Monday, April 12, 2010

Trip Reports - KO CHANG (eastern Gulf)

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BeachBloggers Trip Report on GRAND LAGOONA AND SOUTHERN KO CHANG - visited early April 2010



Part of the lagoon at Grand Lagoona. Has a number of boat chalets, a few of them non-floating which would appeal to families with non-swimming kids, and a floating hotel- plus some river-side bungalows and very flash and expensive sea-side chalets. This is shot from the roof of the mini-cruise liner.

I was looking for a midrange place for our second destination on Chang to compensate my Lady for our backpacker style place on White Sand Beach (see below) - there are a heap of appealing joints in the 1500b area but none on the sparsely settled south coast which I hadn't visited before. The Grand Lagoona there tends to run at higher prices - except on Sawadee.com which was offering the least expensive rooms at 1200 including breakfast. Crikey, that was the same as the website price for our underwhelming Vong Duern Villa room on Samet and that didn't one include brekka. So I grabbed one.

The least expensive rooms are in the floating hotel, the Galaxy. Except they upgraded us. It seemed the hotel was in limited use - only its entry deck was in operation. The rooms seemed pretty good if a bit small - something like a Japanese business hotel. Or an ocean cruise liner I suppose - I've never done a cruise.

We got upgraded to this Boat Chalet, centre. There are actually 4 spacious rooms on each boat (in our type at least - some more expensive boats seemed to have fewer).
It seems upgrading is not unusual - a TripAdisor or similar review I saw before booking mentioned the same thing. That's the floating reception and admin area on right of shot.


Our boat chalet room was huge and had all the inclusions you'd expect in a 2000+ baht room - at 1200! There was also a lounge area with aircon and fridge near the boat's entrance which would be ideal as a common area if families/friends took more than one room.

This is the floating swimming pool. Nice place to spend some time on a hot day. Beachside restaurant is a short distance to the right.

Grand Lagoona's beach. Clean sand, not too shallow at low tide. Free kayaks available. If you expand this shot you will better see the breakwater at the end which Lagoona's western boundary and is where the lagoon and small river joins the sea. The beach curves in the opposite direction past here for about 500m. After that it reaches the main road which goes another km or two across to Bang Bao - you can see Bang Bao's pier area in far background.

Grand Lagoona has many hectares of spacious grounds with a couple of km of paved roads and paths to walk or cycle. Cycles are free to guests. Visitors pay 150 baht at the gate for use of resort facilities including bikes. We kept our bicycles alongside our chalet overnight, just the thing for a quick fang to breakfast. Lagoona also has very good mountain bikes for hire at 100baht - takes about 15 minutes to do the 4km over to Bang Bao pier, with a couple of decent hills. I also rode up to Bai Lan and Lonely Beach - more than a couple of indecent hills along that route.

Someone aced Jake on the road up to Lagoona's waterfall. Ants were enjoying the scene. Waterfall is underwhelming but the 20 minute (return) walking track from the parking area is pretty nice. That's one of the free bikes; the hire mountain bikes are much better with disc brakes etc.

That's Lagoona's beachside restaurant and bar in background. Only restaurant of 3 operating when we visited - Lagoona seemed to be running at less than 10% in early April. Nice aspect with good views out towards Ko Wai and other islands south of Chang. Very good staff. Prices mainly 50 to 100% up on normal budget restaurants but we found a few dishes in our lower budget range. Big Changs a relative bargain at 90 baht. There are budget restaurants a little more than 10 minutes walk along beach towards Ban Bao (hop under the fence near the breakwater). Lagoona's seaside free breakfast is not a buffet but American style, pretty nice. Here Lady Tezza cruises in for some refreshments....

...and weaves back to the boat chalet after a Singha sinking session.

THE AREA AROUND GRAND LAGOONA

The Grand Lagoona-Bang Bao precinct of southern Ko Chang - some of the places mentioned below. The (interrupted) beach strip from KK Beach Hut around to Grand Lagoona is known as Kong Koi. Image - Google.

The budget restaurant/bar area at the western end of Kong Koi beach which is west of Lagoona. At least 2 budget bungalow outfits here including KK Beach Hut. Pix is shot from coast road where it hits the corner of the beach - this brings a fair few daytrippers down from the west coast beaches, meaning this area gets a good crowd later in the day - some nice beach lounges to take it easy on mid left of shot (click to expand). Water clear of debris and reasonably deep at low tide in the area of the waders in shot.
A new holiday villa development was under construction behind trees in far background - the beach actually does a back-curve past there and is the site of Tropical Resort, a nice looking place immediately west of Grand Lagoona which looked midrange. But the sea is very shallow and rocky at low tide in Tropical's area.

This is shot from the road maybe 500m closer to Bang Bao than the previous pic - if you expand it you can see the pier area pretty well. Small gap at far background right shows ocean side of Bang Bao - Bang Bao Cliff Cottages 2 shots down is on the higher area immediately to its right. Upmarket Nirvana resort is on the left of the gap.
In foreground is a another fancy holiday villa construction - check its pier and pretty impressive pool area. Some of the villas are higher than this shot.

Bang Bao pier area has some really nice shops, a host of good restaurants (seafood a big feature) with nice decks over the bay on the sunset side, quite a bit of accommodation. There are several ATMs and a 7eleven on the land end. Area usually laid back but gets busy when daytrip and dive boats are leaving and returning.

You won't land a much cheaper bungalow-over-water than these Bang Bao pier specials. Note the much more upmaket Bang Bao Sea Hut stilt houses are adjacent the pier.

The small bay on the seaward side of the gap west of Bang Bao pier mentioned two shots above, with Bang Bao Cliff Cottage's nice seaside restaurant and a few of its higher cliffside bungalow (to the left).
In the foreground is upmarket Nirvana Resort's rockside walkway which goes for a few hundred meters and then turns into a rainforest track which loops back to the resort in a nicely landscaped area on the other side of this narrow peninsula. Nirvana has two nice smallish pools, but the beach on the bay (pier) side is a bit ordinary. So is Cliffside's bayside beach, but a lot of people swim off the seaside rocks near the restaurant which reportedly has some pretty good snorkelling for Chang.

Cliff Cottage's restaurant was a nice place to spend time. Owner macca was enthusiastically preparing a fishing rod during our visit - the rocks over the top of the bottle seem to be SPOT X.

The southern Chang beach strip shot from the Bang Bao pier. Beach actually a shallow S shape, not straight as it photographs. Grand Lagoona's beach and breakwater far right - if you expand shot you can see the Galaxy floating hotel behind. KK Beach Hut/budget restaurants and beach bars start far left.
Mountains behind even steeper than they photograph - explains why last few km of the around island road have not been constructed.

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Beach Blogger's Trip Report to WHITE SAND BEACH - visited late March 2010.


White Sand Beach from the south-west - some of the places mentioned on this page. Click to expand (may depend on your browser). Image Google.

I first stayed on White Sand in '98 - 3 times in fact, divided by visits to the islands south of big Chang. Because I don't believe in staying at the same place more than once I sampled Cookies, Rocksand and KC's back then.
I broke my rule on this trip - my 2nd visit in 2008 showed Rocksand had changed dramatically from the double storey bar with a few really basic bungalows leaning against the cliff behind - and having such great memories of the place I determined to stay there this visit.

THE ROCKSAND PRECINCT
All those old-time knockers who say White Sand is developed out of reach of budget travellers aint done their research. They can still get a high season bungalow overlooking the beach for 500b in this area - and lower priced ones a row back.

This is Rocksand today. There is a '98 shot lower down this page in the NOSTALGIA TRIPPING section for comparison.
The restaurant and bar is now confined to the lower deck and this deck has been extended each side.
The top deck has been filled in to make 6 fan outside-bathroom rooms, the front 3 with wonderful seaview balconies. That's our seaview room top right with the washing.
Behind the deck at right is a 2-storey extension with another 6 rooms - cramped Seaview fan rooms on the bottom, nicer bigger Seaview aircon TV rooms on top. In the same position to the left is the cookhouse.
There is another block out of frame to the left which you can see in the shot below.
At anything above quarter-tide, people moving from the main beach to the northern section of White Sand (to the left) are forced to climb up through the bar/restaurant terrace, which is great for business - and for guests to check the passing parade.

Area immediately to the north of Rocksand - the high building is part of Rocksand with the Sunset Cocktail Bar lowest (not operating when we visited, in what was virtually shoulder season), a big Luxury Beach Room above and latest owner Joost's pad on top.
Note the elevated walkway to this building's left, for high tide access further north.
The high building at the walkway's left is the excellent Mayalamean with very inexpensive and good food and the cheapest beer and massages we found all trip. Their elevated restaurant is far left and there are budget beachfront rooms to its right (500b) - cheaper ones behind (300b when we visited). I have a phone number and restaurant shot on the main Chang page.
At the far left of shot is the first part of the very extensive White Sand Resort.
This is a nice shot to expand for detail - click (may depend on your browser).


Immediately to the south of Rocksand - funky Independent Bo is immediately next, followed by Little Chang Bungalows, then Star Beach followed by Pen's Bungalows. All seemed to have March 2010 prices of 500 beachfront, 300 or so further back and plenty of vacancies at this time. Independent Bo has an elevated eating spot which we didn't visit, the others nice beachfront restaurants - pretty reasonable prices here too. The northern-most bungalows of flash new KC's start behind trees at far right of shot.

ROCKSAND ITSELF

This is our first room at Rocksand - #4, a Beach Room With Fan, Bathroom (hotwater) and Seaview Terrace. Frankly it was terrible - small, cramped, stuffy, very difficult to access/leave bed if you were sleeping on the wall side and didn't want to disturb your partner, very small bathroom out of frame to the right. Very limited space on camera side of bed plus medium area (hidden from camera right of shot behind foot of bed for bags etc but very difficult to access. No hooks or storage units. This cost 900 without breakfast on the net - I notice the price has now dropped to 700 for the same month but that could reflect the impact of the Red Shirts rioting on tourism which was not on the horizon when we originally booked. I reckon it is worth 500 max, and only because of the hotwater. You can get far more spacious seafront cold water bungalows in the joints each side for 500.
We only lasted one night here.
This is the front of #4 (left bottom) from the side of our second room's balcony. #4's seaview terrace pretty cramped but okay outlook. Room above 4 and its neighbours pretty nice from what we could see - bigger because slope of cliff allows a much deeper room, got TV and air. All taken when we wanted to upgrade....
...which worked out pretty well, because this cheaper top floor Sea View room with fantastic terrace overlooking the restaurant deck and out to sea was available. It was airy and spacious, much more so than this shot shows, with a big king sized bed which would sleep 3 adults, another single bed which you can just see to the right, and enough space for 4 people's gear. Plenty of storage but no wardrobe, good lights, quiet fan. Clean. Outside bathroom short distance down hall - actually one toilet- shower room and a separate hw shower room. And further toilets/showers downstairs behind the restaurant. We paid 700b (now 600 on the website) - I reckon it was well worth 700. would be a bargain with 3 or 4 budget travellers sharing.

Sweet views from the lengthy seaview terrace of our second room - here to the north-west. Really nice sunsets directly west meaning lots of time sitting here working on the elcheapo Chateau Cardboard Aussie red. Nostalgia trip back to '98 sunsets sitting in the same place when it was an open decked upstairs bar - with even better consumables.

Rocksand has a few trad-type backpacker fan bungalows with bathrooms built up the slope behind the main structure. 500 baht when we visited. My 50 baht '98 "bungalow" was here, basically a lean-to against the cliff-face with no back wall - just the rock face. I spent the night with my heavy bike-lock chain beside my pillow in case any nasty monkeys invaded. Joost has plans to develop this area.

Because of its strategic position and views, Rocksand's bar/restaurant tended to attract a good crowd of visitors from neighbouring and distant resorts. Umbrellas are set up when sunshine hits max. Food is good but prices tend to be 20-40% more than average backpacker/flashpacker standards. No worries - we ate a lot of our meals at Mayalamean, Star Beach and distant White Sand Resort's restaurant 400m north. White Sand's big muesli/fruit/yoghurt + giant mug of tea (a Lady Tezza must) made the pleasant morning walk well worth it. Behind camera is a covered area with more tables and then a nice lounging area with cushions, and small tables. The whole area had free wi-fi.

Overall, Rocksand is a pretty good place if you don't pick the Beach Rooms with Fan. But not perfect.
Food/drink prices could be lower (but there was certainly no lack of customers - someone from super-posh KCs would find the prices knock down low - and cheapskates like me have plenty of nearby options).
Access is a bit of a bummer - basically we carted our bags through the beach access alley next to the 7/eleven where the main road from the mountain pass first hits the township's main street and then dragged them the 400m further north along the beach. The place does have a 4wd which comes in through White Sand Beach resort's steep access road about 3km up the pass and parks next to Mayalamean about 80m north of Rocksand - but there is no mention any pick-up service when you book. Places like Star Beach have a trolley on bicycle wheels which a staff member pushes along the beach.
When we booked in all hot and sweaty after our beach trek with luggage there was no welcoming cool drink. There were no first-day bottles of water in the room. For a place aspiring to flashpacker standards (and better - the most expensive room is midrange priced) these are unusual omissions.

A TOUR OF THE BEACH


Far North White Sand Beach - this is the area which starts just north of Rocksand-Mayalamean and runs maybe 600m to the far headland. The best and quietest section of White Sand IMHO. White Sand Resort's bungalows run all along here - the restaurant/reception is maybe halfway along and they have a second restaurant near the headland. Water good for swimming all tides from the other side of Rocksand to the headland.


Central North White Sand Beach. This is shot from Rocksand's bar/restaurant deck looking south - the area in the foreground is in front of the Independent Bo-Pen's strip. A bit past the tree the beach widens in front of KC Grande's 400m long outfit. Sand and water pretty good all along here. Not very crowded. Used to be naked backpacker-babes in the good old days.
Actually if you expand this you can see right up to the southern end of the beach.

Central White Sand Beach (looking south) - this is shot from the northern main street beach access alongside the 7/eleven. Sand pretty good along here - and a lot more than on my 2008 visit which must have had pretty bad wet season storm-wave erosion. Some nice shade. More crowded than further north. Water getting a bit shallow lowest tide. Candle-lit beach tables at night but not as concentrated as further south.

Southern White Sand Beach (looking north). The beach actually ends alongside the camera here. The very nice pool of Kacha resort is actually behind-right of camera with rocks out front - their beachside restaurant is just behind the first sign in shot. Beach narrow along most of this section, good shade, water pretty shallow low tide. Most crowded day and night. I walked up here 4pm one afternoon and they already had heaps of beach mats/cushions/low tables with candles set up for the sand bars and lots of dining tables being put out. Some pretty concentrated resorts and other beach businesses along here.

Note that quite a few of White Sand Beach's newer resorts are actually even further south from this - those people closest in the shot were on my minivan from Samet and told me their place was a good 800m south on the main road. Nice pool, nice resort but a long walk to the beach. Check location maps on your booking sites.



WHITE SAND NOSTALGIA TRIPPING

Rocksand in the 90s. More or less a 2 storey bar with the "rustic" action on the upper deck. A few pretty basic bungalows against the cliff-face behind.

I like this 90's shot because I took it virtually where the front door to the balcony of our second 2010 room is located.

The other end of the upper deck in the 90s. That's the nicest (northern) section of White Sand Beach (then and now) in the background.

Many travelers will remember the main section of White Sand in the 90s - these are KC's great beachfront bungalows then. One of my 3 visits in '98 I stayed here - spent many mellow candle-lit hours on the front balcony. From memory I paid 150b.

Whoa! Same place now. Most exxy rooms 25k! Cheapest 4200 after discount!! At least they kept some of the palms.

In '98 I also stayed at Cookies in this nice timber/concrete beachfront bungalow, flashpacker standard at 400 which I thought outrageous (the beach was just about booked out).

This is the new Cookies - rooms probably 10 times that price. Interestingly it is about 100m further south than the original - the old bungalows and restaurant are still there being run by Sanctawan. Cookies has also extended across the inland side of the main street in a similar block.



IF YOU WANT TO DO A TRIP REPORT OF WHITE SAND BEACH (OR ANY OTHER BEACH OR ISLAND) PLEASE FIRE TEXT AND ANY PIX INTO lajolla22@hotmail.com. IF YOU HAVE NO PIX LADY TEZZA AND I HAVE ENOUGH GENERAL ONES TO COVER, BUT SHOTS OF INDIVIDUAL RESORTS, ROOMS AND EVEN YOU ARE ALWAYS NICE.

Back to the main Ko Chang page.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you nice article.
    your next trip…Phuket is the best choice for you!!
    I love here Surin Beach Hotel This hotel is very nice clean and the people are friendly. VERY nice hotel with helpful staff.
    And I really love white sand, crystal clear waters at Surin Beach too.
    Thank again.

    ReplyDelete