Lonely Beach, Koh Chang: 2013-14 Update
✔ Very nice beach but can get crowded
✔ Cheap and cheerful but gradually going more upmarket
✔ If you don’t have a tattoo when you arrive, you will when you leave. But please, no more geckos or dolphins.
For Western visitors, Lonely Beach has long been regarded as the best beach to stay on Koh Chang if you’re a true backpacker. For Thais, Lonely Beach has long been regarded as the best beach to visit on Koh Chang if you want to see western girls topless.
Twenty years ago the attraction for adventurous foreigners was that this small bay had a beautiful sandy beach, a couple of laid back places to stay and could only be reached by foot via a trail over the hill from Kai Bae. One budget bungalow complex, at the far southern end of the beach – The Tree House, became well-known amongst the backpacker fraternity and the success of this ramshackle resort led to a whole host of imitators being set up nearby. And also to the beginning of the end for ‘Lonely’ beach. Old time travellers would shake their heads in disbelief at the sight of novelty inflatables for sale on the beach which was once a stoner’s paradise.
Lonely Beach is still cheap – in certain parts – but the one thing it isn’t nowadays is lonely. But there again if it was deserted who could you loudly tell your backpacking tales to? How could you enjoy a different party every day of the week? Where could you update your Facebook status whilst enjoying a cappuccino & banana pancake? And who would you get to reconfirm your bus ticket to Koh Pa-Ngan or help you to make an International phone call?
It’s also a little known fact that Lonely Beach actually has a Thai name ‘Hat Tha Nam’ . . . .but it’s unlikely that anyone staying there really cares or is interested, just so long as a resort on Hat Tha Nam can do a good muesli, fruit and yoghurt breakfast and has free wi-fi in the restaurant area.
The gentrification of Lonely Beach is now well underway with a swish 3* package tourist hotel – the Bhumiyama Resort occupying a prime location at the southern end of the beach. At the northern end, the quiet end, is Siam Beach Resort which has successfully transformed from a backpacker place to semi-luxury resort within the space of a few short years. It now boasts luxury good value hotel rooms and luxury pool villas for around 6,000 Baht / night, a far cry from the 500 Baht /night huts that stood in the same spot until 2006. There are however, still some older aircon bungalows on the hillside for around 1,000 baht/night. A good deal when you can also use the same facilities as the resort guests.
The actual beach is only home to four resorts – the aforementioned Bhumiyama & Siam Beach for anyone wanting hotel comforts, Nature Beach for flashpacker huts – and with a new roadside section with pretty nice but tightly packed, aircon bungalows and Siam Hut - the hut resort where time stood still. Siam Hut is one of the few places on the beach that anyone who visited a decade ago would still recognise immediately. No rebuilding or renovations in that time and, from appearances, the only the things that have been changed once they wore out are the lightbulbs and bedsheets. There’s a fair bit of rivalry between the staff at these two places – each of which has their own popular beach bar & restaurant. Siam Hut is cheap, brash & loud, Nature Beach is a tad more expensive and refined.
If you’re planning on staying any further south than Siam Hut then remember that the beach runs out here and bungalows to the south will either be roadside, amongst coconut trees or be a stone’s throw from a stony shoreline devoid of sand. If you must stay near the cheap beer, traditional tattoo & banana pancake enclave, you will find that the old Treehouse is now long gone. The site of the bungalows is now ‘Seaflower Resort’. Pink, concrete fan & AC bungalows in a garden setting. If the colour doesn’t put you off then it’s a nice spot to stay, although the sea front rooms are way nicer than those at the back which have been packed in like sardines.
There is a footpath along the shore connecting Siam Hut and Seaflower. This is used as a much shorter route to the beach by people staying in the busier area. It cuts across some undeveloped land, over a footbridge across a small river and across another 100 metres of scrub land. This path is easy to follow and does save a lot of time compared to walking along the road. However, you should be careful if taking it alone at night, especially after having a few drinks as it isn’t lit and there have been cases of both male & female visitors being attacked / robbed here after dark.
Sunset Huts and Jae Gun Hut, follow on from Seaflower and have pretty bland concrete bungalows on offer. Certainly no ‘Wow factor’ at either place, any emotion is more of a “Uh, Yeah, OK is cheap and it’ll do “. At the far south of the shore, ‘Paradise Cottages’ also offer rather nice, quieter mid-range bungalows. But it is ‘Warapura’ by the sea, midway between Jae Gun & Paradise that offers the best accommodation in the area. Bungalows aren’t aimed at gap year students but more at older travellers who still like to party but who appreciate a clean, comfortable place to sleep with some comfort. Warapura’s individually furnished and decorated bungalows, with luxuries such as AC, LCD TV, wi-fi, hot water and priced from around 2,000 Baht/night up in High season. They also have a pool and laid back restaurant right by the water. Nearby the KLKL Hostel, same owners as Warapura, has an interesting design – ‘prison camp chic’ for backpackers. A lot of brick, bare metal, high wire fences but also a pool.
It’s the roadside areas to the south of the sandy beach, where all of the commercial growth has been – simply because this is the only area where land is available to rent. All manner of small bars, tattooists, small restaurants, dive schools etc abound. Tattooing seems to be a prime business to be involved in, as Lonely beach has it’s own ‘tattoists row’ a small area with half a dozen or so tattoo artists side by side. Most do bamboo tattoos if you want a more traditional & less painful experience. Try ‘Green Tattoo’, run by a guy called Kieow ( Green in Thai language – that’s his neck in the photo above) he does some very good, unique bamboo tattoos. Alongside all the small businesses are budget accommodation options of varying standards, from ‘Kachapura’ if you like to party but need your airconditioning, to ‘Magic Garden’ for ensuite wooden huts, to ‘Oasis’ and ‘Little Eden’ for well run, good value bungalows a short walk away from the madness on a hillside overlooking the beach. A word of warning though, if you choose to stay in this area of Lonely Beach amidst all the bars and clubs, don’t plan on having too many early nights.
Many bars often have free buffets, you could feasibly eat for free pretty much every evening during high season. But you will be expected to keep your drinks topped up and not nurse a single Coke for 4 solid hours. For food you recognise, try Ploy Talay Inn which often has cheapo deals on evening buffets and is a good place to hang out roadside and people watch. You don’t get the range of good cheap Thai eateries that you get in areas of the island that have local communities, The Kitchen, on the main road at the south of the built up area, is probably the best you’ll find. If you can’t stomach dodgy foreign food after a night out, then there’s a large kebab & burger stand just off the main road on the way to Sunflower & Seaflower resorts.
As the area moves upmarket some business owners are ahead of the curve, for example ‘Q’ – a bar and restaurant with one of the best sound systems on the island and with DJs and live music playing tunes that you won’t find elsewhere. The aim is to provide Western quality in Lonely Beach – of course it is a bit more expensive than the cheap bars but you are getting value for money. After all, there’s only so many watered down buckets of generic alcohol and coke you can consume before you long for a real cocktail. Nearby, ‘Tapas Lounge’ is another recommended place to eat and drink if your budget is over 100 Baht per head for a meal. Nice laid back ambiance plus imported beers, cocktails and , as the name suggests, a range of tapas. And opposite Q the restaurant at Lonely Beach Resort always seems to be busy and has a reputation for serving up large portions of tasty, recognisable Western food at sensible prices.
Other local landmarks for backpackers are Ting Tong Bar, Lemon Bar, Himmel and Magic Garden which regularly have ear splitting music playing late into the night for your ‘enjoyment’. If you want a place to kick back, drink cheap vodka/redbull shots and listen to the latest dance tunes, plus the ubiquitous ‘Best of Bob Marley’ CD, and watch a fire show, then these places are for you. For music played by musicians, and not a guy with a computer, ’Stone Free’ and their Sticky Rice Blues band is a guaranteed good night out. They also have a full restaurant menu and a new guesthouse which, whilst cheap, is also a cut above a lot of the nearby huts.
After a night out you might want to treat your body to a little bit of exercise, in which case BB Gym is the place to go. A multitude of fitness machines plus daily Yoga classes. And once you’ve got your fitness fix, treat yourself to a cocktail next door at Margharitaville. You deserve it. Finally, if you’re female and want a holiday romance with a Thai bar-boy then there are all manner of dreadlocked, fire juggling, rastaboys loitering in this area who will do their best to convince you that you are the most beautiful, perfect, fair skinned, large breasted creation since Eve. ( And the most gullible too.)
Another thing worth mentioning is that the success of a small bar on Lonely Beach is often directly proportional to how tolerant, or at least allowing, of drug use & sale, the bar owners are. Let’s be honest, a large number of backpackers don’t want to stay somewhere where they might get busted the moment they light up a joint, regardless of the fact that lighting up is illegal or not. You may notice Thai guys rolling their spliffs quietly, but you’ll notice they aren’t doing it in broad daylight in extremely public locations. You’ll also notice they don’t go around shouting if anyone wants to buy a joint. Therefore, if you’re a wannabe weed supplier beach dude – be discreet about it. People who upset the status quo and who try to take a piece of the action for themselves usually find themselves in trouble with the authorities and leaving the island much quicker than planned, minus the contents of their & their family’s bank accounts. Also, obvious newbies are an easy target for a set up. Once in a while the police will need to arrest someone on a drugs charge, as if you have zero drug arrests on a holiday island it appears as though the police may be involved in something illicit, which of course they aren’t ( * Cough cough, Ahem *) . Situations such as someone being sold a joint by bar staff and then 5 minutes later the police appear out of nowhere and head straight for them, do occur. When they do, the bewildered backpacker is in a whole shit load of trouble that the Lonely Planet app on their Iphone doesn’t even begin to prepare them for.
Next: South to Bailan Bay