Following the Andaman Sea and western side of the Gulf of Thailand islands, I found myself back on islands on the eastern part of the Gulf near Cambodia for another two weeks. By the end of this couple weeks, though, I was very island'd out. Who knew that was possible? Koh Chang and Koh Samet provided something a little different to the rest of the islands, though, as they are much quieter and off the beaten track from the rest of Thailand's top destinations.
Following New Years in Bangkok, I met up with my old roommate and good friend from Wisconsin, Francis, who flew from Japan to visit me for a week in Thailand. We planned to visit a couple of islands over near the Cambodian border (I initially planned to go from eastern Thailand straight to Cambodia, but then Myanmar happened...), but then settled on one, Koh Chang, and stayed there for an entire week. Koh Samet soon followed, meeting back up with a friend from earlier during my travels in northern Thailand. We also stayed there for nearly a week, finding ourselves content with doing a lot of nothing.
Koh Chang: This island is the second largest in Thailand (behind Phuket) and is impressively beautiful. Francis and I arrived on the 2nd of January and intended to stay only a few days before heading off to other islands nearby, Ko Mak and Ko Kut, but due to some injuries early on in the week and being lazy, we ended up spending nearly a week just hanging out, diving, sinking our kayaks in the ocean, and motorbiking some of the most scenic roads in all of Thailand.
As I said Koh Chang is massive! There are about five or six different areas of the island where you can stay, mainly all on the western side. Koh Chang has a mixture of different types of people visiting it too, from young, European (mainly) families escaping the cold of winter to the young backpackers looking for an excuse to get blitzkrieg drunk night after night. Each section of the island has its own personality, and finding the right one for us was quite easy. We had done a little research on Iamkohchang.com and found a couple of areas we thought might be fun to check out.
Our first full day on the island we rented motor bikes and cruised around for the entire day. This, as I said, is some of the best motor biking I've done in all of Thailand, with a lot of winding roads through the mountainous island all covered with thick jungle and monkeys overhead. The interior of the island is filled with a lot of trekking and waterfalls, but unfortunately a rolled ankle from one of our earlier nights out sidelined Francis for a couple of days and we couldn't make it into the jungle.
From our guesthouse bungalow right on the beach which we paid all of $6 each/night, we were able to rent kayaks, swim, and hang out right on the water day after day. Our luck with the kayaks unfortunately wasn't great, as the one day we took them out we started to notice after an hour or so that it was riding significantly lower in the water than it had before. I'd noticed it was quite heavy when we first dragged it off the beach, but it wasn't until we were between two of the smaller offshore island and the boat was literally sinking into the water that we both realized we had a leak. We tried adjusting who sat on which part of the kayak, but the boat became too unstable to balance on and we ultimately ended up with one of us on the boat paddling while the other kicked from behind in the water. Eventually we made it back to some rocks and pulled the boat up onto them in order to drain the water, and after about an hour of waiting the kayak was emptied enough to make it back to shore. Thankfully no one was hurt in this process and neither of us brought our phones along for the ride which was fortunate.
My birthday was also celebrated on the island, and we decided to go diving for the day as a birthday present to me. I first dove in Australia back in December 2014 and it was a magical experience. As a swimmer of 18 years I found that what diving gave me was something I only imagined in my dreams before. Immediately after getting home I signed up for a course to get certified and have been seeking out good diving sights ever since. It's a lifelong hobby that I hope to be able to do for many years to come.
All-in-all Koh Chang was awesome. It's an extremely chilled out place to relax, perfect for doing a lot of nothing. If you're not for doing nothing, though, you also have loads of other places to visit around the island and things to see. From trekking to biking to snorkeling/diving to partying and everything in between, Koh Chang has it, and you'll be glad you visited.
Koh Samet: After Koh Chang Francis and I parted ways, him returning to Bangkok and home, and I moving on to Koh Samet, a very off-the-beaten-path island for backpackers due to its innate ability to attract mainly wealthy Thai people looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.
I arrived via ferry after a very long and delayed process of just trying to get onto the island. The island is small enough, though, that once getting off the ferry I was able to walk to a nearby guesthouse and crash for a night. My friend Jon whom I'd met in Chiang Mai and then traveled to Pai with had just returned from five weeks in New Zealand and we decided to meet up on Koh Samet before heading to Myanmar together a week later. Our first night on the island was spent catching up a bit over some beers and sharing a VERY small and hot room together at the guesthouse.
In the morning we immediately moved to a place a bit more comfortable and ended up at the only hostel on the island, Olly's. Most of our days were similar to mine in Koh Chang, doing a lot of motor biking around, planning our days around when we'd eat again, or paying a visit to the pristine white-sand beaches that draw people to Koh Samet (Side note: I just had serious de ja vu writing that last sentence and it was really weird...). One day we even met a crazy nomadic jungle lady who asked us to help her move a bunch of logs for her into a strange circle in order for us to be able to sit on her beach without paying. We happily obliged as she seemed like she really needed the help, and our good deeds were paid off with fresh pineapples and bread afterward! Remember, good karma goes a long ways.
We didn't realize the types of people who'd be vacationing on Koh Samet, but quickly realized that backpackers were not the majority. It seemed that about 80% of the visitors to the island were local Thai people escaping Bangkok for a long weekend. It was the first time I'd really seen a lot of wealthy Thais living similarly to how we do in the West and it was really interesting to see how they enjoyed their own country. Most Thai people I'd interacted with at that point were either market vendors who spoke decent enough English to get a small conversation out of or locals in the small villages who really didn't have much of anything, let alone enough money to vacation on an island.
Jon and I made friends with a group of about 10 local guys who were there for a weekend of fun, and though the language barrier was tough, we eventually got invited over to their beach house for cards and drinks before heading out to a beach party with them for a night of fun. We played Uno and taught them how to play F*** the Dealer (FTD). Surprisingly, you don't really need to be able to speak English to play or teach either of those games, though it was fun trying to explain the rules of FTD using a lot of hand gestures and Google Translate.
By the end of Koh Samet I was ready to be done with the islands. It was a fantastic island to visit, away from a lot of backpackers and filled with more authentic Thai vacationers which I liked. At this point I'd spent nearly 4 weeks on the islands, though, everywhere from the Andaman Sea to the western Gulf of Thailand and now the east nearly in Cambodia. Islands are great and I'll always come back to them, but after a month I was ready to move on and see something new.
Jon and I headed back to Bangkok in order to lock up visas for Myanmar where we planned to spend another three weeks together with his roommate back home. Stay tuned for Myanmar posts. It was an incredible country and my favorite thus far in Asia!