Birthdays and tropical islands, two of the best experiences in the entire world, and when you smash them together you get the recipe for the most flavorful variety of awesome sauce.
It’s no secret that the south of Thailand is known for it’s beautiful tropical islands. This post is about one of the islands less frequented than some of it’s vacation frenzy siblings– Koh Chang, a sandy island paradise located in the Gulf of Thailand near Cambodia.
Koh Chang translates to Elephant Island, and is known as such because of it’s currently six different elephant camps located on the island, meaning there are a trunkload of opportunities to play with the two-ton animals. Even if you are not into the idea of riding the elephants, just by driving around the island, you are sure to get an eyeful of elephant action.
So me and my cohorts caught the overnighter down to Trat, and took the 20 minute ferry to the island to start our adventure– My 24th birthday in the Gulf of Thailand, literally, swimming in the Gulf.
We stayed on Lonely Beach, which is a quieter area of the island further to the south. My one B-day requirement was to stay at a hotel with a pool overlooking the ocean (tough life, I know!), and for around 650 baht a night, we found the The White House.
Despite my disappoint that Air Force One was not parked on the hotel’s secluded section of beach, nor was Barrack Obama lounging at the hotel’s beachfront tiki-bartop, the accommodations were excellent, and the people who ran the hotel were as sweet as fresh pineapple.
For 200 baht a day we rented motorbikes, and decided to take a cruise around the island.
Klong Plu, a beautiful easy-going waterfall hike, was one of the best pit stops we made on our motor tour. The hike is a quick half a mile through lush rainforest terrain, ending at a giant waterfall that feeds a totally swimmable pool of fresh, freezing cold water. If basking in the spectacular views is too relaxed though, there are plenty of small cliffs to exercise your inner daredevil, jump from and make a splash.
Don’t be surprised if while driving around the island you see packs of monkeys hanging around, hanging around everywhere. We stopped at a breathtaking overlook which peered out into the gulf, and ended up staying for 20 minutes to watch the monkeys squabble over scraps of food.
White Sands beach is the beach closest towards the ferry, and pro the most visited beach on the island. Despite the high number of visitors, the sand strip is long and stunning, with plenty of room to wade out into the warm blue water. The usual touristy stuff is there as well, beach massages, and bars, but the beach doesn’t feel inhibited by it in any way.
Although our hotel was in a quieter area of the island, we were not far from the nightlife. Lonely Beach has a much laid back nightlife with a good mix of reggae bars, electronic bars, a Mexican themed watering hole, and everything in between.
Despite it’s laid back nature, every night near Lonely Beach, well muscled-men throw flaming batons in fiery, mesmerizing dances in the middle of the street. The dancers are an awesome thing to watch while sitting at any of the outdoor bars in Lonely Beach, but be careful, after a few mai tais, you might start feeling like you can be a fire dancer too!
Late one night, my comrades and I walked back from the party section of Lonely Beach to our hotel, and we all plopped down in white plastic lounge chairs on the beach. Above us, the night sky was alive and blooming.
It felt less like I was staring at the nightsky I had known my whole life, and more like I was playing on an interactive constellation app. Every star in the sky was visible, and shined so bright it almost seemed as if the star was boasting it’s beauty to me. At some point we started counting shooting stars, reaching a tally of 12.
Even on a tropical island in the sun, being anywhere but with your family for your birthday, sharing inside jokes and cake, is difficult. Somehow I got by.
In passing, without much thought to it, I told the lady who runs our hotel that it was my birthday. While my friends and I sat near the pool throwing bones, the hotel lady came running out to me and said she had something to show me. She took me by the hand to the hotel’s beautiful beach front dining area, and there on the table, were beautiful American style pancakes, with candles in them.
She and the other members of the hotel staff, who we had become pretty friendly with during our stay, sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and we all shared the pancakes together. It was hard to swallow the pancakes with the lump in my throat, and the swell in my chest; the love and generosity behind those pancakes was almost too much for me to handle.
In conclusion, I can honestly say my 24th birthday was definitely one I’ll have fond memories of for a long time to come. Koh Chang is a great island with a good mix of adventure, and relaxation for any type of traveler, and I definitely recommend going. I can’t recommend any other hotel besides the White House. Go on your birthday, and who knows, you might even get some birthday pancakes!
** 650 baht was during low season when prices are typically lower. We checked the White House price closer to the end of high season and saw around 900 baht a night