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Forget Thailand’s ‘party islands’ – there are more

When you think of Thailand, Full Moon parties and ‘party islands’ such as Koh Phangan, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui and Phuket in the South come to mind and of course, when I went to Thailand these islands were planned into my trip. Having travelled around Vietnam and Cambodia first however, when the time came to cross the border into Thailand I did not have enough money left to travel to and between these islands as well as end in Bangkok. Although disappointed and with Thai island hopping high on my agenda still I desperately began to research islands that I could get to within my limited budget. Coming from Cambodia’s Sihanoukville area, Koh Chang and Koh Samet appeared to be the obvious choices as they are very close to the Cambodian and Thailand mainland and I was definitely not dissatisfied when I got to them. Koh Chang, being the closest boat ride from Cambodia was my first port of call, (pardon the pun) and after a ten-hour journey from Sihanoukville including nine (stressful) vehicle changes and a ferry ride we finally arrived. At the ferry crossing terminal we were able to book accommodation at the same time as buying our ferry ticket. Luckily most travellers did the same and so after the ferry, a taxi, (open back pickup truck) took us all to our accommodation, Nature Beach Resort which was compared to the prices we would have been paying on the ‘party islands’, very cheap. The rooms are all cabins either on the beach, in the jungle-like area a few metres behind or even a swamp with the communal area situated right on the beach. Needless to say, we saw some beautiful sunsets.

The following morning and late afternoon was spent on Lonely Beach, a grand old fifty footsteps from our cabin! The white soft sand and warm turquoise water made this beach completely picturesque, peaceful and wholly relaxing, especially as it is isolated and relatively empty compared to overcrowded beaches that were to be expected in the Southern islands. We spent the middle and hottest part of the day, (too hot to sunbathe), exploring the small town of Lonely Beach, a ten minute, extra time given to dodging baboons, walk away which really wasn’t that lonely at all. Small shops and stalls lined the streets selling traditional crafts and jewelry as well as tourist necessities with many small eateries catering to hot, thirsty travellers. That evening was spent back on the beach, watching the sunset, tucking into deliciously fresh pad-Thai and listening to live music well into the warm night. This place really was a backpackers paradise.

The following day began with a two-hour elephant trek, which was incredible. The journey consisted of roads, sandy paths, heaps of mud and jungle tracks. Plodding along on top of such a majestic animal in the tropical heat taking in the stunning views resulted in nothing less than smiles. The best part of the trek was when we arrived at a lake where we were told to dismount the elephant. Although at first feeling slightly concerned that we were in the jungle and not back at the elephant centre, we got off the elephant anyway and watched our guide remove the elephant’s saddle. We were then told to get back on the elephant. The most noticeable factor about riding bareback on it was that elephant hair is actually very prickly and so this was a little less comfortable than before. The guide then motioned the elephant into the water and before we knew it we were sat on the elephant whilst it swam around the lake which was truly amazing. What made the experience even better was that the guide took photos the whole time and so almost like a flipbook, our session in the lake and the hilarity that came with it such as slipping off the elephant and swimming around trying to climb back on is well documented. We spent the rest of the day and evening on the beach but first we sought out an Internet café so we could see the photos from the elephant trek which, we were sure would be entertaining.

Despite not being a ‘party island’, Lonely Beach is full of live music from the bars, restaurants and hostels. That night, after the party had died down at the hostel, following the crowd of other backpackers, we ventured into the Lonely Beach town. It didn’t take long before we found an animated bar playing live music and with a bucket (yes, literally ones you would make sandcastles with) of alcohol costing 100baht, about £2, we knew we were in for a fun night. This thrill did not last long however as after about half an hour the police turned up and promptly closed the bar for the night along with all the other bars still open. High spirits not quite completely faded, everyone headed back to Nature Beach Resort and restarted the party there, continuing long into the night.

Our next day was a little more stressful than the last. Having met another traveller the previous evening, the three of us ventured back into the town and hired mopeds for the day with the aim of circling the whole island. Throughout my time in Southeast Asia I had seen many travellers on mopeds and so despite not being able to drive back home I thought, how hard can it really be and optimistically picked out the moped I wanted and after only being told how to start and stop it, the three of us gleefully set off. It took less than five minutes into this full day plan for me to realize moped-ing was not for me especially as the island is full of steep curves and sharp bends with cliffs by the ocean pretty much always on one side of you. Whilst my other two excursion companions were perfectly happy zipping around on their mopeds, I was in full stress and panic mode going about half the speed they were and subsequently not being able to fully appreciate the stunning views. A little less than two hours into the venture on a particularly steep incline, I lost control of my moped, veered across to the other side of the road only a few metres from the cliff edge and fell off, (in a slow motion, elegant fashion) and the moped fell on top of me. Thankfully due to the lack of traffic coming the other way and the geriatric speed I was travelling at it was not as bad as it could have been especially as I was just in shorts and a vest top. Feeling bruised and crushed with the bike on top of me, my two friends had retraced their steps to see where I had got to, which happened to be lying on the tarmac. Although slightly concerned at first they then found this utterly hysterical and I have to admit, still slightly stunned with adrenaline still pumping, I found it hard not to laugh as well. With the encouragement and promise that we were only about ten minutes away from a ‘swanky’ looking beach resort, I wearily got back on my moped. At the resort we decided our next stop would be Klung Plu Waterfall and so after a cold refreshing drink and half an hour or so of de-stressing on the beach I came the conclusion that there was no way I was getting back on the moped. As taxi’s in Koh Chang are pickup trucks the best plan seemed to be getting my moped into a taxi and dropping it back off where I had hired it from and meeting my friends at the waterfall afterwards. An amused and confused taxi driver agreed to do this and after about fifteen minutes of trying to get the moped successfully into the taxi we were on our way, although I had to sit in the back of the pickup truck holding onto the moped so it wouldn’t fall out on all the uphill’s and bends. We all reconvened at the waterfall about 3pm and began the 500km trek through dense woodland to it. The waterfall was only small but had a strong current although the water was clear and warm and so we swam for about two hours before heading back to the resort for some much needed relaxation and dinner. Like the elephant trek, this whole palaver is an experience I will never forget.

With the dawn of a new day meant it was time for us to move on to Koh Samet. Despite wanting to stay in the tranquility of Koh Chang for longer, the discovery of a python in our cabin the night before was a definite push factor towards travelling onwards to see what Koh Samet had to offer. We left Koh Chang at 9am and like the journey from Sihanoukville, the trip from Koh Chang to Koh Samet also encompassed numerous bus changes and two ferry trips and the alleged 2 and a half hour journey turned into 10 hours arriving around 7pm. We arrived at the port at 4.05pm, missing the 4pm ferry which was frustrating to say the least although we were quickly beckoned into a café by three expats who generously bought us a drink and were keen to offer advice and information about Koh Samet. At 5pm we boarded the wooden boat and waited another 40 minutes before we finally set sail due to the large amount of supplies that were loaded on. The journey only took about an hour although the rough sea and violent swaying of the boat made it an hour too long! It docked in Koh Samet in the middle of a row of boats rather than by the gangway. This resulted in boat hopping, (five in total) which although was quite amusing, with heavy backpacks on our backs and large gaps between the vessels it was not ideal. Luckily our hotel was the street behind the port and so after settling in we headed straight out again in search of pad Thai which had become our Southeast Asian ‘comfort food’. The next couple of days were spent exploring the market stalls which sold deliciously fresh smelling fruit and tourist must-haves and lounging on the beach knowing full well this would be the last of the sun for a while once we were back in England. Koh Samet was busier and livelier than Koh Chang as with its close proximity to Bangkok, it serves as a respite to the bustle of mainland living. We spent the evenings on the beach as once the sun starts to set, deckchairs are removed from the sand and replaced with futons, large cushions and little tables. Dinner on the beach was great as not only were we sat in the heat but as we ate, the tide slowly came in lapping at our feet whilst we watched the sunset and once the sun had set, live music began and fire performers began their nightly entertainment. Despite not partaking in the frivolity and craziness of a Full Moon Party on the ‘party islands’, Koh Chang and Koh Samet provided some good parties of their own whilst being cheap and offering relaxing, serene beaches and stunning views. Disappointment vanished; these islands are definitely worth a visit.

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