Monday, December 30, 2013

Koh Chang Cabin Fever

Award-winning travel writer Louise Southerden delights in the simple life on the island of Koh Chang.

We all have one. Some people have more than one. Dream lodgings we suspect exist only in our minds until, joy of joys, we find them in our travels. I stumbled upon mine – a simple cabin by the sea – a few weeks ago on Thailand’s second largest island, Koh Chang, which is near the Cambodian border.

Of course, coastal Thailand is littered with seaside huts. I’ve stayed in some of them. The 20 “bungalows” at Blue Lagoon are different; more like cottages, they’re built along one side of a lagoon (which is actually green, not blue, but sublimely peaceful). The beach – the long and lovely Klong Prao – is a short amble away, accessible by a simple wooden bridge.

Blue Lagoon's cute little cottages

My home-away-from-home, unromantically designated “D3”, was one of the cutest places I’ve ever stayed: a small white cottage with its own verandah and a wicker hammock right over the water (perfect for reading, though I had a near-constant dread of dropping my Kindle overboard). Inside, there was just enough room for the queen-sized bed, under a pink mosquito net, a small table, a fan, a few shelves. There was a bathroom, even hot water. But D3’s best feature was that its floor-to-ceiling French doors on one side could be folded back, opening up one entire wall, for an uninterrupted view of the lagoon from your bed.

Sheer bliss!
View from a hammock!

I could have lived there. What more does a girl need? There was wifi. There were plenty of restaurants close enough to think “let’s eat” and be sitting at a bamboo table a few minutes later; and if you really must cook when on holiday, Blue Lagoon, in addition to its restaurant, has a Thai cooking school. The cottages are side-by-side, but angled just so for privacy; in any case there’s a meet-and-greet “Blue Lagoon family” (you’re part of the family when you stay there) barbecue every Tuesday night. There’s art all over the place, from the tinkling mobiles made of coral and shells, and coloured paper lanterns in the trees, to hand-painted designs in some of the bungalows by Thai, French and Belgian artists.

Blue Lagoon's restaurant

And the whole place feels like a community rather than a hotel, because although it was built by local couple almost 20 years ago, it has been run since 2011 by a cooperative of 12 nature-loving, tree-climbing Thai and French friends who worked together at Tree Top Adventure Park, which was set up on Koh Chang in 2007 (and now operates in Pattaya, Krabi and Kanchanaburi too).

So of course Blue Lagoon is eco-conscious, and continually striving to be more so. Guests can refill their own water bottles with filtered drinking water at reception, for instance. There’s a permaculture garden, fertilised by composted food scraps from the restaurant. They make their own biodegradable soap, detergent and mosquito repellent, and are working on shampoo and conditioner for guests to use.

Quirky local artwork at Blue Lagoon

There are lots of things to do on Koh Chang: swim with elephants, ride a scooter around the island, full-moon parties at Lonely Beach. But in two weeks I didn’t venture far from Blue Lagoon or Klong Prao. I particularly loved the mornings – waking to peace and birdsong then walking barefoot to the sea for a swim – and the sunsets, when everyone would return to the beach to watch the day end in a blaze of colour. I didn’t know Thailand could be like this. Now I do, I’m going to bookmark Koh Chang in my mind, under “cabins by the sea”.

Koh Chang sunset

To get there: Buses to Koh Chang leave from Bangkok airport three times a day, cost 600 baht (900 baht return) and takes six hours to reach Koh Chang, including the half-hour ferry trip to the island.
Staying there: My bungalow-cottage cost 650 baht a night. I booked on Airbnb or you can contact Blue Lagoon directly.

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