Yes! Places like this do still exist! Chaloklum is the quintessential fishing village forgotten by time (and tourists). While the southern part of the island parties into the next day, life in northern Koh Phangan continues in blissful ignorance.
Fishing boats arrive some time around mid-morning and the catch of the day is hauled into the village — about as exciting as it gets in Chaloklum. But you don’t come to this side of the island to join a sea of Farang (i.e. white people) engaged in varying levels of debauchery. Oh no, you come to Chaloklum seeking a very different variety of hedonism: The pursuit of absolute tranquility.
Here’s a map of Koh Phangan, easy enough to find on google maps in the Gulf of Thailand, so I haven’t provided a country map. We took the SeaTran ferry from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan, arriving at Thong Sala. From there, we hopped a pickup taxi (not actually a proper songthaew, more like some guy’s pickup) to the northern coast of the island and Ban Chaloklum (or Chalok Lam or Chalak Lam, depending on which map you’re looking at). Yes, we completely bypassed Haad Rin. I hear it’s very nice…just not our scene.
For us, Chaloklum is proof that the universe has a funny way of getting you what you really need, even if you’re convinced you want something completely different — like that Rolling Stones song.
I wanted a resort. I wanted a big freakin’ resort with an infinity pool and waiters and fancy food and all of it. After almost four months of hauling around a backpack, I wanted to feel “human” again. I was filthy, sleep-deprived and exhausted. At this point, I knew we had chosen the wrong island. If we wanted resorts, we should have gone straight to Koh Samui. But budget was also an issue. For backpackers, budget is ALWAYS the issue.
Lori didn’t seem to care at this point where we stayed, and it drove me crazy, because that made ME the diva in the relationship. Nonetheless, we hauled our bags off the pickup that brought us from the ferry and headed to the only resort in town.
I don’t even remember how we picked Chaloklum. Koh Phangan is a sizable island with numerous villages dotted along its entire circumference. What led us to pick this tiny little fishing village, I’m not so sure. A part of it had to do with its neighbor — Bottle Beach. We had read somewhere or someone had suggested that it was an idyllic stretch of beach with a chilled out vibe and a good range of cheap accommodation. It sounded lovely, but I wanted the resort.
After walking for a while in the tropical midday heat, we finally reached the resort. But alas, the seemingly deserted place was completely booked. The manager suggested we walk up the beach, so we did. We walked back through town, then made our way up the sand-fringed coastline. There wasn’t much of anything it seemed, but kept the faith that there would be somewhere we could crash for just one night before heading on to Bottle. And then, we came upon North Beach.
The place immediately struck our fancy — picturesque thatch bungalows with private porch and hammock overlooking the bay. And best of all, the place was empty! Not another guest in sight. We “checked-in” and claimed our bungalow. US$9.75 per night, private bath and a room with a view. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Ahead of our arrival in Chaloklum, we had read multiple negative reviews of the eastern stretch of beach. Most of these reviews claimed that the water was filled with trash and debris from fishing activities and the village itself. Honestly, in early October, we couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. The stretch of beach in question, just south of North Beach Bungalows, was about as pristine as it gets these days, and the water even more so, with the exception of the occasional errant plastic cap or small baggie. The sand was white and soft and extraordinarily clean, given that this was indeed a fishing village and not a resort beach.
Spirit Houses like this one (above) are a common sight throughout Thailand. This spirit house sat on the North Beach Bungalow compound and the owners burned incense and lovingly maintained it throughout our time there.
Dogs, unfortunately, were a bit of an issue in Chaloklum, as small packs would roam the area looking for scraps, harassing visitors, and picking fights with the odd straggler mutt. The folks at our place had an interesting solution that seemed to do the trick for a day or two: Firecrackers. If the pack became too cozy on the grounds, the owner would come outside, light a big long strip of fire crackers and throw it up in the air above the dogs, which sent them scattering in all directions. We generally didn’t see a single dog on the compound for another 24-48 hours.
There aren’t any photos of it here, but one of the absolutely amazing aspects of Ban Chaloklum was the food! The tiny village is home to about a dozen excellent mom & pop eateries, mostly serving one thing: freshly caught seafood. The grilled red snapper at Nong Nook on the village waterfront was phenomenal. We split a huge fish with sides and drinks for about US$8.00. We splurged a bit one evening on lasagna and wine, of all things, at the very good Caffe Della Moca, which also had outdoor seating facing the water. Also scattered about the village were a number of good expat-oriented restaurants and cafes, in addition to numerous local [Thai] food places. All in all, we were very impressed by the variety and quality of the food we had in Chaloklum.
I also don’t have any photos here of Haad Khom, a small cove just north of Chaloklum that’s said to have the best snorkeling on the island. We made the hike up there, but caught it at an awkward time, I guess, as the seas were a bit rough for good snorkeling. All of the guidebooks said that Haad Khom is a bit more relaxed, but I didn’t buy it. There’s only a handful of guesthouses right on the beach, but everyone walking around seemed to be a Farang and, due to the tiny size of the place, seemed to congregate in one small area. In Chaloklum, we generally had the entire western beach to ourselves.
A picture-perfect office in paradise — ok, I can’t really call it an office because, let’s be honest, I really didn’t have any real work to get done on this trip. But for bouts of blogging and such — between meals, swims and strolls around town — perfect.
I still see this place in my dreams and find it hard to believe we ever stayed in Chaloklum — and even harder to believe that we made this peaceful and forgotten little corner of the world home for four nights! That is, after all, the beauty of extended travel: if you stumble upon some place that speaks to you and you have enough flexibility built-in to your adventure, you can stay as long as you darn well please. Southeast Asia makes that a bit more easy with the low cost of food and lodging.
We never did make it to Bottle Beach. We truly didn’t believe that place could offer anything that Chaloklum could not. We stayed four nights in all in this sleepy little paradise before moving on to Rai Leh. But nothing else in Thailand quite compared to our stay in Koh Phangan, and Lori and I are already looking forward to going back one of these days.