This page follows the progress, or lack of it, of the Koh Chang bridge. A proposal to build a road bridge linking the Trat mainland with the island. Scroll to the bottom for the most recent update as of September 2023.
At the narrowest point the strait is around 5 kilometres wide and the deepest point is 10 metres. So from an engineering perspective it the distance isn’t too long or the sea too deep for a bridge to be constructed. The strait is also sheltered from storms and prevailing winds during the rainy season and so rough seas are rare.
However, a bridge would put significant stress on Koh Chang’s infrastructure as there is only one road on the island. So the amount of traffic on the island would increase dramatically and there would be problems with tailbacks and more accidents on narrower and hillier stretches of road.
Add to this the issue of the road not currently circumnavigating the island. A 10km section linking the southwest and southeast of the island was never completed and work stopped on it back in 2004. Over the years there have been numerous proposals to complete this, all of which came to nothing. But as of early 2023, it appears that a budget for finally completing the road will be allocated within the next year or two and it will finally go ahead.
Another significant factor is that around 75% of Koh Chang is National Park, so you might expect there would be a priority placed on ecology and the environment. (In which case, you’d be wrong.)
If a bridge were built, it would likely result in a huge increase in the number of tourists, businesses, the amount of waste produced and resources needed to keep them running. For example water is scarce in many places during the high (dry) season and the electricity supply, via undersea cable from the mainland, is barely sufficient at present.
On the plus side, land and property prices on the island and mainland near the bridge would increase dramatically.
The Current Situation
Koh Chang is currently served by two ferry operators. (In reality one company only runs a single boat and just has four crossings in each direction daily – so is pretty useless.) The crossing takes around 30 minutes and ferries are timetabled to depart hourly. During busy periods the frequency is increased to every 20 – 30 minutes.
But, for as long as folks can remember, there have always been long queues of traffic waiting for boats during peak periods – such as long weekend holidays and New Year celebrations. And when people have to wait for anywhere up to 3 or 4 hours for a boat, the calls for a bridge get louder.
Interestingly, Ferry Koh Chang, currently the sole proper ferry company, has strong links to one of Thailand’s largest conglomerates. One which owns directly (or indirectly via proxies) a large amount of land on the island and a couple of large resorts. This megacorp has also recently branched out into the civil engineering business and presumably would be very interested in getting the contract to build a bridge.
Who’s For It? Who’s Against It?
If it was up to expats and most Western tourists who currently visit the island then a bridge wouldn’t be built. As the character of the island will undoubtedly change. However, no amount of foreigners getting upset on social media is going to change things.
A non-scientific Facebook poll from 2020 showing a very strong anti-bridge sentiment amongst expats and foreign tourists.
Far more importantly, the overwhelming consensus amongst local residents (and large business owners) on the island is that they want a bridge. When residents of the island, and also Laem Ngop on the mainland, were surveyed over 95% of the total wanted a bridge. Amongst locals on the island the figure was 98% in favour of a bridge.
The photo below is of the almost unanimous show of support from Koh Chang residents at a meeting in early 2023. (Picture from the Thai language ‘Islander’s Voice’ Facebook group.)
The History of the Bridge
The first meeting to discuss the idea of a bridge was held in October 2016 in which the Koh Chang Hotel and Business Group, local businessmen and counsellors agreed in principle to the bridge’s construction. This didn’t mean it would happen immediately, just that the people attending formally supported the idea. This was followed up in early 2017 with the distribution of several hundred questionnaires in a bid to survey the opinion of local residents.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2018 and the Thai Prime Minister visited the island. Various vote winning infrastructure projects were discussed. However, the bridge wasn’t among them.
In October, the first signs of real progress are reported by The Bangkok Post. A summary of which is below:
According to Somkiat Samatthakan, the chairman of the provincial working committee organizing the hearings, if the project passes this year’s hearing, construction on the bridge is expected to begin next year.
The bridge would provide a convenient and reliable connection between Koh Chang and the mainland, especially during medical emergencies. Currently, the only way for residents and visitors to travel between the island and mainland is by ferry, which takes between 30 to 45 minutes and is only available from sunrise to sunset. During long holidays, the waiting time to board the ferry can result in a travel time of up to four to six hours, causing traffic congestion for kilometers.
The proposed 10-km sea bridge would stretch from Laem Ngop sub-district on the mainland to Ban Dan Kao on Koh Chang. The working committee held the first public hearing for the project four years ago, where 90% of Koh Chang residents expressed their support for the bridge.
The second round of public hearings for Laem Ngop and Koh Chang residents is set to begin later this month and is expected to conclude by November. The results of the hearing will then be submitted to Trat’s Department of Rural Roads office, which will use them to request a budget to commission the bridge’s design and conduct related studies.
More meetings were held in February 2023. The Nation newspaper reported on one.
Trat’s Natural Resources Conservation and Environmental Protection Association’s President, Somkiat Smattakarn, announced the second survey on a proposed bridge to Koh Chang island. The survey aims to collect the opinions of residents in Laem Ngop district on the mainland and Koh Chang islanders.
The first survey conducted four years ago showed that 90% of residents living in both areas were in favor of the bridge. Somkiat stated that the proposed bridge would provide more convenient travel for residents and visitors, especially during medical emergencies at night, and help reduce traffic during the high season.
The survey is set to begin later this month for Koh Chang residents and next month for Laem Ngop residents. The data collected will be handed over to the Trat Rural Roads Office, so it can earmark funds for the proposed 10-kilometer-long bridge that will run between Laem Ngop district, near the Koh Chang Naval War Memorial, and Koh Chang’s Ban Dan Kao area.
Also in February 2023 there were further meetings with local residents on the mainland and on Koh Chang which discussed the proposed routes for the ferry. Two routes were up for discussion. One of which would be on the path of the current Ferry Koh Chang route. This 6km route is the shortest distance between the mainland and the island. The other is longer, around 7km and lies further south. From Laem Ngop village to Dan Mai, the administrative capital of Koh Chang, about half way down the east coast of Koh Chang.
The two original routes.
The result of these meetings was that the best route for the bridge would be from the area near Krom Luang Naval memorial in Laem Ngop to a point south of Dan Mai village on Koh Chang. This was to avoid having traffic go through the centre of Laem Ngop and Dan Mai villages. It also meant increasing the length of the bridge to nearer 10km.
A budget of 30 million Baht was allocated for a more detailed feasibility study of the new preferred route which is shown below.
Following this meeting a delegation comprising representatives from Trat provincial government, local officials from Koh Chang and Laem Ngop and business leaders visited the Ministry of Transport to formally present the case for a bridge to the Thai government. As final approval and funding will be from them.
Map of Proposed Route
At present, March 2023, the plan is for the bridge to start just north of the Naval Memorial near Laem Ngop and run around 10km to a point just south of Dan Mai village on Koh Chang. If this changes, I’ll update the map below. Ferry piers are marked in yellow.
In early April 2023 Thaipost news reported that Surachet Laopoolsuk, the Governor of the Expressway Authority of Thailand (EXAT), had confirmed that there was an ongoing feasibility study for the project to link Koh Chang to the mainland by bridge. The proposed budget for the bridge is 15 Billion Baht. Interestingly this report states that the length of the bridge would be 6Km – meaning it would be built in a different location to the route that has been put forward as the preferred option by local figures.
September 2023. The latest news is that there’s still a very, very long way to go before it becomes a reality.
A 2 year research and study period will begin at the end of 2023 / early 2024. Once this is completed the Environmental Impact Report (EIA) will be sent to the Bureau of Natural Resources and Environment Policy and Planning to consider. The quickest this could take to get approval is about a year.
Then the plans will be presented to the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Internal Affairs. If they give the project the green light it will be put out to tender in 2028 with construction starting in 2029. The construction period is likely to be 4 years. So the earliest that there might possibly be a bridge to Koh Chang is in 2033.
And that assumes that there aren’t any obstructions / delays due to politics etc at any stage. And if the feasibility study concludes that it’s not worth the investment or the environmental impact is too great, the project may be terminated within the next 2-3 years during the study stage.
To be continued . . .