As Thailand’s second largest island, you’d expect Koh Chang to be a lot busier, a lot more developed and a place just teeming with those pesky tourists! The truth is, with a natural palm fringed coast line, a mountainous jungle-clad interior and stunning coral reefs just off shore, it’s a nature lovers’ paradise; and a world away from the tourist destinations of Phuket and Koh Samui.
Discovered in the mid 1970’s by exploratory backpackers hitching rides with local fishing boats; the island existed as an untouched tropical paradise for many years. Even just ten years ago, the island was without electricity or phone connection and many beaches could only be reached after a tricky trek through thick jungle coverage. When travellers first arrived on ‘Lonely Beach’ they found a secluded escape where they could strip off their hippy attire, let their dreadlocks down and live raw beach life as nature intended, hence the name.
Koh Chang is an island of jungle-covered mountains surrounded by beautiful beaches. With teeming wildlife and jungle treks, nature lovers will be in paradise. White sand beaches appeal to the beach bums, and the water is shallow and warm almost all year-round. If you’re seeking cheap buckets and music that bumps until 9AM, Koh Chang has you covered too.
There is one road around Koh Chang which loops most of the way around the island. When you get off the ferry you’ll pass through many villages, some of which are filled with luxury resorts or teeming with vendors hawking souvenirs. Keep on driving through all those villages to Lonely Beach, the backpacker’s hub of the island, towards the end of the road. Don’t worry; despite its name, you’re never lonely on Lonely Beach!
Places to Stay:
Lonely Beach, or Hat Tha Nam, offers plenty of accommodation for every budget. If you’re focusing on the beach, there are options like Nature and Siam, which are literally beachfront but are located about 6 minutes’ walk from the main part of town. If you’re looking to save some money and be closer to the party, the main part of town is perfect for you. Whether you’re looking for nice waterfront bungalows at Seaflower or cheap party rooms at Ting Tong, you’re bound to find exactly what you’re looking for at Lonely Beach!
Things to do on Koh Chang:
- Beaches, beaches, beaches. Chill out on the beach with your friends, old and new.
- Explore. Rent a motorbike and ride the island! It’s hard to get lost on an island with one main road! Although it does not make a full circle around the island, the main road takes you past lots of beaches, waterfalls, and scenic views. Plan on stopping a lot!
- Massage. There are plenty of options for Thai massage on the island, ranging from cheap shops in the towns to luxury beach massages at nice hotels. There’s sure to be something to fit your budget and ensure that you are completely relaxed.
- Wildlife. Koh Chang literally translates as “Elephant Island” and features abundant wildlife. While you’re exploring the island, keep an eye out for elephants and the more abundant monkeys!
- Nightlife. Lonely Beach is well known for its beach bars and all-night parties. Grab a beer or two to relax at sunset on Siam Hut’s west-facing porch over the ocean and see where the night takes you. Himmel and Skandal are always good for a fun time, and Ting Tong’s 24-hour kitchen makes it a great spot for munchies and one last beer at the end of the night. Especially during the low season, many of the bars send their staff to the beach during the day to hand out flyers with promotions, including barbeques and drink specials.
- Minibus: The main way to get to Koh Chang is by tourist minibus. Buses and minibuses depart from Khao San Road and from Victory Monument every morning, and you can get tickets for 300 baht including bus and ferry. The minibus will take you directly to one of the ferry piers and load you onto the ferry.
- Bus: Another option, though more complicated, would be to take the government bus from Bangkok to Trat, and then take a local van from the Trat bus station to the ferry pier. During high season, some government buses bound for Trat will stop at the ferry port; check the schedule before you buy a ticket!
- Fly: Although rumors have been swirling of a Koh Chang airport, we’re not holding our breath for one opening anytime soon. However, you can fly from Bangkok to Trat and take a local van from the Trat airport to the ferry pier to shave a few hours off the journey. Bangkok Airways and Nok Air both offer flights.
- Ferry: No matter how you get to one of the ferry piers, every journey will include the ferry out to the island. The ships are pretty straightforward, with cars on the bottom and people on the top. (A vendor on the top deck sells snacks and beer for the 30-minute journey.) Once you reach the island, each ferry is met by a fleet of songtaos getting ready to carry people all over the island. Find the songtaos going to Lonely Beach, pay your 100 baht, and jump on for the beautiful drive around the island. S.E.A Backpacker pro tip: sit on the left side of the truck, so that you’ll be facing out towards the ocean on the drive!
Where to go next?:
- Koh Samet: Finally time to drag yourself away from Koh Chang, but don’t want to go all the way back to Bangkok? Koh Samet is a beach island within easy reach of the big city; its smaller size and busier atmosphere are a good way to ease back into city life.
- Siem Reap, Cambodia: We know Siem Reap is already on your agenda, but did you know that you can get their direct from Koh Chang? Watch the sun rise on Koh Chang and watch the sunset at Angkor Wat!
- Koh Rong, Cambodia: If you’re looking to get a taste of how the Cambodian island life compares to the Thai island life, Koh Rong is just over the border and offers a pleasant change in scenery without losing the vibe of the island life.
Written by: South East Asia Backpacker Ambassadors, Charla Allyn Hughes and Chase Brenson