Your guide to discovering the real Koh Chang
Koh Chang, or Elephant Island, is a colourful melting pot, attracting everyone from budget travellers staying for several weeks in rustic beachside bungalows to well-heeled holidaymakers dropping in for a weekend at a super splurge resort nestling on one of the island’s soft white-sand beaches.
The island is the largest and most developed of the same named archipelago that comprises 52 islands and was made into Mu Koh Chang National Park in 1982. Most of this little paradise is mountainous with a rainforest that covers a good chunk of the island, making Koh Chang a great destination if you’re looking for more than just sun and sand. Another plus is the island’s convenient accessibility as you can choose between a number of options, including flights to the nearby town of Trat as well bus and limousine transfers straight from Bangkok to your hotel.
About Koh Chang
Unlike many other Thai islands, Koh Chang was pretty much under the radar until the early 1990s. The first settlers here were local fishermen who got later accompanied by Chinese merchants as well traders and fishermen from Cambodia. Fishing was the main source of income for the island’s 5000 residents before tourism arrived. Less than a dozen fishing villages can be now found on the island, primarily situated on the less developed east coast. While the first travellers to Koh Chang were backpackers in the mid-1970’s, the island’s accommodation options were quite limited to simple bungalows and guesthouses for the following twenty years.
This changed dramatically when foreigners and Thais alike drifted away from the crowded resorts of Samui and Phuket, looking for an alternative that was less busy but equally serene. It didn’t take long until Koh Chang was discovered and saw its first developments. Construction has been always well managed here, speaking, you won’t find overdeveloped beaches or high-rise buildings that disturb the wonderful natural landscape.
Talking about accommodation, Koh Chang caters to all types of travellers. You can find a good range of places starting from small huts with nothing more than a bed and a fan for a few hundred baht per night to a series of upscale hotels that make what is already a great holiday destination a fantastic one. Picture lavish rooms with views to die for, marvellous recreational activities, excellent dining options, immaculate service and of course, the best locations.Needless to say, most hotels and resorts are beachfront properties or just a short walk away from the beach, regardless what category. And if you’re really looking for something different, consider staying at one of the few hotels nestled in the jungle of Koh Chang.
If time allows, consider also visiting islands in the surrounding area. Koh Wai, for example, lies just 6 kilometres south of Koh Chang but seems already like a completely different world. While it gets busy from morning until noon, the island is pretty quiet for the rest of the day. There are currently only five resorts here, no nightlife, shops or even ATMs are around. Oh, and only two of the resorts provide 24-hrs electricity supply while the others do so only from 18:00-23:00. On the other hand, Koh Kood, another larger island 30Km south, resembles what Koh Chang looked like when it transitioned from an unknown patch of paradise to a popular travel destination. ( Getting to Koh Kood is a bit more complicated, you can see Koh Kood boat timetables here. )You can also join a snorkel boat if you plan to see some other islands; most trips include visits to 2-3 islands when booking a full-day tour. And mid-way between the two is the laid back island of Koh Mak. Which is the ideal place to visit if you enjoy cycling around an island and discovering deserted beaches and coves.
What to See and Do?
Activity-wise, there’s so much to do on Koh Chang, no matter what age you are. The incredible landscape of forested hills and crystal clear water, undeniable, is the reason that led to the rise of Koh Chang. A day out to the scenic Koh Chang Archipelago or a chartered yacht trip around the island is the ideal way of getting a different perspective of the island. Then there are the ultra-famous beaches that invite for pure relaxation and sun-bathing from morning until night. Make your adventurer’s heart beat faster and hike through the dense jungle along lush mangroves and dramatic waterfalls or take a canoe to explore nearby islands, there’s ample scope for having a blast on Koh Chang. Not to mention the many spas, elephant treks, cooking schools and zip-lining.
Koh Chang’s beaches and coastline are surprisingly diverse – from the bustling White Sand Beach to the more tranquil Bailan Bay and the serene feel of Bang Bao to the untouched tropical east coast, the island offers a multitude of beaches. But there is more than just swimming – deep below Koh Chang’s waves is an incredible world of corals, fish schools and shipwrecks. Snorkelling is probably the best way to explore the island’s marine life. Most snorkelling spots here are easily accessible plus you can get snorkel gear from almost any hotel, guest house or one of several water sports / dive shops. Koh Chang is also a great place to get certified as diver; numerous excellent dive centres can be found in the main resort areas. Bang Bao in the southwest is the island’s hot spot when it comes to diving since most of the trips start from here. With 27°C water temperature and calm waters almost year-round, you have the perfect conditions to learn diving and enjoy snorkelling.
Eating & Drinking
And for the foodies among you, the island gives you the opportunity to feast on lip-smacking fish and seafood, freshly caught in its surrounding waters. The list of restaurants on Koh Chang is as diverse as you possibly could imagine, ranging from traditional mom ‘n’ pop shops over western diners to fine gourmet venues. Sample popular Thai specialities like Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup), grilled snappers or even German pork knuckles and gyros pita. Many spots are open-air, speaking you always have a perfect relaxing atmosphere with sea breezes blowing from the Gulf of Thailand.
When spending the majority of the day at the beach or in the water one might quickly think that nights are quiet and boring, but luckily that’s not the case as Koh Chang also has some lively nightlife. The northwest of the island hosts several of the best options for clubbing and drinks. White Sand Beach and Kai Bae is where the main action takes place, including numerous beach bars, clubs and discos. Throughout the western coast until its southwestern tip are several intriguing night spots.
In need of retail therapy? Don’t worry, you won’t suffer shopping withdrawal syndrome here. Lots of boutiques and shops can be found around the main beach towns, especially Lonely Beach, White Sand and Kai Bae. Whether you’re looking for a unique gift, beachwear or souvenirs, rest assured you’ll get it here. The only thing you may notice is that the shopping scene here is more laid back than elsewhere.
In other words, Koh Chang has it all – why not see it for yourself?