Trip report; Scuba Diving HTMS Chang [travelling from Koh Tao to Koh Chang}
We pull up to the harbour at night, our private boat awaiting to ferry us across to Koh Chang. As we cross over, listening to tunes and watching the beautiful night sky, I think we all realize that missing the last ferry wasn't such a bad thing. Well, at least that's what I was thinking.
I wake up at 3am as the night boat pulls in exceptionally early to Chumphon. The ride over had been a little bumpy as there was a massive storm brewing in the Gulf. I had no idea what I was suppose to do for the next 5 hours, as my bus wasn't suppose to leave until 8am.
But luckily I was joined by a pack of dogs. Puppies to be exact. And managing to keep the 9 of them from chewing up my gear bags while playing and scratching turned out to be a great way of killing a few hours.
Finally I got picked up and was now on my way North. Public transport have sadly been reduced lately due to covid and my best shot at reaching Bangkok quickly was to jump in a minivan. Far from the most comfortable way of spending 8 hours but hey, it got me from A to B.
Upon arriving Bangkok my gracious host Fong sent me an uber and set me up at Coral Grand Bangkok (yes, it is real!). After a quick shower me, him and Money went out for dinner to this amazing Khao Soi place Money had heard of. If you don't know, Khao Soi is one of my favourite Thai dishes, and Money was well aware. It was freakin amazing! We had plans to grab a few drinks but with bars still shutting early we decided to head back and get some rest for the next day.
Me and Fong was planning to leave at noon, but plans are fluid. Some of the gear we needed for the trip hadn't arrived yet from Phuket, so we waited. You can't leave (or live!) without your personal dive gear, that much is true. Next we went to pick up Money. While we waited a delivery guy dropped off a new drone battery charger, as Fong couldn't find his. Finally we were ready! Road trip from Bangkok to Trat, this time travelling far more comfortably.
But first we had to actually get out of Bangkok, which proved to be a bit more difficult than I had imagined. Because well, I thought you just, you know, went. But due to various confusing feedbacks (Google maps recommending 2 different routes on 2 different phones) and road constructions it took some time. But after a while we were on our way, passing by Pattaya as we headed East along the Gulf of Thailand.
The reason I'm going into detail here about Friday, is because it helps to explain what happened next.
As we are about 60 minutes out we get a call saying that the last ferry of the night that we thought were leaving at 7pm, actually leaves at 6:30. We were on time to arrive at 6:45 ish, so our glorious driver Fong had to make up 15 minutes. Mind you it is dark at this point, and the roads are small and stretches of it unlit. But that didn't stop us from trying.
To make the next part make any sense at all, you need to know that Narcos: Mexico S3 had just been released on Netflix and me and Fong had finished watching it just before the trip. So we were very much into the whole Mexican drug gangsters.
So it turns out that when Fong needs to drive fast his preferred language switches from Thai to English to Spanish to Mexican Spanish. As he was making up time me and Money would hear random outbursts of rather aggressive gangster Spanish. Needless to say we couldn't stop laughing.
As we finally pulled into the ferry port at Trat it turned out that we had missed the ferry by a few minutes. Our plan was to head to our hotel at Koh Chang, and that started looking rather difficult by now. But Fong''s staff had a backup plan. We offloaded some of our dive gear onto the dive boat for the next day and headed to a different pier.
There was this small converted Thai fishing boat waiting for us to take us across. As we pulled out from the pier and got away from the city lights the clear night skies opened up and we stayed at the front of the boat watching the stars, listening to music. It was quite possibly the absolute best way to arrive Koh Chang.
Finally there we still had a 40 minute taxi ride before getting to our hotel (Koh Chang is slightly bigger than Koh Tao). We checked in, ordered some take-out and chilled for a few hours by the pool. Money had to work the next day, but me and Fong had to get up real early to make the boat. So we called it a night and got some rest.
5am alarm. Or was it 4:30? Regardless it was way to early. I got up, packed my shit and went to reception. Our taxi driver from last night was there, ready to take me and Fong back to the ferry pier. Because the dive boat doesn't leave from Koh Chang! We had to go back to Trat, and that meant 40 minute taxi ride, 30 minute boat ride and another 20 minutes driving on the other side, changing piers. It made me miss diving on Koh Tao where you basically wake up 20 minutes before the boat leaves, rock up to the pier and find yourself underwater 30 minutes later.
But the reason the boat leaves from Trat is due to the divers that join us on these trips. Most are from Bangkok and they either drive overnight or find a hotel to stay in Trat. And that included the other 2 members of the rat pack that was joining us from Bangkok, Yannis & Patricka!
After another negative nosy swap test we headed out towards Koh Chang. The island looks beautiful in the morning light. I visited Koh Chang 12 years ago, but I wasn't a certified diver yet and had no experience or expectations about the underwater world around Koh Chang. Our first dive of the day was going to be Hin Raab, a small rocky reef quite a bit off the main island. The start of the dive was so-so, medium visibility and a bit milky. But as we kept going around to the other side it got really, really good! Visibility improved and the dive site looked way better with really good coral coverage and big schools of fish. A big green turtle swam by me at the end of the dive and it turns out it was a new turtle to the Turtle tracking program of the northern Gulf region. Hence I got to name my second turtle this year!
Next up we were headed for the main event of the trip, the HTMS Chang. This former US warship was in service with the Thai Navy for a number of years until it was purpose sunk as a dive wreck about a decade ago. Many people had been raving about it and especially Fong who said it's his favorite dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, no small statement!
We got quite lucky with the conditions on top of the wreck, with clear blue water. The wreck has a tower that reaches about 7-8 meters below the surface, while the hull rests deeper at about 16-25. I have to say, it did not disappoint! There is an incredible amount of marine life here, with huge schools of one-spot snappers, fusiliers and scads pretty much covering the wreck. Towards the end of the dive we also had some massive schools of both barracuda and big eye trevally. My first impression of this dive site is that it lives up to the hype!
We squeezed another dive in on our way back towards Koh Chang, again a quite nice dive site with really great coral coverage and some huge schools of barracuda.
Finally back on dry land (we all stay at Koh Chang this night) we headed back to our hotel where we ordered a massive amount of very tasty Mexican food and chilled out by the pool, sipping wine (thanks Fong!) and watching lightning strikes from a faraway storm. It was a great night!
A slightly more sensible wakeup time, we headed back to the boat and set sail towards the HTMS Chang again. The plan was to do another 2 dives there today before returning to Trat on the mainland. The conditions had slightly improved since the day before and deeper parts of the wreck was now visible. To our amazement the school of big eye trevally from the day before was much bigger than we realized! Filming them was a real treat and we concluded our 2 days of diving in style.
We got back to Trat and said goodbye to Yannis & Patricka who was headed back to Koh Chang for another night. Me, Fong and Money started making our way back to Bangkok, where I stayed another night at the luxurious Coral Grand Bangkok.
What to do for a day in Bangkok? I was getting on a night bus to return to Chumphon and then Koh Tao, but that was hours away. All I could think of was to go to a park as I'm not a great friend to the concrete jungles. After a few hours chasing monitor lizards and birds around I headed back and started packing.
The final leg of the journey was quite uneventful. I did return to an island that had been hit by a massive storm, with our neighbourhood (mountaintop) experiencing power cuts and even a very close lightning strike. Seems I timed this trip real well! All in all I had a great time, despite the days spent travelling. But the great diving of Koh Chang was really worth it in the end.
Have you been diving Koh Chang? What was your experience like? Or are you planning on going? Let me know in the comments! In the mean time, enjoy the last stretch of 2021 and happy diving.