HIGH Blue Mountains rise from the sea; a dark silhouette on the horizon. From a distance the land mass takes on the shape of a giant elephant rising almost to the base of the clouds that drift landward with the monsoon’s prevailing wind. No wonder early visitors – fishermen and pirates – identified this as Chang or Elephant Island. It was here they sought shelter from storms, where they found plentiful water and fruits to replenish their boats. Those natural assets continue to attract travellers today.
As the winds change this month, Chang Island emerges from the mist and storm clouds – a picturesque destination, an emerald island on the eastern seaboard. Until recently Chang was ignored by tourists but that is changing with improved highways, fast bus services and convenient ferry links from Trat province.
This December, the incentive to visit the island will be even more attractive – Bangkok Airways will begin daily services landing at a brand-new Trat airport it is currently building.
Koh Chang, the third largest island in Thailand after Phuket and Samui, stands off the Trat province coastline, representing an area of 492 sq km. Covered in virgin rainforest, its topography is dominated by high mountains rising from shoreline cliffs. This gives the island an abundance of waterfalls and streams, rugged almost impassable interior and rainforests. All the beaches and tourist attractions are located on the west coast that is accessible by road or boat. Originally the island was a temporary refuge for fishing boats and pirates during the monsoon. They settled at Salak Petch bay, noted for its freshwater source and shelter.
Tourism started during the 1970s but was controlled by local families who built small A-frame bungalows on Klong Phrao beach. It was not until the 1990s that resorts took shape and even today facilities are basic when compared with Samui and Phuket.
October to May is the peak season, with heavy monsoon rains and storms during the rest of the year.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car: There are two routes from Bangkok to Trat. Highway 3 represents the longest route – 385 km via Chonburi, Pattaya, Rayong and Chanthaburi. The shorter route on Highway 344 is 315 km via Chonburi-Klaeng-Chanthaburi.
By bus: Air-conditioned buses leave Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai Bus Terminal) on Sukhumvit Road near Soi Ekamai daily from 0500 to 2400 every 30 minutes. Duration is about five to six hours.
Transfer Trat-Koh Chang
Getting to Ko Chang is not difficult. Just take the bus (songtaew) from Trat to Laem Ngop on the coast for Bt20. Ferry from Laem Ngop to Ko Chang takes from 45 minutes to two hours, depending on the boats used. There are three points from where boats leave for Koh Chang.
Two piers at Thammachat and Koh Chang centre point. One is a ferry pier for visitors taking their car to the island. Cost of ferry depends on the kind of car. Roundtrip fare for a car is BU50 (free for driver) and Bt6o per passenger.
The other is just a passenger ferry pier with wooden boats. Roundtrip is Bt1oo (after 1700, you have to charter a ferry for about Bt1,ooo). Koh Chang Centre Point pier is about 5 km away. It is also for visitors taking their car to the island. It starts serving from 07:00 until 17:00. Ferry fare for a four-wheeler is Bt1oo, six-wheeler Bt200,10-wheeler Bt400.
The third point is Natural Bay pier, about 15 km from the others. Ferries leave from 07:00 until 19:00. A car costs Bt150.
Once on the island getting to the beaches is an easy matter. The traditional songtaew costs Bt30 to Sai Kaew. Bt4O to Klong Phrao and Bt50 to Kai Bae (to other places you have to charter a baht-bus). Another way to travel in Koh Chang is to rent motorcycle for Bt400 a day or a mountain bike for Bt40 per hour or Bt200 to Bt300 per day.
From Pattaya an air-conditioned minibus leaves at 07:00 daily at Malibu Travel, Pattaya 2 Road. Fare is Bt500 per person (one-way) and Bt1,ooo (roundtrip) including boat transfer. To charter a taxi costs Bt2,500 per day and Bt2,8oo for an air-condition minibus.
Contact Malibu Travel, tet: (663) 8423-180.
Yuttanawee Memorial is situated on Laem Ngop beach on the south of island, consisting of the figure of Krom Luang Chumpon Khet Udomsak who is the father of waterway transportation in Thailand, and a warship-shaped museum building with an exhibition of the historic war between Thai and French naval troops fought over the eastern border, 17 January 1941, near Koh Chang.
Tan Ma Yom waterfall is located behind the National Park office. Walk through the durian Orchard for about 500 metres. There is wonderful three-storey cascade of medium proportions. In the past. King Rama V and VI once visited this waterfall and signed their names on the highest cliff of the cascade.
Klong Plu waterfall is three-storey fall about 3 km from Klong Phrao. It takes two hours to walk to the waterfall.
Klong Nonsi waterfall is located on the northernmost section of the island. It is 3 km from Baan Daan Mai or 4km from the National Park office.
Klong Nueng waterfall is a small waterfall situated remotely from Salak Petch Community near Salak Petch waterfall.
Tri Petch waterfall 3 km from Salak Petch Community along the orchards of rubber trees.