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Koh Chang’s evolution | Thailand Tips

 

Koh Chang in the past

Over the twenty years that I have visited and lived on Koh Chang, it’s evolution has been predictable but thankfully sympathetic.

In the early days, I’d arrive with my wife and friends, it was another new frontier, rickety over-laden wooden boats and a hazardous journey across the mountains to the west coast and White Sand Beach. We were booked into a 50 baht bungalow, shared showers and toilets, the scenery was beautiful, but my wife, more familiar with the Ritz, was unimpressed. The next day I trudged along the beach, feet sinking into the sand bearing the weight of Louis Vuitton and champagne, until we found a compromise and fell in love with the island.

 

Koh Chang bang baoKoh Chang Adventure

 

How to get to Koh Chang

Nowadays it’s easy, from Pattaya it should be a three and a half hours drive to the ferry point. I tend to leave early, around 6am, avoid the traffic and three hours is comfortable. Mini-buses are readily available, costing between 300 to 700 baht one way, depending on how gullible you are and where you buy the ticket.

Once on the ferry, you can relax and enjoy the spectacle of this wonderful island as it nears, it’s presence, it’s rain forest, a distant power, increasingly defined with shadows, sun or storm clouds. I hope it will remain a lasting memory for you, as it always has for me.

 

Green development

The dirt tracks have been replaced with an asphalt road, widened year by year, crossing over the mountain range to the popular west side of the island. Some might say we’ve sold out, building, playing with nature, but I’m sure the hardest of hearts would agree that a road could be justified on Thailand’s second largest island. No traffic lights, no roundabouts, just a simple road with a few tracks into the jungle.

Koh Chang has always been known for it’s beautiful rain forest, mountains, waterfalls, beaches, clear seas and untouched islands and fortunately it’s development has lagged way behind Phuket, Samui and Pattaya. The authorities have learnt lessons, I hope, and Koh Chang will never become another concrete jungle. They enforce regulations for both the National Park (90% of the island) and the Marine Park, strictly, no building can be higher than 12 metres anywhere on the island and efforts are being made, along with incentives, to create a showpiece for Thailand.

Plans are firmly in place to use alternative energy, waste re-cycling, solar/wind power and a number of schemes are already agreed for self sustainable organic farming, in other words, treat the island with respect, care for it and it will be a better place. Bali Sharks, an internationally funded marine charity, are in talks to set up new breeding grounds for turtles and sea horses. They work towards reviving damaged coral, and balancing marine life. Even on a small scale, groups of locals meet every Wednesday to tidy rubbish away from a designated area, often helped by police volunteers. A small group of ladies also run a charity to look after stray dogs. It’s a small society, where we all care, and more to the point the authorities finally care.

 

Koh Chang bang bao Koh Chang Adventures4

 

Activities in Koh Chang

In terms of activities, it’s the sea, the mountains and nature. No jet-skis, no go-karts, but the best of sea sports, diving, snorkeling, sailing, surfing, trips to islands, treks through the forest, swimming with elephants, bathing in the waterfalls and a simple sundowner cocktail to round off that perfect day. Probably that perfect lazy day on the secluded beach…

Demographics have changed dramatically in the last five to ten years. The old dog kennels that my wife so hated, have been replaced by stylish yet subtle and classy resorts, she’d approve. Good restaurants and cocktail bars abound for the new post backpack generation. The ones who fell in love here as students and are now married with kids, have senior exec jobs, and can afford to re-live their youth and memories with a little more comfort.

 

Green real estate

Not surprisingly, there is an increasing demand for residential property on the island, mainly for investment and holiday homes. Several years ago, Siam Royal View launched an immense project at Klong Song, housing, a marina and short hole golf course and Tranquility Bay. An up-scale condo development on the southern tip of the island with great views is now almost completed.

And so the evolution of Koh Chang continues in a slow steady way, working with nature rather than fighting it, making the most of  a beautiful, natural setting.

 

Source of the name “Koh Chang”

And for the curious, why the name Koh Chang? (Elephant Island).  Elephants are not indigenous to the island and the lazy answer is that the island looks like an elephant. I’ve tried, sideways, from above and with difficulty from below and no, I don’t get it. Some months ago, I raised the subject over tea, sitting crossed legged on the floor of a wooden house near Bang Bao with an old lady, ninety plus years of age. One of the original settlers here and still a major landowner.

Through my interpreter, she told me the story of the Manchang, a primate, half man, half elephant, hirsute, with arms and body like a man but with an elephant’s head and a trunk used for fishing. Her uncle and many of his family lost their lives to the Manchang, but with the force of numbers, this savage tribe was finally driven into the jungle and away from the shores and the fruits of the sea.

The old lady began to sob and then broke down uncontrollably, flaying her arms, gesturing about the trunk, how her family were slaughtered and finally, piercing screams until we slowly brought her back to today, Chinese tea and the gentle wash of the ocean waves. She was at peace once more, ridden of the spirit of the Manchang.

I have heard of occasional sightings since and it is believed by many that a small tribe, Manchang, still exists in the deepest heart of the island, hence, Koh Chang.

 

Should you wish for any further information about Koh-Chang island, please don’t hesitate to contact [email protected]

Author: Richard Hill

 

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