Every year millions of tourists flock to Thailand’s famous beach destinations of Pattaya, Hua Hin, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, yet, there are many island gems to be discovered. The islands on the eastern coasts of the kingdom are easier to travel to, more pristine and economical. I journeyed far from the himalayas to discover a different kind of paradise sponsored by Amazing Thailand.
Taste grilled squid? Check. Try snorkeling even if I can’t swim? Check. Get stung by a baby jellyfish? Check. I think I just had my perfect island getaway.
When it comes to holidaying in Thailand – apart from shopping in Bangkok city – beach holidays are definitely what draws in many travelers from Bhutan. From Pattaya, Hua Hin to Phuket many Bhutanese are now planning beach holidays every year in Thailand. So when Amazing Thailand invited me to try a different kind of island holiday in the kingdom, I immediately started packing my bathing suit, flip-flops, and sunscreen.
The Cozy Trat Airport
I was joined by travel bloggers from India. It was their first time too. I had never heard of the island before. Truth be told, I just happen to be like any other Bhutanese woman whose idea of a holiday in Thailand means shopping and more shopping in the city. So packing for a peaceful island holiday was a pleasant change. ‘Welcome to Koh Chang’ read the brochures as we made our way to Bangkok Airways Blue Ribbon lounge. Before long, I found myself overlooking a vast clear blue ocean-scape as the plane slowly descended upon Trat Airport. “Oh my god! The airport’s just like my country’s international airport.” I exclaimed. My companions laughed. They, of course, thought I was joking. I wasn’t used to seeing small quiet airports when I was outside Bhutan but the Trat Airport really did remind me of Paro. The short queues and zero chaos was a wonderful start to the getaway.
Also known as the Elephant island-because of its elephant shaped headland, Koh Chang is located on the eastern shores of Thailand. What makes it special? There are 46 smaller islands in the Koh Chang island cluster making it one of the most popular boat-trip destinations in Thailand. Presently, the main tourist attractions in the country is in its southern islands; hence, Koh Chang isn’t bombarded with too many tourists…yet.
Centara Resort & Spa
After a hour’s ferry ride from Trat, we finally reached the island. When we got to Centara Resort, a few of the travelers wanted to explore the night market but I wanted to say hello to the ocean. “It’s so dark, you won’t see anything,” said our guide. However, I wasn’t going to wait till morning, no sir. There’s something about the relationship between mountain people and the ocean that many don’t get. I clearly recall the first time I saw the ocean when I was a little girl visiting Pattaya for the first time. I still remember the turn our car took and suddenly there it was – I thought it was coming towards me about to swallow me whole.
When I got to the resort in Koh Chang, I darted towards the beach in semi-darkness. I didn’t even feel the ground change under my feet as it moved from pavement to sand. Then, I saw it, “Well, hello again,” I said. Although all I saw was some shifting horizontal black mass. It was barely the blue I remembered. Guess it is too dark, I thought. But I finally did reunite with the sea the next morning.
Centara resort has a long stretch of sandy beach one often sees in island photos on Pinterest. There is a blueness in color that one can get using photoshop filters but the only difference here is that you can dip your feet into it. After acquiring my fill of a morning dip in the ocean, I moved towards an open air restaurant which was located delightfully next to the beach. You really get a sense that you’re on an island holiday when you enjoy a plate of tropical fruit and fresh juice alongside the sound of swishing waves. After the surreal breakfast experience, we moved to the lobby excited to find out the activities for the day on the island. “Today we go snorkeling,” announced our guide. “Uh oh,” muttered my blogger friend. “I don’t know how to swim.” Uh Oh. Me too. I said to myself.
You know you’re on an island holiday when you enjoy a plate of tropical fruit and fresh juice alongside the sound of swishing waves.
Souvenir Markets at the Port
As I nervously started imagining all the worst case scenarios of me drowning on my first big island getaway, we arrived at Bang Bao Pier. Entering Bang Bao Pier, we toured a beautiful peaceful port village as we made our way to the port where our boat was waiting. The little seaside village had everything from sourvenir trinkets, beachwear, flippers, seafood to seashell ornaments and jewellery. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to shop and I couldn’t pick up the ‘I Love Koh Chang’ fridge magnets I wanted so badly.
We hopped onto the speed boat. I had been on one once when I was a little girl holidaying in Pattaya but I realized I had forgotten how fast these things go. If you’re planning on riding on a speed boat for the first time, be prepared. It’s definitely a different kind of a bumpy ride compared to what we’re used to on our roads. But the boat’s constant collision with the water doesn’t affect you once you get yourself together to enjoy the view.
Snorkeling in Koh Chang’s Blue Waters
The ocean water’s blueish tone – that seems possible only through photo filters – the smaller islands peeping through the horizon made me forget everything. And suddenly I wasn’t so worried about disappearing into the vastness of the sea. We finally reached the reef where we were going to go snorkelling. This is it, I thought, as I put on the life jacket and snorkel gear. Our guide started giving instructions on how to breathe through the snorkels. I wasn’t prepared but I was definitely not going to miss it. I jumped into the water and immediately I was struggling to stay afloat. But that was it.
As soon as I straightened my snorkels and held on to the life jacket I felt much better. I had never been curious about snorkelling because the experience itself is unlike anything you see on videos or photos. You have to feel the water, look into the water and discover this adventure for yourself. It’s like swimming in an aquarium but better. From looking at rays swimming around the reef, zebra fish swimming alongside you, clown fish going into an anemone to spots of sea urchins, snorkelling is a must-do island activity. As my guide slowly toured me around the reef, I saw others who were swimming freely and reaching out to the corals at the bottom of the reef. “Uff those chilip tourists with their Go Pros and swimming skills,” I scoffed in my head. That was the first time when I thought I really wish I had learnt how to swim. Even a short snorkelling session can work up quite the appetite.
Lunch at Koh Kradat
After an adventurous swim, we got back into our boat, speeding off to Koh Mak island for lunch. Enjoying fresh sea food in an openair restaurant overlooking the beach was another highlight of the day. After lunch, there was a special tour waiting for us on the island of Koh Kradat: the Deer island. You begin to understand what makes Koh Chang so unique as you go island-hopping.
Koh Kradat is an island brimming with coconut trees and deers running around the island. We toured the area in a tractor on an off-road track leading to the most beautiful beach. The enormous stretch of white sandy beach tops Koh Chang’s island retreats – empty, clean and tranquil. I couldn’t help but climb a bent coconut tree and enjoy the view. With sand in-between my toes and sun burnt arms, I knew I just had my perfect island experience.
As my short trip came to an end and I began packing for home, I realized that no amount of googling and research prepares you for an island getaway. You have to feel the sand on the beach to know what it’s like to walk along one. You have to taste the freshness of the seafood to find out what the big hype is all about, and you have dive into the darkness of the ocean to finally uncover a whole new world under the sea.