Thai Tour: Day 7 – 8
A secret no longer
The journey from Ayutthaya to Koh Chang had taken the best part of the previous day. After an early train to Bangkok and a five-an-a-half hour minivan ride some 350 km east to catch the ferry to the island, we embarked on mountainous, petrol-inhaling songthaew ride that had us checked-in and chilling out an hour or so before sundown.
Thailand’s second largest island, Koh Chang was once one of the country’s best kept secrets. Overlooked in favour of its more developed counterparts in the south of the country, the island had managed to remain relatively undiscovered out on its own near the Cambodian border, as the tourism boom continued apace elsewhere.
Such seclusion, however, wasn’t going to be allowed to last for long. It may have been undiscovered to all but the fortunate few, but once the internet has found out your secret, the best you can do is sit back and prepare for the storm. The developers moved in, the hotels went up, and since the turn of the millennium, Koh Chang has been doing its best to join the “very much discovered” club.
Still, Phuket it isn’t, and as we made our way down the western coastal road, it was clear Koh Chang still had a way to go before its new-found popularity could be said to have destroyed its charm completely. It was low-season, sure. These were the months when the showers were too frequent and the rain too heavy for most sensible people to consider visiting. The busloads of Russians I’d read about were nowhere to be seen. But with its rugged interior and the relative lack of ease in getting there, the development that had occurred seemed at this point fairly restrained.
600 metres is not a hike
We were heading for Klong Plu Waterfall, the largest and most popular waterfall on Koh Chang. The morning’s clouds had been blown back out to sea, and though the rain-slicked roads were liable to become treacherous the steeper they became, our latest two-wheeled warrior was handling itself admirably.
Located on the west coast of the island, a couple of kilometres inland from Klong Prao Bay, Klong Plu Waterfall is part of the Mu Ko Chang National Park and one of Koh Chang’s main attractions. At the end of a 600 metre walk through the jungle, along an undulating riverside path, all 20 metres of it can be seen falling into the pool below. It’s no Niagara, but on a day like today, when a couple of months of rainy season have swollen the river and recharged the pools, the 200 baht entrance fee (20 baht for Thais) seems a worthy investment.
After parking the bike and paying up, we set off on what had been erroneously described as a hike in the guidebook. I’m not exactly sure what parameters have to be satisfied in order for a walk to become a hike. We were on uneven terrain, on an unpaved jungle path, okay. But 15 minutes of that does not, I’d argue, a strenuous hike make.
It was a nice little walk though, stumbling over tree roots as we followed the river upstream, lizards darting out in front of us as they hurryied back to safety. With the humidity well above 80%, it was only a couple of hundred metres before my t-shirt was soaked through. But with the prospect of having our own natural pool in which we could cool off when we reached Klong Plu itself, I was pretty sure we could manage another 400 metres without collapsing from exhaustion.
Your very own fish spa
I hadn’t intended to go swimming, but when we arrived, I just couldn’t resist. There were a few people in there already, doggy paddling about, and being too hot and humid to contemplate not taking a dip, it didn’t take much convincing for me to find a pretty shoddily concealed spot behind a rock, whip off my clothes, and pull on my swimming shorts.
As the waterfall splashed away at the top end of the pool, I began lowering myself into the water like some strange aquatic Gollum, reflecting all sunlight in a dazzling glare of whiteness. Yet even in this unthreatening swimming environment, I still had the peculiar notion that if I were to venture out away from the edge, some jungle waterbeast would swim up from the depths and have me for lunch. As soon as you left the rocks the depth fell off immediately into the blackness below. But despite my trepidation, the only thing worth worrying about were the fish nibbling at my toes.
It was like being submerged in your very own fish spa. Lower your head into the water, hold your breath, and almost immediately a couple of dozen little nippers would be nipping at your face. Then there were the big ones swimming past your feet (and there were some that definitely wouldn’t fit on your dinner plate). These were the ones likely to make you yelp like you’d just had your toe momentarily sucked by a foot-long sinister swimming thing. It was all tremendous giggling fun.
It was almost 17:00 by the time we’d finished splashing about. We were just about the last ones left, and the two rangers (whose job it was to stop anyone even thinking about attempting the treacherous climb to the top of the waterfall) were starting to look impatient as the stated closing time approached. We were waved out of the pool and back to the head of the trail from where we were escorted back towards the car park in the dimming afternoon light.
It had been a successful first full day on Koh Chang. The rain had held off long enough for us to check out Klong Plu, and we were soon sitting down trying to decide which fishy friend of our friends from the pool we should order with our papaya salad. Tomorrow we’d be back out on the bike again. We were just praying we’d avoid a soaking for a second day.