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Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, Sukothai...

Day Tripping: Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi and the Floating Market

With various relatives visiting me in Thailand, I had planned a few day trips from Bangkok to give them a taste of central Thailand. After an early breakfast, we waited for the mini-van and driver I had arranged through a Thai friend and which was a nailed on bargain at 1,500 baht per day for the van with driver. Petrol was extra but this still meant we were being chauffeured around for around 2,000 baht for each of the three days we had hired this service. The driver was very knowledgeable and he took us to a number of places that we would never have known about otherwise, not one of which was a jewellery shop... Read More >>

Paul Snowdon – Excerpt from Naked Farang: Four Weddings and a Coup


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01 Apr 2013, 05:27
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01 Apr 2013, 00:21
Koh Chang Whatever Happened to this Paradise Island ?March 17, 2009 b7Happy Saint Patricks dayIt is a rather uotrnfunate fact of life that the vast majority ofvisitors to Thailand do not appear to have any real concerns abouttheir environment and the effects that tourism is having on all theislands of the Kingdom. Koh Chang is a classic case of unregulatedtourist development gone mad!. I first visited Koh Chang around 5years ago, and have been back regularlysince. My first visit wasaround the time that the government was trying to promote thedevelopment of the island and was rather disturbed by what I foundand even more so about what has happened in the subsequent years.Thailand’s record of preservation and conservation is best describedas flawed and Koh Chang is showing the classic signs that nothing hasreally been learned from the past lessons (Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin &Koh Samui) and that it would appear that nobody really cares. KohChang is the second largest island in Thailand. It is located on theEastern seaboard of the Kingdom some 5-6 hours by car from Bangkok.The island was given an unexpected boost by the post-tsunamiunpopularity of the west coast namely Phuket & Krabi, having got thislucky break there are now ever increasing numbers of western touristsheading for the island, uotrnfunately completely to the detriment tothe natural beauty of the island that existed just a few years ago.The fundamental problem with Koh Chang is that it’s being developedvery badly, it’s overpriced compared to its services & facilitiesversus Phuket, Samui & Krabi, and it appears to be going downhillrather quickly !!. If you’re arriving on the island from either Europeor the United States you’ll find that the cost of living is stillrelatively cheap, a room is still less than half what you would pay athome, but it is no so cheap when you compare it to other tourist spotselsewhere in Thailand. Sure, you will love the sunsets and the lovelywhite sand, and you won’t wonder or worry where all the sewage isgoing and whatever happened to all the mangroves, farmland or thefishing industry that gets smaller catches every year, or the fishingvillages being turned into souvenir arcades-cum-hotels. Thefundamental probem appears to be that just as soon as Koh Chang wasearmarked for development as the “new Phuket” large swathes of landwas all bought up by the “priveleged, rich & famous” at rock bottomprices, leaving it almost impossible for the average bussinessman tobuy land and set up a business, as they now have to pay through thenose for it. Almost all the west coast is now covered with badlydesigned & executed “luxury” self-contained resorts, built withoutconsideration for the environment, conservation or islandinfrastructure. Apparently, unlike Koh Samui & Phuket there are nobuilding codes harmonizing construction with the natural surroundings.They are also allowed to restrict access to the beach for others. Theyare for the most part badly designed and ill conceived. Appearance isall, the places are little more than decorated concrete blocks.Healthand safety has simply not been heeded or addressed some of the pooldesigns look positively lethal. Slippery tiles adorn pool-sides andbathrooms throughout. And building work never appears to stop, quiteoften guests will find that their rooms are within audible distance ofa building site. All these new resorts are now greatly restricting theamount of good beach that is accessible to the public; it can only bea matter of time before all the good sandy beaches/sea fronts becomeresort owned or dominated. This goes against the principle that EVERYbeach within the Kingdom is owned by the King and is therefore free tobe accessed & used by EVERYONE. The other area of concern regardingthis kind of concrete construction is that it leaves a huge carbonfoot-print as it inevitably requires lots of air-conditioning to keepthe it cool, uses lots of power for hot water,and uses ever increasingamounts of fresh water for showers and toilets, and drains etc, etc.The centre of Koh Chang is a dedicated national park, but unlike allof Thailand’s other National Parks, it is not open to visitors, youcan get a guide who will take you in but strictly speaking that’sagainst the law. There is virtually no effort made to set up a goodsystem of eco-tourism or even trials in the park as you might find incountries such as Australia or North America, even other NationalParks in Thailand make an effort in that direction. There is only oneroad around the island of Koh Chang and even that doesn’t go all theway around, it’s a horse-shoe shape, there was a dirt track thatconnected the two ends but it wasn’t for the fainthearted and nowimpassable as parts have been constantly washed away. The roads wereoriginally built for the logging & construction traffic.The main roadis barely more than an asphalted single track but cannot cope with theever increasing load of cars trucks, pickups and Song Taews pouringonto the island. Patchy attempts have been made at road widening inparts. Most of the bridges have been washed out and are replaced bydrains covered over with rubble, please beware of hitting these atnight or on a motorbike. In short the roads are just not substantialenough for the volumes of traffic that attempt to navigate them. Asthe second largest island inThailand, walking around it in a day isnot an option. Koh Chang is also very mountainous and the roads arevery windy and hilly and the resorts can be a long way from any shops,night-life etc, so you will typically have to rely on the baht taxiservice (songtaews) but this is still very haphazard, so it’s reallyuseful to hire a motorbike or a car,but you will find that this istypically 50%+ more expensive than on the mainland. It might even beworth hiring a vehicle on the mainland and driving there. Koh Changdoes not have its own airport,so if you want to fly, you will have toland atTrat airport which is on the mainland quite near (20 minutes)to the ferries to Koh Chang. Get a taxi to the ferry it will onlycost you a few baht. A more comfortable alternative is to take theairport minibus to any resort on Koh Chang a convenient way to getto your hotel with the minimum baggage re-handling. Ferries run every30-45 minutes from 6.30am around 7.30pm. There are several ferrycrossings, they take from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on which ferryyou take. The ferries can now be very over stretched during the highseason and week-ends coming back from the island to the mainland, eventhough there is a new car-park the queues can still extend back up thehill for quite a long way. The ferry services are reasonably pricedand are among the best organised aspects of the islands touristindustry. Once you arrive on the island where do you stay ?. The bestknown”town” that most people arrive at is White Sands, which isprobably the largest conglomeration of buildings on the island, it’san increasingly crowded long strip of hotels, resorts, restaurants,gift shops, tailors and motley bars about 3 km long built between thesea and the mountains. The construction work that has taken place overthe last 3 years has completely filled the space between hills and theshore. The developers have now started to dig away at the hills behindand are erecting buildings wherever they can between the mudslides.One wonders how long it will be before a cliff collapses and takes abuilding or two with it. Take a look at the land above and behind thebuildings to see evidence of where the landslips are occurring. Forfamily resorts with a beach, Klong Prao Beach is probably as good asit gets, there are several resorts there actually with beach frontage,The Paradise is all nicely built new concrete bungalows, very tightlypacked, Coconut and Royal Coconut are next to that and Klong PraoResort has a long beach front and good pool beside the sea. All areconstantly redeveloping to increase the density of accommodationwithin the available strip of beach. If you are looking for a moreisolated place with less frantic development you need to go round to“Long Beach” on the far South-East side of the island. This side isfar less developed but there are limited beaches of any significance,the best one being Long Beach itself, but even it is not that good.It’s accessible by dirt road sections of which get regularly washedaway every rainy season, but its quite a pleasant drive with lots ofgood views. Accommodation is basic & laidback. Booking ahead isdefinately suggested especially on beach resorts during the highseason Christmas, New Year and Songkran (mid-April) You might thinkthat I actually do not like Koh Chang, that is completely wrong, Ireally LOVED the natural, unspoilt island that I first visited onlyliterrally just a few years ago, what I find so frustrating is thatALL Islands only have limited resources water, space and naturalhabitat are always at a premium, they cannot survive unregulateddevelopment, the like of which is taking place on Koh Chang. Theecological ramifications of this development are now beginning to showin such things as sea-water quality, damage to coral air pollutionfrom roads and traffic and encroachment onto the national park. Thiswill spell the end for the wildlife there. The massive increase in useof electricity, and water by the hotels and other businesses areputting a huge strain on the infrastructure and the extra traffic tocarry both people and goods is more than the road system was everdesigned to cope with. I just hope that the lessons learnt from KohChang, Koh Samui & Phuket are heeded, but somehow I don’t think so,what do you think ?.
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