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Northeast to Khorat part 2: South to Koh Chang

By S. Stampfli

December 2004

Yesterday Lek and I spent the day exploring ruins of the Angkor Empire in the quaint town of Phimai; Monkey God/Man & multi Cobra headed Goddess of Khmer people who ruled this land for several hundred yrs, before finally being pushed out by the rising Thai Kingdom.

This morning ripping down the road less traveled as Pong pushes the Kia mini-van to the limit, weaving past over loaded trucks, motor bikes, free range cattle and farmers with huge loads of fresh cut rice on their backs. This is agricultural Isaan country, flat plains where rice fields stretch is all directions, with jagged mountains looming in the distance. Outside the A/C controlled climate of the van it is damn hot, and the terra firma quite dry and the landscape appears ready to burst into flames. And it’s only the beginning of December, a full three months before the peak of the true ‘dry-hot season’; no wonder we hear tales of massive bush fires. I long for the sea and trade winds rolling off the Gulf.

We’ve hired Pong to take us the most direct route south to the city of Trat, instead of having to backtrack to Khorat and loop around following the usual highways which the buses and tour groups travel (which would take many wasted hours). Pong was stoked since most the roads I pointed out on the map he had never navigated. Lek explained to him in Thai that I was a kooky farang who enjoyed getting off the beaten track. Which means to me keeping us on roads as close to the Cambodian border as possible, and making a bee line for the coast.

Pong crosses and dodges the main tracks and we drop into valleys and motor over tree splashed hills; although we hit more than a few dead ends, including several manned by Thai military wielding automatic firepower near the border. Yet soon we locate the chosen road and are driving into lush terrain dotted by limestone outcrops and thick forest; the landscape is completely changed from the bleak plains of the North-East.

Our driver informs us this is wild elephant territory, and tells us the hungry beasts often come down to feast on the fertile banana trees, sugar cane crops and verdant marsh lands. There are several smallish National parks in this region yet obviously few farang ever get over this way.

Five hours later, after cruising tiny hamlets like Khao Chong Tako, Naa Ngane, Takra, and Khao Khitchakut (including a lunch stop in an unknown place, where a disturbing number of locals were missing limbs do to encounters w/ land mines on the Cambodian/Thai border), we eventually reach Trat. Yet Lek encourages Pong to drive on to Centerpoint pier near Laem Ngop; where we just barely make the 2:00 vehicle ferry, and happily suck in the salt breezes from the upper deck, as the coastline fades away.

I hadn’t been to Ko Chang for five years, and upon taxing into the main settlement of White Sands Beach (Hat Sai Khao), I was shocked by nightmare development that had and was going on in the once somewhat quaint beach town. But what the hay, that’s eco-tourism progress- as long as the proper sewer controls are in place? Luckily the interior of Ko Chang is protected as a mountainous National Park; and remains mostly dense jungle and quite untamed.

Anyway, we had a couple of drinks overlooking the water and people watched the farangs roasting on the sand, then caught another sawngthaew to our ultimate destination at the far end of the island. Ten K down the narrow road the terrain was more as I remembered, although several resorts had been built, the coastline was still dramatically stunning and open to the ocean; as the road wound into the steep hills the vibe changed instinctively to low key, before dropping down to a sheltered bay with brightly painted boats moored.

As we finally arrived in the fishing village of Biang Bang Bao I noted a couple of new bungalows, restaurants & shops, and of course a brand new 7-11 and an ATM, yet little else had changed. And I’ll tell you friendly wanderers, in this little town you’ll enjoy the most orgasmic FRESH seafood on the planet..!

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