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I am going to go out on a limb and call Koh Chang the best of all the major Thai islands. The beaches are gorgeous an mellow, the entire interior is a mountainous National Park full of waterfalls and elephants, and it is a big enough island that there is no one “tourist area”. Lodging is evenly spread out across the island, and the island features a more mature crowd of couples and Europeans—it’s about the furthest thing from the hectic drunken backpacker scene of the southern Thai islands. If you want to drink til she’s pretty with a thousand other blurry eyed backpackers, head to Koh Phi Phi. If you want to sit back in a beach chair with a casual beer and a good book with not many people around, then go to Koh Chang.
Virtually all of the development on the island is on the west coast, which works out perfectly as you are treated to exploding red sunsets each and every night. We found ourselves staying in sleepy little Kae Bae Beach, right next to the uber-nice KB Resort, which was a plus. In terms of regions of the island, White Sand Beach is the nicest, longest stretch of beach and the most developed area of the island. Lonely Beach is more of the backpacker hang out where cheap accommodation and the nightly bar special type of crowd can be found. Just down a dirt road at the end of Lonely Beach is Paradise Cottages, which is a restaurant and guesthouse with private bungalows and hammocks set out on its own rocky promenade. Pretty much the epitome of private tropical luxury. At the furthest southern tip of the island, Bang Bao Bay is my personal pick for mellowest, most relaxing beach on the island. It has that end of the road, outpost feeling, where you feel like you’ve discovered a secret that few else know about. Again, what makes this island different than many other Thai islands is the healthy scattering of small beaches and bays, serving to thin out the crowds.
The highlight of the island for us though was definitely our morning spent with Ban Kon Chang elephant rides. Taking a 2-hour tour, we rode on the back of a massive Asian elephant for an hour and a half through the dense interior of the island. The real treat came in the last half an hour when the elephants drop down into a huge watering hole and you actually get to swim with these enormous creatures. It literally was like riding an oversized bull, as the elephants are real playful, and as they are bucking and thrashing everywhere you just have to do your best to stay on their back and hold on. We learned a ton about Asian elephants and came away incredibly pleased (and wet). I’d highly recommend this tour to anyone.
Our final day on the island we set out scouring the perimeter and inland valleys of the island on motorbikes. On islands such as these, independent motorbike travel is far away the preferable mode of transport, as you can structure your own itinerary and ditch the crowds for a while. We chose to head up an inland valley to a waterfall that was off of the map, tucked away at the back of an impossibly verdant valley. While we found our own little waterfall with no one around, the island is covered in larger, more easily accessible falls as well. The most popular falls aonthe island are undoubtedly Klong Piu Falls, but they were charging a $7/person entry fee and it was crawling in tourists. Any time I see tour buses at the base of a waterfall hike, I opt to simply save the money. Plus, for someone from Maui, it’s hard to justify paying to go to a waterfall. Unlike Maui, however, there are a few added variables when trekking in these parts, such as 25 ft. long articulated pythons. Apparently, one came down last week at the elephant campand ate a 45 pound dog. When they finally had to shoot the snake, all that was sticking out of its mouth was the 4 legs. Our heads were definitely scanning the trees on our little waterfall adventure–like that would matter if one was actually there.
Currently we are having a morning coffee out on the beach, and hoping that we are able to actually get off of the island. Word has it that the ferries are going on strike tomorrow, and then once we get to the mainland we have the whole Thailand-Cambodia political turmoil thing to deal with at the border crossing. Barring any unforseen “adventures”, we should be settled in Koh Krong, Cambodia tonight en route toSihanoukville. Here’s hoping we make it.