Rayong to Ko Chang to Rayong - Wed 28 January to Tuesday 3 February 2009
We hit Margi's a bit like a whirlwind and spent a few days unpacking /re-packing the car and generally regrouping. Dear and Margi had definitely been busy whilst we'd been gone - the chooks (chickens to non Aussies!) - 11 girls and 1 rooster - are now happily installed in the new chook shed and are producing eggs at a rate of 2 a day. This should ramp up in time as they grow stronger. The poor things were from a battery farm and when they arrived they had no feathers and couldn't walk, so they are now much happier. The organic vegetable garden is also yielding results. We had home grown pumpkin, sweet corn, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce & papaya. In our picture Margi is holding the first of a crop of a local fruit called Champoos?? These are very like another called a rose apple, with a pear like texture.
Seefar was very pleased to see us- we bought her a Kataw ball which she has great fun kicking around the garden- she really is a lovely dog.
Our visa was due to expire on Thursday 29 so on Wednesday we set off down the coast towards the Cambodian border. We camped at a lovely beach Hat Ban Cheun just out of Trat the main capital of the province of that name. This area has stunning beaches and some accommodation but it is virtually free of tourists - maybe due to the proximity to Cambodia. Whilst this is all fine now at one point it was very dangerous and so became a bit of a no go zone. Apparently during the Khmer Rouge years in the later 70s a yacht of Americans were unlucky enough to stray slightly into Cambodian waters off the coast of Thailand. They were arrested for spying and taken to the infamous S21 goal, where predictably none of them survived.
This area has historically been a bit turbulent - it was captured in the 18th century by Burma and then later by the French. Indeed the French actually occupied this area until 1906 when it was liberated a fact that is celebrated in March every year. King Rama V relinquished Siam Reap in order to keep Trat, which could explain why a lot of Thais believe Angkor Wat should actually be a Thai possession! Trat has been fought over for a while being too close to the Cambodian border which was French owned -maybe because (along with neighboring Chantaburi) it is a huge centre for gems and gem markets are everywhere - particularly for rubies and sapphires. King Taksin is a major hero as he led the navy that booted the Burmese out in the 18th century. His flag - the white elephant on a red back ground - can be seen everywhere together with statues of him. We visited his shipyards just out of Chantaburi - where they believe the ships that defeated the Burmese were built. There is a huge monument to the King alongside a replica ship.
There was also a handicraft centre next door selling baskets, pepper, honey and mats which are all produced locally. I don't think they get many foreigners here and we were a bit of a novelty!
As well as this centre we stopped at some roadside shops selling handicrafts made on the premises. Some great furniture made out of bamboo and rattan-and huge pots. The latter are traditional water carrying pots and we have seen them all over Thailand. We wandered how they made them and now we know -they build them around a brick base. Really nice but not terribly easy to transport!
At Hat Ban Cheun we found a great camp spot - with a 24 four hour security guard - and ate a lovely very fresh fish (Barshon - a Thai fish) cooked in lemon grass which was beautiful. The next day we drove on the 30km remaining to the border town of Hat Lek. On the way we passed a bizarre sign saying we were about to pass the narrowest part of Thailand - which was a surprise as we'd been told it was down south. This is what a lot do the trouble down south is about - the Muslim majority in the southern provinces claim they should cut off the narrowest part to be a separate Muslim state. Thankfully they don't mean this upper bit!! We stopped at Khlong Yai a nice little fishing village of wooden houses - and then headed on for the border.
If anyone is gaining from this new 15 day visa rule it isn't Thailand it's these neighbouring border countries. Whilst officially a Cambodian visa (which you need to get in and out of Thailand and thus renew your Thai one) is $20 USD - here it is 1200 baht - or $35 USD. Often the borders prefer that you give US $, so we'd stocked up but on this occasion we were wrong. They wouldn't accept USD at all it was 1200 baht or nothing, far more expensive than any other border, even the other Cambodian one, but they seem to be able to make it up as they go along. We didn't have enough so we had to cross back into Thailand, use the internet transfer money and take more out which was a bit of a pain. It was funny being back in Cambodia. As before you really feel the dramatic increase in poverty once you cross the border. There is huge disparity - kids begging alongside the brand new luxury cars parked up at the Casino. We were also besieged by people trying to scam our money off us - twas ever thus at border towns and we didn't stick around for long!
With 15 more days on our visa we camped at our beach spot for one more night and headed off first thing the next day for the island of Ko Chang. This is named (Elephant Island) as it resembles a sleeping elephant - more like a drunken elephant belly down! It is a lovely island - one of 52 in the Trat province. It also has a car ferry -2 in fact - so we could take our home with us! Of the 2 the Centrepoint ferry was by far the cheaper - buy your ticket - 160 baht return each - $6 Aus -and the car goes for free for the half hour journey! Ko Chang is an excellent spot for a holiday. This is the high season and it was fairly busy - mainly Scandinavians - but we still managed to find great camp spots. The first night we camped at the designated camp ground at Hat (or beach) Kai Bae. This is in the middle of the busy west coast of the island right on the beach. It is a great camp spot with showers and toilet facilities and we camped for 100 baht or $ 4 Aus a night right next to luxury resorts charging upward of $400 USD. Bargain!
It was a great spot and we had it almost to ourselves - having only one neighbour - Eddie from the UK escaping the freezing conditions back home - in his tent. We had a lovely relaxing day there. The sea was shallow but very clean and good for snorkelling and it is a real holiday maker's area with 2nd hand book shops to browse through and restaurants everywhere.
As mentioned previously we often have real problems loading our pictures on the website due to bad connections - but we stumbled upon a good one - at the ChangBuri Resort and Spa on nearby white sand beach. This is a beautiful very high end resort - way out of our price range- but the staff were lovely and we holed up in their lobby and used their WiFi connection for the afternoon. We have now got all our pictures finally loaded so have a look back at recent pages on Thailand as we are finally up to date! The resort looked stunning - we gazed out on the beachside infinity pool - so definitely have a look if you a planning a "high end" sort of trip! www.changburi.com
We had been planning to do a bit of a trip around the island but our minds were definitely made up the next day when we woke up to find the staff in the process of setting up tables around us. There was a huge poster - advertising a rave party which was apparently happening that night in our quiet little haven!!!! Eddie had told us about Long Beach a lovely quiet beach on the far less developed far east coast of the island so we decided it was time to move on!
The island is starting to get quite developed but there are still some very quiet corners. We drove round the island to the east side passing resorts on the way but gradually getting quieter. The east side still seems to be fairly local with fishing villages -and only the odd resort. In the final section the road was unsealed and got fairly bumpy- time to engage the 4 WD! Right at the end of the road - as petrol was getting low and we were getting a bit worried - were a couple of accommodation places. The first - Treetops - seemed very busy and in the car you couldn't get near the beach so we drove on to the next one Zion - what a find! Run by a French guy and his Thai wife this was a great spot with a range of small bungalows. As we arrived he was having to turn away people looking for accommodation as he was full but luckily we brought ours with us! We camped up here for a couple of days and it was a gorgeous restful place, with its own little restaurant. We were befriended by a litter of puppies and their mum..we always pick up dogs along the way - maybe due to the doggy treats we always carry!
We spent a couple of days there just relaxing and reading our books. I got into bed one night and nearly had a heart attack when something squirmed under my covers - a Siamese cat had buried its way in and been asleep for hours! Thank goodness we didn't cat nap it back to Rayong as we left the next morning!
On our final day we ran into 2 other lots of overlanders travelling by (motor!) bike - Darius and Jane from Germany/The Philippines and Peter and Su from New Zealand via France and Thailand, and spent a great afternoon/evening with them. It is always great to meet other overlanders particularly those coming the other way and the guys were a mass of information. We are still having a few problems organizing shipping and Peter made the suggestion that we remove the car's wheels so we can get in a standard container - which is the big problem we can't find a high top one. Definitely food for thought!
We journeyed back and caught the ferry over to the mainland. Ko Chang is definitely the sort of place you could happily spend a few weeks but sadly the 15 days of our visa are already ticking away!! On the way back up the coast we stopped in Chantaburi for a delicious duck and rice. There is a strong Chinese presence here and the lanterns from Chinese New Year were still in evidence. So, on Tuesday 3 January we headed back to poor long suffering Margi- her place feels like home now! - We have a few jobs to do on the car but we have to keep moving as our visa runs out a week on Thursday - the 12 February - and we have to be in Ranong by then for our next visa run.