Here’s our best advice about visiting Koh Chang, starting with the most important: put Koh Chang on your short list of places to visit before it becomes too popular and overcrowded. We visited Thailand’s topical island paradise recently and found that the sleepy destination had attracted quite a few more visitors since our last stay five years ago. Roadside businesses selling typical touristy trinkets, street food vendors and restaurants lined sections of the road where on the previous visit there were none. The fact that long stretches of white sandy beaches lapped with warm gentle turquoise water were still uncrowded was a relief. But given the growth in the area, I wonder how long that statement will stand true?
And what’s not to love about Koh Chang? Koh (meaning Island) and Chang (elephant) was so named due to its shape – which resembles and an elephant head in profile.
Koh Chang is the second largest Island in Thailand. The mountainous interior, covered in a lush topical rain forest, has many opportunities for adventure. The beautiful beaches are still quiet much of the year and the new development in the area means that there are accommodations and restaurant choices to match any budget. Here’s a list of things to do and places to stay on Koh Chang that may convince you its time to buy that ticket before it’s too late.
Thing to do in Koh Chang
Take a Diving/Snorkeling Cruise
There are small picturesque islands around Koh Chang that have some amazing opportunities to get in some world class fish peeping. The water is generally very calm and clear, and more importantly, very comfortably warm. It isn’t necessary to go scuba diving to see the colorful fish.
In fact, several times during my day snorkeling I felt I had been swallowed by a swarm of fish. If you do go, I recommend taking a full day tour where you can visit several sights and enjoy lunch on the boat or a barbecue on the beach.
Shopping on Koh Chang
There is no end of opportunity to buy inexpensive souvenirs on Koh Chang. If you are hankering for a hammock for your porch, some comfy Thai fisherman’s pants or some inexpensive coconut oil to bring home, you won’t be disappointed here. The popular White Sands area is particularly crowded with shops, but for a more interesting experience, head to the Bang Boa Pier. This former fishing village has a large pier system covered with shops and restaurants perched over the water. You won’t find fresher seafood or a more interesting water view from which to enjoy it.
There are several companies that offer hikes to the interior of Koh Chang. You can hike through the tropical rain forest and be treated to views of waterfalls along the way. Companies offer short hikes or day long adventures that include a lunch and transportation with your booking. You can set off on a hike on your own, but it’s a good idea to work with a guide. Treks vary greatly in length and level of difficulty. Here’s a resource to help you locate an organized tour and to give you an idea of what kinds of hikes are available on Koh Chang.
Take in a Fire Show
Many of the beachfront restaurants spread out onto the beach in the evenings, setting up plastic tables and chairs on the sand. They’ll often have a display of the daily catch where you can select something for the grill and eat it at your table with your toes in the sand. Performers wander the beach offering free fire shows most evenings and this is a fantastic way to wind down after a day in the sun.
Thai Cooking Classes
If you love Thai food, it may surprise you that, with a little instruction, it’s easy to make right at home. And even if you don’t like to cook, spending a day with a local chef and learning about the food and history of the island is a great way to spend the day. And, you may just end up with the best meal of your vacation. The Blue Lagoon and The Happy Turtle are both popular choices for Thai cooking classes. They both offer transfer from you hotel and cost about 1200 – 1500 Baht. Can’t wait for a trip to Thailand? Here’s a link to the aboce pictured Spicy Thai Chicken Basil Recipe. You can also find more flavors and recipes of Thailand in our Food Finds/Recipes Section.
Get Up Close With The Island’s Wildlife
There are lots of opportunities to view wildlife in their natural, or not so natural habitats on Koh Chang. One example are the macaques monkeys. These jungle dwellers are becoming a common sight in the more developed areas of Koh Chang.
You can easily see how these cute guys have become a tourist favorite. The unfortunate part of that story is that they are becoming dependent on hand-outs and are falling victim to traffic accidents and attacks by dogs. So if you do see a monkey, enjoy at a distance – and PLEASE don’t feed them.
Another example of local wildlife are the Sand Bubbler Crabs, which you’ll run into at low tide along any of the beaches.
You can’t miss the tiny holes, surrounded by little rounds balls that appear at high tide. Or the scurry of tiny crabs that precede your foot steps as you stroll along. It’s impossible not to pause and take a closer look.
Get a Thai Massage
There are endless opportunities to take advantage of an inexpensive Thai massage – even right on the beach. Just walk the beach in the tourist area and it won’t take long at all to bump into one. If you love the wonderful virgin coconut oil that many use to sooth and soften your skin during your languishing massage then do a little shopping. A good sized jar of the sweet smelling oil can be yours for about $2 US.
A Word About Thai Elephants
It was very funny watching this cute baby elephant encouraged by his mahout (trainer) to wake up unsuspecting sleeping tourists on Kai Bae Beach. Admittedly it’s pretty hard to resist having a close up encounter with an elephant when the opportunity presents itself. There are several elephant camps that offer elephant trekking on Koh Chang. I even took a elephant ride when I was in Koh Chang 5 years ago. Since then I have learned about the poor treatment of the elephants by many companies – including training by torture, chaining them to the ground all day, or being overworked and crippled by having tourists ride on their backs day in, day out without a break. It’s a controversial, and complicated, subject. My advice is to visit elephants in places that don’t allow elephant riding and unfortunately, there are no such operators on Koh Chang.
Where to stay on Koh Chang
There is every level of accommodation available on Koh Chang. From the most basic to ultimate luxury – you can find it all on Koh Chang. Here are our picks of the best budget, mid-range and luxury options on this beautiful tropical island paradise. Each is nestled on a beautiful white sandy beach surrounded by warm clear blue water. Each also provides a breakfast buffet with both Thai and Western dishes.
Budget Rustic Beach Huts
White Sands Beach Resort has basic wooden huts, some of which provide a beachfront view. You can go from reading a book on your porch to swimming in the water in a few short steps. The cabins come equipped with A/C, bathroom and a TV, and not much else. And be aware that these are rustic structures so expect a gecko or 2 to share your space. The nice price tag for a room with a beachfront view may convince you that having a gecko as a roommate isn’t so bad.
And the buffet breakfast and easy 15 minute walk to the more crowded white sands beach area are also perks that make this hotel a good choice at a bargain price.
Koh Chang Mid-Range Hotels
This mid-level hotel is a great choice if you are looking for a more quiet beach destination. The area itself is less crowded and more kid-friendly. The Kai Bae Beach Resort rooms are well decorated but are very spacious and comfortable. This is a great choice if you are looking for a quiet beach vacation that won’t break the bank. The location is an easy walk to the main road where there are plenty of bars and restaurants, but it’s far enough away to be quiet at night.
The Sea View Koh Chang is another option that gives you the choice between beach cottages and more luxurious rooms with a view.
Koh Chang Thailand Luxury Hotel
If you are looking for a luxurious beach vacation, then you have found your dream destination at the Panviman. The resort is a 10 minute drive away from the main tourist area, and sits on a secluded beach.
The service at the hotel is exceptional and its restaurant and breakfast buffet are both high quality. Their rooms, many equipped with their own hot tub with soothing jets, are reputed to be the best on the island – an accolade that is well deserved. The Panviman also provides a free shuttle into the main tourist areas that runs about every hour.
Getting Around Koh Chang
There are several outfits that will rent you a scooter so that you can explore the island at your leisure. Interesting, petrol is sold by roadside stands in reused bottles — often these bottles started as whiskey bottles.
Driving a scooter can be thrilling way to explore, but be warned that the island has steep windy roads. There have been many accidents involving inexperienced tourist drivers who have had a cocktail or two before taking to the road.
Another option is to flag down a songthaew. These independent Thai taxis are like small covered pickup trucks lined with benches. They are an inexpensive way to get around and most drivers speak enough English to negotiate a rate and get you where you want to go.
Getting to Koh Chang
Koh Chang is accessible by ferry from Trat. On either side of the ferry there are companies that can set up you with a ride to your hotel from the Trat airport or from the ferry back to your hotel. From the Trat airport you can negotiate a shared van that rides with you on the ferry and delivers you directly to your Koh Chang hotel for about 800 Baht. Pricing depends on what part of the island you are visiting. Trat is accessible by bus or via transfer from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways. The flight takes about an hour. The ferry runs about every hour and is well timed to coordinate with flights from Bangkok.
Pro Tip: This is the woman’s bathroom on the ferry. The squat toilet and “bum gun” are not an unusual find in public places in Thailand. And toilet paper – not so much. This is one reason I never travel without a packet of tissue in my bag. Word to the wise – make use of the toilets in the lovely Trat Airport before jumping aboard.
The Trat airport is one of my favorite airports in the world. It is a tiny place with a thatched roof surrounded by topiary elephants. A wait here involves a comfortable lounge, fantastic free wifi and free snacks. You are probably reading that sentence twice to make sure I really said good internet and free food at the airport. And the food is actually pretty good; it consisted of mini sandwiches, fruit drinks, chocolatey desserts and fresh pineapple on our last trip. They have become a little wiser and now have staff doling out the goodies rather than allowing everyone to help themselves, as they did five years ago. Being presented with free things without supervision doesn’t bring out the best in everyone.
Note: If you are transferring in Bangkok from another destination to Trat, the connection times can be fairly close. Make sure to bring a bathing suit and change of clothes with you on the plane if you do check your bag, in case you make the connection and your bag doesn’t. Because there are limited flights into Trat, you may not get your luggage until the next day and end up hanging out in your long pants in the heat. Like I might have (and really, as a full-time traveler, I should know better by now….)