The morning was fresssssh, just what you’d expect after a rainy night. It was still cloudy and cool, yet dry to safely drive a motorbike. We drove up north, past yesterday’s places and parked at some bungalow place. The thing is that in Koh Chang most beaches are occupied by resorts, some even having concrete stages stretching right into the water. However if you sit where there are no deckchairs/restaurants, nobody will mind.
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If you walk north from the Emerald Cove (less than one kilometre) you can enjoy stable wi-fi and quality food and beverages at the Pilot bar – beautiful lattes were 60 baht and a big, rather healthy potato and tomato omelette was only 90 baht. 3 coffees and 3 hours later we were still enjoying the reggae tunes, this time in a hut, as the tree shade is only a temporary fix (brought to you by ourredfaces.com). Ooh, they also have a slack line. Although you know you’re too lazy when you see a slack line and go “Oh, a slack line. That’s cool” and slide back into the deckchair.
The evening was fun and funny: we drove to the Lonely beach area which is supposedly backpackers’ paradise. It kind of reminded us of Tonsai Beach in Krabi with lots of reggae and veggie burgers, but with tense alpha male Russian tourists, instead of laid-back international climbers. So once we got back, we were hypnotised by the beautiful waves crashing onto cliffs, just thinking how quiet was the area that we chose. It was a truly sensational experience, none of the YouTube best-crashing-waves-meditation-mix stuff can compare to it! And to top that off, we enjoyed a veggie burger with some serious fries and a beer whilst on those cliffs. Nothing else needs to be said.
Oh, the funny part. We got into the tent, snoozed for a bit, and then wanted to look at the stars, so Auste laid down on the porch; immediately thinking what the heck were all these crumbs underneath her back, which we realised were not crumbs, but the whole porch was covered with hiiiiiggggghways of ants. She jumped up at the speed of light and to my eyes what she did was a natural talent to riverdance. Michael Flatley would be proud. It was scary-funny!
On the last day we explored the Bang Bao fisherman’s village with the lighthouse, which was closed. There was nothing spectacular at all, except you had a wider view of the sunrise. Next thing was the trip to the White Beach. It had a wide strip of nice beach with lots of western cafes and resorts. It was such a relaxing morning, and even the bike rental place didn’t check a thing!
Ferry back to the mainland, then a few hours wait, and an 8-hour bus trip back to Bangkok. Yeah, our guess was that the road from Pattaya/Chonburi was completely clogged with Bangkokians coming back from their weekend breaks. Mai pen rai, as we had a very nice break.
To read how we got there from Bangkok, click HERE.
So we ticked the first thing – getting a bike – off our checklist. We wore helmets for the first time and made our way to the south. The road was good, with just a few steep windy hills, little traffic, and cautious drivers. It was a good half an hour drive and we both got sunburnt.
We drove past what felt like 5,000 Tescos, 6,000 Big C’s, a million Makro’s, several Formula 1 racecourses, and all these russian signs, which really made us question whether we were in Koh Chang or the city centre of Pattaya. You can probably tell – Koh Chang is very modern. There are no F1 tracks though (duh!), but there are hair salons, SPAs, ATMs, boutique coffee shops, diving shops, tree climbing playgrounds, pizzerias, and even a gym.
We arrived at the Cliff Cottage resort, and it had both the cliffs and the view! It was pretty perfect, as we enjoyed uninterrupted 1st class view of the sunset… from our tent. That’s right, there were no chubby red lobsters blocking the view, and we could listen to waves crashing into the cliffs.
Our day can be kind of summed up in three words: beers, hammock, chilling. As soon as we checked in, we were taken over by the nothingness around the resort and we just chiiiilled. We sat on a beautiful wooden terrace. Just that. And when the sun went to bed we did, too. It wasn’t as hot as we thought it would be, we only had the fan on low speed for the first half of the night, and no ants or mosquitoes got inside.
The next morning we enjoyed the sunrise. It’s interesting that here in Thailand you only get a few minutes to see the beautiful orange sun in the morning, as it goes up to its bright yellow almost in an instant. Then we drove to Siam beach resort in the northern part of Lonely beach. I say it as if we knew where we were going – we were just slowly cruising the streets looking for decent coffee places. It’s not that easy in the morning, apart from larger resorts. We had 3 nice coffees, and stayed there from 8.30 to 11.30. Food wasn’t an issue as we still had a few sandwiches that we packed from home 😀 As vegetarians, we’re always paranoid whether we’ll find any food. I don’t just mean tasty food, literally any food.
Quick swim, and a realisation that we were already sunburnt. We should have learnt by now that tree shade on the beach doesn’t count as protection from the sun… We drove further north and went to another random resort – Siam Cottage, which had a beach strip, with swings and hammocks, which is pretty common almost in every beach. A delicious Panang curry as well as tempura vegetables were only 90 baht each while the soft drinks and beers had 7-11 prices!
We then went to a café and killed about half an hour enjoying a fresh mango smoothie. If it wasn’t for the beer-after-5PM-law, we wouldn’t have had this awesomeness haha. Things you do to get a dark beer.
Back at the Cliff Cottage we chilled out on our terrace until the sun vanished behind the clouds and the moon showed its skinny smile. We watched the stars and snugged into the tent. There was a storm on the other side of the island, and we could hear the distant thunders and glimpses of lightning reflected on the scattered clouds. The sound of soft raindrops falling onto the tent slowly lulled us to sleep. I love rain.
Random observation: the very second the sun sets, mosquitoes and bats come out to hunt for food, and when the sun rises – flies get up, but I think mainly to annoy people, not to hunt for food.
What a mistake it is to take a bus on Sukhumvit on a weekday… You really don’t want to be perspirating on a bus, 80 % of the time slowly crawling past truckloads of Burmese and Cambodian workers, and for the other 20 % defying the laws of physics and flying through time and space… until the next junction.
We got used to starting our weekend mini journeys with a nice coffee on a bus, quick and easy ride to the station with no traffic whatsoever. So we got our sandwiches and coffees at 7-11… just to remember it was a Thursday!
Since downing a hot coffee on a sidewalk isn’t an appealing option, we were faced with a dilemma: discard our 35 Baht drinks, or smuggle them through the BTS gatekeeper (bag check point)…. With the drinks gently packed into the pockets of the camera bag and a big smile to the security guy, we avoided the utmost important flashlight-pointing-at-the-bag operation and got on the skytrain.
How to get to Koh Chang? There are no trains 😦
From Ekkamai we got the government (999) bus to Laem Ngop. We got our tickets in advance (450 baht return, per person), but there were empty seats on the bus and there are other bus operators, too. Although on a weekend during tourist season it might be a different story. Stiff legs? We reached the ferry pier in just over 5 hours. Yes. Toilet? There was a functioning toilet onboard, and a pit-stop. It also stopped at Chanthaburi, so don’t get off too early!
The bus supposedly stops at both piers, but when we reached Koh Chang ferry pier, everyone got off and so did we. Once at the pier, a tiny kiosk sells ferry tickets for 80 baht per person, and the ladies working at the hut on the left sell packaged services such as ferry-and-transfer, tours, ferries to other islands, etc. Another lady at the barrier collects your ticket and you board the ferry. At this time (10 March) they seemed frequent enough, with a tight schedule of “once every hour or so”.
If you’re thinking of visiting Koh Chang check out iamKohChang website, it will likely have most of the information you’ll need to plan your trip.
The ferry docked at Ao Sapparot, and everyone rushed either into resort vans, or white songthaew taxis. Apart from lazy drivers, there was nothing but a couple of Thai restaurants… where the drivers were hanging around. There is another, kind of unfunctioning pier, about 200 metres to the right. Bear in mind that to rent a motorbike you have to either get a songthaew for 50 baht pp, or walk up a steep hill to the nearest 7-11 in Klong Son. And by nearest I mean a couple of kilometres – which may not sound that far, but add the steep road and the midday sun and you will soon feel rivers running down your back, your arms, your forehead… So don’t do what we did – walked to the taxis, walked to the pier, walked back to the taxis, started walking up to the hill and then took a taxi…
Koh Chang is big. We underestimated its size. Our motorbike drive to the south peninsula took us half an hour going up and down the steep windy hills, but now our timetable is as flexible as the ferry’s schedule!
I wanted to write a proper, detailed, honest review of the whole vegetarian/vegan situation in Laos. The time had come and I was excited to finally try everything vegetarian in Vientiane. Auste, on the other hand, has given up on Asian vegetarian food after our first week in Asia in general. But with my ongoing determination, we had a 48-hour vegetarian investigation in Vientiane. I kept a positive spirit for many months in Thailand, and hoped for a tasty retreat in Laos.
In Asia vegetarians/vegans are ‘jay’ eaters for religious reasons, and they do not use pungent ingredients such as garlic, onion or chilli peppers, which results in less than tasty food. And since they cannot eat meat for religious reasons, even though they may like the taste, they find ways around it – they use what I like to call SATAN. It is some sort of processed soy material which really looks, smells, and tastes like meat, as well as it has a chewy consistency. In many cases my friends were hardly able to distinguish between the real thing! So not many vegetarians in Asia actually like, or in fact eat, vegetables. To the contrary, Auste and I both do. Let’s check Vientiane out!
Just opposite the Thai Embassy, this farang-friendly cafe served good-looking cheese paninis (yaay!), but with Thai instead of proper Italian basil. And it’s just not the same. Thai basil gave the sandwich a slightly sweet liquorice taste, which says it all. The place itself was cosy, with some cakes available, free wi-fi, even computers for internet use. Sandwich prices were around 100 baht mark, coffee just over 50 baht.
[KHUA DIN MARKET]
Caffeinated, we headed to the Khua Din market next to the bus station to literally inspect a vegetarian buffet we read about online. Through strands of yellow flags indicating vegetarian/vegan (jay) food availability and past the counter with hot-plates of, ironically, lukewarm foods, we sat down all hungry and excited.
To no surprise, most of the foods looked very unappealing – overcooked, with little colour, or drowning in grease. These choices reminded me of typical cheap buffets in Thailand. Most of the dishes were fake meat-based (seitan/soy), some with tofu, and some with just vegetables. The fried noodles with tofu were probably the best, and by best I mean just passable. Regardless of the fact that all soy dishes had a very meaty texture and smell, they were lacking taste. Perhaps people of Asian background are used to the ingredients, but for me as a European, they are just too weird. For example, overcooked bitter gourd, in a watery bitter sauce. It reminded me of medicine. What I could enjoy was a fried egg and noodles. For desserts they had a Thai-style sweet syrup with coconut as I remember. Super sweet. Other things were basically stir-fries, fried “chicken”, fried “pork”, “beef” cutlets, etc. So personally, this buffet was very Thai and I didn’t enjoy it at all. If you’ve had such an experience, you’ll agree it’s not at all satisfying to fill up on bad-tasting food.
[GOLDEN AGE VEGETARIAN]
Slowly exploring the city centre we made our way to our hotel. Since we had been lugging our backpacks, we got hungry again. At first the ‘Golden Age Vegetarian’ seemed like a place we wouldn’t come back to: out-of-date décor, inattentive staff, and out of main ingredients. They do lunchtime buffets, hence lack of both clientele, and ingredients!
However, after we ordered deep fried tofu and a rice pancake, we knew we’ll come back here for lunch the next day. And they said they’ll have more ingredients for us. Score. The rice pancake in particular, was exquisite: warm, stuffed with tasty vegan egg stuff, with consistency that of an omelette. It came with a lightly spicy sauce, which went perfectly with the savoury pancake. We were full just off of that! Surprisingly, they were only 15,000 kip each (65 baht). They menu had lots of ‘jay’ meats and the cuisine seemed to have a Vietnamese/Chinese/Thai theme – very tasty.
We noticed many cars and bikes with dirty wheels – a sight in Bangkok you only see after a seasonal downpour. We figured that the reason may be the many ‘main’ roads that either have many potholes, or are actual dirt roads. This is good to bear in mind when using Google maps (main road on Google may mean a dirt road ahead of you).
On Rue Pangkham (opposite M-point mart) we found a sandwich stand I had seen before and we had a cheese-veg sandwich with a big Leo for 20 k. It was good…a proper white baguette with real cheese and fresh cabbage, carrots, in a pickled sauce. There are a few stands scattered around the city and beyond (permanent one next to Thai embassy), and most of them have Laughing Cow cheese spread on display. Bear in mind though that 90 % of the stands will NOT have cheese or veg – just typical pork stuffing. When we tried looking for one but couldn’t find it after navigating many streets – so just go along and if you see one – go for it.
We then went on to find a quiet (yet cheapish) place to sit down, have a drink and watch people, take photos. Most of the places seemed quite expensive. Many say Laos is cheaper than Thailand, but during our 3-4 trips in the same year the prices in Vientiane compare to Thai prices. Alcohol in Thailand was more expensive I used to think, but most bars, and even cafes compete with most parts of BKK! Coffee 100 baht, cakes 100-200 baht, beer 60-120 baht, small wine glass 120 upwards (mostly 200+).
[ROOFTOP @ INTERCITY HOTEL]
Auste struggled to recollect the location of the rooftop bar she went to last time, but we found it. If you stand between sets of flags with your back facing the river, turn your head to 10-11 o’clock and it’s the rooftop terrace with metal handrails. It’s called Bor Pen Nyang, Intercity Hotel. It’s a decent spot to see the sunset, people-watch from above, or enjoy some classic rock ballads (although we didn’t, haha!). The prices were better than anticipated, for both drinks and food. Dark Lao was 15k, and a glass of red was 25k (100 baht).
Looking over the Mekong we ordered a “cold bruschetta” with cheese and… sweetcorn! It was ok, for 25k. And also some French fries for 15k. Staff did NOT speak English. Although typically, if you point to your empty Beer Lao bottle and gesture 1 or 2 with your fingers, they would understand what you want! I can’t complain as they didn’t charge for one beer and one glass of wine! We ventured down the main road parallel the night market looking for a baguette as a midnight snack, but to no avail.
It was just nice to take a night stroll in the city centre, taking in the laid-back tuktuk offers (much more fierce in Cambodia), and passing-by youngsters on motorbikes playing loud Rihanna hits. We found a stand at Le Parisiens, and got a small cheese (little slice) and vegetable baguette for 10k kip.
Breakfast was good – I knew this was going to be the case, because last night we saw only European-looking elders checking-in (indicator of peace, reliability, AND a sign of pastries for breakfast). So we had scrambled eggs and a filling omelette, toast, fruit, real coffee, and… freshly baked croissants! For a moment I contemplated about what travelling vegans must feel like… Must be tough!
The following day we got lost on our way from the bus station (we walked to the Thai embassy), but further from the embassy (cross the road from pizza company and walk to the left) we found a few hip cafes, with hot lattes and cakes priced at 80 baht, sandwiches at 120 baht. We didn’t have time to try anything, but both the design and the menus looked appealing. There are loads and loads of cafes on pretty much every central street in Vientiane.
[GOLDEN AGE VEGETARIAN]
Yes, this place is good, and we went there again. We tried tofu patties and braised eggplant. While waiting for food I realised that I go on Sukhumvit road in Bangkok every day, and my nose in Vientiane got blocked more in one day. Haha. Eggplant was very tasty, but vegetarian pork chops – not so much. We actually ordered tofu patties as we don’t like fake meats, but they must have misunderstood our order. However if you like them, it may just be your thing! Texture was meaty, and how do they make such things from gluten is a fascinating mystery…
And a bigger mystery is WHY do they make such things? We think Asians love meat and eat fake meat for religion. We, on the other paw, love veg! The fake pork did cost us as much as a nice vegetarian meal in a fancy Bangkok restaurant. And the portion sizes were appalling – 3 slivers of eggplant in some sauce. However, we still give it a thumbs up (3 dishes out of 4 we tried in this place tasted surprisingly good). Vegetarianism is interesting.
Ok, this place is here only because of the sandwich stand. We had won some prizes from last night’s market games, so we downed them quickly and went for our baguettes. Man, they’re good! Cheese and veg 20k, full-sized veg baguette for 15,000 kip. Big beer 15,000 kip. Wine glass costs 35,000 kip though. We used to buy a couple of bottles of wine from Laos on visa runs as they’re cheaper at the duty-free. The sommelier place does have good interior design and good music, and is a nice sophisticated place to have a drink.
In general our highlight was the baguettes – you just can’t get them in Thailand, at least for cheap! Do note, however, that most of the sellers (like the sandwich photo at the top of the page, and above), only have meat options. Those baguettes though…
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