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Salakphet Bay

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Creaky fishing boats bob beside modest homes perched on stilts over glassy water. Sea eagles glide gracefully before swooping down for the catch, and dolphins frolic off teardrop islands at dawn. Mangroves, fruit orchards and rubber trees stretch for miles, framed by vast mountains that conceal majestic waterfalls shrouded in jungle. Quaint and isolated, Salak Phet Bay feels a world away from Ko Chang's highly developed west coast.

Covering the island's distant southeast region, Salak Phet is not for everyone. Transport is far more erratic than on the west coast, making it expensive to explore if you're not keen on riding a motorbike. You won't find beer bar debauchery or massive beach resorts that cater to your every whim. In fact, the area has just two small and remote beaches to speak of, each requiring a considerable effort to reach.

Yet it's this very combination of solitude, natural beauty and traditional lifestyle that makes the area so special. If you seek kayaking, hiking, cycling or motorbiking adventures interspersed among long periods of tranquility, then Salak Phet is for you. The accommodation tends toward the intimate, eco-friendly, natural and holistic. Even if you don't stick around overnight, the area makes an unforgettable daytrip.

Contributing to its offbeat allure, Ao Salak Phet was the site of a decisive naval battle during the final days of the Franco-Thai War in 1941. In this "Battle of Ko Chang", the victorious French sunk two Thai vessels, including The HTMS Songkhla, and killed some 40 Thai sailors in a few hours of fierce fighting. A memorial overlooks the battle site just south of Long Beach, and while the original wrecks have disappeared in silt, a World War II-era naval ship was intentionally sunk for scuba exploration in 2013.

The term "Salak Phet" covers a large area. It's used for a specific village that lies to the north and west of the bay, the bay itself, and all of the land surrounding the bay, including the pint-size fishing villages of Salak Khok and Jek Bae. The area also encompasses two isolated beaches: Long Beach and Haad Wai Shak. While dirt-cheap bungalows can still be scored on Long Beach, the "back-to-nature-hippie" backpacker atmosphere has re-anchored at a tiny bungalow joint on the hill overlooking Wai Shak.


Orientation
As you head south along the smooth and scenic east coast road, you'll first pass the district hospital and police station in the village of Dan Mai. Soon after that, the entrances to the easily accessible Khlong Nonsi and Than Mayom waterfalls emerge on the right.

Several kilometres further south, the tiny fishing village of Salak Khok is reachable via a side road on the left, clearly marked by a sign. It's worth a breeze through to see workers hammering at weathered boats in the repair yard, and a cluster of old houses perched over the tiny inlet that lies to the northeast of Salak Phet Bay itself. You can also rent kayaks here for a paddle through the mangroves.

Heading back to the main road, take a left just before the village temple and you'll soon hit the eastern half of the bay's coastline. This quiet area boasts some interesting places to stay for those seeking peace and quiet. The road that cuts left (east) before these tiny resorts takes you on a long and bumpy ride to Long Beach. It's a breathtaking journey that passes a magnificent viewpoint before dropping down along the rocky coast.

The last half of this road is unpaved and studded with formidable hunks of rock. At time of writing, a wooden bridge was being used as a replacement for the original washed-out bridge just after the viewpoint. In other places, the road skirts sheer rock cliffs with no guardrails, leaving little room for error; only experienced motorbikers should go this way.

Back on the main road from Dan Mai, bypassing the left towards Salak Khok and Long Beach takes you to a crossroads. You can bear left into a tangle of side lanes that meanders through different parts of the village, including a temple with some dazzling wall murals, and a concrete walkway that loops through a mangrove forest. Even if you get lost, you'll inevitably end up at the picturesque stilted village that sits at the mangrove-lined mouth of the bay. Along with villagers sun-drying fish and weaving fishing nets by hand, you'll find a few restaurants and great places to stay here.

Rather than heading into the side lanes, take a right at the crossroads and the road continues along the bay's western side, ending at Salakphet Seafood. Along the way, three paved side roads branch off to the right (west). The first leads to the access trail for Khlong Neung Waterfall, and the second to Keeree Phet Waterfall, neither of which are signposted (check out the "Waterfalls on Ko Chang" section under See & Do for further info).

Marked by an abandoned cement-and-stone booth with green trim and a gate that's perpetually propped open, the third right is a narrow paved road that was initially intended to complete an island-wide circular thoroughfare by connecting to the road that shoots east from Bang Bao. The project was never finished, and this road eventually ends in tropical overgrowth. Along the way however you'll see an unmarked dirt road shooting off to the left; it's the one that's just big enough to fit a car. Follow this for a kilometres and you'll end up at one of Ko Chang's best-kept secrets: the secluded palm-fringed sands of Haad Wai Shak.

The only ATMs in the area are found along the main road, next to Salak Phet School en route to the west side of the bay. While WiFi is available at the guesthouses on the north and west sides, it does not currently reach the bay's east side from Little Gipsy to Long Beach. WiFi is however available at Rommai Seafood, just north of Little Gipsy.

Related reading

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Text and/or map last updated on 2nd March, 2014.

Last reviewed by:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.

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