Koh Chang (Elephant Island)
So despite Pathum Thani being a little bit of a buzzkill in terms of a place of residence- there is the perk of it's proximity to Bangkok. Anywhere I want to go I can get to via the airports/trains/buses that can be found in that chaotic hub of a capital. This has become an invaluable benefit to my life. The weeks seem to fly by in a way that is completely contradictory to my aforementioned "Thai Time" which connotes a leisurely pace. I don't feel like the days really "drag" as they did back home. My schedule is manageable and my free time is rather abundant. The beauty of this set up is that I have a pretty quick school week bookended by warm-weather weekends that allow for travel. It took almost two months to get to this point, but now that I'm settled into my routine it's easy to plan and bang out some amazing mini-vacations!
The first of these mini vacations took place the weekend of November 21st. The destination was Koh Chang, also known as Elephant Island, a beautiful getaway off of Trat. The trip was approximately 5 hours south of Bangkok, made easier by an overnight pit stop in Pattaya, sometimes referred to as Thailand's own Sin City. The most amazing part of traveling in this country is the cost. For a hotel room in Pattaya, you could get away with spending 750 baht, or about $23 USD per night. And if you're not traveling alone? That's $23 divided by 2. Boom. I wasn't able to form much of an opinion of Pattaya due to lack of time spent there, but the girls and I did give the famous Walking Street a visit. There are things I saw while on this street that I unfortunately cannot unsee- and due to a widespread audience I don't feel entirely comfortable detailing. I've never been to Vegas, but I imagine the caliber of these two places may be similar. After a night of scarring my eyeballs, we snuck 5 hours of sleep in before an early wake up to check out Pattaya's beach and to finish the trek to Koh Chang. The strip along the beach had a bit of a Fort Lauderdale/Miami feel to it. Unfortunately the beach itself was nearly nonexistent, as the tide rushed up almost to the seawall. Regardless, a beach is a beach and especially if it has a "Pattaya" sign reminiscent of "Hollywood" in the hills...I'm stopping to photograph it. We carried on a few more hours down to Trat, where we would catch the ferry over to Koh Chang, all the while belting out Disney songs to pass the time.
The ferry ride over to Koh Chang was more than pleasant, and I snapped away at the teal blue waters and lush islands in the distance. We had already set up an activity for the evening- an elephant trek through the jungle- and went straight there upon arriving at the pier. We were a bit late, but in typical Thai fashion, there was no penalty and they were more than happy to accommodate us. Imagine driving through the jungle, and coming upon a village decorated with huts and hammocks and random elephants milling about. There seemed to be no other people in sight, and as soon as we arrived, we were summoned to a platform on which to mount the elephants. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who have strong opinions regarding the ethics of such a thing, and I can't say I agree or disagree on the matter. All I can say is that they were fed and treated well in my presence. I spent a solid hour gallavanting in the woods atop this monstrous (and prickly) creature, praying to God it didn't decide to go off course or do something to result in an epuc fall. The trek took place during that glorious thing called the "golden hour" during which time the sun cast a mesmerizing glow on everything. It was so peaceful and to call it "touristy" would be a lie. It was extremely intimate, and aside from the people in your party, it was just one huge elephant and one trainer accompanying you. My Go Pro camera was perfect for this excursion (I didn't know what to expect and was terrified to bring my Canon) so I took numerous videos and pictures to capture what I can honestly say was one of the neater experiences I've had in my life. After the trek, we went down with the elephants to bathe them. This is the only time during the excursion that I saw other people, and even still it was a small group. We jumped into the less than warm water with the elephant, and luckily on the occasions that I slid right off of its back, it didn't sit on me. It is unreal being that close to an animal of that size. To finish the evening off we fed them some bananas, during which point I thought my Go Pro was going to become elephant food. Luckily, it did not and I left the excursion with both my life and my electronics.
From the elephant trek, we checked into our hotel which was, for lack of more eloquent words, freakin' amazing. There's certain things you envision a place to be, and before I came to Thailand I had this idea in my head that I'd stay in a cute little bungalow in the jungle, complete with mosquito nets and waterfall shower. Oasis Resort was exactly this. It was also reminiscent of the movie Hook… I felt like a lost boy. Anyway. There was a street, along which were many small hotels. Ours was at the very end, and at the very top, of a very steep hill. The lobby was essentially a giant tree house. A giant, beautiful tree house. The lobby had its own restaurant, complete with low tables and comfy little cushions to sit on. Best part? A very Western food menu, as the owners were from Holland. There was a spiral staircase that took you to a little look out at the tippity top, from which you could see the ocean and an island in the distance. An absolutely breathtaking view. We had dinner at the hotel and went to bed fairly early. The nighttime sounds out in that bungalow were as strange as they were amazing, and despite the giant holes through which anything could creep, no A/C, and a giant mosquito net draped over the bed, I was beyond happy and slept like a rock.
The next morning Sara and I woke up extra early to do a little exploring, and made our way to the ocean and wandered through a quiet, little street of not yet opened shops and restaurants. We had breakfast up in the treehouse and waited for the songthaew to arrive that would take us to our morning snorkeling adventure. It brought us to a private boat, where we had a driver spend about four hours with us island hopping. This was the first time I felt like I was getting a piece of the luxurious paradise that I had imagined. Our driver took us to four different spots. In America, there would have been paperwork to sign, safety regulations to review...but in Thailand there is no such thing. You throw on a snorkel, some flippers, and hop into the ocean. We spent our day just swimming around crystal-clear waters, and occasionally lounging on white sandy beaches. I took some of the most beautiful pictures I think I've ever taken in my life- and hopefully this is just the beginning! Unfortunately, duty calls and we had to leave the island shortly after those four blissful hours and spend six less than blissful ones in a car headed back to Pathum Thani. Fortunately, my kids are cute and their constant smiles make the transition back to school a little bit easier. My next island adventure is coming up this weekend, December 5th-7th. The 5th is the King's Birthday here in Thailand, so many thanks to him for giving me a long weekend for traveling. I'm very curious to see how the different islands compare. I'll be heading to Koh Samet, which is not quite as far as Koh Chang and much closer to Pattaya. Hope everyone back home is keeping warm- if you need a change of climate, you know where to find me!