Bringing in the New Year with a Bang in Thailand

Koh Chang, Thailand

To bring in the new year of 2017 with a bang, I chose to spend some time away from my lovely rural town in northeastern Thailand and travel to the lovely Thai island of Koh Chang.  Koh Chang is one of 51 other islands in that area. It offers a wonderful and scenic escape with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, a fishing village, and so much more that adds to your smile. Koh Chang seems to be the spot for not only foreigners but, also the locals making it a top destination retreat.  As a foreigner working here, it is a quite the getaway and doable for the four-day holiday. Though the international holiday of New Years is not Thailand’s new year, it is still a holiday of celebrations that are shared among the Thai’s, as they do believe in a work life balance.

Travel Begins

To start our journey, we grabbed a quick flight from Ubon Ratchathani to Bangkok. This cost about 1,600 Baht which is very reasonable.  From there, we made our way to Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal where we were greeted with numerous tourists and locals who all had a place in mind to visit. I had never seen Mo Chit 2 so overwhelmed with passengers waiting for transportation. With this sight to see, we figured it would be nearly impossible to make it to Koh Chang by bus so, that left us with only a few other options that included hiring a minivan, taxi, or hope to make it to the Ekamai Station which is about 45 minutes away. With time being a factor, we utilized the private minivan option due to the vast response for the bus. This cost 7,000 Baht which can be negotiated normally, but for the holiday the price was set. This divided by our group cost a little over 1,100 Baht each but, was well worth the time and comfort to not wait. For our return, we got a cab of 2,000 Baht back to Bangkok but, there were only three of us on the return trip. 

Advice for Koh Chang – Travel Knowledge

Traveling from Bangkok, the trip takes about 5 hours to Trat, which is still part of the mainland of Thailand. Due to the time when we arrived, it was best for us to book a hostel for the evening. There are numerous options for this and you can use a couple different sites. We used Hostelworld.com but Agoda and Booking.com are great too. This helped us get revived for the next morning where we grabbed the local bus (a songtaew) for 50 Baht to take us to the ferry. This saves you a lot of money using the local transportation versus a taxi. Once, we arrived at the ferry sight, we purchased a one-way ticket to Koh Chang for 80 Baht.  To our delight, the ferry ride was about 45 minutes but you are surrounded by the shaded water and the view of both the mainland and the islands. In addition to the sights, we also experienced a singing guitar playing captain. This made me love the ride. His voice was music to my ears. 

Koh Chang provides numerous options for accommodations to where you don’t always have to book it but, over the holidays, I recommend that you do in advance. We stayed at Boat Chalet which, was probably not the best place due to the location and run down atmosphere, but it did offer a sandy white beach with a stunning sunset. I would suggest others to stay at Bang Bao, Lonely beach, or White Sandy Beach due to the assortment of things to do and it being closer to everything. This will save you on taxis or you can rent a scooter daily for about 250 Baht. This will allow you to see the other side of the island and take an adventure riding up and down the small roads. It’s quite the ride. 

Traveling is one of the perks when you choose to teach English abroad. Overall, Koh Chang is magical with the beauty it provides. There are quite a few choices of things to do there that include paddle boarding, diving a shipwreck, waterfalls, hiking, beaches, fishing village, elephant rides, boating, and much more.  If you love to travel and see the beauty that Thailand offers, then I suggest that you see their islands. The islands are full of a spirit that I cannot fully describe because it will make your mouth drop and fill your heart full of love.

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House Hunting in Hong Kong

Finding an Apartment in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is notorious for it’s ever-expanding population and chronic lack of space.  Around 7 million people live on 1,109 km2 of land.  In 2017, with space at a premium, Hong Kong was again crowned the world’s most expensive housing market, for the 7th year in a row.   Most local families live in a 3-bed, 1-bathroom apartment with little room to cook, entertain or indulge in hobbies.  It is said that the average living space in Hong Kong’s public rental housing is 140 square foot per person.

Hong Kong Street

140 square feet would have felt like luxury to me when I first arrived in Hong Kong.   On arrival I was placed in accommodation provided by my employer.  In the beginning having accommodation provided was great as I could never have organised an apartment from the UK.  Most private rentals in Hong Kong are advertised in small estate agents that you see on every street corner.  I have also been told that employer-subsided accommodation is more profitable as the rent is deducted directly from your salary and is therefore not subject to tax.

After the buzz of living in the ‘Most Densely Populated Area in the World’ has worn off, and it did, I set my sights on finding property elsewhere.  Hong Kong is made up 261 islands, and the Kowloon peninsula, so there are plenty of options for the more remote lifestyle that I’m used to.  Interestingly, less than 25% of Hong Kong’s land is developed due to it’s unique topography, and another 40% is covered by country parks and nature reserves.
Actual house hunting in Hong Kong is a nightmare!  You either scour the estate agents night and day, being dragged from shoe-box apartment to shoe-box apartment, or brave it and log on to a Room Share website.  I did the later. I would highly recommend to talk to your employer about the housing condition and if they will help you find a suitable one when you land.

The Struggle is Real

My first issue was communication.  Many of the adverts were in Cantonese, I was unable to even contact these people, let alone live with them!  The next was location.  I saw many beach and village houses that looked great on Google Maps but without going there myself there was no way of knowing.  I spent many weekends exploring unknown corners of Hong Kong to see if I would feel at home there.  Another issue faced by any house hunter in the SAR is up-front costs.  It expected that you pay your first months’ rent, a rental deposit equal to two month’s rent, and often a utility deposit on top.  This can stretch to thousands for a small room that you may not even like!

Luckily after a few failed attempts at viewing grotty apartments, I found my dream village house in a beautiful bay in Sai Kung.  My flatmates are a couple from the UK and Hong Kong, and they couldn’t be lovelier.  Luckily the rent is much cheaper than the city and I have water sports, national park hikes and an amazing community feel within steps of my front door.  Although there are only a handful of buses leaving the village each day, I feel that this a small price to pay for waking up every morning, having a cup of tea in the hammock and looking out across the most beautiful bay in Hong Kong.

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