Several weeks ago I arrived on the island of Koh Chang, about a 4 hours’ drive and a ferry ride from Bangkok. For myself and my girlfriend this was a sort of arbitrary choice. We had been staying in the nearby city of Rayong, where we have friends, but knew that we may be shut in for a very long time and wanted to put ourselves somewhere where we could at least have some vague feeling of normalcy and enough infrastructure to buckle down and work on some projects. We looked at a map and Koh Chang seemed to be the only choice. It has actually turned out to be the perfect place for us in this moment.
I do think we will ultimately look back on this time as very extraordinary, and so I wanted to document what it is like to be stuck on this very small island, in the middle of the ocean, in the midst of this global pandemic.
It is important to mention that the travel and hospitality industries are in a really hard spot right now with this pandemic, and I have extreme sympathy (through my firsthand interactions with it all, and considering many people in these industries friends) for the challenges and losses they are facing. I wanted to note that, as we are able to leverage some extreme discounts in this moment due to low occupancy, we also try to offset these a bit and help out by spending generously on other things that support these businesses (such as the cafe, restaurant and other services) and also by always tipping well.
For the last several weeks we have been staying at The Dewa Koh Chang, a 4 star hotel right on the beach, with incredible facilities, for around $50 US a night (under more ordinary circumstances rooms would typically run 3-6 times that). Though we had booked a Deluxe King room (which was very nice in itself) for our last 4 nights we have actually now been upgraded to a “Grand Villa” at no further cost. This is a two-story standalone villa that sits on the grounds of the hotel right beside the beach, with a huge living area and a private jacuzzi and fountain out front facing the ocean. Though we were perfectly happy before, the additional space is still very welcome.
The resort is situated in a relatively developed section of the island which means that we have access to conveniences like a 7-eleven for essential supplies and a pharmacy. That said we will usually hang around the room or the grounds of the hotel most of the days, grabbing coffee from the hotel cafe (which has great coffee and reasonably priced all things considered) and working in the room or on the patio.
Though there have been zero cases of COVID-19 both on Koh Chang and also in the larger surrounding province of Trat, most restaurants have chosen to be delivery-only as a precaution. For that reason what we might typically think of as a luxury – ordering most meals via delivery – is actually kind of now just a necessity/protocol, but it is a benefit to our productivity all the same.
We’ll typically get up late morning and spend the afternoon into the evening working. We’ll grab coffee from the cafe and order in lunch from a restaurant. Having everything taken care of means a ton of undivided productivity. If by evening we feel like leaving the room, we’ll walk a couple of minutes up the beach to an incredible little outdoor Italian place called Pilot Bar where we are typically the only customers. If we make it early enough we catch a great sunset. There is a nationwide curfew in effect right now that prohibits people from being outside between 10pm and 4am (my understanding is that it is to discourage people from gathering/socializing). As the people working the restaurants come from all over the island, most restaurants close by 8:30 or 9. As a consequence we’re usually back at the hotel by 9:30 or so and might have a drink outside in the empty cafe or watch a movie on Netflix.
I think that in a circumstance like this, when all of our movement is so constrained, to at least live in an environment that has as much as we have here – beach, restaurant, cafe, etc. – does a lot to make things feel almost normal. It is most of all on the odd occasion when you must venture into town that you are reminded just how much is shuttered and just how far from normal everything is. I am eagerly looking forward to the time when this is over, and we can all return to a genuine state of normalcy. At the very least, I hope that having experienced something so extreme, so surreal will teach us to appreciate what we had before this happened, and what we have once we recover.