Vacationing in Koh Chang
Most people travelling to Thailand go en masse to Phuket, Koh Samui, and islands near them, for example Koh Phi Phi or Koh Pha Ngan. But much closer to Bangkok, only 6 hours away by bus and less than an hour away by plane, lies the island of Koh Chang, which is part of a national park by the same name that is made up of over 50 islands -- Koh Chang itself being the largest. This island is a popular tourist destination among the Thai themselves. Only in recent years have foreign tourists begun to discover it and fall in love with its wonders.
Koh Chang, meaning 'Elephant Island', is the second largest of Thailand's islands (Phuket being the biggest of all). It has long, pristine beaches with soft white sand; calm, clear waters; and gorgeous scenery of green mountains, rainforests, and small islands in every direction. In recent years Koh Chang has been on a development and building streak, but thanks to the fact that it is part of a national park, the area in which construction is allowed has been limited to just %15 of the island. This means that what happened to Pattaya and other islands won't happen to Koh Chang as well -- rows of huge buildings and waters polluted by the jet skis and tourists.
Koh Chang today has a winning combination of wonderful beaches (some of the best in all of Thailand), no overload of tourists, no jet skis, gorgeous views, great plant life and wildlife to trek through, typical little fishing villages and fancy new hotels. The hotels and resorts blend well with nature on this island. It is illegal to build buildings taller than coconut trees and there is a tendency to build more traditional-looking Thai buildings which blend in better with the environment. So you will see pagoda-like red roofs or round straw ones peeking out from between the rainforests and coconut trees. The pools are usually right next to the shore, with a beautiful view of the sea. Those looking to experience an older Thailand, calm and pristine, but comfortable and modern, will most definitely choose Koh Chang as their favourite island.
Most of the hotels on this island are on its west
side, where its best sandy beaches are. The most
touristy part of Koh Chang is Sad Sai Kao ("beach of
white sands"), located in the North-Western part of the
island, closest to the ferries which bring tourists from
the mainland to the island and back. It's important to
note that the island itself has no airport (for
ecological reasons) and flights land in a city called
Trat. From there, buses and minibuses take you onto the
ferry to Koh Chang. The ferry ride is 20-25 minutes
Sad Kai Sao has some older hotels, alongside new hotels. You can find lodging there for any price range, from simple guest-houses to high-class resorts. It is important to pick a hotel in the Northern side of the area, where the beaches are better, sandy even when the tide is low and without rocks. In the Sad Kai Sao area you can find plenty of restaurants (along the shore or on the main street), banks, Seven-Eleven stores, massages, souvenir stalls and of course, internet cafes and laundry places. Everything you need! This area looks like Koh Samui of 15 years ago.
Further south is the area to develop most in the past few years: Klong Prao Beach, which is where most of the newest and fanciest resorts are. The resorts are spread along sandy strip of shore four kilometres long. There's no lack of restaurants here either, but it's harder to find shops, laundry places, massage places and the like. But because a mere 10-minute cab ride (there are plenty) can take you to Had Sai Kao, you can easily get anything you need.
Those looking for even more peace and solitude can live in beaches even farther South, the most famous of which is Lonely Beach (which does not have fewer people in it than Klong Prao, but is farther away). This beach has more humble lodging best suited for backpackers, but amazing resorts are being built built there right now. From every one of the areas mentioned above you can go without any hassle on fantastic nature treks and many attractions all over the island and on the neighbouring islands.
The Dewa Koh Chang
A 3 star hotel. Spacious rooms with private balconies that overlook the Thai Gulf. 15-minute walk from Kai Bae Village Centre. Pool, Free Wi Fi and parking.
KC Grande Resort & Spa
Features 4-star accommodation with flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi. It has a gym, pool and 5 dining options.
Located along Klong Praow Beach in Ko Chang, offers contemporary accommodation with views of the river, pool, garden or mountains. It houses 5 dining options and a spa. Free Wi Fi and parking.
The most popular tours on the island
Sailing to the four or five islands: Around Koh Chang there are many islands of many different sizes, some with coral reefs, ideal for snorkeling and diving, and some with beautiful sandy beaches. You can get to these islands by speedboats, which go to five islands, or by larger, slower passenger boats which go to four islands. The tour, which is 7-8 hours long, includes sailing between the islands, lunch amidst nature on one of the islands, drinks, fruit, and snorkeling equipment. The waters in which you will swim are the clearest, calmest you can imagine. on one of the islands you will encounter packs of monkeys, which you can feed.
Several companies offer elephant tours in the tropical jungle at the heart of the island. The best tour includes -- on top of an hour-and-a-half tour on elephants with a beautiful tropical backdrop, including river crossing -- also washing the elephants in a deep river (you go in the water with them!). A fun and refreshing experience. One of the companies offering these trips is Ban Kon Chang (Phone number: 0819409420)
Different companies offer treks of varying difficulties and lengths in the rainforests at the heart of the island, amidst waterfalls, rivers, and giant trees. You don't have to be in top shape to take a nature hike to an impressive waterfall. Klong Plu waterfall is a big one which you can reach by an easy trail at a comfortable pace in just half an hour from the organised parking lot of the national park.
A tour around the island:
I recommend hiring a cab for the entire day for a tour around the island. The driver will stop for you at impressive viewpoints of the beaches and neighbouring islands; drive you along long docks; drop you off to visit a colourful temple at the North end of the island; take you to visit waterfalls, a mangrove forest, and a fishing village. The most well-known fishing village on the island is called Bang Bao and is located at the South-Western end of the island. This is the place for a fantastic yet inexpensive meal of fish or seafood. Alternatively, you can join a guided group tour around the island which includes a boat ride in the one part of the South of the island which does not have a proper paved road. The advantage to a personal cab, however, is that you choose what to see, where to stop, and how long to stay in each place.
Firefly riverboat tour:
On Klong Prao Beach there is a river that flows between the mangroves until it pours out to sea. Along the river, near the beach, there are several seafood restaurants and hotels which offer their patrons a free kayak ride (30-40 minutes long) after dark. Between the darkened trees you will see dozens of fireflies glowing with a bright green light on the treetops. Aana Resort & Spa is a modern, unique 3 star hotel . Pool, Spa, Free Parking and Internet. It sits on the riverside.
An adventure park where you
can ride ziplines and travel between the treetops on
different rope bridges. The park has two tracks: The
blue track, a relatively easy track, and the red track,
the more challenging one. The park is near the Dustin
Prince Resort, one of the fanciest new hotels in the
South of the island. Action lovers can also go on quad
trips around the island.
Oasis Sea World: A little over an hour North of Trat, near the town of Chanthaburi, is a dolphin park called Oasis Sea World. There are dolphin shows there, but the main attraction is, without a doubt, swimming with the dolphins. For a whole hour you will swim with the dolphins, feed them, hug them, get kisses on the forehead (and also splashes) from them and get to know them up close in a small group (every 3-4 people will have one guide and one dolphin) in warm water. The water is murky, but DON'T PANIC, it's not dirty. It's just the optimal natural environment for the dolphins. The park has pink dolphins and grey dolphins of two kinds. Unlike in other countries such as the US or Australia where you need a big budget in order to swim with dolphins, in Thailand it is extremely cheap: just ten dollars for one hour (price does not include transportation, park entrance fee, lunch, etc). Because Oasis Sea World is on the way from Trat to Bangkok, I recommend going to the park on the way to or from Bangkok to Koh Chang. You can purchase a tour which includes transportation to and from your hotel in Koh Chang and lunch in the park.
How should I get to and from Koh Chang?
I recommend getting to Koh Chang by car (best way: a private cab which will stop for you at Oasis Sea World on the way) and return from there via flight. Trat's tiny airport is cute and intimate and Bangkok Airways' flights are great. Koh Chang is also a great place from which to go visit the neighbouring Cambodia. You can go on guided two- to three-day tours there.
When is the best time to visit Koh Chang?
I recommend going between November and May. June to October is monsoon season, the "wet season" in which it is stormy and rainy. Most of the tours on the island do not take place at that time and the waters are stormy and unpleasant, so I do not recommend going then.
What should I book ahead of time, and where?
recommend booking the Bangkok Airways flight from
mainland Thailand to Koh Chang (or from Koh Chang to
Thailand, or a two-way flight, if that is your plan)
through the internet before you even go abroad. If you
would like to travel one way by car and visit Oasis Sea
World, book a ride (from your hotel in Bangkok or Koh
Chang or Bangkok airport) which includes a visit to the
park, ahead of time (book the dolphin swimming ahead of
time as well).
I highly recommend the Greenhouse Travel Agency (site: www.greenhousebkk.com) operated in Bangkok by serious, efficient, helpful and charming people who can book your hotels for you, your transportation, and whichever private or organised tour you want. The hotel should be booked ahead of time through Greenhouse or through any of the big wholesale tourism websites on the internet (There is a big selection of these in the Thailand Lodging page of this website). It is important to carefully pick the hotel most suitable for you and ask around about it, as the living standards differ greatly from hotel to hotel, with the prices changing accordingly. There are also many different styles of hotels, different locations, etc. Remember that not all hotels have a sandy beach right next to them. The local tours on the island should be purchased a day or two beforehand from one of the many tourist information stalls on the island.
More Thailand articles:
Animal Encounters for Families
The Jungles of Bangkok and the surrounding
Special Guided tours in Thailand
Family Vacation in Phuket
A Trip from Bangkok to Khao Yai Reserve
Family holiday in Northern Thailand with Private Guide
Family Holiday in Koh Samui
The Islands of Thailand
Vacations Trips and Luxurious Hotels in Khao Lak