Koh Chang, The Wild Island
I had rarely sweated that much. Yet, after all, all I was doing is having a walk in the forest. It didn’t rain at all on that day, but believe it or not, my body and clothes were as drenched as if I had spent 10 minutes under a thunderstorm downpour.
I was experiencing the hostility of the jungle, the real face of these tropical islands millions of holiday makers rush to every year. I was inside the wild landscape most people choose to enjoy from their beach resort.
But just before the border with Cambodia, in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, a group of islands has miraculously survived the tourism fever. The largest of these islands is Koh Chang.
Indeed, it may sound surprising considering its size – the third largest in Thailand, but Koh Chang has remained largely under the radar of most tourists until very recently.
Even though tourism is now developing fast, encouraged by the Thai government, the island is still very far from having reached the level of development you can see in Koh Samui or Phuket.
Therefore, if you tend to avoid islands turned into a giant concrete slab and mass-tourism paradise like the plague, chances are that you will find in Koh Chang what you are looking for!
Already from the ferry taking me to the island, I was awed by how wild, mountainous, hostile-looking Koh Chang is from the sea. This impression is later confirmed when you arrive and see how snaky the main road is! And from the road, the jungle does look totally impenetrable.
In fact, about 70% of Koh Chang is still covered with a lush and mysterious rainforest covering the mountains, protected by the Mu Koh Chang National Park. This is an exceptional opportunity to see such a large island in such a state of preservation, which has long been a distant memory on other major islands.
GPS (start of the trek): 12°3’38.59″N, 102°18’25.98″E
How to go: Book through Jungle Fever Trekking (I am not affiliated with them and paid for my trek).
Price: 1200 Bahts (About 37 USD)
Duration of the trek: 8 hours
Trek distance: 14 km. More details here.
Best season: November to February for cooler temperatures. I did it in October.
Hotel recommendation: Coconut Beach Resort, Chai Chet Beach.
A strenuous Jungle Trek
With all this wilderness awaiting, those who know me well will not be surprised to hear that this trek is the first thing I did after arriving in Koh Chang!
The simple idea of crossing this island on foot, coast to coast, through totally wild and untouched rainforest, was a challenge I couldn’t resist taking on.
And a challenge it was! 14 km doesn’t sound that bad when you are walking along the road, but when you are in the jungle the difficulty is of a whole other level. It is commonly admitted that the average walking speed is around 6 km per hour. In a jungle environment, this average plummets to only about 2 km per hour.
Blame the extreme humidy that quickly makes you totally drenched in your own sweat, the hostile wildlife and the mountainous terrain. This trek goes up and down no less than 3 mountains.
I had some physically challenging jungle hikes on my own before, such as the one in Penang National Park in Malaysia, but for this one you definitely need a guide. The path is not always visible, sometimes you have to follow the river for a while… without a guide it is simply impossible to know where to go.
You could risk it with a good GPS but really, the environment is hostile and the distance to hike is long. As adventurous as I can be, it is not something I would risk. One can be adventurous without being silly. 🙂
Another important point to note is that this trek does not really offer any view to the landscape, it is pure jungle trekking. The reason why you would want to do it really is the physical challenge, and the pride to be able to say “Hey! I have crossed this whole huge island on foot, can you believe that?!”.
Of course, it is also a unique occasion to be totally immersed in this fascinating environment that is the tropical rainforest. Armed with my hiking boots, my courage and my passion for nature and the wilderness, I was ready for a memorable adventure!
Koh Chang Jungle Trekking Video
My trek across Koh Chang in 3 minutes!
Because of the high humidity, my DSLR camera that I usually use to film, was having problems. Most of this video was made with my smartphone – a bit more shaky than usual, sorry about that!
The Trek Across Koh Chang
So here I was, in Klong Prao (one of these developed areas along the west coast of Koh Chang) with the guide and a friendly young couple from Ukraine whom I shared this adventure with.
Since the development on the island is still limited, it didn’t take long to leave civilization behind and enter a true vegetal cathedral.
The trek starts not far from the Khlong Phlu Waterfall, one of the most popular waterfalls of Koh Chang… that I have, a little ashamedly, failed to visit. But that’s okay, the trek gave me access to a much more exclusive swim at a waterfall in the heart of the jungle instead.
Once you have crossed the Khlong Phlu stream, the path keeps climbing heading north east, until you reach the top of the first mountain of the trek. When I got there it felt like an awesome achievement, but I soon realized that it was only the beginning of a much longer, challenging hike.
A little further along the ridge, there is a hole in the forest cover with bare rocks on the ground, a wonderful viewpoint to the nearby forest-covered mountains. It was really like a sneak peek at all this intimidating, not human-friendly wilderness that was left to cross.
You suddenly realize how isolated you are, a tiny human being in this immensity of trees, it kind of hits you in the face.
In any case, if you go for this trek, know that this viewpoint is the only one you will get along the way, so enjoy it well! In the 99 remaining percent of the trek, you just follow a more or less visible trail in the forest, crawl under fallen trees, worm your way in the bushes and walk in jungle streams.
In the late morning, the usual straight tree trunks reaching for the sky suddenly make way for a surprising bamboo forest. The clumping bamboos are huge and cover a large area.
Soon after, you are reaching the beginning of the Than Mayom stream, origin of the Than Mayom waterfall. Yes, that’s another famous waterfall I haven’t visited. It is on a large rocky part on the river that we had a well deserved lunch break.
Then there is something I haven’t talked about yet. The leeches. Thousands of leeches. There are more present in some areas than others, but you simply can’t escape them. These are probably the trickiest little pieces of wildlife you will find in these forests.
Everything always seems fine, until you take off your shoes to find out your legs and feet have been bleeding like crazy. When you stop walking and take a closer look, you can see them getting closer, crawling on your shoes, irresistibly attracted by the prospect of a delicious blood meal.
Yummy French blood in a Thai forest, must be amazing for them. If I remember well, I had around 30 leech bites. And since the leeches inject an anticoagulant so the blood keeps flowing, well, it kept flowing. For an hour. I basically spent my lunch break looking at my blood flowing out of my feet.
But don’t let that deter you from going for the trek! I was bitten to that extent because I was too lazy to check my feet (and remove them immediately) and even if all this blood may look like a huge mess, it doesn’t even hurt at all or anything.
In the afternoon, we simply went on with our walk, paying closer attention to the leeches, seeing a few little animals like an earth crab or an elusive snake I saw for about a second.
We had to walk along jungle streams, sometimes in the stream itself, which was fun. The stop at the waterfall I mentioned earlier was really wonderful. At first it felt really too cold for me, but “once you’re in, it’s fine”, as they say. And trust me, in these conditions, washing off all your sweat in cool water feels delightful. Don’t miss it.
At the sun was slowly disappearing behind the horizon and casting its warm colors on the clouds, orchards and plantations had replaced the jungle – a sign we were getting close to the coastal road. And there it was! The coast! It was almost unreal, after all this jungle.
It is totally drained but happy with our performance that we sat at the back of the pickup bringing us back to civilization. I had a well deserved dinner on the beach of my hotel, with my bleeding feet.
No, Mr. waiter, I suspect you didn’t believe me but I promise, that was not a motorbike accident.