A jungle-covered, mountainous island, Ko Chang brings to mind the green vertical lines of Kauai. It’s Thailand’s second-largest island (after Phuket), with an interior that is mostly impenetrable. White-sand beaches ring Ko Chang in small scallops while waterfalls gush into plunge pools in the interior. Even better, it’s relatively close to Bangkok, so if your vacation is short you can hop over for a quick visit.
Now is the time to check it out, as Ko Chang is definitely under fairly rapid development. Thankfully, a few smaller islands lay just beyond the island in the Mu Ko Chang National Marine Park;Â Ko Mak, Ko Kut, and Ko Wai are still relatively undeveloped, and mostly car-free.
The west coast is the most developed, with resorts and restaurants lining this side of the island in an almost unbroken line. The east coast is still quite rural, with mangrove forests ripe for kayaking, small fishing villages perched on stilts over the water, and an unkempt dirt track leading to the far southern tip. A few resorts are popping up here, and though the beaches aren’t quite as good as the west coast, it’s a great place to escape completely.
Though a ring road has been planned for a while, at this point it is impossible to circumnavigate the island. Consider it a blessing, as the east coast will no doubt see lots of development once the road is complete.
Beaches and towns
Starting at the northern end of the west coast and moving down:
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- Hat Sai Khao (White Sands Beach): Hat Sai Khao is Ko Chang’s longest and most developed beach. This is where you’ll find the bulk of the (somewhat meager) shopping, as well as banks, information, internet cafes, upmarket hotels and one backpacker enclave at the north end.
- Hat Kai Mook (Pearl Beach): This smaller beach is family-oriented and sits back from the road a bit. Most bungalows are good value.
- Ao Khlong Prao: Set along a canal (a “khlong”), Ao Khlong Prao is a fun mix of canal-side seafood restaurants and guesthouses along the water. Many luxury resorts have been built in the past few years, and the strip of sand is decent, with clear and shallow water.
- Hat Kaibae: Another busy beach town, Hat Kaibae is starting to give White Sands Beach a run for its money. Packed with bars, restaurants, and hotels, Kaibae is steadily moving upmarket, with package resorts and upscale hotels.
- Hat Tha Nam (Lonely Beach): A backpacker holdout on Ko Chang, Lonely Beach has begun appealing to the “flashpacker” market, though budget huts can still be found. This is where the young’uns go for parties , tattoos, or simply veg-ing out.
- Bailan Bay: A tiny beach with a few resorts and hotels, Bailin Bay is worth visiting for its herbal sauna, an earthen hut run by a friendly couple who also offer lots of fun body scrubs. Bailin is much more mellow than Lonely Beach and a fairly quick soengteaw ride away if you want in on the action.
- Bang Bao: Once a fisherman’s village, Bang Bao has retained its charm while steadily losing its original occupation. Great seafood restaurants and some cool pier cottages line the pier. This is where wooden boats depart for snorkeling and scuba trips, as well as to the smaller islands to the south.
- Hat Yao (Long Beach): This soft slice of sand is at the far southern tip of the east coast. When we visited the road was not paved and it was a fairly treacherous motorbike ride. If you want to stay at one of the relaxed and inexpensive bungalows here, arrange transport from the ferry dock before you arrive.
Buses from Bangkok to Trat leave from Bangkok’s eastern station (“Ekamai”) throughout the day. The ride should take about 5 — 6 hours, and the bus will stop at Laem Ngop, the port for the Centerpoint Ferry. Don’t worry, someone will get on the bus and shout “Ko Chang Ko Chang!” If you book a bus from Khao San Road, be prepared to make numerous stops and for the journey to take well over seven hours. Trust us, it happens.
The ferry to Ko Chang takes about one hour and docks at the north end of the island. From there, you’ll need to take a soengtaew to your beach. Prices are usually posted on the trucks, and in general the drivers are not trying to rip you off. Expect to pay anywhere from 100 — 200 baht depending on your destination, and double that if you’re heading to the east coast.
Alternatively, you can fly from Bangkok to Trat on Bangkok Airways. There’s also a direct flight from Ko Samui. From the airport, a limousine service will deliver you to your hotel on Ko Chang for 470 baht (note that you’ll ride in a mini-bus, not an actual limo!).
[Photo credit: rightee, Flickr]