Our songthaew deposits us at the pier and we find our way to our tickets, then to a shop for cold drinks and sunscreen. We’re running out of suncreen, which is not a good thing in the tropics for pink skinned people like ourselves. They don’t have any. They offer to sell us some skin whitener. No thanks, I think we’re white enough so that’s not really going to help.
From Ranong, many head to Koh Phayam. But keeping with staying off the beaten track, we’re heading to the less developed island to the north, Little Koh Chang. Ko or Koh is Thai for island. Koh Chang is a popular island destination in the east of the Gulf of Thailand. Little Koh Chang lies the other direction off Thailand’s west coast about an hour by boat from Ranong.
We load up on a long tail boat ferry along with many travelers and a lot of supplies. The long tail chugs along the river estuary out to the Andaman Sea. Once we reach the west side of Little Koh Chang, the boat turns south and makes intermittent stops at various bungalow resorts. Passengers unload. Resort staff and guests wade out to welcome newcomers and fetch supplies and luggage. A few passengers disembark with an encouraging “you might find a bungalow here” from fellow travelers. I imagine this is usually a fair strategy for finding a bungalow, but may be a bit iffy on a Christmas weekend.
Our stop is the next to last one on the south end of Ao Yai beach, Sawasdee Resort. The name translates to “hello” resort. As we step on to the beach, we are greeted by Noi. He and his wife, Fon, own and operate Sawasdee. Fon checks us in and shows us to our bungalow. This is an upscale bungalow including a covered porch with a hammock, wood floors, king size bed with a mosquito net, and a private (not shared) bathroom.
Before dinner, we look around the resort grounds and the nearby beach. Noi is also the chef. Our traditional Christmas Eve meal is Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. They are not on the menu. I settle for Noi’s Tom Ka, coconut soup with chicken, as an appetizer, and pork with ginger and mushrooms for my main course instead.
Christmas Day Hike
Lori wakes before I do. I find her searching for seashells on the beach. We look together for awhile then search our way to breakfast. Instead of having the standard banana or pineapple pancake for breakfast, I order a green papaya salad. But I tell them only one chili please. Too many Thai chilies and I’m certain my head bursts into flames.
We head north on the beach, over a rock outcrop, and past some dilapidated bungalows. Those ones are probably not too expensive to rent. We come across a fellow setting up a volleyball court. He’s from Germany. We ask him how to get to the trail or road to the village. He points us to a path through the Golden Bee Resort.
A monitor lizard startles us. Rather, we startle each other. The lizard scurries up the sandy track then cuts into the brush. The trail meanders through rubber tree orchards and passes the Minimarket Bungalows. They have sunscreen. Expensive sunscreen. Supply and demand. We buy some.
It’s hot. The trail intersects with a narrow, paved road. Probably the only paved road on the island. The road travels past a few houses and small farms and through more rubber tree orchards. We stop at the Sunshine Cafe for cold drinks and French fries.
We meet an American who is living in Japan. He wants to talk US politics. That’s too intense for me. Look friend, it’s Christmas and I’m on an island in the tropics. An Austrian joins us. He has two coconuts and the waiter brings him a third. These are green coconuts. They come with the top chopped off (literally, with a big knife or machete), a straw, and a spoon. He explains how he eats eight coconuts every day because of their health benefits. He shares a tip. The coconuts are the cheapest here at the Sunshine Cafe. Good to know.
We decide to look for the lake that is marked on our photocopy brochure and map. We’re not finding it. Some locals are outside their home. I greet the man who appears to be the father, “Sawasdee khrap,” (or krup or krab depending on which language guide you look at; pronounced “kap” or “kob”). I point to the lake on the map. He points back down the road. We came from that way. I guess we’re not going to get to the lake today. It’s hot. We walk back to the Sunshine for a coconut and shade.
We find a different route back to the beach. We pass by a house with a sign that says it’s a bakery. I recall reading or someone telling me about this place. But it’s too hot for baked goods. We take a trail that drops down the hill to the beach and the back side of Sawasdee. Time for swimming.
Noi is grilling fish for dinner. Fon brings out a bowl with two fish in it. She asks us if we would like the red or white snapper. We don’t know. A Sawasdee regular says the white is better. It has a milder flavor. We go with the white. We share the grilled fish and some Gai Pad Met Ma-Maung, cashew nut chicken.
Day After Christmas Hike
There’s a blank spot on the map. A ranger station is marked on a beach south of us. Between us and there is nothing on the map. Adventure.
We walk south on the beach, past the remaining bungalow resorts, over a hill, and down to Ao Laetawan beach. There are three bungalow resorts here. We have lunch at Suan Por Resort.
We continue south. As we pass Mama’s Bungalows, we ask the people out working where the trail is. A lady points to a steep embankment and says go to where the bamboo has been cut down. We’ll find the trail there.
We scramble up the embankment and find the trail. It’s marked with empty water bottles stuck upside down on bamboo branches. We climb up hill, walk through brush and jungle, clamber over rocks and logs, and traverse along the top of rock walls overlooking the surf. We lose the trail for a bit. I see some rock cairns. Universal signs for “hey, the trail is over here.” The trail breaks through the jungle and down to Ao Kai Tao beach.
The ranger station is further down the beach and appears unoccupied. We share the setting with just one other couple. We swim. Something feels like it’s pinching me. Stingers are in the water (larval jelly fish). One of the disadvantages to Little Koh Chang’s beaches. Swimming’s over. We collect seashells instead.
We start our scramble back. Lori stumbles and smacks her head on a log overhanging the trail. That’s gotta hurt. It’s hot. At Ao Laetawan, we take the stairs up to Mama’s Bungalows for a break and cold drinks. Hiking time from Ao Kai Tao has only been an hour. But it’s been gruelling hour, for us, anyway.
At dinner, a new friend, Gerda from Switzerland, finds us. We met a Thansila Hot Springs Resort in Ranong. She is staying next door at the Crocodile Rock Bungalows. We share an evening of grilled prawns and conversation.