I just finished bumming around on Koh Chang for a week. My three-month visa needed to be renewed. As it happened, the ending of my visa aligned with the celebration of the Lunar New Year. Tet is super important to Vietnamese people. I missed all of the festivities and the rice wine that comes along with it. On the flipside, I wrote part of this with a coconut shake in hand, enjoying a state of relaxation I don’t think I would have achieved amidst the Tet celebrations. I had time off work and was fortunate enough to go to Koh Chang with my friend Ibsen (IG:@ibs_mo). I’m going to go over the logistics of this (mostly) relaxing visa run, offer my perspective on the Bailan Bay area of Koh Chang, and brag about all the awesome food I ate.
After deciding to take a Thai beach holiday, Ibsen and I discussed a few islands that we could head to. We had bought tickets in and out of Bangkok through Air Asia. After looking at Koh Samet, Koh Phayam, and others in Thailand, Koh Chang took the cake. My priorities were finding an affordable and peaceful beach getaway balanced with a location that could be easily and quickly reached from Bangkok.
It ended up taking us a whole day to transit– it happens. The Suvarnabhumi Burapha Bus Company runs a service to and from Koh Chang on a VIP bus once a day at 7:50 am, they offer a round trip for 900 baht (~ $25 USD). We asked someone to point us towards the bus terminal. It’s on the first floor of the airport near other connections like the Airport rail link. Despite being there over an hour early, the bus sold out, we took a minibus that left at 9:40, which is allegedly just as fast. After a drive of several hours, waiting at the pier, and a ferry of about 45-60 minutes, our bus dropped us right at our hotel on Bailan Bay for 50 baht (~ $1.50 USD). Bailan Bay is a bit past their last free stop.
When it was time to go home, they tried to charge us 150 baht (~ $4.25) each for pickup. Being cheap, dumb, and stubborn I said we’d take the pick-up truck taxis (songthaew) that run up and down the island for a slightly less. We should have paid for hotel pick-up. The songthaew dropped us 5km away from the minibus pick-up point and wanted an obscene amount to go all the way. We began to walk the very hot, very mountainous roads towards our destination. A regular taxi driver stopped to pick us up and offered us a free ride! He was in high spirits because he had been chartered to drive a couple to the island from Bangkok. In the end, our sweaty and fortuitous exploits saved us about $3 USD collectively. I wouldn’t count on this luck in the future and would recommend not being a cheap butthead like me.
We stayed at a resort called ‘KohChang7’ formerly known as ‘Bailan Huts’–most residents of the island, including our minibus driver knew it by the old name. We were quite satisfied with our stay there. The beaches of Bailan Bay aren’t sandy. I got a cut on my foot from a piece of coral while trying to swim. The beach is very rocky and shallow for several hundred metres out. The waters are best suited to quick cool-offs. While the beaches don’t compare to other areas of the island, Bailan has nonetheless developed a reputation as a flashpacker’s get-away. The reasons for this are that there are no backpacker clubs blasting music until 5 am, nor rasta bars slinging “happy shakes” to the sounds of Bob Marley –both have their place, just not at Bailan. The small town shuts down around 1o pm. These qualities make Bailan the opposite of nearby Lonely Beach. It is perfect for a quiet getaway, the village has everything you need to relax and nothing you don’t. If you fancy hitting up the club (we didn’t), Lonely Beach is a short, 50 baht (~ $1.50 USD) songthaew ride away.
The other quality that makes Bailan Bay great for the flashpacker crowd is the high concentration of epicurean delights. Of the few restaurants in Bailan village, Ibsen and I found amazing food. I loved Happy Turtle for their top-notch coffee, I went every morning and tried a variety of their offerings. I confess the robusta-heavy offerings at Vietnam’s cafes have worn on me. Happy Turtle’s all arabica drip and espresso, made with skill and love were a slice of heaven. I had an amazing Massaman curry there too. We also ate at Lazy Republique, I enjoyed their yellow and green curries. Ibsen loved the pineapple shakes and their volcano cake. We travelled a fair distance to Kai Bae beach one evening to try Barrio Bonito. This was a good choice, Mexican food was missing from my life and Barrio Bonito filled the void admirably. I washed down Nachos and Taquitos with a Michelada and a Cucumber gin fizz named “Pepino”. Both the food and the cocktails were impeccable. All the good eats drove up the daily cost of Koh Chang a bit but hell, I was trying out the flashpacking scene. Totally worth it.
This was my second time on Koh Chang and I hope to return again soon. As one of Thailand’s biggest islands, it has a ton of diversity for travellers. There are several big resorts with a mysteriously high concentration of Russians, a section for backpackers, and then the quieter parts, like Bailan. My return to Koh Chang didn’t disappoint one bit. The food was awesome, I got to read all day, and I really appreciated the opportunity to just chill out away from my frenetic city life. Now that I’m back in Hanoi, I have another three months until I will be doing anything like it again. As we left, we did so with heavy hearts. Neither of us was quite ready to end our time in paradise.
For more shots of the great food and scenery check @ibs_mo on IG.