Gone are the days when Koh Chang was some kind of a well-kept secret. The second largest island in Thailand after Phuket – yes, Koh Chang is even bigger than Koh Samui! – the island has for a long time remained backwaters among other beach destinations in the country. It is getting more and more developed nowadays, true, but there are no great shopping malls there yet, and regardless the fact that luxury resorts have already invaded the best beaches, Koh Chang preserves very rustic, homely atmosphere – in major part thanks to the jungle covering a considerable part of the interior and those authentic fishing villages, mangroves, elephants which you can spot wandering between the trees in the afternoon. Even if budget bungalows are getting more of a rare bird in Koh Chang nowadays, small cosy and elegant boutique hotels do not lack; though more expensive than a usual backpackers’ or flashpackers’ abode, they still feel totally ‘right’ for the place. Koh Chang is a delightfully beautiful island but do not expect crystal clear waters of the Andaman. Enjoy the way the island manages to blend resort style of living with nature, go kayaking or elephant trekking, watch glowworms in the dusk while dining by the khlong and think twice before you decide to rent a motorbike to negotiate those treacherous island roads!
How to get from Bangkok to Koh Chang
Koh Chang is easily reached from the mainland by ferry. There are two piers serving ferries to Koh Chang near Laem Ngop – a seaside village some 20 km from Trat. You can get from Bangkok to Trat first and than proceed to Laem Ngop by songthaew, but more and more companies are offering direct service to Laem Ngop or Koh Chang (normally to Koh Chang Pier) which is obviously a more convenient option, usually at more or less the same price.
From Bangkok to Koh Chang by bus
12go.asia offers combined tickets from Bangkok to Koh Chang (van+ferry) operated by Triple T company. Vans leave from the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok, Morchit, and head for Trat where the passengers exchange their e-tickets for ferry tickets and then are brought to the pier in another vehicle. The whole trip costs THB400 and lasts approximately 6½ hours, out of which the ferry travel takes about 40 minutes. The ferries to Koh Chang are large car ferries, so normally even those who are seasick prone do not suffer much. There are four vans by T.T.T., all of them leaving Morchit in the morning, at 5am, 6am, 7.30am and 9.30am, to ensure they make it in time for the last ferry. Normally even the 9.30am van arrives to the pier by 3pm the latest.
Note that you can get to Koh Chang directly from Suvarnabhumi airport. There is a direct service offered by Burapha company. They have a big bus leaving at 7.50am and vans at 9.30am, 11am and 2pm, all at the same price of THB655 (ferry ticket included). The trip lasts about 6½ hours, meaning that with the last departure you reach the island by 8.30pm, so it is highly recommended to have at least an idea (or better – a booked accommodation) on where to stay on Koh Chang at least for the first night.
From Bangkok to Koh Chang by taxi
If you prefer to travel with more comfort, consider hiring a PGS charter from Bangkok to Koh Chang. They have Toyota Camry for three passengers at THB5,280 and Toyota Commuter for 9 pax at THB5,830 which is a better investment if you have other fellow travellers to share expenses. The prices are all-inclusive (ferry tickets are included, too), and normally the trip lasts a bit less than if you use an ordinary combined van+ferry option. PGS picks you up at any location in Bangkok and brings you with the same vehicle directly to the pier from where the ferries to Koh Chang leave. PGS vans have more luggage space compared to the ones leaving from Morchit and can make pit stops on your request on the way, too. In general, it is definitely a more comfortable way to travel from Bangkok to Koh Chang, though more expensive.
Visiting Koh Chang’s neighbouring islands
Koh Chang is a part of Mu Koh Chang National Park. There are two more relatively large islands within the park boundaries – Koh Kood and Koh Mak. Both of them are easily reachable from Koh Chang, but you can also skip the more developed Koh Chang and go to Koh Kood or Koh Mak directly from Bangkok. Boonsiri sells combined van+ferry tickets from Bangkok to Koh Kood and from Bangkok to Koh Mak at THB850 and THB750 correspondingly. In Bangkok, vans depart from Boonsiri office off Khao San Road at 5.30am and 8am and in about seven hours you reach your paradise island. High speed ferries from Trat which Boonsiri uses, first call to Koh Mak and then proceed to Koh Kood. The sea travel lasts about one hour and it is better to have your medicine at hand if you are prone to seasickness as high-speed ferries are not as stable as the slow car ones which connect the mainland with Koh Chang.
The public transport on Koh Chang is represented by songthaews, which are pickup truck with two benches inside. It costs THB80 to get from the pier to Hat Sai Khao or Hat Kai Bae; more if you go further afield. Within the island any trip between the neighbouring bays will cost you THB50 per person. Note that it is often next to impossible to find a songthaew which to bring you back to the pier as only a limited number of vehicles have a ‘permission’ to enter the pier area.
Motorbikes are widely available for rent on the island, but if you are not much of a rider, it is better not to tempt your fate. Koh Chang roads are notorious for their high toll of broken limbs and injuries, so think twice before renting a scooter.
Similarly, bicycles are not a good idea in Koh Chang unless you are an enduro champion.
Where to stay
Hat Sai Khao is the closest beach to the pier. It has a wide choice of accommodation and offers arguably the best stretch of sand on the whole island, though it is also the most peopled one. In general, Sai Khao and other beaches on the west coast are the widest ones and – which is also of importance – most convenient place to stay if you use songthaews for beach-hopping.
If you are looking for the most budget bungalows, check Hat Khlong Prao where you find really great deals, even if at first sight it looks like Hat Khlong Prao has already abandoned itself to the mercy of large expensive resorts.
Hat Kai Bae in general is a bit more glamorous, but there are some really great middle-range resorts separated from the sea by the seaside road.
Lonely Beach is not so lonely any more, but you find there the best night life on the island and some of the cheapest old-school huts; though do not expect them to be right by the water.
The picturesque Ban Bang Bao in the south is a great place to head for some seafood and the atmosphere of a traditional Thai seaside town, but if you stay there you may feel a bit isolated from the rest of the island unless you have your own transport. Note that good beaches are not Ban Bang Bao’s strong point.
The east coast is a dream destination to get away from it all if you seek some tranquility and peacefulness. Your own wheels are almost a must as no public songthaews ply the roads of this part of the island.
Koh Chang is a lush jungle paradise. There are plenty activities, traditional for any Thai beach destination, on offer – from canoeing to cooking classes. The hilly interior hides a couple of beautiful waterfalls, though the entrance fee which you pay for visiting some of them (THB200) looks too high for what you will see. But to feel the real taste of Koh Chang, do some jungle walking following numerous winding island paths. You are going to see locals’ homes, elephant camps, secret waterfalls, fruit orchards and boar farms. Unforgettable.