It’s taken a while, but finally we’re here. We’ve travelled for well over a week from Laos to get to this island off the Andaman Coast (although admittedly with a few stop, first to get Scarlett’s cast removed, then to idle in Prachuap Khiri Khan), but now we’re ready to start our two month, 300-mile, island-hopping tour down to Malaysia. The island is Koh Chang, the northern-most island on the West coast (not to be confused with the more famous Koh Chang on the Gulf of Thailand).
As I write, I am lying in the Mexican hammock my dad bought me before my first backpacking trip in 1999, a brilliant present that proved invaluable to loafing around Thailand then and is just as seductively comfortable now as it was all those years ago (provided that three 8-year olds aren’t also trying to fit into it – fortunately they’re all now asleep). The day’s two-hours-per-day of electricity are over and, as the waves lap around three sides of our bungalow that hovers over the bay on stilts, I can either look across the sea to uninhabited, jungley Burmese islands, with fewer lights than any country I‘ve ever known, or up, to see more stars than are ever visible at home. This finally feels like being in the Tropics. This is the first time I’ve strung it in all the places we’ve visited this time. Finally I feel like I’m back to the Thailand I once knew.
I’d begun to think that this Thailand had vanished. In 1999, Janet and I backpacked for a year around Thailand. We never booked ahead. And we mostly paid £2-3 a night for flimsy bamboo bungalows, and maybe 30-40p for meals.
Even then the bamboo beach hits were fast disappearing in Koh Samui but it seems now that they are relics of a bygone age. And we find ourselves rarely spending less that £20 for a room nowadays (and nearer £2 each for food). Sure, we need spacier accommodation with 5 of us to squeeze in, but Thailand has moved on in 15 years. There are a lot more tourists, Thais are wealthier and the bungalow operations realise they can get a lot more for their beachfronts.
Still, the places we’ve visited have perhaps not been representative. Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Pattaya, Hua Hin: we’ve somehow made our first month and more a tour of the most developed resorts in the whole country. And, Koh Tao apart, these aren’t the kind of places we dreamt of revisiting.
But now… little Koh Chang. No bamboo beach huts, perhaps, but hammocks, lapping waves, sunsets, starlight, no electricity; just cheap food, warm seas and wonderful beaches. This is the Thailand I loved.
I hope the next two months can live up to its promise.