Arriving early morning in Bangkok at Hualomphong train station, we immediately made our way to the Black Canyon coffee shop on the upper level. After a snack and a respectable cappuccino, we headed down the escalator into the Metro. For 30 baht, we ride 6 stations to Sukhumvit and transfer to the Airport Rail Link that terminates at Suvarnabhumi.
We had already reserved seats on what I thought was a bus to Koh Chang. But the bus leaves at an earlier time. We were assigned to a minivan. I was concerned about riding in the minivan because they are cramped and usually full. Sure enough, when the call came to load up, there was a diverse group of 9 people with backpacks and assorted gear all ready to climb in. We were the last to load and got two back seats. There were at least three languages being spoken around me that I did not recognize.
My seat did not recline because of the luggage stuffed behind it, but I was able to transfer to the front seat next to the driver after the first rest stop, though I had to negotiate with his gear up there. But I also had a clear view of the road… and the speedometer.
We took a couple of hours to get past Chanthaburi where the road opens to a four-lane stretch with a tree lined median. The driver really put the pedal to the metal here, careening around curves with a 70kmh speed limit at 110-120 kmh. That’s nearly 80mph, which in Thailand may not be unusual for a personal vehicle, but struck me as imprudent in a minivan loaded with tourists. Eventually I understood the driver’s haste. He was trying to make the 2pm ferry—which he did.
The ride to Koh Chang on the car ferry is about 50 minutes, docking easily and quickly unloading the 30-some vehicles on board. Koh Chang is large, mountainous and almost entirely a national park. As soon as we land, we head around the northern tip to the west side of the island, along the winding road past two more ferry docks, into the resort hotel areas, past the White Sand beach density of tourist commerce and resorts packed cheek by jowl; the clothing shops, the bars, the bike rental shops, snack bars and coffee shops.
Further south we continue along the winding, narrow well-traveled paved road, up and down steep grades and sharp bends, the jungle sometimes encroaching on both sides and with thick growth overhead such that the road becomes a darkened and cooled tunnel of intense vegetation. We pass the smaller beachside villages of Kai Bae and Lonely Beach with their warren of sidestreets populated by backpackers in dreadlocks, geezers like us, farangs on scooters, the ubiquitous sangteow taxis squeezing by each other, all a blast of color and activity.
Proceeding into the less populated southern end of the island, we pass a few more exclusive resorts, cliffs dropping sharply to the ocean, the odd condo development, a ragged reggae bar, hippie outposts, and the small village of BangBao. Soon the road turns to dirt, hand painted signs nailed to trees point to the various remaining hotels further on. Finally, at the end of the road, we reach our destination. This getaway is beyond all getaways, facing south into BangBao Bay, the beach lined with mangrove, the restaurant and reception open air. All the accommodations are in circular huts with thatched roofs spreading back into the forest, none more than a minute’s walk to the beach.
There is no surf here. The bottom is rocky in places but only a short walk to a sandy bottom, gently sloping down until it becomes a relatively uniform depth far out to rocks that appear at low tide. The resorts are not packed close along this beach. Each is spacious, with their own very tasteful massage concessions mounted on covered wooden platforms at the edge of grassy areas just back from the sand. Restaurants and bars are not crowded, speedboats do not ply back and forth, individual vendors are completely absent (the low population cannot possibly support them here), beach chairs are everywhere discreetly nestled in the shade of overhanging trees. Umbrellas are a rarity. Towels, chairs and kayaks are free.
There is nothing here except un-crowded, slow-paced, placid silence, interrupted only by birdcalls, the movements of staff, the quiet surf, other guests going about their business. How dull, right? Wrong.