Friday, October 25, 2013

Heaven on Earth

Oh, how wonderful this past week has been. It's our October break this week, so we decided to get away to Koh Chang (Elephant Island), an island near the border of Cambodia and Thailand's second largest island, for a few days. It's at once a tropical paradise for vacationers and a nature lover's dream with its forests and wildlife.

Koh Chang has become popular with tourists only recently. As a result, it is not yet very developed, which we prefer, though there are plenty of accommodations on the island, ranging from huts to luxury resorts. There was one main road that ran from the north to the south on each coast.

We stayed at a gorgeous beach-front resort in Lonely Beach, a quiet beach in the southwestern part of the island. Our resort was surrounded by bungalows and huts occupied mostly by young, European backpackers. The few days that we spent there were amazing. It was hard to come back to reality.

Almost three months to the day, we returned to the airport where we caught our first in-person glimpse of Thailand for our first vacation.
Stuffing our faces with yummy snacks at the airline's lounge.
A happy plane to take us to a happy place.
Once we landed about an hour later, this cute tram took us to the terminal.
The airport consisted of several open-air pavilions for departures, arrivals, and a cafe.
The airport's runway. Love the cute bushes trimmed into shapes of elephants.
The airport cafe and its gardens.
At the airport, we got on a shuttle, which would take us to Koh Chang via a ferry. Here, cars are lined up to get on the ferry.
The ferry that took us and our shuttle to Koh Chang.
Fishing boats by the ferry.
On the way to Koh Chang on the ferry. It was a very relaxing 30-minute ride.
The lounge area of our hotel.
The elephants in our room.
The key to our room and the electricity in our room. When the key was taken out, the electricity automatically shut off. Clever!
Grounds of the resort.
The "library" at the resort where guests could borrow books.
One of three pools at the resort overlooking the beach and water.
The pools from another view.
The beach was only about a minute's walk from our room.
What a view.
Further down the beach.
Our hotel restaurant lit up at night.
Our view at dinner on our first night.
My view at breakfast the next day.
We decided to take  a walk to the "town" outside our resort. We were told it was a 15-minute walk away, but in reality, it was only a five-minute walk.
The walk to "town."

On our way, we encountered an "information" booth. Not sure if it's visible, but there was a sign advertising that they sold "jewelly" there.

Chickens running around.

Monkeys hanging out on trees.
The first restaurant we encountered in "town" was named after me!
We decided to eat breakfast there every morning after our second day there. The proprietors got to know us. They would turn the TV to a cartoon channel for my son when they saw us coming. He got to watch Scooby Doo and was introduced to Tom and Jerry, which he loved. Their food was inexpensive and delicious!
On our last morning there, we told them we were leaving for Bangkok and they gave us a bag of their delicious banana cakes to take with us.
The "town" outside our resort.
This is what many of the restaurants looked like. Very rustic-looking, but cool.
I love a place that serves multiple purposes.
A horse made from tree branches.
This "hut" was actually a gym with lots of modern equipment blasting modern rock music. Pretty funny.
Almost made a thief out of my son when I jokingly told him that these candy bars were for taking because of their name. 
On either side of our resort on the beach were mostly one-room huts and rustic food establishments for young, European backpackers, of which there were many. We actually did not encounter any Americans while there. This is a massage place just a few steps away from our resort.
One of the rustic restaurants next to our hotel where we ate lunch and dinner one night. A couple of oxes were casually hanging out when we headed there for dinner. One of them actually started charging toward my husband when he walked by a patch of grass that the ox was eyeing. This place was the hangout for all kinds of characters as they watched Thai boxing on TV and smoked joints together. We actually saw a Thai version of Bob Marley while eating lunch there.
The bar at the rustic restaurant above. They make great mojitos there.
The bar menu all lit up by black light.
Another restaurant on the beach by our resort. It was actually also part of another resort, but this one catered more to the backpackers. The food here was cheaper and better than our hotel restaurant, so we ate here several times. My son ate his way through their sandwich menu.
The hut where people ate and hung out at the place above. Right next door was a bar/club with a dance floor and disco ball that played music every evening. It was a really fun atmosphere and quite the party scene.
Our view at dinner one night.
Another view during dinner.
Besides hanging out at the beach and the pool, we also went elephant trekking one morning. We were picked up in a pick-up truck and driven through the mountainous and windy road to the "jungle," where the elephants were. While it was something novel and interesting, I don't think we will do it again. What we didn't realize was that the elephants were controlled through the use of a stick with a sharp side to it. The guide, or mahout, would use the stick to hit the elephant on the side of its head to tell it where to go. Though we were assured that it didn't hurt the elephant, it was still very hard to see. My son would cover his eyes every time it seemed like the mahout was going to hit the elephant.
Why did the peacock cross the street? To get to the other side. This was on our way to the elephant camp.
The elephant camp.
"Our" elephant and mahout, who was just a boy.
We climbed up this platform where we would climb onto the elephant.
The elephant sidled up to the platform so we could get on.
Our view of the elephant as we rode on it. It was actually pretty nerve-wracking at first because we were so high up and moved with every step the elephant took. At times, we thought we were going to tip over as the elephant climbed or descended steep, rocky hills. Our ride was supposed to last for an hour and we all thought it was going to be the longest hour of our lives. Luckily, as time went on, we were able to relax more.
At one point, the elephant got into a little river to take a drink and we were treated to this view.
The elephant stopping for a snack.
There were banana trees throughout the forest.
At one point, our mahout got off the elephant to pick some pomelos for the elephant and for us. The elephant loved them and gobbled them up. Once it was finished with its own share, it extended its trunk toward us in search of more.
Once we got back to the camp, my son got to feed the elephant a basket of bananas. He then tried to feed it a pineapple, but the elephant didn't like it. It took the pineapple in its trunk, then gently placed it on the ground and reached for more bananas instead.
We also took a songtao (pick-up truck with benches and a roof in the back that serves as a taxi) to Bang Bao, a fishing village in the southern tip of the island. Riding in open air through the crazy, windy road (some of the turns were probably about 30 degrees and seemed to go straight up or down) was pretty scary, but thrilling.
View out of the side of the songtao. I had to make sure no cars were coming before poking my head and camera out for this shot since the road was pretty narrow.
Beautiful Bang Bao.
Markets of Bang Bao.
As we walked the narrow lane of the market, we would catch glimpses of water, houses, and huts to the left and right.
Curtains of shells for sale.
T-shirt at a market stall.
Another t-shirt. Yes, that is our former president in the upper right corner. He has been lumped together with Bin Laden and Hitler.
Where we had lunch in Bang Bao.
Amazing view at lunch.
With this view, I didn't want to leave.
One of the best meals we've had: fried scallops.
White snapper fried with soy sauce and garlic. Wow.
Along the pier.
The pier.
The breathtaking view along the pier.
End of the pier, where there was a lighthouse.
Parts of Bang Bao were reminiscent of Alaska with its rustic charm.
One last sunset in paradise before heading home.

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