Sunday, February 20, 2011

Koh Chang & Koh Kood - A Tale of Two Islands

Is it possible to “get away from it all” on a Thai island? The answer is “yes” with a small disclaimer. As with anywhere you travel, you don’t get to choose your fellow tourists and there-in lies the problem, especially at a small, relatively secluded resort...

Greg and I did a fair amount of research before deciding where to spend our Thai island “vacation” after our first six months of RTW travel. I, for one, needed more than a day or two break from the planning, sightseeing, and overall travel routine. I found this article particularly helpful for choosing the “right” islands for us and this website provides lots of detailed info about Koh Chang.

Our target accommodation price was around $40 per night for two people including breakfast. Although you can spend less, you have to give up some creature comforts (like hot water showers, free wifi and onsite restaurant) that we weren’t willing to sacrifice. What we did NOT want was an overly crowded, party-centric beach which has been damaged by overdevelopment and where it’s hard to find anything still locally-owned. This immediately excluded Phuket, Koh Samui and many other popular Thai island destinations. We eventually settled on Koh Chang and, after spending a full week there, decided to continue on to Koh Kood for our second week of island bliss.
the simple beauty of island life
Due to the Lunar New Year as well as a flower festival in Chiang Mai, all of the overnight trains to Bangkok were fully booked for our desired travel dates. We ended up buying one way tickets from Chiang Mai to Trat (via Bangkok) on Bangkok Airways for $161 per person (two 1 hour flights plus a 3 hour connection at BKK) versus $30 each for 2nd class train seats from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (taking 12 hours) plus $8 each for the 1st class bus from Bangkok to Trat (taking 5+ hours). We had a great experience on Bangkok Airways and I was particularly impressed by their prompt response to an email inquiry, the complimentary lounge access (with food, beverages and free wifi) for all passengers, and the friendly and efficient service by all staff we encountered. I also enjoyed our arrival at tiny Trat airport, which was built by the airline solely for its use, where we were transferred from the tarmac to the open air arrivals terminal via trolleys. From there we took a shared minivan (operated by Krungthep Limousine Co.) directly to our resort. This cost 470 baht ($15) per person and included the 30 minute ferry crossing.
deplaning at Trat airport
We spent eight nights at Penny’s Bungalow Resort on Pearl Beach, Koh Chang. For the dates we requested, they only had a “luxury double bungalow” available for a rate of 1500 baht per night, although we did get a 10% discount for booking at least seven nights. Thus our nightly rate came to $44 including breakfast. Many of the highest rated boutique resorts in desirable beach areas like Khlong Prao were well over $50 per night. Here’s my TripAdvisor review of the resort.
view to the north from the beach at Penny's
We did virtually nothing the entire week except reading books on the beach and making beer runs to the local market (a 30 minute round-trip walk to the main road). We were also able to watch the SuperBowl live streaming on our netbooks with VIP Stand. I think that’s the first American football match I’ve watched since last year’s SuperBowl! When we tallied up our expenses at the end of the week, we had only spent $29 per person per day on Koh Chang including all meals, drinks and accommodation.
sunset view from my usual reading spot at Penny's
Here's the link to all of my Koh Chang photos.

Ready for a change of scenery, we took a speedboat to Koh Kood. It took a full hour from the time we were picked up by a truck taxi at Penny’s, with multiple stops to pick up a total of eight more people, to drive the length of the east coast of the island to reach Bang Bao pier. Then we had to carry all of our bags (no porters) what seemed to be an entire kilometer to the end of the pier where we climbed into the awaiting boat. We stopped multiple times but very briefly at various islands including Koh Wai and Koh Mak to drop off or pick up other passengers on the way to Koh Kood. The boat ride lasted one hour. I rode in the back (sheltered) area for the first half then the front for the remainder. It was a bit “bumpy” at times but overall was an enjoyable and scenic ride.
our transport from Koh Chang to Koh Kood
We stayed six nights at Koh Kood Resort. Here’s my TripAdvisor review. All-inclusive packages are offered at most of the resorts we looked at on Koh Kood. Priced per person, these usually include round-trip transfers, deluxe accommodations (with A/C), three meals daily, unlimited coffee/tea and sodas, one or two excursions (full day snorkeling trip, night cruise, hike to Klong Chao waterfall, etc.) and a one hour Thai massage. However, the average daily price per person was at least $75 (or $150 for two people). This is much higher than the $44 per person per day we’ve been spending throughout Southeast Asia, so we were confident we could save money by paying a la carte. We had originally booked a bungalow with air conditioning for 1800 baht ($59) per night but after the first night decided that was an unnecessary luxury and switched to a fan room for 1200 baht ($39) per night including breakfast.
our bungalow (B8) at Koh Kood Resort
There are three resorts nestled in the same small bay but they are separated by forested areas. On our first afternoon we took a walk in the direction we thought was to a small convenience store, but after walking for over 30 minutes and not seeing a single building much less another person, we turned back. All we were trying to do was find a cheaper place to buy beer! Anyway, it gave us an excuse to have a look around the other two resorts (The Beach Natural and Siam Beach Resort) with the resulting opinion that we had definitely picked the “best” of the three. We did eventually locate the market, where beer was indeed cheaper, but quickly determined it was not worth the effort to walk there daily in the heat as we did not have a mini-fridge in our room to keep our purchases cold.
a beer from the neighboring resort
As on Koh Chang, we spent the entire week just reading on the beach with the added diversions of snorkeling and kayaking in the bay. We ended up spending only $30 per person per day on Koh Kood, including all meals, drinks and accommodation.
a commercial fishing boat leaving the bay at sunset
Here's the link to all of my Koh Kood photos

We were sad to leave our little island paradise but had to get back up to Bangkok for our scheduled flight to India. This time we traveled as cheaply as possible which meant a 1.5 hour speedboat ride from Koh Kood to the mainland (600 baht or $20 per person), where we took a free taxi (12 adults, 1 baby, 1 driver in a small pickup truck) to the Trat bus station. Our timing was perfect and we quickly bought tickets (only 241 baht/$8 per person) and boarded the 11:00AM first class CherdChai bus to Bangkok. We were greeted by Thai pop music blasting from the speakers throughout the bus (and when that disc was over, it was followed by two movies - neither in English, then more music). An attendant frequently offered cups of iced Pepsi from a tray and gave us wafer snacks, bottled water and wet towels. We were the only non-Thai passengers during the entire 5.5 hour bus journey to Ekamai (Bangkok‘s Eastern Bus Terminal). Other than quick stops to pick up or drop off other passengers, we only had two opportunities to get off the bus, at Chanthaburi bus station (where I quickly bought a pork sausage and some dumplings from a street vendor), and at the 2.5 hour mark where we were given 10 minutes to stretch our legs (and buy beer and chips!). A friendly passenger also gave us bags of dried shrimp and rice to snack on. Overall the bus trip was quite pleasant, with comfortable seating and enough leg room for us tall Westerners, plus a clean onboard toilet. Eliminate the loud music/movie soundtracks and it would be perfect!
the bus we took from Trat to Bangkok
provisions for a long bus ride
One final note:  As I alluded to at the beginning of this post (and in my TripAdvisor reviews), our time on the beaches would have been much more enjoyable if it wasn't for the other guests. It's not that there were too many of them -- both resorts are fairly small, with only around 28 bungalows each. However, as there weren't any real rules at either resort, that meant everyone pretty much did what they wanted. This included smoking anywhere and everywhere; littering on the property/beach by leaving cigarette butts on the ground and not disposing of water bottles and soda cans; adopting some form of topless sunbathing (which I don't have a problem with except that the resorts are Thai-owned and frequently have Thai or other Asian guests so it's not very culturally sensitive); letting their numerous kids run around undisciplined, screaming and crying; and doing petty things like “reserving” a lounge chair by throwing a towel on it but then not using it for hours nor removing the towels when finished so it appears still occupied. I think a little more oversight by the resort staff or doing simple things like having a designated smoking area would go a long way towards making all guests more comfortable.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!!! beautiful pictures!!! That picture of sunset is soo beautiful!!