The east coast road running down from the ferries has its advocates and it is a better route to find your Tour De Chang legs, but truth be told, that too has some very unappealing hills and its traffic, though not as incessant as on the west coast, does thunder along at one hell of a rate, probably the fastest on the island.
No, Koh Chang’s premier cycling area is around the bays down in the far south east corner at Salak Khok, Chek Bae and Salak Phet. Here, the road is relatively flat, the cars are not overbearing and the locals still smile at the oddity of a farang on a bike. One of our favourite jaunts is nothing too fancy, along the eastern side of the bay in Chek Bae, with some lunch and a swim thrown in, a distance of about 15km return from the main road.
To get there, head all the way from the ferries down past Dan Mai, Than Mayom Waterfall, the shooting gallery, The Spa Koh Chang and the shrimp farms until the build-up of makeshift road signs by the noodle shop on its corner, indicate the left turning you should take. Straight on is Salak Phet, but by taking the left, you are now heading towards Salak Khok, Chek Bae and also giving yourself the chance to reach Long Beach.
You’ll know you’re on the correct road by your instinctive urge to take a snap of the Wat Wat Cha Kham Kot Cha Tha Weep School sign on the bend, passing up the opportunity to record any name that long seems churlish. The mangrove walkway is on your left, the observation tower visible over the treetops. Sniper’s nest might be more appropriate as the locals have seemingly co-opted it as a perfect spot for taking potshots at unsuspecting passing birds, the irony of a place for observing nature being used to obliterate it somewhat lost along the way. Anyhow, at the end of the road, the OTOP shop marks the point the road splits, left to Salak Khok or for our trip, right to Chek Bae.
You pass through rubber trees and plantations before crossing under an archway with two model metallic boats, a reminder of the Battle of Koh Chang, which took place down in this corner of the island in 1941. There’s a paved road on your right which is worth nipping down to see Chek Bae’s very local fishing community, boats moored up by the recently completed concrete walkway, nets and crabs traps piled up in the mangroves. At the end, you get a great view of the tiny Koh Mapring, nothing but a rock, Koh Phrao Nai, uninhabited bar its solitary fishing hut at one end and Koh Phrao Nok (or Koh Sai Khao), the white spur of its fine sand beach clearly visible.
Continuing along, you’ll pass the odd resort, a clinic, football pitch, local life pottering along away from the tourist glare and more tracks down to the sea, any of which give terrific views across to the islands in the centre of the bay or glimpses of Salak Phet on the other side. The road to Baan Ao Luk (what we know as the road to Long Beach) is clearly signed near to the new upmarket Parama Resort. You could call in here for an extravagant long lunch, they have vast wine lists and lots of speciality western foods or keep going and grab a simple fish lunch on the wooden terrace at Rommai Chailay, white snapper steamed in lime, pot of rice, baby squid in garlic and pepper, just delicious and yet more great views of the islands across the water.
Finally, we head right to the very end of the road and down the track to Karang Bay View Resort, where if the tide is high, you can take a dip off their tiny beach, in reality the only place along the whole bay on either side where swimming is possible. They also have a little restaurant so you can get a shake or cold beer to while away the afternoon and that’s that, a simple bike ride along Chek Bae completed, a nice leisurely cycle back to the main road, Long Beach and Salak Khok for another day.
Of course, you can equally do this on a motorbike, hence our including it here as we appreciate that it’s not so easy to find a decent bike on the island and then even more difficult to get it all the way down the other end of the island. Some of the resorts on the east coast do hire them out.
Slow Life Cycling does mountain bike tours in Klong Son, which visit the waterfall, Chinese temple and local village.