It might be Thailand’s second biggest island but its out-of-the-way location down by the Cambodian border means Koh Chang still offers the chance to get off the beaten track a little. Accessible only by ferry from nearby Trat, its soaring jungle-clad peaks and sweeping beaches make it an ideal destination for an island escape.
White Sands Beach
By far the busiest beach on the island, and the closest to the ferry, White Sands is home to the highest concentration of resorts and guesthouses. As a result, it can get very crowded, even though the sand is not exactly the whitest we’ve seen. Still, the long curving beach and shallow waters mean it remains popular, especially with foreign tourists, and is a particularly good destination for families. It’s also a nice spot to head to after dark, when the beach gets filled with the tables and chairs of the various restaurants. While they all offer similar menus of inter favorites, Thai classics and BBQ seafood, we particularly like the dishes at Mac Resort & Hotel (www.mac-resorthotel.com), recognizable by the cute heart-shaped lamps out front, and the slightly more formal Kacha Resort (www.kacharesortandspa.com). After watching the sun go down and indulging in some fresh seafood, you can head along to 15 Palms (White Sand Beach, 039-551-095, www.15palms.com). This popular nightspot offers a choice between puffing on a shisha on the supersized bean bags out on the sand or sampling their great selection of imported beers and ciders on the plush leather sofas inside. Or you can just numb the senses with the delicious offerings at the attached ice cream bar.
Klong Prao Beach
Those who want a slightly quieter beach experience may be better off heading further south to Klong Prao, which while home to a few high-end resorts, also boasts some long stretches of completely undeveloped coast. The beach is testament to this; it’s wonderfully quiet, home to a multitude of rock pools teeming with marine life. While long walks are the obvious pleasure here, you can also get more adventurous and hire a kayak (try the Centara) and strike out for the small collection of islands that dot the bay. Dining-wise there are a limited range of eateries, with most based in the bigger resorts. However, we strongly recommend making the trek down to the quiet Tiger Huts restaurant (38/24 Moo 4 Klong Prao, Klong Prao Beach, 089-833-1503, 084-109-9660). The sunset view from the wooden terrace is gorgeous and we think their fish cooked with garlic and pepper is the best we’ve taste in Thailand.
A mecca for the multitude of backpackers doing the Asian tour, Lonely Beach is the party central of the island. Despite the hype, the relatively small beach is not that impressive with a large rocky stretch at one end. Still there are a couple of good places to eat and a growing number of high-end boutique-style resorts (see Essentials) to be found on the quieter stretches of sand. If you drop by to ogle the backpackers then the most popular spot for people to gather to eat, drink and listen to the obligatory reggae tunes is Nature Rocks, the beachfront restaurant of Nature Beach Resort (98 Moo 4, Lonely Beach / Bai Lan Bay), which offers a broad mix of Thai and inter dishes.
Away from the Beach
Bang Bao Fishing Village
If you want to get away from the sand for a while and sample some seafood, and are happy to tackle the roads, head to the southern tip of the island for Koh Chang’s main fishing port. (It’s also where you’ll catch the various snorkel and scuba dive tours and the speedboats to nearby islands like Koh Wai, Koh Mak and Koh Kood.) The narrow, slightly creaky pier is home to restaurants and cafes (Chow Lay Seafood 40/1 Moo 1, Bangbao, 039-558-118 is perhaps our pick for seafood), some cute guesthouses and, amid all the tacky souvenir stalls, some charming little stores like Peace Moon (www.peace-moon.com) where you can watch them hand-making their selection of jewellery and leather crafts. Wander past the dive boats to the end of the pier and, if you’re feeling brave, head up the metal steps to the top of the lighthouse for some impressive views.
Journey to the Other Side
Due to its geography, pretty much all of the beaches on Koh Chang are situated on the west coast of the island, which is much more developed. If you want to get away from the crowds, a trip to the west coast promises solitude and some spectacular views over to the Thai and Cambodian mainlands. There’s also the chance to visit a couple of lesser-known waterfalls like Than Mayom (near the Government Office) and Klong Nung, the mangrove forest walkway at Salak Khok, and the charming temple and quaint fishing village at Salak Phet. If you get hungry during your explorations, visit the seafood places down at Salak Phet. Still, we’d suggest stopping off at a really eclectic restaurant about half-way down the island called Paradise Behind the Sea (22/22 Ang Kong Kang, 081-900-2388. Open daily 8:30am-9:30pm). Perched on the edge of a cliff, it offers great views, decent Thai and Vietnamese food and a really quirky space filled with authentic Thai antiques and mismatched furniture. The toilets are particularly worthy of a visit and the coffee is way above average.
Swing in the trees
Koh Chang is covered in thick tropical rainforest and what better way to truly experience the greenery than by clambering through the tree tops. Tree Top Adventure Park (115 Moo 1, Koh Chang Tai, 084-310-7600. Open daily 9am-5pm) offers the chance to tackle almost three kms of rope bridges, tarzan swings, and giant zip lines, all while hanging 20m above the ground in the jungle canopy. The center, which also operates in Pattaya and Krabi, has been running since 2007 and uses equipment that’s passed international safety standards, so you can just worry about the vertigo while leaping, surfing and even cycling from tree-to-tree. Prices start from B1,100) including hotel transfers and refreshments.
Bangkok Airways offer three flights daily to the small airport of Trat, around a 20-minute drive from the main ferry port at Ao Thammachat, sometimes called Ao Sapparot.
The other option, is to drive yourself, or get the bus from Bangkok which takes around 5-6 hours. Buses leave from Mo Chit and Ekkamai terminals and cost B248.
Combined car and passenger ferries to the island run from 6:30am-7pm and the crossing takes around 30 minutes. It costs B80 per person and B120 for a car. Note that while they are regular, you can experience long waits to get your car on during holidays.
Getting Around The island
Be prepared for some of the most vertiginous and hair-raising roads we’ve seen. Songthaew (covered pickups) do ply these routes (fares from B30) and can be flagged down just about anywhere. Motorbikes and scooters are incredibly easy to hire but due to the treacherous driving conditions we’d really recommend sticking to the pickups.
Where to Stay High-End: Centara Koh Chang
Renovated last year, this member of the Thai hotel chain offers a choice of modern rooms and quaint tropical cottages, all set in a beautifully landscaped garden. It also boasts an excellent location at one end of Klong Prao Beach, two pools, a kids club, a beach bar, which screens films nightly, a beachside restaurant and a branch of the respected SPA Cenvaree (www.spacenvaree.com). From B2,380. 26/3 Moo 4, Klong Prao beach, 039-557-122. www.centarahotelsresorts.com/CKC
Boutique: Warapura Resort
Sat on a quiet stretch of Lonely Beach, this small resort has just 20 rooms but packs plenty of character into its five different room types which range from Cozy Villas (from B1,500) to Seaside Villas (from B2,250). There’s also a large Central pool, a spa and a seaside restaurant. 4/3 Moo 1, Kohchang Tai, 039-558-123. www.warapuraresort.com
Budget: KP Hut
While Lonely Beach offers plenty of budget options, we prefer KP Huts on Klong Prao Beach. Accessed down a bumpy dirt track, it offers very basic huts in the garden with or without bathroom (B400/B700) or, if you’re lucky, try and grab one of the quirky, brightly painted huts on stilts that hang precariously over the beach (B700, no bathroom). There’s also a restaurant on-site. Moo 4, Klong Phrao Beach, 084-077-5995