Koh Kood: A Travelogue By Punam Mohandas
Koh Kood is certainly not for the fainthearted, for those who want to live on a Barbie and Ken toyland kind of island! Kood is the farthest island in the east of Thailand, on the Thai-Cambodian border. There are approximately two thousand inhabitants here. NO ATM’s, no 7Elevens; internet and mobile phone connections are dodgy at best. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s inaccessible, but it’s certainly a way away – and not cheap getting here either!
It was precisely the thought of all this virginal seclusion that appealed to me. In any case, I never carry my laptop or wear a watch while travelling, and I answer the phone only for family or very close friends – who better have a darned good reason for calling when I’m in orbit!
I was already at Koh Chang, kicking up my heels and basking in the sun. This, by the by, is a much better way of going on to Kood coz it’s a dashed long way away. You can go via Koh Samet too, or spend a night at Trat – which, I imagine, would be about as much fun as a hole in the head!
However, as I said, I was at Chang, the Thai word for ‘elephant’ (so now you know.) So I go do my recce thing and find that the speedboat to Koh Kood is gonna set me back by 900 baht! Eeep! Do remember that us backpackers are on a shoestring budget where every 100 baht is precious. I mosey along trying my winsome smile around at various travel agents. At the fourth one, I strike lucky. This Thai lady called Honey with a honeyed smile herself, comes down to 800 but not a penny farther. Apparently there are no ferry services between Chang and Kood coz the distance is too great. The “slower” speedboat at 700 baht takes 5 hours, with a two hour halt at Koh Maak. The faster service takes only two hours. I know when I’m beaten, so I fork over 800 of the best. She assures me I will be picked up from my hotel at 9am.
I’m a little sceptical about this schedule as the boat is supposed to leave at 9.30! You coulda beat me down with a feather when the guy at Reception tells me my songtaew pick-up is already here, almost ten minutes early! Whee. So much for perceived Thai tardiness. We set off to pick up Filippo (who joined me on my Chang sojourn seeing as how I was having so much fun, and then decided to come to Kood as well, which,as you can imagine, tickled Honey a good deal, as I took another customer to her.)
So, off we go. Once at Bailan Bay, we clamber aboard this speedboat that can maybe seat about 15 and has more like 40 people aboard it! No matter, this is the Thai way of travel. A very kind gentleman and a large Thai lady shift their buttocks slightly so I can squeeze in, while Filippo wedges himself literally betwixt wedges (heels) as he manages to get some Russian mommas to shift their feet – this is one NOT happy bunny already!
As I said, we’re fairly cramped in here and it doesn’t help when the speedboat hits a wave and there’s a dull thud, rather like crashing your car headlong into a speed breaker. About an hour of this and we’re at Koh Wai and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that most of our fellow seafarers alight here. We all wiggle around in pleasure in the unexpected space. Ten minutes later we’re at Koh Khaam and another ten minutes or so brings us to Koh Maak. The breathtaking beauty of these isles has to be seen to be believed; mere words do not suffice to convey the serendipity of clear blue skies, calm emerald waters, swaying coconut palms and the air still, so still…if ever there was a Robinson Crusoe moment, this is it!
Forty five minutes later, we sputter into Koh Kood. There’s a fine dance now as, for some reason, our boatman is unable to align the speedboat with the rickety pier. We try this three times, only to roar away and check out another pier. I turn to the speedboat driver and shout encouragingly: Be James Bond! Keep going straight and land on the beach! He flashes a quick grin back at me and whaddya know, this time he manages to get it right. My bonhomie evaporates rapidly though and my jaw drops open as I look at the swaying rope ladder they expect me to LEAP across to and then shimmy up to this bridge of narrow wooden planks across this deep ocean. No way, Jose. I shake my head and turn away but they’re equally insistent that this indeed is Siam Pier, my ruddy drop-off point for Cham’s House! I pretty damn near start blubbering but there’s no way out.
So with one guy reaching out from the bridge for my hand and one steadying me from the boat and – is that a push I felt on my bum for the love of Buddha! – I call on all the gods, get on that effing ladder and DO NOT look down. Hey, quit laughing – try climbing a swaying rope ladder in flipflops while below you is the deep, deep sea! And you can’t swim!
Okay, I’m on now and stroll off, feeling Filippo’s apprehensive eyes on me coz now he doesn’t know what lies in store for him as he hasn’t booked a hotel yet. Someone is here from Cham’s House where I’m booked at, to collect me and we set off on these rutty mud tracks which soon lead to a narrow but tarred road; all of Koh Kood is like this, you will find, where mud tracks suddenly give way to tarred roads and then the roads seemingly veer off into what seems complete jungle land.
That’s right….Kood is nestled quite lovingly between forest and sea. It’s such a spectacular juxtapositioning by Nature; on one hand you have these dense forests with tall trees from which you emerge to face a vast expanse of placid waters. If the sea at Koh Chang is a clear jade green, then here at Koh Kood it has shifted subtly to become a deeper aquamarine.
Soon enough, we are at Cham’s House, which, from the outside, looks like a glass house perched atop a hillock overlooking the sea. It is named after the Cham tribe which is ethnic to Cambodia and Vietnam and form the core of the Muslim communities there; please remember that Kood is Thailand’s eastern-most island and on the Thai-Cambodia border. The Chams are relics of the kingdom of Champa from the 7th-18th centuries. There are approximately 4,000 members of the tribe in Thailand now.
Cham’s House is truly one of the most charming hotels I have been to and a perfect foil to Kood’s quietude and natural splendour. If only these goshdarned lizards weren’t determined to ruin my sunny state of being; I swear these pesky things were put on earth to petrify me! This is a phobia that goes way beyond reason and alla way back to childhood and I am SO sick and tired of people telling me they’re harmless or here to kill mosquitoes or worse yet – they’re cute! Cute?? Hmm. I suspect such people need a lobotomy! I harass the bejesus out of housekeeping till a tiny girl comes to my room armed with a pest spray can, which I promptly appropriate from her and proceed to spray my room AND the outside, environment friendly be damned. I’ll take my chances on paying off my green karma sometime else! That dear little housemaid’s jaw drops in astonishment as she sees my art deco – I’ve blocked off a door leading to an open-air bathtub by wedging bits of rolled toilet paper through the gaps! Bless her heart, to her credit she leaves my attempts at interior decorating intact during my stay there.
Barring this, Kooh Kood is a lovely island to be on and totally what the doctor ordered – for me, that is. It’s silence, virginal seclusion and near inaccessibility are what make it so attractive for me in this day and age of rushing thither and yon with myriad cellphone tones jangling discordantly in your ears. On Kood, mobile phone connection is sporadic and obviously then so is the internet connection. While this pleases me no end, coz I am quite content to lounge on the beach and gaze blankly at the sea with no thought in my head, Filippo is less than pleased as there is no way now to contact me – or the outside world! Lo and behold, he lands up at breakfast time the next day and an agitated Reception staff, reluctant to disturb my chowtime, comes to tell me my “fren” is waiting.
And, wouldn’t you know it – the heavens open up that very instant! We go along to the patch of beach in front of the hotel and settle down on sunbeds; although there are no “private” beaches on Kood, there are so few humans on the island that it’s practically private anyway! Some of the Russian guests decide to go snorkelling and I wander off into the sea too, since the rain has dwindled to a drizzle. It soon stops but we give it another half hour to make up its mind, as one half of the sky is a clear blue and the other an ominous grey!
Sensibly, Filippo has hired a motorcycle as there is no other way to get around the island, unless you hire a songtaew taxi which, of course, is gonna be dear. The bike rentals too are at differing prices (anywhere from 300-500 baht for the day) as they’re handled by the hotels, so it all depends on your haggling skills!
Cham’s House is on Klong Hin beach and we set off northwards as I want to check out Ao Salat fishing village. Less than twenty minutes away we come to the picturesque beach of Bang Bao. While Klong Hin is a sandy beach but with rocks and broken coral bits so one has to look sharp, Bang Bao is powder soft, with calm waters and an unbroken stretch of beach with no rocks. This is quite heavenly and we push on regretfully as there’s a lot to be seen still.
Driving on, we pass a couple of schools and the local police station. There’s a clinic out here in the boondocks somewhere and I split my sides laughing as I read the sign tacked outside which says it’s open Mon-Fri between 5-8pm….so please be obliging enough to kick the bucket between these hours, hmm??
Along this route are the Klong Chao and the Klong Yai Ki waterfalls, with the former being the largest and safe for swimming. I decide to give it a miss, as the friendly hotel staff have told me there’s hardly any water here on account of no rains. We drive on to Ao Salat and man – it’s such a disappointment! Don’t listen to the guide books that wax eloquent – you’ll just be wasting your time. It’s just a tourist trap and you can see this kind of “fishing” life along any of the klongs on the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. The only thing I did get is a picture of prawns drying out on the sun; only ever seen dried fish before.
Right, Filippo’s read some other guide book obviously and has got it into his head that he must see this 500-year old tree that’s in some forest somewhere. He’s a bit miffed that I’m not equally excited; well, hell, we have enough ancient banyan trees with sprawling roots in India! Anyhow, we set off southwards to Ao Yai fishing village and this tree relic. The skies have now begun to rumble threateningly again, but Filippo is determined to find that damned tree; never argue when an Italian gets a bee in his bonnet, besides, as he’s my ride back to my hotel, I keep shtumm. We seem to be venturing deep into some forest with narrow trails, no humans and a hushed stillness…reminds me of Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ that I read as a child. Thankfully, we come across a a lone islander on a motorcycle and ask him about this tree. Apparently we’re not too far away, but we have to hoof it as there is no bike trail into the forest. I absolutely refuse to go deeper in with flip flops on where lizards and snakes doubtless abound and decide to wait by the bike while Filippo sets off in search of the Holy Grail, sorry, Trail. A half hour passes, although it seems like aeons, when I hear a faint Italian “eureka” and then it’s another age before he comes crashing through the undergrowth, scratched and triumphant.
Since the heavens have now chosen this opportune moment to open up, we decide to head back. Of course we get lost a couple of times; not since Moses has a male ever stopped to ask for directions! Once off the tar road, the bike gets mired in the muddy slush and we perforce take shelter under an abandoned shelter which, although open to the elements on the sides, thankfully has a roof. Filippo is now looking rather mournfully at the bike and predicting in dire tones that it’s never going to start up again. Taking pity on him, I tell him I’ll walk back to my hotel, which saves him trying to coax the bike back uphill.
I book myself a massage at the hotel’s spa; let me tell you firsthand that if you’ve never had a massage while the heavens come crashing down, you’re truly missing something! That combination of rolling thunder and the sweep of rain as it lashes the rooftop, while the therapist’s soothing hands iron out the knots in your muscles and the pleasing fragrance of lemongrass fills the air….one feels so cocooned and protected somehow. And thus ends an adventurous day on Kood.
Punam Mohandas asserts her right to be identified as the author of this work. Any views or opinions expressed in this review is that of the author. All copyright and pictures are the property of the author.