My Ko Chang

Reading these reminiscences of a Phuket ages back (ok, ages for me, I started talking in sentences at that time, approximately), the feeling of impermanence struck me. If you start a long-term relationship with a place, you need to get used to seeing it develop. Or decay. It’s the two sides of the same coin I guess. If you’re just a one-time visitor, then you get the nice “still photos” of a moment in time and space. It’s been over four years now that I first set foot in Thailand, and I’ve started to perceive changes – even from a distance of a 12-hour flight…. and it’s caught me off guard, I cannot deal with it as yet.

Ko Chang’s Treehouse is closing down in December….

When I bought my first and last Lonely Planet (inevitable, isn’t it?), there were no paved roads reaching all the way down to the fishing village on the southernmost tip of Ko Chang. The Treehouse was only accessible on dirt roads or by boat. When I first visited, the break-neck serpentine road was already there, and along came the electric cables. And goodies to be bought. A small petrol pump. Maybe even a few atm’s and internet since then as well…

At that time, Treehouse was still stuck somewhere in the 70s or 80s. Not that I remember the 70s so clearly, but I heard my impressions echoed in those memories of one-time Phuket. I didn’t really like the usual clientele of hippi-like travellers though, I have always had a hard time mixing and blending in with other farangs. Many of them were soooo keen on being casual and as hippi as possible, it took them considerable time and effort to look ragged. There were meditations at the beach, and someone told me she could smell ganja – I couldn’t identify the smell myself. But I just loved the place and didn’t care about anything else. I loved having the kilometer-long beach all to myself when it was raining, or right before sunset – others were having a drink at that time, usually.

Playing with the Thai kids in the sand for hours or just watch them play. Lying all day long in my hammock, listening to the easy music at the Treehouse restaurant, ordering coconut milk rice for breakfast, fruit salad for lunch, fried red snapper for dinner, and putting the flowers coming with my shakes in my hair (oh yes, stone me but I do love those stereotypical banana shakes).

Making friends with the local cats. Watching the waves and take in their smell. Jumping in the waves at high tide, even with that very, very strong sideways current. I never washed away the touch and smell of seawater, it made my skin soft and young. And when the night fell, the twelve-hour downpour started. I was lying on my bed in my small hut, blew out the oil lamp, opened the window, and the stormy sea almost rolled in. Sometimes I could feel the foam of the huge waves in my face. I dreamt about the water rolling the stones back and forth, and the waves smashing against my tree – my hut was sheltered and virtually hugged by an ancient banyan tree.

(I have only found this photo – I don’t have one of my hut….)

I was feeling truly blessed, at peace with the world and with myself – I had become part of an irresistible, all-encompassing ONE that took care of me and took away my fears, instead of fighting and fighting my dragons. And then one night it didn’t rain, and a million stars appeared. I had never known so many stars existed. I stared at them and they stared back, and I realised that it’s not just me looking for my own personal star for years and years, but there is also a star looking for me out there. The key is that we must catch each other’s glance simultaneously…. I felt it was hopeless. I had never felt so lonely in my life, I was crying for a long time that night. But the waves rocking the pier muted my crying.

(out there, but with the sun off and the starts on….)

I rented a motorcycle, and that was the first time I had ever tried a non-automatic. I learnt to deal with the pedals and gears on that very serpentine road that scares the hell of people when they see it for the first time. I went along all the roads and accessible dirt paths on the island. I just love that feeling, riding for miles and miles slowly, feeling the breeze in my face, and taking in the moments. Waterfalls, an elephant conservation centre, villages, beaches with nothing but palm trees and nobody but me. The crowded tourist hangouts were really limited to a few kilometres on the Western side of the island, otherwise it was deserted, at times almost haunted.

When I went back to the mainland and looked into the mirror for the first time in weeks, a stranger looked back. A stranger that was the most me ever.

That’s me and my brother on a later visit, at the entrance to the “Haunted palm valley” leading to a waterfall, as we called it. We got drenched on the one-hour ride back home, caught in the darkness, with fallen wire posts and trees on the serpentine road, and all hell broken loose. I really thought we were all going to die that night.

It’s hard to swallow that it’s slowly disappearing. At that time, there were rumours that the government only wanted to allow five-star luxury spas and resorts and intended to do away with the backpacker scene. I have no idea about the latest plans and the current situation. I don’t know if I want to go back once more. After all, the Treehouse is closing down, and moving from Lonely Beach to Long Beach, trying to escape development and higher rents. Maybe I should look around and find a new getaway for myself, another Ko Chang of a few years ago and Phuket of the 70s. Surely there must be some more islands out there with a road or two to ride along, a few reefs to snorkel, a simple lamp to be blown out before going to bed.

You know, I just really hope that my ancient banyan tree will be spared at least.

10 responses to “My Ko Chang

  1. Beautifully written, I was left speechless….

  2. Yes, very nice. This is a great blog, Betti! 🙂

    You were so lucky to experience this tropical paradise the way many of us are only dreaming about it. Indeed, the way you write about it feels like a dream, and the pictures complement this feeling perfectly. 🙂

    It’s a pity that modernization destroys the feel of the place. I know how it feels, as it happened with some of my favorite places too. It’s like the loss of a dear friend.

    But you know, it still remains the way it was, in your dreams. No one can hurt it or take it away in your memories. Thank you for sharing your treasure with us. 🙂

  3. thank you Shoshi 🙂

    SiamJai, don’t spare me. tell me about the places that I shouldn’t look for anymore in Chiang Mai….
    I heard about some night safari and another theme park, I’ll have to try to update myself.

  4. nice photo’s

  5. This was true poetry!! And that line ‘ Look at that star, looking at the star, looking down at me” Cannot remember where I heard that song!!

  6. Wow. Just wow. Excellent writting Betti. Damn I wish I could write something this good…jing jing!

    Thank you for giving me that little extra boost needed to spur my gii giat butt on over there and find my own Ko Chang before everything is really, trully gone. The land barren of this sweet simple life like there is no more magic left in the world.


  7. NO!!!!!!!
    It can’t BE!!!!
    I’ve been to the Treehouse numerous times.
    (ok, more like twice.)
    In fact, i only got one chance to stay there cos it’s always fully booked.
    And once, I was on Koh Chang for 2 weeks!!!

    How can there be no more Treehouse???

  8. thaifnessfan

    truely beautiful writing: it exactly represents the feelings that i have about the wonderful time i spenton Samui in the mid-eighties, before they had the dredged airport…..and the first visit to khata/phuket in 1981 when patong was still a palmtree beach.Not to mention Samed inthe turning of the 80/90’s(Ao Santiean)..what’s there left to go to, i wonder…laos, cambodia???…i’m late in responding on this truly “amazing” contribution,but it’s a comfort that i’m not the only romantic who longs for those days long gone….found any replacement paradises yet that you would like to share?

  9. Last time we checked the trail from the Siam Huts to the Treehouse was still one of the most walked roads on the island! It’s still up and running, as is the new one..

  10. I visited Siam Hut just yesterday. Pleasant place with bad staff!

    My money was stolen in front of other customers and 6 of my colleagues. I left my wallet on the counter to deliver drinks to my table. After ordering another round I found my wallet missing. I asked the girl behind the counter and she immediately gave my wallet to me. BUT!!!!! All of my money was gone. It totaled 3500 Baht. This is not a lot of money to some; but, it is to me. When I asked her who returned the wallet, she got very defensive and looked rather angry/guilty. She made up a story about a White guy returning it. (lies!). As I left she tried to yell at me and make me feel bad about loosing my money to which I let her have a verbal beating back. I called the police and made a report and immediately left the island. Now I have heard more about this manager and her ways. Many people have had there money stolen there. One man who was brave enough to confront her more got his hand chopped up with a butcher knife.

    I have been going there for 10 years and never had an issues like this, no matter the resort I stayed in. I just want others to know.