourist development increases dramatically. The hardcore backpackers shake their heads and move on to work their magic on another unspoilt wilderness.

January 1st 2002

Visitors to Koh Chang finally get a travel guide as the first issue of the catchily titled “Koh Chang, Trat and the Eastern Islands” guidebook is published. Somehow shaking off the lethargy of island life the publishers just about manage to cobble together something that looks like a magazine.

March 31st 2003

The first flight from Bangkok arrives at the new Trat Airport, located 17km from the Koh Chang Ferry pier.  Built by Bangkok Airways this airport allows tourists to fly down directly from Bangkok, opening the island up to package tourism. Koh Chang starts to see a different type of visitor as wheeled suitcases and Gucci shades replace un-ironed clothes and dreadlocks. Beach huts go through a metamorphosis and are transformed, like grubs to butterflies, into gleaming new luxury tourist resorts. Often the names are given a makeover as well; the unassuming K.C. Resort broadens into the majestic K.C. Grande Resort, Mac Bungalow becomes Mac Resort Hotel. The island’s sign manufacturers rejoice.

June 2nd 2003

Koh Chang’s first Post Office opens in White Sand Beach. It is given its own post code, 23170 and letters now arrive direct to the island – at least most of the time.

October 2003

Koh Chang’s first international chain convenience store opens. All of the little “mom and pop” stores on the island make a great fuss about how unfair the new competition is, then they drop all of their prices by 50% and still make a healthy profit. Plastic usage rises dramatically as every purchase seems to arrive with two plastic bags accompanied by a plastic spoon (also in a plastic bag) and several plastic straws (also supplied in handy plastic bags). Still we mustn’t complain, the earth gets warmer and the sun shines on Koh Chang.

Tourists26th December 2004

A catastrophic tsunami sweeps across the Indian Ocean causing devastation and destroying tourism to Thailand’s west coast. Tour companies frantically relocate holidaymakers elsewhere and Koh Chang enjoys a tourist boom the like of which it has never seen before. Ironically this catastrophe becomes one of the major factors in the growth of Koh Chang as a tourist destination.

August 24th 2007

The administrative status of Koh Chang is changed to reflect its increasing population and importance (and wealth). Whilst previously it was only a lowly sub-district of Trat province Koh Chang is granted full district, or Amphur, Status.
The rural idyll has now fully transformed into an “International Travel Destination”.

Today

It is a warm and lovely day in paradise. The sun rises, shines on Koh Chang and then drops into the sea in a sunset of jaw-dropping magnificence. You read this guide whilst sipping a cocktail beside the beach. All is well.

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The “Green” or Rainy Season on Koh Chang

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on The “Green” or Rainy Season on Koh Chang

Rainy Season on Koh Chang

From roughly June to October Koh Chang experiences a time when not as many tourists visit.
This period goes by several names. Businessmen call it the low season, local residents call it the rains and meteorologists call it the monsoon, whilst the PR-minded refer to it euphemistically as “The green season”. And people can be very sensitive about it. You see it rains a lot. There. We said it. It isn’t that this is a big secret but some people would still have you speak about the weather at this time in hushed tones so that potential visitors aren’t scared away by the prospect of getting wet.
We respect your intelligence more than that. So we’re not afraid to tell you that it rains. Say it again. It rains.
BUT it doesn’t always rain. There are beautiful sunny days and weeks as well and it is a very unfortunate visitor who doesn’t get any good weather.

koh chang rainSo let’s play devil’s advocate and tell you the reasons you might not want to come to Koh Chang during the monsoon.

1)   It rains. We mentioned this already didn’t we?

2)   The sea may be rough so you might not be able to go swimming or take your boat trip on the day you want. You can still go out a lot of the time though so your patience will usually be rewarded.

3)   There are fewer visitors so if you’re frightened by long empty beaches then this isn’t for you.

Now here a few things that might actually make you more interested in visiting Koh Chang at this time of year.

1)   It’s cheap. Simple economics. Koh Chang has lots of nice hotels and resorts. When demand is low prices fall. So you can get rooms in the low season at a fraction of their high season rate. Treat yourselves.

2)   It’s quiet. If you really want to escape the crowds like in all the ads and the tourist brochures then this is the time for you.

3)   It’s still sunny a lot. If it rained 24 hours a day for six months then all the locals would have gills. Most don’t.

4)   Many seasonal waterfalls and rivers flow out of Koh Chang’s hills. This is a great time for a trek through the jungle followed by a cooling dip in a waterfall.

5)   Koh Chang is basically a big hump of rock festooned with tropical rain forest. So as you’d expect everything is growing like crazy during the rainy season on Koh Chang and the island is at its greenest and most beautiful.

6)   Social Anthropology – This is the time of year when the peculiar human creatures of all nationalities who make up the fabric of Koh Chang’s unique island community are at their most visible. Watch and marvel at their antics.

7)   It is never, never cold and, believe us, warm rain is one thousand times better than cold rain.

8)   Some of the electrical storms are pretty cool. You can have lightning, thunder, rain like falling bullets – and then it clears and you’re sunbathing on the beach half an hour later.

9)   During rainy season on Koh Chang you can see the most stunning sunsets of the year.

10)   It is fruit season. Trat province, in which Koh Chang lies, grows all kinds of delicious tropical fruits. And many are in season at this time of year. Try them.

So there you have the pros and cons of visiting Koh Chang at this time of year. We look forward to seeing you soon!

 

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Koh Chang by Numbers

by Dave in Features and Archives, Koh Chang and Thailand Comments Off on Koh Chang by Numbers

How well do you know Koh Chang? See if you are able to recognise any of these year 2009 vital statistics of the island.

12 – Number of times King Rama V visited Koh Chang

52 – Islands in the Koh Chang Archipelago

51 – Number of Elephants on Elephant Island

442,729 – Visitors to Koh Chang in 2009 (scarily precise TAT figures)

217 – The area of Koh Chang in Sq. Kilometres

315 – kilometres from Bangkok to Koh Chang

105 – Years since Koh Chang Was Returned to Thailand by France

23170 – is Koh Chang’s Postal Code

744 – Metres is the height of Salak Phet peak: Koh Chang’s highest point.

0 – Roads that go all the way around Koh Chang

10 – 7-eleven stores on Koh Chang

9,552 – Population of Koh Chang (as per 2009 census – “Aliens” legal and illegal excluded – we reckon that the correct high season figure is 14-16,000)

1,000,000+ – Number of Guides and Maps to Koh Chang produced by White Sand Publications

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