Here in Koh Chang, we were mercifully unaffected by those dark days, though many argue that the island’s development was accelerated by it. Holidaymakers, continuing to pour into Thailand at its peak Christmas/New Year period, were redirected here, causing a unprecedented increase in arrivals for both that year and indeed the next, when the un-repaired destruction left by the tsunami, coupled with its emotional rawness, caused tourists to continue to look elsewhere. It was two years later that they headed back to the south west coast, leaving Koh Chang relatively empty, the quickly built accommodation used to house them then appearing over-built, as numbers dropped to pre-2004 levels.
Bailan Beach at its southern end and Bang Bao Beach in the far corner had two great stretches of mangrove forest that were removed for hotels but over on the east coast, the two largest forests on the island have remained untouched.
Tourism on this coast does suffer from its lack of beaches, but these arboreal treats are two of its attractions and well worth a visit if you are out and about exploring. The government and tourist authority built walkways through the forests a good number of years ago and perhaps with a gentle nudge from the communities, have now given them a much needed spruce up.
The first is at Salak Khok, a left turning off the main coast road at the ugly signs promoting resort businesses and then only a matter of half a kilometre or so before you reach the understated entrance, opposite the magnificently long named temple, itself presently getting an additional hall. There is an in and an out but whichever you pick, the whole tour round will take a mere half hour including the climb up the new observation tower.
Yes, it’s probably a folly as the view from the top is not as spectacular as you hope, but you are not exactly pushed for time, so give it a try. Here and there, faded information boards tell you how mangroves and its inhabitants (mostly crabs) exist and co-exist, all interesting stuff to dawdle over and when you’re done, pop in the tiny shack for some somtam and sticky rice.
The second forest is down at Salak Phet – ignore the turning above to Salak Khok and keep going straight along the main road until you reach the temple. This too has just been restored with the addition of a little museum and wonderfully garish deities around its perimeter.
Opposite, the bridge and then a track take you to the entrance to the mangroves and the start of the freshly painted, newly planked rust red walkway, which winds back and forth through the trees before finally emerging out onto the bay. It really is very beautiful, the myriad of roots, views of the mountains behind, no one else about and a time to reflect perhaps on nature’s solutions to its owns demons.
Entrance is free.