Thailand’s northern islands are often left off the itinerary in favour of more mainstream holiday destinations like Samui and Phuket. But there is a certain charm and a touch of the undiscovered in the top of the Gulf of Thailand. I have written about Koh Samet before which is my favourite place for a quiet beach getaway. Koh Chang is just next door to Samet but it boasts a completely different atmosphere and offers a multitude of varying activities.
Drive Onto The Island
Koh Chang is the second biggest island in Thailand after Phuket. If you have an international driver’s license you can rent your own car from Bangkok, and drive there in about 5 hours which will include a ride with your car on the ferry. Ferries leave as often as every 40 minutes at busy times. The huge ship can carry at least 60 cars and usually quite a few big bikes as well. The island is popular with expat bikers who frequent Koh Chang to cruise on their Harleys along the mountainous, scenic, coastal roads. Spend your holiday moving around at your own pace, never the slave to the taxi driver.
With towering stone mountains and thick, lush rainforest, Koh Chang is the perfect environment for waterfalls. There are at least 8 worth checking out. They are; Klong Plu, Than Mayom, Klong Jao Leuam, Klong Nonsi, Klong Neung, Klong Kheeri, Klong Prao, and Klong Roi.
Klong Plu is the biggest and most impressive, it is within the boundaries of a national park so there will be an entrance fee of 100 or 200 baht. This waterfall is the most popular with tour groups, and from about 11 am it will be packed with people. If you want to visit it for a swim in peace, you should make the trip really early in the morning so as not to fight through the tourists.
If you want to explore, hike a bit, avoid the packs of tourists, then a great way to see the less accessible waterfalls is to hire a private guide. Spend some time talking to one of the tour companies on the island and ask them to take you to Klong Neung or Kheeri.
Of course, the waterfalls will be at their freshest and most splendid during the wet season from August to October.
Check out this map of Koh Chang, there are more than 30 tiny islands dotted all around the main island. Each one of these provides new, exciting exploration opportunities. There are endless options for island hopping tours, but as with most of these day trips in Thailand, you will be packed onto a boat with way too many other people. The best way to see them at your own pace is to inquire about small private boat trips.
There is no end to the culinary options on Koh Chang. From famous Thai street food to wood-fired Italian pizzas, you won’t lack choice. Of course, fresh seafood barbecued on the beach is an amazing choice but you can also check out Barrio Bonito for affordable, delicious Mexican food. Don’t miss Happy Turtle for locally sourced, MSG-free healthy Thai. And try to squeeze in a meal of butter chicken at Taste of India.
Endless Beaches from which to Choose
White Sand Beach is the longest and most popular. The accommodations along this gorgeous stretch of land range from super budget to super luxurious. KC Resort in the north has lovely beachfront Villas and two pools. If you walk up the beach past that you will find the more budget options like Independent Bo’s.
Loney Beach is really popular with the backpacker crowd.
Klong Son Beach on the northern tip of the island possesses some of the more high-end accommodations, including the very exclusive Sands Resort.
Drive around and check them all out. Pearl Beach, Chai Chet, Kong Prao, Kai Bae, Bailan, Bang Bao, Salek Phet, Salek Khok, Chek Bae, and Long Beach.
Hippie Shacks on White Sand
I love a nice, fancy hotel but I also see the charm in spending a few hours in a hammock on a ramshackle balcony of a treehouse with several cold beers and nothing to do but stare at the waves in requiescence. All along the northern end of White Sand Beach are cute little hostels with bars, restaurants and tiny, simple rooms for about 600 baht per night.
Yes, Koh Chang has elephant parks. But I am not going to suggest you visit them. Sadly none of the elephant parks on this island are ethical. If you have been hiding away from the internet for the past ten years and have not heard already, elephant riding is NEVER okay. It is really, really bad. Terrible things are done to elephants. Please be a good global citizen and be careful where you spend your money. Research first. It is best not to support any companies that use animals as entertainment. This includes drugged tigers posing for photos, and reptile parks. Just say no.
To really appreciate the nature of Koh Chang, go hiking and see creatures in their natural environment. Also, enjoy responsible snorkelling and even try SCUBA.
Snorkelling and Diving
Talk to the travel agents on the streets of Koh Chang and find your best options for exploring the seas. Avoid packed tourist boats, always ask how many is the maximum allowed on the boat and get it in writing before you hand over any money. Boats are often dangerously overloaded in SE Asia leading to many accidents. A speedboat meant to carry 15 people, will often have 30 packed onboard for a day of snorkelling. Think about private charters, especially if you are with a group of people. They really aren’t very expensive.
They will provide all equipment, but if you are a serious diver or snorkeller, take your own. I love the full face snorkel masks, if you invest in a good quality one, it will improve your experience tenfold.
Whatever you choose to do on Koh Chang, make sure you have enough time to get around the whole island. There is so much more to see than just the beach, so much more to experience than just the awesome eating and drinking venues.