All You Need To Know About Visiting Koh Chang Island in Thailand
Island Living Thai Style
What we really wanted was to find somewhere that not many people had discovered. The problem was we were about 30 years too late for that! On planning our trip to SE Asia while poring over guidebooks and straining our eyes on laptops, desperately looking for somewhere that would give us a bit of adventure, we stumbled across a gem. Not your usual tourist trap and not very easy to get to but that would be part of the fun.
We came upon Koh Chang by chance in a Lonely Planet book and it sounded just what we were looking for. A National Marine Park and nobody had heard of it. Perfect! We didn’t know how to get there but figured we would find out when we got closer. The hotel in Bangkok told us we could get a bus from the Khao San Rd so we were fine with that. Off we set, early one very humid morning with some amount of trepidation, with our carefully packed backpacks. The six hour bus journey seemed long and slow but along the way we were able to get a real glimpse of Thai life outside Bangkok. Arriving in Trat at the not so bustling ferry terminal, we were very excited to get our first glimpses of Koh Chang across the water. Now we felt like travellers rather than tourists. As we boarded the tired old ferryboat we dumped our heavy bags on one of the wooden benches and peered over to the island shrouded in mist and realised we really had no clue what to expect. Our minds were thinking bamboo huts on the beach and deserted beaches; at least that’s what we were hoping for. As the boat neared the island we could see mountains rising out of the mist and small huts here and there along the lush green coastline. The excitement was mounting.
We ended up staying for five weeks on this beautiful island and exploring most of it via a hired jeep. (Around $30 per day.) We stayed in everything from a bamboo hut on the beach to an air conditioned rented house. We ate at too many of the restaurants to count and got to know many of the locals like friends. When it was time to leave, it had started to feel like home and we all agreed that it had been the best adventure so far.
It was only in 2000 that Koh Chang received governmental help to build roads, install telephone lines and electricity. It didn’t really start to develop until after the 2004 tsunami when many Thai tourists preferred to vacation here rather than the south, fearing more disasters. Consequently this island is still relatively unknown and not too highly advanced tourist wise.
The island itself is part of an archipelago of 52 islands and is 19 miles long and 8.5 miles wide and is the second largest of Thailand’s island, Phuket being the biggest. It has mainly evolved along the west .
When to go
Koh Chang has three seasons, rainy, summer and dry.
Rainy season: May to October
Dry season: November to February
Summer: March to April
When you go will depend on what you want to do while you’re there. The dry season is probably the best as it gets very hot in the summer, around 34c! At the beginning of the dry season the waterfalls are at their best too.
How to get there
It is just over 215 miles from Bangkok and it is very easy to book an air conditioned coach / bus trip through your hotel. They usually leave from various places around the city, the main one being the Khao San Rd. This is what we did the first time we went and the journey took about six hours. The second time we hired a car and drove, which took about four hours, and was a very straightforward and easy route with a map. The bus will take you to Trat where a ferry service runs from three different piers to the island. It is a short journey of just 30 minutes and you can take your hire car over with you too.
It is possible to fly also from Bangkok to Trat with Bangkok Air either through their website or by calling (Bangkok) +6622655555 or (Trat) +66 (0) 3952 5299-300. The flight is just 45 minutes and flies daily.
This is a very handy website: http://www.kochangisland.com/content/gettingthere.php
Where to stay
Again it depends on what you want out of the trip. On the one hand you can experience a 5* luxury that is not affordable to many in the west. Or if the aim is either to save money, or feel like you are living the Beach with Leonardo de Caprio, there are the picturesque bamboo beach huts. It is possible to book before you go, or you can easily book for one night somewhere then have a look around for something else once you get there for the remainder of your stay. However this is not always recommended in the busier dry season.
What to do (other than lying on the beach!)
For a small island there is enough to keep you busy and occupied for as long as you want to stay. Below I have listed a few things you can do:
Elephant Trekking: There are three different places for elephant trekking. The one we tried was Ban Kwan Chang as we were told by the local that this was the one that took the best care of the elephants. They live in natural habitats, are not caged and are fed a good diet. The price usually includes a taxi pick up and drop off to your hotel or close by.
Scuba Diving & snorkelling: The best time to dive is during the cool season from around October/November to April. The west and the south of the island, between Koh Chang and Koh Kood, is an excellent spot to dive. Snorkelling on other small islands off Koh Chang are also worth checking out.
Spas / Massages: Whether you want a 200 baht, 1 hour massage on the beach or a day / weeks luxury spa treatment it’s all there. Many of the resorts have spas attached to them.
Canoeing & Kayaking: Again most of the beaches have plenty of places to hire a kayak for anything from an hour to a day. It is usually around 100 baht for an hour and 500 baht for a day.
Boat trip to other islands: It is possible and very easy to get trip to other nearby island also. The two closest are Koh Mat and Koh Kut. There are plenty of places to stay on Koh Mat and the ferry to this island leaves from Bang Bao in the south.
Hiking & Walking to Waterfalls: Koh Chang’s mountainous landscape of rainforest and steep terrain create some amazingly scenic waterfalls. There are many to choose from and depending on where you stay it is wise to ask around as to the closest.
Thai cooking school: In most of the beach villages there are places where you can learn the art of cooking delicious Thai food, carving vegetables and fruit and giving yourself something to take home with you and impress your friends.
Where to eat: This will depend on your budget and preferences and where you choose to stay. The best way to find good restaurants is to ask around, locals and other tourists. There is plenty of choice though. Obviously many great Thai restaurants, but it is also possible to eat plenty of western style food too if you just crave a pizza or Greek salad.
A couple of our favourite restaurants websites are below:
http://www.koh-chang.ch/RB/KaiBae_Marina_Pizza_SteakHouse.htm (this place also rents dvds)
http://www.pornsbungalows-kohchang.com/pornsbungalows_e.htm (The MOST amazing restaurant ever. Right on the sand, you feel like you are eating your meal in a tree house!)
Safety points: One thing we did learn while we were there was that many visitors hire scooters rather than cars as they are so cheap (about 100 – 150 baht a day). However there are many accidents and even fatalities every year as drivers are not used to the very steep and twisting roads especially during the rainy season when lanes are extremely slippery.
Recommended guide books:
ROUGH GUIDE THAILANDS ISLANDS AND BEACHES
LONELY PLANET THAILAND