Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang: 2013-14 Update
✔ Locally owned beach bungalow resorts plus a couple of very nice ’boutique’ places
✔ A good range of family friendly shops, bars and restaurants within a few minutes walk of almost all resorts
✔ A Welsh ‘pirate’s pub’ catering exclusively for Russian visitors
Kai Bae was one of the original areas where locals first opened their homes to travellers. I’ve met people who stayed on this beach with local families in the mid-80s at a time when there were no restaurants, bungalow resorts, roads or even electricity – other than old generators. The locals have moved on from renting out their spare room and many now own their own resorts. In fact, one extended family owns virtually all the land in the southern half of the beach and inland. They wisely refused to sell to outsiders and are now reaping the rewards.
The story of the original village of Kai Bae goes that although a few Thai fishermen lived around the island, most of the current population of the island are descended from immigrants who came to Koh Chang by boat from southern China. They stopped off, looked around, saw plenty of edible wildlife and thought that the island would suit them nicely. The families here originally settled in Sakaphet and then headed off to explore the island and eventually settled here. A few generations later and the patriarch of the family that owned most of the land in the Kai Bae area decided to split his land between his children. The favoured kids, the males, got the valuable, inland farmland where they could grow rubber, and fruit. The four unfortunate kids, all female, who must have upset Dad at some point in their lives, got the virtually useless, infertile land by the sea. How could you ever make money out of a few coconut palms and a beach?
And then, in the mid 80s, a few adventurous backpackers began to appear and started asking around for places to stay, there weren’t any so the families near the beach let people stay for free or a token 20 baht a night. Those backpackers told their friends and soon the first guesthouses on the island opened up in Kai Bae.
The rest as they say is history. Many of the beachfront resorts in Kai Bae are all still owned by members of the same family and they seem to be making a pretty good living off what was until twenty years ago considered worthless land. The oldest inhabitant of Koh Chang also used to live here, the matriarch of families that own most of the land and many of the bungalow resorts in the area. She thought she was 108, family members weren’t sure of her age exactly but were sure she was over 100. Until recently, when she died, you’d see her pottering around Kai Bae Hut.
There has been a lot of development here in the past few years, mainly in the number of roadside shops and the beachfront resorts upgrading old huts to make more expensive accommodation, including a couple of almost 5 start options. But whilst there are a couple of upmarket resorts, Kai Bae isn’t really a destination for many package tourists, it’s more for families and flashpackers who appreciate some home comforts but still like to stay in a comfortable airconditioned bungalow by the sea. Two larger resorts Chang Park & Cliff Beach dominate the northern half of the beach,
The amount of development is quite surprising given that the beach at Kai Bae is nothing special when compared to the northern half of White Sand Beach or Klong Prao beach. Yet the overall ambiance is a good compromise between the touristy yet convenient White Sand Beach and the independent, thatched hut dwelling traveller vibe of Lonely Beach all rolled in with a small community of local villagers.
The vast majority of the accommodation is pricier than Lonely Beach, Porn’s Bungalows next to Sea View Resort & the newer Siam Cottage being the 500 – 800 baht/night beachfront exceptions. And you’ll also find some good value, renovated fan bungalows at Kai Bae Camp.
My choice of mid-price places to stay here would be KB Resort (which has a very nice beachfront restaurant) and Kai Bae Beach Bungalows both have a choice of fan and AC rooms but prices seem to increase by 10% a year, so whilst they are good bets for families and anyone on a two week holiday, they aren’t for people travelling the world on a finite budget. KB Resort also boasts a new pool and family sized teak wood bungalows which can easily sleep 4-5 people. A beachfront restaurant has been built and the adjoining 3 storey hotel block is almost complete and will be open in late 2012. Also worth mentioning is Mam Kai Bae. At first glance it isn’t an attractive resort, with accommodation in bland hotel blocks but the rooms are value for money and they have a rooftop swimming pool with great views.
If you want to splash out then Gajapuri Resort, in the centre of Kai Bae, is probably the best ’boutique’ ( i.e. small & expensive) beach resort on Koh Chang. 17 spacious wooden bungalows in a garden by the sea. Definitely recommended if you want to be a name rather than a room number and have some seclusion but with all the small restaurants, bars and shops you could wish for on your doorstep. 50 metres south lies The Chill, a similarly priced resort but with a bit less charm – however it does have a cracking pool.
At the far southern end of the beach, a 15 minute walk along the sand, are Porn’s Bungalows, Sea View Resort and Siam Bay Resort. Sea View Resort is popular with families. Go for the newer hotel rooms rather than the old, musty bungalows which cost virtually the same. The resort’s new hillside restaurant has amazing views, great for a sunset cocktail, but is over-priced and not on a par with the roadside restaurants in the village. It’s also the only resort on the island with it’s own suspension bridge – and also the only resort where the National Park are claiming that a suspension bridge has been illegally built on their land. Close by, Siam Bay Resort has a range of bungalows and was recently overhauled and now has new, more upmarket bungalows and pool villas available in addition to some of the older bungalows just off the beach.
Coral Resort is another decent mid range choice, mainly because of the large pool & excellent views. The range of new bungalows have satellite TV and a daily maid service – a good choice, if pink paintwork doesn’t upset you too much. If it does and you want to save money and also be able to use the Coral Resort pool, stay next door at Nang Nual Bungalows. Not directly on the sea, but 1 minute walk to the beach and under 2,000 Baht / Night in High Season.
Two large resorts at the northern end of the beach occupy the prime beachfront real estate in that area. But Cliff Beach and Chang Park are both showing their age and emit a tired, lethargic vibe that seems to announce acceptance of their fate as a first choice for Russian visitors but for no-one else. ( Plans for redeveloping Chang Park are in the pipeline though. ) One bonus is that the beach restaurant sells very cheap beer and cocktails – if it didn’t the guests would all go elsewhere. Cliff Beach is the better bet for couples, head up to the clifftop pool to escape the brats and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views. Chang Park is better for families, plenty of open garden area near the pool for kids to play in. The beach here is very nice indeed.
Roadside offers the usual hotch-potch of restaurants, bars, tailors, internet cafes, minimarts etc. At the very north of the beach, opposite Cliff Beach Resort, a rather horrible looking little shopping side street has been built, hardly any of the mini-shop units have been occupied – which isn’t surprising. Close by ‘Sir Henry Morgan Pirates Pub’ serves up food cooked by a chef from St Petersburg to minibus loads of Eastern European visitors who probably don’t realise Sir Henry Morgan was Welsh and never made it to SE Asia. It’s a lovely teakwood building with a tacky lighthouse outside and rates very highly on the Russian ‘Tourist-trap-ometer’
On the opposite side of the street more mini-shop units of not more than 8 or 9 sqm in area, line one side of the road. Most are closed now and those that are open won’t hold your attention for long. Opposite is the N..night Bar, and a good value Thai restaurant. These hide Koh Chang’s only crazy golf course which is located behind them, barely visible from the road. Nine holes of fun for all the family, provided the family have very low expectations and are easily pleased.
Just south, ’339 Avenue’ offers a more upmarket shopping experience, well that was the plan, turns out Kai Bae isn’t quite ready for a sophisticated retail experience. The roadside shops are only half occupied at present those at the rear of the plaza are deathly quiet and many have never been occupied. Shamrock Chang is also located here, irish owned and with extensive Western and European menu. No Guinness unfortunately but a good place for dinner where you can please all tastes.
Moving south you pass the first of the two 7-eleven minimarts, clusters of shops selling identical beachwear, small restaurants and a section of road where you’ll see half a dozen tailors shops in the space of 100 metres. ‘Friend Seafood’, just before the bank and the first 7-eleven is one of the better roadside seafood restaurants in the area. Decent prices and good food too and owned by a local family who also have fishing boats and catch their own fish. Also in this area ‘Kai Bae Wine Gallery’ is a good place to stock up on hard to find imported beers & wines. But bear in mind that wine in Thailand is very expensive due to high taxes, far better to stick a couple of bottle of your favourite tipple in your suitcase before you leave home.
Kai Bae’s largest roadside bar and restaurant ‘ Ploy Bar and BBQ’ ,is located one the opposite side of the road just before you reach the first 7-eleven. They have regular live music plus an open air dining area.
The central section of the beach is only slightly more upmarket, with a small beer bar enclave now having been removed and the owners of Ramayana Resort buying the land for a new hotel which is currently under construction. As mentioned before, Gajapuri Resort and The Chill, the two plushest resorts in Kai Bae are in this area. The Chill, which originally aimed to be Koh Chang’s most exclusive resort. The resort is very ‘Miami Vice – the 80s TV series not the movie, obviously designed by a straight guy as the rooms are all whitewashed, full of gadgets and there are no soft furnishings to be seen. Lovely pool though that runs the length of the resort, from reception to the beach. Gajapuri has a more natural feel to it. All teakwood and tropical greenery.
There are still a few small roadside bars in the village. But this isn’t really a beer bar type of area, there aren’t enough handsome single guys in need of a wallet lightening, ego massage staying in Kai Bae to make it an area that will disappear under the weight of neon bar signs. Moving swiftly on you’ll pass several other small eateries and bars, Cats and Backstage are nice enough bars to pass the time in, but the one place you should head to is Filou. A German run cocktail bar, which makes some excellent concoctions, plays good music and also has nightly deals on drink.
Try to go on a Thursday – all cocktails are 99 Baht. Also worth trying is the nearby ‘Mojito Lounge’ – good choice for a laid back night out with a few drinks and cool tunes.
Also hidden away in the valley, accessible along the dirt track adjacent to this 7-eleven is a picturesque, rarely visited waterfall which isn’t maked on maps or mentioned in guidebooks. Some photos and directions here
And for the adventurous, here is a 5km walk I put together around Kai Bae involves walking along the beach, up to the viewpoint, following a trail over a hill, walking along a a dry riverbed and clambering down the side of this waterfall. The Kai Bae Loop, photos, Googlemap and PDF
Opposite the second, southernmost, 7-eleven is the access road for KB Hut, if you need to rent a speedboat – book it here. On the opposite corner of the junction a small fenced off area has been home to two baby elephants for the past couple of years. You can pay to have your photo taken with them, and although they are undeniably cute, you can’t help feeling that this isn’t the ideal place for them to be. The restaurant 50 metres along the access road, ‘Kai Bae Hut Noodle Shop’, is great for a cheap lunch too. KB Huts real attraction – their crocodiles, have sadly now gone to meet the great handbag maker in the sky. Leaving one Russian souvenir shop near Klong Plu waterfall as the only place you will see a crocodile on Koh Chang – although they’re are either stuffed or have been made into belts and tasteful little purses – their mouth opens and closes.
On the inland side of the road you can’t fail to notice a huge sign for the island’s newest elephant camp. This is just off the main road, so if you feel the urge to take a ride you, it’s pretty obvious where to go.
As you near the southern end of the beach you’ll pass ‘Kai Bae Marina’ – not a yacht in sight but they do some excellent European food, plus have a small home cinema with a huge choice of movies. Prices appear a bit high at first glance, but when you see the portions you’ll know they are value for money. Go there with an appetite & you’ll enjoy it.
Next door, in another small roadside shopping plaza is ‘Moccachino’ – a good internet / coffee shop that makes a nice spot to people watch in the morning, but a bit on the pricey side. And almost directly opposite lies Papa’s Deli which serves up some pretty impressive bread, cakes, sandwiches and coffee. But if you need your Scandinavian coffee & snacks and the company of fellow , tall blond haired , blue eyed, photogenic visitors then, as you may guess from the name, ‘Jonas Johannsons’ in the same area is the place to go.
A couple of hundred metres further on, you’ll reach the edge of the village and the access road for KB Resort. Also in this area are more beachwear shops, the good value Paradise Bungalows – on the inland side of the main road – and a handful of ‘hole in the wall’ shop unit shops & restaurants. As the road slowly starts to climb, a few new shop units have been built – nothing really worth going out of your way for , although there is a small Fair Trade Coffee and Tea Shop, where paying over the odds for an exotic tea , flown half way around the world, will contribute to making the world a greener place. Possibly.
For cheap, 50 Baht, Kai Bae Hut Noodle Shop. Excellent noodles, but also good Thai dishes at prices that everyone can afford, which means you get the whole range of diners from the local security guards, to hotel owners and local business people, to expats and tourists. Or, in the centre of the village adjacent to the Tesco Express -’Tuk Ka Ta Kai Moon’ is a large open sided restaurant that does the full range of Thai dishes and , whilst not great, is value for money and better than many more expensive restaurants.
Anyone looking for longstay accommodation in the area should check out the two tracks that lead inland. One opposite Coral Resort and the other just past the southernmost 7-eleven. There roads both head into the valley and it is here that you’ll find some longstay bungalows and small houses for rent. Several expats have also built houses in the valley and it is a nice, quiet but convenient location in which to live.