It is mid-afternoon, and a balmy breeze riffles my hair, carrying with it the saltiness of the sea. I climb to the upper level of our ferry so that I can see Koh Chang as we draw closer. It feels like coming home.
The four-hour drive from Bangkok to Trat is behind me, and although my body is tired, my heart leaps at the sight of the small, tree-covered island. This will be my home for the next two months. The water grows clearer as we leave the mainland behind, and the sun glints off the silvery fish swimming close to the surface. Involuntarily, I take a deep breath and the tight knot in my shoulders, formed from hours of cross-continent travel, begins to loosen.
There’s a quote by Pico Iyer that I like a lot: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” In the early days of our relationship, my partner and I spent long hours talking about trips we wanted to take, places we wanted to see or live in. But time, life, jobs and years went by, and we realised we’d been taking just one two-week holiday every year. In the meanwhile, we’d added to a list of things we wanted to do, but barely had the energy to pursue them, and it felt like we were losing ourselves a little more every week. We worked hard, played hard, and were chronically dissatisfied. Weekends were too short, weekdays too long, and stiff necks and acidity became chronic problems.
Then, one day, we realised we’d never be able to be happy like this. So we took the plunge: Sold our car, gave up our rented apartment, and quit our jobs to travel for six months.
We found ourselves standing at the airport one night, all our worldly possessions packed into two backpacks and one carry-on bag, our comfort zones, everything we knew well, behind us. Ahead: A road trip across America, a bit of walkabout in Australia, and then a sojourn in Koh Chang, a small island just off the eastern Thailand mainland that we had visited for four days a few years ago and fallen deeply in love with.
And now, after four months of constant travel, we were watching the sunrise over the island, sipping a cocktail to celebrate our arrival.
We were fitter than we’d ever been before, but also in need of a little downtime to process and absorb all that we’d seen. We couldn’t wait for our lives as island-dwellers to begin, to develop a better relationship with the place and the people. It was also our time to gracefully end the six-month journey and decide where we wanted to go from here.
Koh Chang is six hours from Bangkok, four of them on the road, one in a ferry and one in a local taxi on an island. While this makes it less popular with the Pattaya-Phuket party animals, it is precisely the reason why we love it. There are no giant neon signs, hardly any go-go bars, and certainly no shopping malls. Koh Chang is not for tourists, it’s for travellers. Each of the 10 beaches has its own identity, from Lonely Beach’s hippie vibe to Klong Kloi’s more local feel. The water is calm during the tourist season, and you’ll see everyone from toddlers to senior travellers playing in it without the fear of being knocked over by a rowdy wave. The island is about 500 sq km in area, and takes a day to do a scooter ride around it.