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The east side of Koh Chang is not exactly on the must-do list of most people who travel here, but the fact of the matter is that it really can be a great area of Koh Chang to explore. Less touristy, less developed and quite a bit more "authentic Thai" it should really be on the list of things to do when you're on the island. There are several good waterfalls, really scenic views, the mangrove forest, Salkphet bay and of course some very remote and really quiet, laid back places to stay.
Klong Son is very much a local village with few amenities for travelers but it is home to a smallish fishing fleet and several things that actually make the island livable, like a cement plant, gas station, electrical sub-station and the local bus station. Mostly local hardware and supply stores here with not any tourist services at all.
At the 7-11 you can turn right and head into the valley, a decent paved road for most of its length, and it leads to a great waterfall called Klong Jao Leuam. Along the way to the waterfall you will pass Cookies Golf driving range, and after that the road to one of the better elephant camps called Baan Kwan Chang; the setting is very different from the three on west coast and if you have the time, it might be worth checking out.
If you go left at the 7-11 you wind up on the local fishing docks or the local Buddhist Temple. 7-11 is the landmark... In the next few months there will also be a Tesco beside it! Continuing through Klong Son you will pass the local bus station and about a kilometer will see a road leading to the north and into the Siam Bay development that is a small but growing mostly foreign owned residential area. They have a great beach and also home to the local golf course.
The one draw that we do like is the local Chinese Temple. Situated on top of a hill overlooking the bay it is the spiritual home to the guardian spirits of Koh Chang and offers a unique glimpse into the spirituality found here on the island. The original settlers on the island were Chinese fishermen and many of their traditions have lived on here on the island. The giving of small drinks and food to the spirits, the obvious Chinese style of the Temple and once a year they have an amazing festival.
If you can make it, it would be well worth it. Fire walking, spirit possession and a lot of other surprises in this festival, check out our video on it. If you want you can also get your fortune foretold at the Temple. Just watch how at the main alter a person shakes a jar until a bamboo stick with a number falls out. Take the number and look over at the left, there are a few boxes with corresponding numbers, just reach into the box and pull out a paper and there is your fortune! The best part and most practical is that if the number is bad there is a tree outside you can tie the paper to and make the bad fortune go away... so its a good luck place all around. And now you know why almost every driver honks three times as they pass the Temple for good luck!
Down from the Temple is the local ferry terminals. There is a dock just north of the huge ferry docks that you can find (most of the time) a small high speed boat to Laem Nop if you need to get off the island fast.
This ferry dock is called Ao Sapparot and they have the fastest ferries on the island, down the coast is the Center Point Ferries. At one time Center Point was way slower, but way less money, but their new prices match Ao Sapparots giving it now zero reasons to take them.
As you follow the road through Klong Son, past the ferry terminals it leads to along the way to Dan Mai - you will pass a naval dock that may or may not have patrol boats in it and of course the main park area for the waterfalls. The waterfalls can be rather seasonal and in the high season, they might not even be there, but in Green Season they are quite magnificent. Take a look... Klong Nonsi and Than Mayom are there, with Than Mayom being famous for King Rama V visiting it a very long time ago and carving his insignia in the falls. He did that just after he received Koh Chang from the Cambodians and it was a kind of “possession” ceremony for the island to make sure everyone knew it was now a part of Thailand.
Dan Mai is the home to the local government and houses the main police station and the hospital. If you do need medical services this is probably where you should come if you do not have travellers insurance. Be forewarned it is very basic and if you do actually have a real emergency the best idea is to high-tail it to Trat where there are some very competent hospitals and doctors. But for scrapes, bruises and contusions – this will do.
Hopefully you won’t need the police station. The fire station is now here and on the west side...One of the local fire trucks have been moved to the west side of the island. There was a huge fire several years ago and the controversy was that the trucks could not make it up the mountain road heavy and full of water... it also has lead to maybe, maybe, maybe getting the road in south finished also (but not holding our breath!) There are a few local places to eat in Dan Mai but nothing out of the ordinary. If you want something besides Thai, go to one of the resorts and grab a bite to eat there. On the other hand some of these smaller Thai places can whip up some good meals!
As you head down the cost road about 11 kilometers from Center Point ferry there will be branch in the road. Take the left and head into Salakkok Bay. Salakkok Bay is a very traditional area that is community run and pretty well off the tourist map, but this area is home to the mangrove forests and a very interesting area. The Salakkok Seafood restaurant offers some amazing meals and kayaking through the mangroves with also dinner boat cruises. The fascinating part is the whole area is run as a co-operative.
The co-operative is also responsible for a very cool piece of technology called a “Dasta ball” which is for lack of a better description an organic water purifier. The dasta balls are made from several biological materials that contain bacterium that when immersed into water starts the bacteria growing and purifying the water. It works, and it works well. They make no profit from the dasta balls and will give you the recipe: under the obligation that if you do make them - you can never sell them for a profit. A bit of a change from most business schemes the world over. That's why we like it here, very communal, they have not lost their souls and culture to tourism and besides the mangrove swamps, take a look at the view across the bay – amazing.
There is also a local OTOP shop where you can find decent and real souvenirs. Following the road leads eventually to Long Beach and the Naval memorial. Be warned that the farther you go, the worse the road gets and if you’re not a great bike driver, don’t do it.
But the road is good for a ways and leads through several Thai-Weekender resorts that always have rooms for bookings, and you can get a bigger and nicer place here than on the west coast for sure. Not a beach, and few services but for something relaxing and away from the crowds it would be a good idea. About halfway to Long Beach though is a great overlook of the bay and pretty well worth it for taking and making the drive. The last area for tourism is Long Beach, and it is remote. Two or possibly three resorts are here and are quite basic. Zion and Treehouse are the most popular.
The end of the road leads to the Naval Memorial for the Battle of Koh Chang in 1941. The Thais had begun to invade Cambodia, as at the time the French were a bit busy in mainland Europe being invaded by the Germans... and so the Thai government at the time thought it would be a great idea to grab Cambodia from France and welcome them to Thailand... It did not work out so well for the Thais at the end of the day. Although you will hear from just about every Thai how they beat the French the fact of the matter is that the French basically destroyed the Thai navy here in the bay. If you want all the details take a look at our article on that The Battle of Koh Chang. Deep down in the bay is the Chonburi battleship and although some dive brochures off island say you can dive on it – unless you like tapping on steel in water where you cannot see anything – its not for diving at all.
Salak Phet: Salak Phet is the very laid back area of Koh Chang that someday will probably morph into the real town, if they ever finish the road. An excellent harbour and a couple of waterfalls with excellent views are now what there is, and it is worth the drive. Salak Phet is a very traditional town and has a little bit of history that few know about. When the Cambodians were fleeing from the Vietnamese through the 80s and 90s they often took boats and attempted to get to Thailand, with some heading for Koh Chang (its pretty close to Cambodia and made a logical choice). Well, at the time, a few of the locals saw this as a floating bonanza and put to sea to make a few dollars and have some fun. The fun consisted of capturing the Cambodian boats at night, killing most of them, taking their possessions and either putting the Cambodian women into a brothel on a deserted “fisherman only” island and/or selling the boats back in Thailand for a few bucks.
This was very much a black operation and the Thai government had to send in an undercover policeman who spent literally years getting into the local community and busting the operation. Since every one knew everyone it was not easy for an undercover policeman to do this – but he did. There were a lot of arrests and a lot of jail time for a lot of people. But that was a very long time ago and Salak Phet is very safe now for boating and visiting!
If you head into Salek Phet proper there will not be a lot of services or places to stay but go through and head to the dock areas, the views from the marina can be amazing... There are a couple of good places to eat around the marina area and so relax and take your time in Salak Phet. Up north is the Klong Neung waterfall, which if you like an adventure it is worth scrambling up the river rocks to get to. There is also the Khiriphet waterfall, quite nice a and a lot easier to get to!