Koh Chang (Andaman Sea)
Tezza's Thai Islands and Beaches Travel Bits
April 22, 2006
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Ko Chang (Andaman) and Ko Phayam are two smallish attractive islands up near the Burmese border. They have several very nice beaches and a surprising number of bungalow places, and would appeal to old hands wanting to find islands like Tao, Chang (eastern Gulf) etc were like in the “old days”. Ravers and people looking for mid-range and higher accomm will be disappointed, however.
The first Ranong bound bus that came along at Khao Lak was the daily Visa Run coach from Phuket, so I flagged it down. This worked out real well because its first stop is the Immigration Office at Ranong, which is a short distance to the Chang-Phayam pier. A 20-baht motorcycle taxi got me to the pier with just enough time to grab a cup of coffee and a bottle of Mae Khong before jumping on the mid-day long tail which takes supplies and passengers to the resorts on Chang’s most popular beach Ao Yai on the west coast and to Ao Dah Deng just to the south. The trip cost 140 baht and takes about an hour. The journey downriver at Ranong is pretty interesting as are the multitude of big and small Burmese islands once you get to sea.
Ao Yai is a 3km long curved beach with about ten bungalow places, plus a few more on the rocks at the southern end. The beach has plenty of sand at high tide and has no problems with exposed rocks or fringing reef at lowest tide. It is a quiet beach - there is no fishing village and it appeared two long tails handle the boating needs of the bungalows. There are no bar/disco type places. LP mentions silty water - well it was as clear as anywhere else when I visited, except for the first 2 m or so off the beach where the swash backwash was leaching rutile (that black sand which makes additives for heat resistant metal) from under the top layer of white/yellow sand.
A girl at the Ranong pier showed me some photos of her place, Sawasdee, with rather attractive looking 250-baht bungalows. They looked pretty nice to me so I said sure. Sawasdee is last bungalow on Ao Yai, so I had a chance to check all the places as we dropped stuff and people off (at most of the places guests waded out to help unload the bags of ice, groceries and bottles of booze etc, a kinda carnival atmosphere)- all the bungalows looked okay but I can’t tell you if their prices were as good as Sawasdee.
The beach is definitely nicest up the northern half, but it wasn’t shabby at Sawasdee, particularly at low tide when quite a wide sandy spit was exposed.
Sawasdee faces north so you get great views of those Burma islands, but not the sunsets you can see from further up the beach. However westward facing Ao Da Deng is a five-minute walk across a small bridge over a creek and a low divide. Nice beach with three rather funky looking bungalow places and some great big granite rocks at each end, perfect for downing a hit or ten of Mae Khong as the sun sinks behind another Burma island (the border actually runs north-south here).
My 250 baht Sawasdee bungalow was the best value on the whole trip - fairly new and in great condition (built a few weeks before the tsuanmi - owners Nui and Fon told me the water was a meter deep in the bungalows but did not cause too much structural damage whereas places further up the beach not protected by the headland copped it much worse) and built of timber planks with a concrete and tile bathroom. It had a king size bed (double++) and plenty of room for two people and their gear, a mirror in the bathroom (so many places don’t, makes shaving etc a real hassle) plus little extras like a hammock across the big verandah, a broom, a tap at the foot of the stairs for washing sandy feet and lots of lines and hooks for gear etc. They handed out a detailed island map showing all bungalows, roads (really only paths wide enough for two motorcycles to pass), hiking tracks and viewpoints. The bungalows and the grounds were spotless. Fon did a tourism course (in OZ of all places!) and it showed.
The small restaurant was more attractive than usual - beam and pole construction with some elevated sitting platforms like Balinese bales. There were also some of these out just behind the beach, along with some hammocks and lazy chairs. Plenty of trees beachfront for good shade until late afternoon.
Food was not expensive and Nui, Fon and Fon’s mum are pretty good cooks. Altogether I can thoroughly recommend this place tel 077-820177 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Note they only have a half dozen bungalows. Apparently they close down May-Oct as do most Chang places. Someone told me the biggest place here, Cashew Resort, stays open all year. It is in that nice northern section of the beach and has a small speedboat for Ranong transfers.
This island is the perfect place to relax, wander the beach, swim, sun or shade it out or take a hike along the trails through the forest, cashew and rubber tree plantations. I did see some signs for diving and snorkeling trips to the Burma islands and the Surin Isands. You can hire motorcycles and mountain bikes, but it is a relatively short half hour walk up to the crossroads in town where there is a nice restaurant which seems to attract half the town at lunchtime, and a couple of shops. I did a return trip to a reasonable mountain viewpoint on the east coast of the island where you had a pretty good view of Ko Phayam and the mainland coast, in around 4 hours return. No ridiculous slopes involved. Maybe if you wanted to check Ao Siad on the southern coast you would need a bike - it is about a 12 km return trip from the crossroads - however I knew I would see it from the Ko Phayam ferry which passes close by.
From the personalities point of view I was struck by the lack of gap year girl and lager lout types. What we had here were young couples, families and a few other younger travelers mainly Euro in origin, particularly German. Ain't it interesting how the Germans flock to the more out of the way places? Plus more than the usual number of older long time traveller types - with a new visa a relatively simple two long tail trips away, you can see the attraction.
I realised I didn't do that great a job of describing other bungalow locations on Chang.
Okay, the track to the viewpoint I went to continues steeply down to a really old style bungalow place all on its own on the east coast - Sapan Inn. This has funky wooden bungalows with nice views just above the rocks on a small headland, two small beaches on each side and is surrounded by rainforest. For anyone wanting to get away from it all, this would be a pretty suitable place. There are actually signposts to Sapan from along the main crossroads - Ao Siad (the southern beach nearest Ko Phayam) track.
Ao Siad has three bunglow places including Tommy's, which was lauded by one of the TT regulars some time back. As I said, the beach looked pretty nice from the Phayam ferry, but it is a pretty major treck to other island areas from here.
www.hornbillhut.com around the northern headland from the section of Ao Yai I was on, although they say this is still Ao Yai. Two other places are here too. There is a track over the above headland on Nui's map but I didn't take it. Once again this area looked nice from the passing boat.
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