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.
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.
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
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.
The guidebooks still talk about Jungle Way’s restaurant, but they are out-of-date.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.
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.
Jungle Way is not one structure but many—all are small huts made of combinations of thatch and concrete/stone mixes with bamboo walkways.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Up the steps from the road, the house that belongs to "Mom" and "Dad" comes into view , who live on top of a hill near the fishing piers and an important Chinese temple on the island.
Ann’s good friend “Sister” was the main chef.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sated and happy, as we drove “home” to Jungle Way, we realized we were passing many similar parties dancing away the night.
It’s not the weekend, you remember.
It’s just another night on Koh Chang, a good place to chill.