After an entire two days back in Bangkok, Gabe and I were about ready for another trip. Gabe had been kind enough to go buy the bus tickets on Tuesday while I was at work, and seemed a bit unsure about things when I talked to him that night. There are many different bus operators, so he did a bit of asking around, trying to get a midnight-ish bus to Trat, where we would catch a ferry to the island of Koh Chang.
We needed four tickets, and the only four seats available were in the very back row of a bus, which is unacceptable for an overnight trip since the seats cannot recline. As he started to walk away, the woman suddenly found a brand new bus, leaving two minutes after the first bus, that had every single seat free. He did his best to ensure that it was a real bus, really going to Trat. She insisted that it was, so he bought our tickets and crossed his fingers!
Considering the luck that we’d had with the train just days before, we did more finger crossing as we began our journey to Koh Chang. What a journey it was! It began with a taxi from our apartment to the subway station. We then took the subway to the skytrain, which we then rode to the Ekamai bus station. Luckily it was a real bus (although the 11:32 departure time ended up being 12:17) and the four of us were soon sitting in the front row, armed with ipods and hoping for a bit of sleep.
There was no Thai pop music this time around and I was actually able to get a bit of shut-eye. We were expecting a 5-6 hour trip, but at some point around 4:15 the ‘bus hostess’ turned on all of the lights and walked around, shaking us awake and asking ‘Koh Chang?’ We nodded, half asleep, and she indicated that it was time to get off. It seemed way too early and we definitely weren’t at a bus station, but we followed the hoards of white people who were also filing off and into the rain.
It took some time to really wake up and figure out what was going on (luckily Chris and I were able to…neither of the guys ever really opened their eyes during all of this), and it turned out that we were at the ‘bus stop’ for the tour operator, where they proceeded to sell us tickets for their taxis to get to the ferry. My first instinct was ‘scam!’ but it really wasn’t, the price was about right. So I managed to buy four taxi tickets and four ferry tickets from a guy at a little table in the corner, then I squeezed myself into a spot on the ground among all of the other backpackers and their backpacks. It had been pouring down rain since we’d left Bangkok, and when coupled with the 3 hours of bumpy bus sleep, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about things.
We were soon loaded into a songtaew and taken for a long, chaotic ride to the piers. By the time we got there, the rain had stopped, the sun was starting to come up and there was a stand with real coffee for me and a pineapple shake for Gabe! Things were looking up…we soon boarded the ferry and were pulling into Koh Chang by 7 a.m. Once we’d arrived at the dock, there was yet another songtaew ride (are you keeping count of how many legs this trip had?? We’re at seven!) up and down roads that made Khao Yai look like a beginner’s course.
We got off at Lonely Beach and set out to find a place to stay. We looked at a few places, passed on the 80 baht beach huts with stray cats living on the mattresses and finally stumbled onto some great little concrete bungalows. We still don’t know the name of the place, as it consisted of about five little houses in between two much larger, more established places, but the lady who owned them caught us as we wandered by and got our attention (partially due to the bath towel that she was wearing). Her husband showed us the rooms while carrying their one-year old on his hip and we were sold! For 250 baht ($8) per night we had a clean water-front bungalow with tile floors, hot water, a hammock on the porch and the sound of the ocean (which was located a mere 10 feet from our porch!).
The four of us went next door (literally five steps from our door) to this beautiful restaurant that was really nothing more than a polished teak deck with low tables, cushions on the floor, hammocks along the perimeter and a massive menu of Thai food, at Thai prices. Although it was 9 a.m. it felt as though it was lunch time, so we enjoyed a lazy meal of Tom Yum, Pad Thai and fresh fruit shakes while the waves lapped at the deck a couple of feet away. After that, it was nap time – the cool, overcast weather was perfect and we slept for several hours. Our room had great wood-framed windows that opened all the way up, letting in an amazing ocean breeze and of course that wonderful sound.
The laziness (and I mean this in the best way) lasted the rest of the day; we walked around a bit but soon found another restaurant where a friendly old man served us incredibly fresh som tum and coconut soup, along with complimentary watermelon. After that, it was back to the restaurant next door, where we spent hours drinking a few beers, writing in our journals and hearing nothing but the water. It was a blissful first day!
Gabe and I tried out a place called The Treehouse for breakfast the next morning. It’s one of those places that gets raved about in the Lonely Planet guidebooks and thus has become backpacker central. We had not been impressed with their huts (a tent would have been a greater luxury) and I’ll admit that I was a little wary of it – I like authenticity! We ended up being wonderfully surprised, and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of rice milk and a banana pancake while, once again, sitting on a deck with the ocean beneath us.
We rented a motorbike that day and had a great time lazing around on White Sands Beach (the more upscale area of Koh Chang), exploring the undeveloped eastern side of the island and unsuccessfully searching for the Nonsi waterfall (it did give us another chance to push through thick brush for a couple of hours though). That evening we ended up back at The Treehouse with Chris and Joe where there was more amazing food (we were determined to get through that menu), fruity drinks, a gorgeous sunset and hours of lazing in hammocks until we finally managed to drag ourselves to bed. Day number two = success!
By day three I was pretty sure that there was no reason to ever leave the place! I went for a short run (felt more like mountain climbing) and then, surprise surprise, it was time to go eat and lay in hammocks again. We spent some quality time on our beach with the other two and then, as soon as we felt as though an acceptable amount of time had passed, we headed right back to The Treehouse to work more on menu-conquering! Literally, every meal felt like Christmas morning and it never cost more than three or four dollars for the two of us.
That night The Treehouse was hosting a party where they would be serving a special barbeque menu. We all tried to make space in our stomachs before the food ran out…I’m not sure that it was a good idea, but I made space! It was the epitome of vacation time…a beautiful, lazy island, swinging hammocks, reggae music, fresh fruit shakes of every imaginable sort and more food than anyone could ever hope to eat (though we certainly tried!). Bangkok was a distant memory and we all tried not to remember it…
Sunday was our final day and it dawned gray and rainy. It was the sort of rain that wasn’t going to stop, so after sleeping in late (wondering how on earth I would live without the sound of the ocean) we packed our stuff and headed back to our second home for, yes, another meal. We hung around there, eating and reading and writing until about 2:00. At two the four of us caught a songtaew back to the ferry and departed Koh Chang. The storms were rolling in and it seemed to be a good day to leave (assuming that we had to leave). The ferry was slow and we caught the tour operator’s songtaew back in Trat, wondering how on earth we’d make it to the ‘station’ by 4:00, which was the last bus of the day.
The drivers were intent on getting us there and, for the sake of my parents, I won’t describe the trip in too much detail! The important part is that we made it in one piece (somehow!), caught the bus (which had waited a good 15 minutes for us) and rolled back into Bangkok around 9 p.m.
When it was all said and done, the two of us spent a total of $140. This includes 12 modes of transportation, three nights in an ocean-front bungalow, a motorbike rental, gasoline, 20-30 meals (each one worth at least $15 by U.S. standards), far too many fruit shakes to count, a sufficient amount of alcohol, an item or two of clothing, internet usage (we had to see whose blog entry got more comments…thanks, everyone) and a few other odds and ends.
Have I mentioned that I love Thailand?