The Future of Koh Chang

Plans for the development of Koh Chang

During the 2023 low season, there’s been quite a lot of chatter on Thai Line groups about how quiet the island has been recently and the lack of budget allocated to promote the island or do anything meaningful that will attract more tourists.  Tourism hasn’t returned to normal yet and an estimated 30% of resorts on the island are looking for buyers. 

The main complaint is that local tourist authorities seem to just promote unknown, very niche ‘attractions’ on the mainland which never see many visitors (as there’s usually good reasons why they aren’t more visited already).  There’s no spending on anything substantial that would increase visitor numbers or improve Koh Chang. 

The focus should be on Koh Chang as visitors to Koh Chang provide around 90% of Trat province’s income from tourism.  But the attractions / infrastructure on Koh Chang that have been built for tourists over the years are never maintained and quickly fall into disrepair. Eg the Mangrove walkways in Salakphet & Salakkok. Or the public access walkways to beaches on White Sand beach & Klong Prao beach.

“But this time it’s different. Promise. Just be patient.” is the message. As there have also been various posts about why folks should be optimistic. These give 10 reasons related to infrastructure projects that are ‘coming soon’ and when completed will bring in the masses (hopefully).

It’ll be interesting to look back and see which projects went ahead and actually got completed and which didn’t.

1. Trat Airport expansion. The runway will support large aircraft eg Boeing B737 and Airbus A320. Apparently prior to covid Chinese airlines were asking Bangkok Airways who own the airport, for this to happen. Work is already underway and the land for the extended runway and terminal complex has been cleared and levelled. It is planned for completion in 2027.

2. Road Improvements on the Mainland. The 3156 road between Highway 3 at Saen Tung and Laem Ngop will be widened to 4 lanes. This should save around 5 – 10 minutes on the driving time. Work hasn’t started yet. Likewise the road from Trat town to Laem Sok will widened to 4 lanes. And Trat town will get a ring road.

3. Bridge to Koh Chang. Nothing has been approved yet. This mega project is still in the feasibility study phase which will be completed by the end of 2023. But if it does go ahead then should be open within a few years of gaining approval.

4. Road Around the island. Finally completing the Bangbao to Salakphet road would be great.  It’s 20 years since work was stopped on it. The route has been finalized. Just needs to pass the environment agency approval next year. Then a Cabinet resolution is required, as it passes through a watershed area. And then the National Park just need to give the final OK. Once that’s done, the budget can be allocated and work can begin. So this isn’t going to happen for 5 years or more.

5.Klong Prao Reservoir.  Work has recently begun on this. The dam, which is located inland near the southern end of Klong Prao village will be completed within a few years. The reservoir will be used to provide potable water to west coast islanders.  The large reservoir itself will also be a tourist attraction.

6. Various Infrastructure Project. Garbage disposal system and waste water disposal system. Road shoulder expansion. Renovation of roads. Bicycle paths. International Walking Project every Saturday at White Sand Beach. Improving public access to the beach. Opening new tourist attractions on Koh Chang. (A lot of random projects have been mentioned with no real plan that ties them together.  Basically it’s various influential locals wish lists. Some will be relatively easy to implement others, which require much larger investments may take time.

7. The Chalerm Burapha Chonlatit Road Expansion Project, Phase 2, Chanthaburi to Trat. This is a continuation of the scenic coast road that runs from Klaeng to Laem Sing and provides a more laid back alternative to Highway 3. Only used but people with their own cars who aren’t in a hurry to get to the island.  But this would be a welcome addition as the coast road is a great way to see some sights.  Work is expected to take a few years. Not started yet.

8. Sustainable Tourism. Buzzword bingo time.  The aim is for Koh Chang to be a sustainable tourist destination in accordance with the world sustainable tourism criteria within 4 years.  Seems a bit optimistic to me.

9. Increased Boat Service. Passenger boats between the islands will also connect to boat services to Cambodia and Vietnam. Boonsiri Ferry has made a start with new services to destinations in Cambodia but these are overland by bus.  Boat services would be possible but are more expensive to operate, so require an increase in tourist numbers to make them viable.

10.  Four Years. The Trat Provincial Development Plan for 2023-2027 has a stated aim to complete all projects, especially those related to Koh Chang, within 4 years i.e. by 2027.

Koh Chang Island Guide For Independent Travellers