Every so often in our travels it’s the place we stay at – and invariably the people we meet there – that end up having the bigger impact on our impression of a city/village/island than the scenery itself or the activities that we do. In the case of our four days in the small fishing village of Salak Phet on the south-eastern side of the island of Koh Chang, our stay with hosts Olivier, Jean Luc, chef Nat, gardiner Sam and all the other lovely people at the Mangrove Hideaway did just that.
We booked our stay with them sort of on a whim…we’d enjoyed our beach time on the western side of the island, but wanted to get the chance to explore a bit more and be more mobile. I’d done some light tripadvisor and agoda searching, and saw great reviews of this place. It sounded like it had more local interaction, was close to some nice walks/hikes, and we’d be able to access some more remote beaches from here. Sounded perfect, and we had a few days on our hands waiting for our e-visas for Cambodia to be processed, so we decided to make our way to the other side of the island.
Jean Luc and Nat picked us up at the Blue Lagoon to drive us over, and we arrived to find a truly stunning and peaceful retreat. They have restored an incredible teak house, which looks out onto the mangrove forests along the bay. Our huge room had massive windows facing both the mountain and the water. There is also an unbelievable open-air, second floor terrace to this building, aptly called the “Attic Relax Zone” where they have created a stunning and serene environment to do yoga, meditate, get a massage or just lie around in hammocks to read books while enjoying a full panorama of views of the surrounding area. After arriving, we took a lovely walk starting out along the pier to explore the local fishing village, then weaving in and out of the little side streets, waving to and smiling at all the little mischievous children playing around their homes and peering into local life. I think we both immediately felt so much happier being in Salak Phet, and that’s when Jesse whispered to me “you did good”, in reference to my insistence on booking this location over some slightly more budget-friendly options he had suggested :)
While we were there, our hosts were so wonderful to us. Before we even arrived, Olivier had been doing research on the best way for us to book our route to Cambodia and helped us arrange everything. He is such a wonderful man, who has a deep love for Thailand, Thai people and Thai culture. We enjoyed so many great conversations with him, where he shared his life and travel experiences with us, and helped us understand Thai culture a little better. Jean Luc took us out to show us the hidden way to a secluded beach by motorbike (which unfortunately ended up being a more treacherous road than we were prepared for and after a small spill we needed to head back. No worries, moms & dads! We are both fine, just some small scrapes and bruised egos…), so when that didn’t work out he brought us by motorboat instead! Sam, the young gardiner/boathand/late-night-crab-fisherman who helped us so often during our stay, couldn’t really speak any English but had an infectious, lovely smile which we saw several times a day. And then there was the incredible 23 year-old chef Nat, a fun and friendly young man who incredibly taught himself English and is wickedly talented in the kitchen. For people who usually don’t like to eat at the “hotel restaurant”, we ate here 3 of 4 nights and probably would have traded that 4th night in to eat here again, if we could. The food was that good. Highlights include the “holy crap this is ama-za-zing” Yellow Curry Fried Crab, the “we have to order this again tomorrow it’s so good” Fried Fish 3 Senses (Sweet, Sour, Salty – though I’d also add in Spicy) and the “no questions asked we’re having this every night” homemade coconut ice cream.
There was so much to do around Salak Phet. We went for a stunning walk along the recently re-finished boardwalk through the Mangrove forest, which had some really memorable views contrasting the stark white boardwalk against the vibrant green forest. There are a few different waterfalls nearby as well, one of which we attempted to motorbike to (though got lost about 3 times before heading back to ask for directions again) but we never actually saw. After finally finding the parking spot, we started the 20 minute hike to find the waterfall but didn’t quite realize that late afternoon had crept up on us and as we were hiking up the slightly dried-up river bed, we got completely swarmed (and promptly bitten) by a hoard of mosquitoes and we ended up basically running back to the motorbike and whizzing home to instead relax in the hammocks (meh, we’ve seen waterfalls before).
We also had an adventurous day kayaking out through the mangrove forests and out to an island with a secluded little beach. I say “adventurous” because a trip that we’d been told usually takes about 20 minutes ended up taking us about an hour and 20 minutes! Perhaps the winds were blowing a bit stronger that day and the water a bit more wavy than normal…but more likely because Jesse and I are just not very good (or coordinated) kayakers…nonetheless, it was a hilarious trip for us filled with lots of laughs and whining cries of “my arms are tired!” and “why is the boat spinning in a circle??” and “I wish we had a sail on this thing” and “how could this ever take only 20 minutes??” I even took the opportunity to crank out some of the good ol’ camp songs from the memory reservoir and sung them loudly and proudly to help pass the time and keep the hilarity going. Luckily after much perseverance, we finally arrived at an incredible little beach called Koh Phrao beach, with the softest white sand we’ve ever felt which your feet just sort of sunk into when you tried to walk. We played frisbee in the water, ate our delicious packed lunches of chicken fried rice from Nat, and swam around in the gorgeous cool water. It was perfect, if only we didn’t have to kayak back! Luckily, Olivier suggested a return route that partially had the wind at our backs and it was slightly less painful than the maiden voyage :P
On the last day Jean Luc and Sam powerboated us to Wai Chaek beach (the beach we’d attempted to reach by motorcycle two days earlier,). We arrived to find a long palm-lined strip of golden sand with a little lagoon jetting out of one end and only a few other people who’d braved the motorbike ride in. After playing some frisbee with Sam, he and Jean Luc eventually rode back to the Mangrove Hideaway and left us to enjoy the afternoon by ourselves. At one point the beach seemed to have cleared out completely (save for a few locals who seemed to be diving/fishing around the rocks) and we were all by ourselves…that is, until a big, flashy, Gangham-style rockin’ speedboat of Russian tourists showed up to join us. Though disappointed at first, we did actually enjoy the procession of amazing speedo-wearing, ipad photo-taking, generally hilarious visitors we had. They only stayed for about 30 minutes to explore the lagoon before speeding off to their next destination.
Hidden far enough away from mass tourism, in a really lovely and uncomplicated fishing village with warm people, we will keep truly fond memories of our time at the Mangrove Hideaway in Salak Phet.