Koh Chang--Monkeys, Biking, & the Dukes of Hazard

by Tara Russell, Apr 29, 2004 | Destinations: Thailand / Ko Chang

So we're driving around Koh Chang, an island Eastern paradise in Thailand, trying to find our hotel when I notice a "Monkey Training Camp" sign. Monkey training camps? First of all, we don't know anyone who owns monkeys, and if they did, I'm not sure they'd be taking them to training camps. Well, in Thailand, monkey training camps are fairly common. Who else would pick the coconuts from the trees when it's harvest time?! Yes, the monkeys are trained to become coconut laborers, and they actually know when, how, and where to pick the coconuts! They know if they're ripe or just a little premature. They work long days. They don't get any holidays. And, they don't even get paid (except for bananas!). I'm thinking Thailand could use some monkey labor laws.

As we're winding through the mountains of this island (2nd largest in Thailand behind Phuket) on the steep, narrow roads lined with breathtaking sea views and lush tropical vegetation, we're a bit startled when our driver, Songpol, honks the horn somewhat playfully (it's against the law to honk in Thailand, and you NEVER hear honking in Bangkok despite the maddening traffic and seemingly senseless drivers). Being that Koh Chang has many treacherous curves and hills, the people have erected small houses for the "angelic/ghost figures" (hard to translate Songpol's description) at the most deadly spots. For good luck, and in order for these figures to bless a passenger's travel, you should honk. So, Songpol figures it can't hurt! He said not everyone believes it, but he obviously did considering his frequent honking (glad he has our safety in mind).

We took our bikes hoping to do some true Russell adventuring on this island that is 85% National Park--what a perfect opportunity to get in some hard core biking! So day #1, we set off--water, tools, $$, etc.--you never know what you might get into in mountain biking, and heck, we might be gone all day! Well, we traveled for about 45 minutes along the road to "the spot"--alternating between riding and pushing our bikes up these ridiculous hills and curves, dodging cars, motorbikes, and other wiser travelers who were on MOTORIZED vehicles (and still struggling to get up the hills). We then decided we were either going to die in a car/bike accident or from a heart attack trying to ride up the hills, so we hired a Songthaew (open backed pickup with benches--Thai style taxi) to take us the remainder of the way. Ten minutes later, we were there. Sweet, the park! We paid our 100 Baht (this must be GREAT, we thought! 100 Baht is a lot to pay for anything in Thailand--$2.50), got our "map" of the land, and we were off. Meanwhile, the "security guards" were drooling at our bikes, immediately (of course) asking "How much did they cost?" and marveling that we had brought our own bikes (that 100 Baht includes a bike rental). After about five (okay maybe FOUR) minutes, we had reached the end of the "loop"--construction roads and cement roads leading from one hotel/individual condo to another. Some of it was gravel. Some of it bypassed bulldozers paving the land for the next property creation. Some of it we had to slow down not to plow the elderly tourists staying at the "resort" and walking along the path. After four or five laps, we stopped for our "drinks and snacks" (oh yes, this too was included with the 100 Baht ticket), and let me tell you, after nearly 20 minutes of riding, did we ever need it! We laughed our way around the "park," watched the ground staff play barefooted soccer (pretty common here too!), and forced ourselves to stay at least an hour (to get our moneys worth, of course, and maximize the adventure!). Sunset was near, and we had fully exhausted the fun to be had in the "park." We passed through the gates waving goodbye to our new buddies (the security guards), and they of course said, "See you tomorrow when you return to bike again!" Probably not, okay, definitely not.

As our weekend came to an end (2nd anniversary / Chinese New Year celebration!), we drove back to the ferry with Songpol in order to head home. True to Asian tradition, they were packing cars into the ferry like sardines. We definitely had about 10-15 too many cars on the ferry. Thank goodness for bendable/retractable/removable rearview mirrors that were all removed, retracted, or flattened down before meticulously arranging the vehicles on the ferry. In fact, most people were only able to exit their cars (for the pleasant viewing deck above) Dukes of Hazard Style via the windows (if they were even able to exit at all!). We got out of the car before loading the ferry, and I couldn't stop laughing when I got a phone call from Songpol saying, "I'm stuck in the car, I'll wait here." Later, I saw him attempting to exit Bo and Luke Duke style.

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