A Visitor Guide to the Quiet, Eastern side of Koh Chang
✔ Some top rated small resorts.
✔ Peace & quiet. An opportunity to see local life and escape from mass tourism.
✔ Narrow red sand / shingle beaches . . . . but there is a shooting range with real guns.
The East Coast of Koh Chang isn’t really on the tourist map. There are a few places to stay and these are usually very good value, but the lack of good sandy beaches, shops, restaurants, signs of life etc means that it’s still only a place to stay if you really want to get away from it all or are more interested in seeing some local life than you are in sprawling on a beach in your speedos / bikini.
As every aspiring writer knows, it’s relatively easy to describe the extremes of emotion. The English language is awash with adjectives to describe monumental or despicable events. What’s far harder is describing something which is simply ‘nice’, ‘fine’ or ‘OK’. Not deadly dull, not a rollercoaster ride of emotions, not a disappointment and yet something that’s hard to enthuse about. It’s like, you know ‘fine’, ‘nice’ or ‘OK’.
This is the dilemma facing me as I write about the 25km or so of tarmac from the ferry piers at the northeast of the island to Salakphet in the south. For anyone who’s never seen a palm tree then the road will undeniably hold some excitement. But, for jaded old me, the average scenery (a few red small red sand beaches, couple of hills and the odd hamlet) coupled with a flat road (mountain bends are always a cure for monotony) and the distinct lack of anything other than a durian plantation, a waterfall or two in the attractions department makes for a peaceful, scenic, but not particularly riveting, journey.
Enjoy the Slow Life
And that’s the problem. Because in fact it is a very good place to explore but virtually everyone ( myself included, many times ) just whizzes along the road on their rental scooters without pausing or saying to themselves . . “I wonder what’s down here” and taking one of the many tracks and narrow roads leading towards the sea. Spend a bit of time and you will discover a lot about local life on that side of the island and a few hidden gems.
After passing Ao Sapporot, the Koh Chang Ferry pier, the road hugs the coast, passing a naval pier where warships occasionally moor up and Mayuree Pink Resort, named after the owner’s mother who’s favourite colour is pink. Can’t miss it , as bright pink resorts tend to stand out, even more so when they are in a crap location. One other feature you can’t fail to miss is the Great Wall of Koh Chang. This kilometre long whitewashed wall is clearly visible from the mainland and probably from low earth orbit too. It was built by the Thai Navy in order to keep prying eyes off their stretch of shoreline.
Immediately after the end of the wall you’ll come to Centrepoint Pier, the second best of the two car ferries, and 400 metres further is an old ferry pier which is now home to a few crumbling buildings and a family of stray dogs.
Three small resorts – Amber Sands, The Souk and Serenity Resort lie pretty much adjacent to each other on what is the nicest of the rough red sand beaches on the East coast. If you need comfy AC bungalows, a family friendly atmosphere and a pool go for Amber Sands which is run by a South African couple. It’s laid back and also has a great restaurant. Definitely one of Koh Chang’s best small resorts. If you are mellow and want to ‘chill’ in a fan hut, then it’s The Souk. And if you want peace and quiet and are into paddle boarding then try Serenity Resort with it’s half dozen bungalows and new 2 bedroom houses for rent.
To be honest, they’re all good places to stay – it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed regardless of which you stay in.
A couple of kilometres further south ‘East Coast Resort’ has excellent value rooms and a nice little pool right by the sea. But it’s usually deserted. Figure on only around 1,000 Baht for a bungalow that would easily cost double if it were on the opposite side of the island. Maybe good for a private getaway or a discreet liaison with a mistress or two, but for most foreign visitors is just too out of the way.
A few kilometres further down this way is the new ‘Na Tara Resort‘. Another place which is far nicer than you’d expect given the location – obviously built by a wealthy Thai family to cater solely to people from other wealthy Thai families as the location doesn’t lend itself to them getting a whole load of foreign visitors despite the quality of rooms and large seafront pool. Their coffee shop is good too. Very nice spot to break the journey and have a drink by the sea.
The Capital of Koh Chang
Nearby the small village of Dan Mai is Koh Chang’s administrative centre. You’ll pass the island’s public hospital by the main road. This is the place to go, or be taken, if you don’t have medical insurance or don’t want to pay for luxuries such as uniformed reception staff serving up hot tea and multi-lingual sympathy. It’s dirt cheap but not really a place you’d want to spend more time at than absolutely necessary.
In the centre of the village you’ll also see the Police HQ, Fire department and local government offices. If you take the small road opposite the police station in Dan Mai village you can head down to the pier, you’ll pass through the small fishing village.
Just after you pass the temple, the first house on the right, on the crossroads, is also home to a Batik Co-operative that make and sell t-shirts. They aren’t usually on display, just stored in plastic boxes. Ask to take a look as they have some nice designs and are around 250 Baht for a unique t-shirt.
The pier here used to be the main one on the island until car ferries began running a few years ago. It is now unused. The buildings near the start of the pier which have mostly collapsed, used to be fish sauce factories. Take a walk along to the end of the pier and you’ll be rewarded great views looking along the coastline and back towards the village. You’ll also notice a small white chedi, most fishing villages have these to bring the fishermen good luck & ward off evil, catch depleting or ship sinking, spirits.
After visiting the pier, head back to the crossroads in the centre of the village, turn right and after about 200 metres you will see a red building on your right, with a large dragon mural on the outside, near a recently rebuilt pier . This is a Chinese shrine and an interesting photo opportunity. Adjacent to the shrine you’ll see a new concrete building, also painted red, where you might be able to rent bicycles.
A Dan Mai cycling route was put together in 2013 and signs erected to highlight different aspects of life in the area. It was a good idea. But as usual, whilst there was a budget to set it up and erect signs, there’s no budget for maintenance and the signs have largely disappeared now. Some of the sights were pretty interesting. For example. there’s the old fish sauce factories; wild pig farming, remains of the old Customs House from the 1930s, complete with Chinese writing; and, most interesting for me; one of the elderly locals has a collection of books and magazines dating back 60+ years. He doesn’t speak any English but allows visitors into his house to see his collection. You’ll see the sign outside his house – all in Thai but just featuring covers of old magazines – so it;’s easy to know you are in the right place.
The village temple isn’t anything spectacular but it does have a 200 year old tree, located near the monks’ quarters. Adjacent to it are a dozen other trees all equally large. I’m sure there must be loads of trees as old or older but this is the only one on the island with a sign next to it saying it is a 200 year old tree. So take a photo.
Also in this area of the east coast are two waterfalls. There is the small, free to enter Klong Nonsi waterfall which is actually a good place to stop and stretch your legs for a while. Especially in the rainy season and early months of the High Season when there is a nice flow of water. The falls aren’t huge by any means but you can swim here.
To get there follow the inland road that runs alongside the government offices in Dan Mai. There is a large blue sign in English pointing the way. The dirt road takes you about a kilometre inland and stops by the river. The first level is only 100 metres walk. A second level is another few minutes walk away and there is a hidden third level. This isn’t easy to get to.
You need to follow a steep trail and then clamber down through debris from a small landslide to get to it. But it’s a great spot. If you’re feeling adventurous, more details on how to get to the hidden level.
The larger, 200 Baht to see it, National Park run, Than Mayom waterfall is a few minutes drive to the south of the village. You can rely on National Park rangers to be brief and to the point when it comes to signs in English, so seeing a self-explanatory ‘Waterfall Closed, No Water’ sign on the boarded ticket booth shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone visiting Koh Chang late in the High Season. On the bright side you can still walk a few hundred metres to see a small cliff face and imagine what it would be like if the drop pool had 3 meters of cool mountain water in it rather than 6 inches of sludge, a couple of dead fish and a few styrofoam lunch-boxes.
It does get more interesting if you can get to the upper levels, but this requires a couple of kilometre walk and there’s no signposted path. In late 2014 a new concrete walkway and bridge across the river was built for visitors, this now also acts as an alternative entrance to the waterfall. You’ll see a ticket counter at the start of the concrete walkway.
Than Mayom can’t compare to Klong Plu waterfall on the west coast for anyone who is visiting purely on the grounds it’s a waterfall. Thais head here because a couple of Thai Kings visited and carved inscriptions on rocks here 150 years ago. Bear in mind that if you visit both waterfalls on the same day you only pay the National Park entry fee once.
The Views and Scenery
Just past Than Mayom, as you head south you’ll see a pier out into the sea, you can drive along here on your bike or in a car. It’s a great spot for fishing and also for taking in more coastline views. This is one of the original piers that serviced the occasional passenger boat when Than Mayom was the be all and end all of Koh Chang’s tourist attractions. The crumbling remains of a couple of disused bungalow resorts nearby provide a clue as just how popular this area was with Thai visitors prior to the construction of the west coast road.
Anyone interested in buying land for a house on Koh Chang should consider the East coast. It’s not stunning scenery, but it is very quiet, has amenities and it’s still possible to buy small plots of land here. Also there is more of a sense of community to the place than you find on the West coast where tourism and the influx of workers from elsewhere in Thailand and Cambodia, mean that there isn’t the same emphasis on keeping the roadside clean & tidy and free of piles of garbage.
As the road continues south you pass more palm trees, more rubber trees and a few shrimp ponds. There is also an area where some kind of seafront promenade has been created. The area by the main road has been cleared, and dozens of metal benches set up making an ideal spot to stop and stare at the sea. Why you would want to do this, I don’t know. But if you do, then park here and enjoy the views of sea, and sky, and more sea.
Also down this way is the large wooden Lung Talay restaurant ( closed at the time of writing Nov ’16 ) with great views over a bay. They do a range of snacks and light meals plus some very good fruit shakes. Sit in the shade or outside on the deck at the rear if you want to enjoy the views.
A little further on you cant miss the signs for Koh Chang’s shooting range. A wide range of firearms on offer from pistols to M-16’s. It’s not cheap but if you need to let off some testosterone fuelled steam and blast some targets into oblivion – or more likely make holes in the dirt to the left and right of the target, then it’s the place to go. Adjacent you’ll see there are small Optimist class sailing dinghies on the shore. These are used by the fledgling Koh Chang Sailing Club to teach local kids to sail.
If you aren’t a card carrying member of the iron stomach brigade and therefore willing to sample anything that then you’ll probably be finding it hard to spot any local eateries that look enticing. Relief is at hand when you get to the T-junction signposted to Salakphet and a couple of free to enter waterfalls. On the right of the road just prior to the junction is a clean, cheap Thai food restaurant. Whip out your Thai phrase book and order away or alternatively order from the pigeon-English menu.
If you take a look into several of the small shops in this area you will find Durian and Jackfruit products for sale. Durian and Jackfruit chips are surprisingly edible as is Durian & Jackfruit ‘guan’ – which is what you get if you boil up Durian or Jackfruit until it has a very thick, toffee-like consistency. The smell goes and you are left with something resembling sweet, fruity, putty. I hate Durian but can happily eat Durian guan until I vomit.
There are two luxury resorts in the area, The Spa Koh Chang opened in late 2006 and is the island’s only true health resort. You’ll pass the entrance as you near the turning for Salakkok. This is the place to go if you want a holiday consisting of twice daily colonic irrigation sessions and herbal drinks for a week. Not surprisingly, this is an effective method to lose weight, there again, so is cutting off a limb and I’m not sure which is worse.
However, it’s a beautifully designed small resort and also gets quite a few guests who are just looking for a romantic place to stay for a few days. So beer, wine and real food are available in the restaurant.
The restaurant does a selection of Thai & Veggie food. The Thai food, is pretty average – stick to the veggie stuff and the healthy shakes and juice concoctions you’ll have a very nice, light lunch which makes a pleasant change from Thai food, seafood or most Western stodge. The Cayenne Cooler, a concoction of chili, honey and lemon juice is excellent refreshing drink and the fruit ‘Softy’ for desert is also excellent. It’s basically pureed fresh fruit served with cinnamon honey. Nectar of the gods in a glass.
The other luxury option is ‘Kooncharaburi Resort‘, a resort that exists for no discernible reason as they hardly ever seem to have guests. It may well be a rich man’s tax deductible plaything, as it’s hard to believe it’s a serious business venture. A beautiful resort for sure, but several kilometres from the nearest restaurant, shop or place of interest. As such, it has very few visitors even in High Season.
Hidden away near the entrance to Kooncharaburi is a small bungalow resort built around a lake called ‘Flukies Place’. One of those spots that you won’t find on booking sites. Just a handful of tastefully decorated bungalows and a stylish little restaurant by the water. It’s popular with Thai visitors who want a ‘back-to-nature’ experience.
You have now made it down the east coast and you’ll find that there’s even more of interest awaiting you in Salakkok and Salakphet Bays.
As soon as you get past the ferry piers you’ll notice how quiet the road becomes. From here to the south east of the island you have a very pleasant drive or ride on your scooter. This video takes you from the ferry piers to Dan Mai, the administrative ‘capital’ of Koh Chang. ( And if you want to see more of the ride down to the south-east you’ll find Dan Mai to Salakkok here )
Next: Salakkok Bay