KOH CHANG Thailand Review – Island Life the Jungle Way

S.O.S. FROM PICTURE THIS POST EDITOR--

The following story captures a Koh Chang Island experience from 2016.  While most of the Koh Chang surrounds and adventures in the report remain the same, the 'Jungle Way" hut hotel no longer has the same proprietor.  We are eager to find Ann-- last name unknown-- shown in this article.  If anyone has information on her current whereabouts please contact us through the contact form you see on the bottom of this page and all pages in Picture This Post magazine.

KOH CHANG Thailand
A ferry from the mainland leaves for Koh Chang every half hour or so during the day
KOH CHANG Thailand
It amazes to learn that rubber only fetches US$0.30 per kilo, about a quarter of former prices. The ubiquitous rubber tree farms are exquisite 

Thailand’s third largest island, Koh Chang (Elephant Island), is no stranger to tourists. Locals quip that it’s famous “Lonely Beach” is anything but lonely. If you want a lot of restaurants, shopping malls and party hearty time, Lonely Beach and several like it on the western side of the island are your go-to destinations. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Many of the beach resorts also have pools, such as this very large infinity pool that allowed for long lap swims 
KOH CHANG Thailand

If you don't want to stay in a rustic place like Jungle Way there are many very manicured resorts on beaches throughout the island 

If, on the other hand, you want beach time as a quieter escape, the small fishing villages and other village enclaves on the northern and eastern sides of the island give you a better shot at a tranquil getaway. 

By luck and pluck, and perhaps also thinking there might be something to the name, we happened upon a hotel in a northern hamlet not far from one of the two main ferry landings to the island aptly named “Jungle Way” (US$5+ - $13+/night) which is just a stone’s throw away from the pricey but worthwhile elephant trek tourist attraction on the island, Baan Kwan Chang Elephant Trekking

KOH CHANG Thailand
On the road into town you also get entertained by a neighbor's monkey who likes to play with the dogs 
KOH CHANG Thailand
The elephants at Baan Kwan Chang-- all female-- are trained to treat visiting tourists gently and attentively 

Jungle Way’s proprietress and self-described “tomboy” Ann, a bilingual much tattooed 42-year old mother of three who originally hailed from Chiang Mai, happily zips to the pier in her 4-wheel drive truck to pick you up from the ferry. Most new arrivals probably don’t realize that this is only the first of many generous gestures from Ann, who will be their personal chauffeur, tour guide, adventure planner, caterer, and window to Thai culture for the rest of their stay. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
In a post-trek swim with the elephants, a couple gets treated to a bath from the elephant's trunk as they attempted to climb her massive body for a water ride 

The guidebooks still talk about Jungle Way’s restaurant, but they are out-of-date. 

Ann breaks the news to you as you drive past a small village market and 7-11 that this is a best chance to catch a meal, as the hotel’s restaurant is no longer open. (That she provides much better meal opportunities than a standard restaurant- - see below—is something you’ll learn much later.) Do buy an inexpensive 6-pack of bottled water at the 7-11 and do pickup something to tide you over as you probably won’t be in the mood to hike back into town from Jungle Way, and it’s not advisable to do so after dark when the many dogs along the road are known to bite.

KOH CHANG Thailand
When you arrive on the island you'll see many sleeping dogs, like these at the 7-11 we stopped at for water. Later, you realize what an appropriate image they are to summarize the laid-back feel of the island 
KOH CHANG Thailand
You quickly learn to love the rubber trees that grace the half hour walk from Jungle Way 

Hold on to your first impressions of Jungle Way because you will want to savor them. From the parked truck you walk into the woods and past a few motorbikes that seem to have appeared out of nowhere. 

Twists and turns, ups and downs, and then you are making your way across a riverbed (or perhaps river if it were not so far from rainy season) on a bamboo pole footbridge that you walk across side footed until you get to a trampoline-like bamboo floor to the grounds. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
The bamboo trampoline leading to the bamboo footbridge you cross to get to/from Jungle Way and the expanse of rubber trees between it and the road 

Jungle Way is not one structure but many—all are small huts made of combinations of thatch and concrete/stone mixes with bamboo walkways. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Jungle Way is not one structure but a grouping of huts in the wilds 
KOH CHANG Thailand
Some of the huts have bathrooms within and others share a common shower and toilet outhouse 
KOH CHANG Thailand
The terrace outside our hut was an exquisite private space to soak up the jungle surrounds 

It’s no wonder that you can catch a negative review online from a frustrated father complaining it is a terrible place to bring the kids. Most parents would get quite worried that their children will fall from the landings into the riverbed gorges or in other ways break a limb. 

KOH CHANG Thailand

But if your children are 12+, or if you are single or a couple that are keen to taste a different life, Jungle Way’s modest bungalows give you the feel of adventure, even before Ann takes out her kayak. 

What you don’t catch in the evening about the wilds you certainly do in the morning, when the jungle critter sounds create a symphony around your hut announcing that the sun is about to rise.

KOH CHANG Thailand
Jungle Way's common room hut 
KOH CHANG Thailand
A sign welcomes you to Jungle Way 

Some days you too may hear the morning call of the nearby elephants who are pressed into tourist services just down the road from Jungle Way. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Ann, fastening the kayak to her truck that she offers to guests at no charge, and which she and her boyfriend use for kayak adventures whenever they find time to do so 

An adventuress herself who is more comfortable on ziplines than in offices, Ann seems to know every nook and cranny of Koh Chang worth knowing. She first came here when she was suffering from a 3- month bout of bronchitis. Just a week or so of Koh Chang beaches was able to cure what ailed her, and when opportunity presented itself she sold her spa business in Chiang Mai to give Jungle Way a go. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Mangroves along the kayak trail made intermittent pop noises, which we later learned was the sound of shellfish snapping closed over their meal catches in the mangrove thicket

On our first full day at Jungle Way, Ann took us to mangrove islands with a small fisherman’s village nestled within for our kayak explorations, and later that evening to a boardwalk in a national marine forest on the south of the island where we could marvel at the fireflies in the nearly full moon night. Learning how to tap rubber from the rubber trees, taking the kayak to closer beaches with expanses of coral reefs, and learning how to fish with just a hook and sticky rice were other adventures that Ann put together for us. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
After a sublime kayak excursion through mangrove islands you come to a quaint fishing village, one of several on Koh Chang 
KOH CHANG Thailand
The mangroves become the front yards of the fishermen's houses, providing a place for some to hang their fishing nets 
KOH CHANG Thailand
"Mom", dressed for the sun, uses sticky rice balls as bait to catch small fish that in turn become bait for the larger fish-- if all goes well
KOH CHANG Thailand
KOH CHANG Thailand
Steps from the main road lead up to our real Thai meal feast at the house that belongs to "Mom" and "Dad"

Up the steps from the road, the house that belongs to "Mom" and "Dad" comes into viewwho live on top of a hill near the fishing piers and an important Chinese temple on the island. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
KOH CHANG Thailand
A Chinese Temple is a sacred place in town for all, not just the Chinese community

Ann’s good friend “Sister” was the main chef. 

 

KOH CHANG Thailand
"Sister" quickly stir fries the fresh crabs purchased at the town pier earlier that day 

What feasts! 

KOH CHANG Thailand
(left to right) "Dad", neighbor "Nit", Ann, and "Sister" facing the first night's feast of spicy salad, crab, fish soup, squid, and grilled fish- with rice

Watching the meal come together in the makeshift kitchen was a chance to see how real Thai cooks do it—with a pinch of this, a taste of that, and a flip of the oyster omelet high from the wok as if it were a Roman pizza. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Second day feast: oyster and tomato omelet; chicken and parsnip soup; fish tempura and dipping sauce; eggplant and pepper salad; fish soup; and grilled fish

The downside is that we’ll probably never enjoy a Thai restaurant in the United States again after having such bounty of fresh-fresh-fresh seafood in such a fresh-fresh-fresh herb and spicy array. 

And it has to be mentioned, that the market whiskey (rice moonshine) from a passed around shared shot glass was remarkably smoother than anything we’ve ever experienced before. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
"Mother" grills hot peppers, and later removes the skins and chops them into a spicy salad 
KOH CHANG Thailand
"Dad" refills market moonshine from a plastic bag into a liquor bottle for serving (Note: and no headache in the morning!)
KOH CHANG Thailand
Neighbor "Nit" holds up the squid before it is put on the grill

While food and whiskey were so outstanding, it was actually the rich insights into Koh Chang and Thai culture that made these family meals such priceless treats. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Notice the single stick that "Mom" is using as a back support while she cooks 
KOH CHANG Thailand
"Mom" and "Dad" have a very open and simple house, with some modern comforts -- a refrigerator, CD player, and gas stove

For example, as we danced into the night in a post-meal impromptu party, we asked what the song lyrics were about. How surprising to learn that a great number of the songs we assumed were the usual broken heart laments were actually songs extolling the virtues of mothers. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
KOH CHANG Thailand
"Mom" feeds the dogs, cats and chickens separately. If an animal comes to a meal they are not invited to "Mom", wielding a stick, uninvites them gently

How surprising too that when the subject of the King came up, Ann--a one-off in any culture-- couldn’t contain her heartfelt tears as she spoke of the King’s greatness and his commitment to the Thai people. Dad, mainly quiet, waxed poetically about a Thai-Cambodian conflict over a sacred site explaining it was like a Thai tree with fruit that blossomed on Cambodian soil. How interesting too to meet the number of drop-in guests who seem to visit nearly every night – a fisherman nephew bearing gifts from the day’s catch, a nearby neighbor welcomed to join the meal, and a friend whose hobby is reportedly to tweeze fleas from the island’s many dogs leaving them transformed into relaxed stupors. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
The hammocks were made from fishermens' nets and were comfortable to humans, cats and chickens alike. The dogs didn't seem to be interested in them 
KOH CHANG Thailand
"Mom" and "Sister" dancing to the music that filled the yard

Sated and happy, as we drove “home” to Jungle Way, we realized we were passing many similar parties dancing away the night. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
Ann's friend visited the party with her tweezers in hand. She loves dogs and reportedly travels throughout the island to free them of fleas, which Ann explains is her friend's "hobby" 

It’s not the weekend, you remember. 

KOH CHANG Thailand
After their fleas were removed, the family's dogs fell into relaxed stupors

It’s just another night on Koh Chang, a good place to chill. 

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