Sunday, 16 December 2007
Soaring With The Eagles
Koh Chang is Thailand’s second biggest island, a dragon’s back of jungle clad mountains asleep on a warm tropical sea. As I sketch out this story sitting by my beach hut under the palm trees, the sky is blue, the horizon sharp and the gentle waves are swishing up a beach of perfect white sand. No wonder it’s called White Sands Beach.
This sounds like a parody of a southern paradise but just I can’t keep away. Cat and I were here for my sixtieth and there was no reason to wait for the earth to go full circle before coming back on holiday for a week or two.
Koh Chang is unrivalled for sea and beaches, though for me the mountains and jungle come a close second. The trouble is that even monsoon forest such as this is hard to get into and is potentially dangerous. I’ve scrambled up some steep watercourses here before on previous trips but it’s easy to break a leg and you’ll soon get lost if you’re too ambitious. Nonetheless I was determined to do some jungle walks, this time with a guide.
After breakfast at ‘15 Palms’, my favourite bar on the beach, my friend Mike and I went into Ann’s Island Travel nearby to ask about jungle trekking and were pleased to be offered brochures for three different guides.
I’ve always been fascinated by the sharp phallic peak that stands high behind White Sands Beach. For this reason and just because it’s there, this was the Everest we chose to climb. According to the map in the Koh Chang Free Guide we’d picked up in ‘15 Palms’, this is Khao Chom Prasat which is 626 metres above sea level and yes, we were definitely going for the big one.
Next day early, Mike and I met up with our delightful guide, Toon and his young ‘safety man’ he calls ‘the Boss’. He drove us a kilometer or so along the beach and parked and soon we were leaving the rubber trees behind and pushing upwards through the dry jungle. It was hard going, the slope often not far from the vertical, the surface a crumbly mix of loose soil, stones, dry leaves and twigs.
Slipping and sliding, clinging onto roots and trees, we made a good pace and eventually broke out into the open where we could look up at the sheer face of the peak. We stopped there for water and a breather and Toon pointed out the breeding place of a wild pig, a heap of leaves and sticks that still had a piggy odour clinging to it. All the way he and ‘the Boss’ kept pointing out birds and insects to us and it was great to be with two Thais with a deep love for their natural environment and for conservation.
Looking upwards I now wondered how we would ever make it to the top of so sheer a rock. Toon told us there was no track and offered to rope us together but we declined and set off regardless, climbing slowly through the trees and scrub to the top. Yes, it was tough and Toon was impressed when I told him I was in my seventh decade. Normally it takes them three hours to get to the top but we had done it in two.
The summit of Chom Prasat is flat with a low forest cover and we sat there and listened to the insects, birds and monkeys and ate the fried rice and fruit that Toon had brought for us. It was now 32 degrees and we were drenched with sweat but despite the futility and pain, there’s no greater feeling than making it to the top.
Toon then took us to some rocky view points where we could look out over White Sands Beach, across much of the island and over the water to Trat and Chantaburi provinces. It’s all spectacularly beautiful and quite out of the ordinary.
I sat precariously on a rock looking down at a 500 metre drop as an eagle circled above us. It had been a big effort to get there, earning me more than a blister and a bruise or two but this moment alone made it worth while.
Most of life is smooth and predictable with little that’s truly memorable. Just occasionally you can take your chance, step beyond your usual confines and wheel and soar with the eagles.
Next time though I’m going to bring with me some decent walking shoes that don’t let me down by falling apart at the seams!
[Toon can be booked through Ann’s Island Travel next to ‘15 Palms’ on White Sands Beach where a range of easier walks and other trips are available. Call 039-551430 or 081-9105870 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.]