Heather's Thairy

Heather's journey to Bangkok, Thailand: a year of adventure!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Koh Chang

We got a week off for the Songkran holiday, and Stephanie and I decided that it would be a good time to try and see some more of Thailand. Our initial plan had been to take a train or bus to Sukhothai, where there are extensive ruins, but when we got around to trying to book transportation we found that everything had filled up and we weren't able to make it out there. We spent that weekend in Bangkok and still managed to get to Koh Chang for six nights.
Koh Chang is Thailand's second largest island, located in the East. Despite its size it is not very populous and has not been overdeveloped. It is about a five and a half hour bus ride to Trat and then a half hour ferry to get to the island, and after a slight hiccup where I had to visit the hospital we found ourselves on Koh Chang, headed to White Sands beach.

White Sands is the most touristy beach on the island, and it is also the longest beach there. Our first night we stayed at a rather dingy place which we promptly left in the morning after discovering that the water ran brown. It was fine for one night but eventually we would need to shower, so we found another (much nicer) place up the road.

The beach, though sometimes crowded, was peaceful and clean and a great place to watch the sunset. I spent many hours lying on the beach reading...we also enjoyed some fantastic dinners there (superb barbecue!) and the water was nice and clear for swimming.
Stephanie signed up for the three-day PADI open water dive certification course, and I joined her on the second day for some snorkeling. We were told that it was underwater cleanup day, which we weren't really informed about until it actually occurred. Koh Chang organizes an underwater cleanup date periodically (this was the third such date) where dive centers from around the island get together and dive for garbage around the island and the national marine park. This sounds like a wonderful idea, and in theory, it is.

In practice, I was a little less enthusiastic about the whole procedure. First, we drove out on the boat for about three hours to get to our designated clean up site. Trying not to think about the gas usage, I stayed aboard the boat at first while most of the others got into their gear and dove down for trash. Soon people began surfacing with armloads of garbage, mostly abandoned or lost fishing equipment. There were about 8 other people on the boat with me, all wearing staff shirts, but none of them did anything at first so I went over and hauled the garbage onto the boat. I was looked at as if I was crazy when I asked what to do with the stuff; turns out that I was meant to simply throw it on the deck. I complied, and then noticed that much of what was being brought up was covered in sea creatures. I asked if we shouldn't perhaps be more careful about what we were pulling out of the ocean, and was again treated like a mental patient. I began to throw little animals back into the water, disgusted by this point...the final straw was when one "staff member" dangled a sea slug in my face and asked "Do you want to eat it?"
No, I do not want to eat the sea slug that has been unceremoniously uprooted from its underwater home by this haphazard "cleanup".
I donned my snorkel gear and left the boat with the intent of scouring the shore for uninhabited waste. The snorkeling was excellent; no garbage in sight. I returned to the boat about a half hour later with one piece of garbage (animal-free) to more stares and stunned silence.

Ignoring the people on deck, I went upstairs to change and discovered that three of the "staff" had collected large pieces of live coral as souvenirs.
Later, the entire crew of about 40 people enjoyed a lunch from styrofoam containers.
We then drove the three hours back, the divers toasting a victory of about a half deck-load of garbage collected.

Now, I hate to be so negative about the whole thing, but it seems to me that the whole thing was just ever so slightly hypocritical.
My time spent on White Sands, besides the clean-up fiasco, was quite relaxing and nice, though, and for our last night we decided to head to another of Koh Chang's many beaches. Our intent was to visit Lonely Beach, having heard many recommendations of its views and vibe. When we arrived, though, we decided that we weren't interested in staying in the party area and continued on to Bailan.
I'm really glad that we did: though Bailan is not a sandy beach (it was rocky and the tide goes very far out, exposing pointy plants and more rocks), the guesthouse we stayed at was brand new and gorgeous and had the most wonderful staff I've met to date. It was so isolated, peaceful and relaxing and was the perfect end to our trip.

Until next time,


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