I wrote this A to Z of Koh Chang back in 2004, so it may be a bit dated. :-) But some sections have been updated over the years. It was originally on 26 separate pages. However, I’ve now simplified things and put it all here on one mega-page.
There’s around 35,000 words on this page, so my advise is just skip through it and see if you find anything interesting.
As good a word to start with as any, but there are no aardvarks on Koh Chang.
The effective, low cost cure all is available at Sima Massage, Klong Prao. (Near Chang Chutiman elephant camp and the turning for Tropicana) I haven’t had it done to me as I tend to steer clear of quacks and voodoo medicine but a few people who’ve stayed at our place have been there and swear by it.
** Not possible now unless you have your own drone ** Rather than pay someone to take aerial photos, you can now do it yourself. Head to Klong Prao Airstrip, just south of the waterfall turning, and talk to Captain Nimit, and he’ll take you up in an ultralight – a two seat hang glider with a large fan motor stuck on the back or a small two person fixed wing plane, also with a large fan on the back. You’ll be safe enough he’s been flying these planes for over 15 years. Prices from 1,700 baht for a 15 minute flight. Flights were intermittent in 2008-10 high season but should be available on a more regular basis in 2010-11
Visitors to welcome to join the daily aerobics sessions that take place every evening from 6-7pm at Koh Chang Tennis Club in Klong Prao village. Don your lycra and join the ladies for a less than strenuous workout.
The nearest airport is Bangkok Airway’s private landing strip in Trat which was built for holidaymakers for whom the 5-hour bus journey from Bangkok would be too time consuming and affords far too many opportunities for coming in contact with the poor. Bangkok Airways Trat customer call service centre/office/ticket booth can apparently be reached on 039 525 299-30 providing someone’s home and you don’t call at lunchtime or when there’s an interesting game show on TV.
First time visitors have reported being a bit alarmed when the plane lands then does a U-turn and starts taxing back along the runway it just landed on but fear not, there are only a handful of flights per day. In high season there are four scheduled flights per day each way. in reality, Bangkok Airways has a penchant for cancelling flights, even in high season so bank on two per day for sure, possibly three and at peak season four. New for 2010-11 are direct flights from Samui and Phuket to Trat which are scheduled to begin in early December.
If you’re looking to stay long term there are a couple of apartment blocks. One is in Pearl Beach, tucked down a very bumpy access road that leads from the mainroad to ‘Saffron on the Sea’ bungalows. Rooms on four floors, but rather poky and more like little concrete prison cells. But cheap, quiet spot and only 5 minutes to White Sand or Klong Prao beaches. A better bet is VJ Apartments in VJ Plaza, Klong Prao. Around 90 rooms at the rear of a rather uninspiring shopping plaza, the grace being a well stocked supermarket. Around 4 or 5,000 baht/month high season with no deposit to pay. It’s a bit dark & dingy and the places tends to attract a mix of aging expats saving their beer money and Thai staff from banks, the international clinic etc.
At the south end of White Sand Beach, Paddy’s Palms ‘Resort’ has apartments for rent behind the Irish pub on a long term basis and if staying 200 metres from the beer bars on white Sand beach is just too far , then there’s a pretty shitty apartment block right behind the bars themselves. Good if you’re a hardcore whoremonger who plans on spending months on end commuting from your room to the bar and back on a daily basis, yet don’t want to walk more then 30 metres in one stretch.
There are now ATMs pretty much everywhere along the west coast – in Klong Son, White Sand Beach, Klong Prao, Kai Bae, Lonely Beach and several all within 20 metres of each other in Bangbao. But you won’t find many on the East Coast of the island yet. What’s more, most of the ATMs actually work very well. They all take, and will usually return, overseas issued credit cards and global ATM cards i.e. any card bearing a ‘Cirrus’ or ‘Plus’ logo. As of May 2009, there’s a 150 baht fee for using an overseas issued credit/debit card in a Thai ATM. A common problem is that you find that you are limited to withdrawing a relatively small amount when using an ATM here. The problem seems to almost always lie with your bank back home, rather than the Thai bank. Therefore, check and double check that your bank knows you are coming to Thailand and will use ATMs and you shouldn’t have to make lengthy international calls to a call centre in Mumbai to resolve the problem.
Great fun if you’ve got acres of rugged farmland on which to play but a liability if you’re using them on the road, as a few locals with a bit of cash seem to do. Personally, I don’t see the point in buying a 250cc machine for the cost of a small pick-up truck, which does 30 mph on the flat and then having nowhere to use it. The 2007-08 high season saw a boom in ATV rental places on the island. 2008-09 saw realism kick in and one survived in Chai Chet,, at the north end of Klong Prao beach.
You’ll see the ATVs and offroad buggies, parked by the roadside which can be rented for guided rides of the trails which take you onto the peninsula and up a hilltop for some amazing views. Prices are from around 500 baht and go up to 1,700 depending on type of ATV and how long you want to ride for.
If you’ve got teenage sons then this is about as much fun as they can have on the island – unless you want to hit the bars nearby the ATV place and get them a hooker as an early 18th birthday gift. If you can’t decide which is most suitable, simply do both. The girls are cheaper if expense is a consideration.
You’ll also still find a couple of bars & restaurants renting out ATVs. Avoid them as ATVs aren’t road legal in Thailand. (It may appear cool to be seen scooting around on them but as they aren’t allowed on roads, they don’t have insurance, so guess who gets all the bills if you have an accident.)
Backpackers. (Or ‘Travellers’ to be politically correct.)
Love ’em or loathe ’em but you can’t avoid ’em. You’ll be sitting in a beachfront restaurant enjoying your steamed sea bass, a large plate of BBQ prawns and sunset Mojito when from somewhere behind you you’ll overhear a voice ordering a fried rice and bottle of water and an extra plate so Miss. Backpacker can share. 20 minutes later the voice will be heard again complaining that he has been charged 15 baht for the water when it only costs 10 baht in the 7-eleven. “50% mark-up, rip off or what??? ” And then outrage as their threats of an irate posting on the Lonely Planet discussion board and promise to never eat in this restaurant again as it’s “Double the price of a lovely little place down a backstreet by the bus stop in a village 30km east of Luang Prabang where we had lunch that time with the Laos locals”, go ignored by the bemused waitress.
Having done the backpacking thing (My trip was quite a few years ago , in the time before internet travel guides, and consisted of riding my bicycle for about 15,000km – this how I first came to Thailand . I am one of the few to arrive for the first time in the country by bicycle rather than by plane.) I’m regularly less than impressed by the lack of travelling many travellers do – remaining in one spot for a month or so is just plain boring and hardly opens your eyes to a new country & culture.
No, taking in full moon parties on different islands doesn’t really count as an adventure. Fortunately, there are a new breed of backpacker, those who don’t mind budgeting $30/ day for living expenses and can therefore afford both the extortionate rates local laundries charge (30 baht/kilo) and a pair of flip flops, so walking barefoot isn’t necessary. With a handful of exceptions, going barefoot anywhere other than in a temple or on a beach isn’t big or clever. Hippy wannabe’s take note, tarmac roads that have been baking in the sun aren’t one of the exceptions.
If you plan on moving to the island or working here then having a Thai bank account certainly helps when it comes to having a place to deposit any hard earned cash or to transfer monies into. Unfortunately, Thailand now has an annoying rule which prohibits anyone who doesn’t have a work permit from having opening a bank account. As least that’s the theory
Some banks on Koh Chang adhere to this rule, other’s don’t really care so long as you’ve got some cash to deposit. Fortunately, staff at Siam City Bank or bank of Ayudya, both on White Sand Beach, will open an account, with ATM card for you in a matter of minutes. Either they’re just very nice folks or are desperate for new accounts.
Kasikorn Bank is a better option and they will also open an account and even get a member of staff to fill in all the forms for you. They’d be a better best especially if you want an internet banking option. Bangkok Bank are also flexible as they opened their branch after most people who needed bank accounts had already got one. Get to know the staff and call in at the weekend for the best chance of opening an account if you don’t have a Work Permit. Siam Commercial Bank adhere to the rules for some bizarre reason.
Koh Chang has only one brand-name bar ‘Sabay Bar’, on White Sand Beach, which is relatively well-known off the island and boasts a mock rock cliff face as a frontage, a Balinese themed interior and prices higher than many city centre Bangkok bars. There’s a very nice beach bar on White Sand Beach, just south of Sabay Bar in front of Tantawan bungalows called ‘Tapas Bar’, situated under a large tree and is cheap, quiet and serves very nice snacks & nibbles.
An antidote the to fire twirling and loud music from most beachfront places ‘Ting Tong Bar’ in Lonely Beach, is where you’ll meet partying backpackers, and is well known for parties and good live music. Or head up the road 100 metres to ‘Magic Garden’ if you want to meet yet more ‘chillaxing’ backpackers..Both Kai Bae and Lonely Beach both have their share of roadside & beachside bars all offering the same leafed roof, late night, Bob Marley, cheap vodka-redbull bucketed ambience that discerning travellers favour. In Kai Bae, Porn’s bar at Porn’s Bungalows is a longstanding old favourite.
On Lonely beach, ‘Nature Rocks’ at Nature Beach bungalows is a good spot for people watching by the sea. Down in Bangbao, ‘Barracuda’ , which relocated from it’s spot on Klong Prao beach to midway along Bangbao pier, is a friendly place with great food and cocktails. At the southern end of Klong prao beach is ‘Pilot Bar’ handy if you are staying in the nearby luxury resorts and want to pay a sensible price for a beer & meal by the beach
Maybe it’s just me but I have an aversion to western owned bars/restaurants/resorts named after the owner or the owner’s girlfriend. It shows lack of imagination and a desire to run the business as a boost either your or your totty’s ego plus the lack of imagination and thought in naming the place is carried over when dealing with customers who aren’t on first name terms with either of the owners. (I’ll give purely Thai owned places a break here as it’s not always easy to think of a good Thai name that’s translatable into a good English name backpackers can pronounce but farangs should know better.) Shoot me if you see me in a place called Leks, Noi’s, Oui’s, Nui’s, Nok’s, Moo’s etc and if, in years to come, I’m the owner, remind me it’s time to take the cyanide capsule.
The correct way to spell the name of the Thai currency in English.
Not much in the way of fresh bread available on the island if you don’t fancy sliced bread or sweet Thai bread. Two options for those in need of a baguette or decent attempt at a croissant are ‘Papa’s Deli’, mainroad just south of the KaBae Hut turnoff in Kai Bae and ‘Crust’, opposite the temple in Klong Prao. In high season both have a good selection of freshly baked breads & pastries to eat in or take away and also do good coffee.
Microsoft Word’s spellchecker’s suggestion for the correct spelling of the name of Thai currency.
The way to spell the name of the Thai currency in English if you’re a Thai sign writer.
A quick summary:
White Sand Beach – The first beach you will come to after hopping off the ferry and therefore the busiest and first to be developed. The central stretch of beach has featureless concrete bungalows crammed and mid-price package tour hotels crammed as closely together as possible. The far northern end is sandy, quiet and has a similar vibe to Lonely Beach, the southern end is devoid of sand, on the plus side it is nearer the beer bars and the only decent Italian restaurant on the island. Good swimming and very good sand at the very north end, loads of stones at the south. A good option in low season, when it’s quieter but a bit like the Costa del Sol during high season.
Klong Prao Beach – A very long long sandy beach and, unlike most other beaches it actually has sand virtually along its entire length. As with most beaches on the island it only slopes gently into the sea which means you have to wade a hundred metres out in order to swim at low tide. Nowhere near as many resorts here as the other beaches – the main places to stay being several 3 star resorts, a handful of up-market luxury resorts and KP Huts, The Hut and Tiger Bungalows – three backpacker hangouts for backpackers who don’t want to mix with too many other backpackers and who don’t require an onsite Internet cafe with wifi and a sideline in wicked Frozen Caramel Macchiatos in order to survive.
Kai Bae Beach – A popular beach has about a dozen places to stay on the seafront which are often full during high season and very good value in the low season. These are mainly in the mid-price range – no wooden shacks here with the exception of Siam Cottage and the long standing Porn’s bungalows. Recently two high end boutique resorts, The Chill and Gajapuri have opened to good reviews. All the usual necessities (internet / coffee shop / bars / dive shops / 7-eleven minimarts / ATMs etc) are on the stretch of road behind the beach. The beach isn’t as good as others on the island but does have some very nice views – especially from Coral Resort in the centre of the beach and Siam Bay Resort at the far south.
Lonely Beach – The backpackers’ mecca . . . unless of course you’re a Muslim backpacker. Until a few years ago it was quite desolate and then the powers that be extended the road, put in electricity and the chances of finding peace and quiet evaporated overnight. Still the place to be seen for any self respecting world traveller and the place to avoid for everyone else. Nice, clean beach which is very good for swimming. Steadily going upmarket now with more flashpacker bungalows being built, such as Warapura Resort, one of the nicest mid-price resorts on the island. ‘The Treehouse’, the bungalows that made the beach famous over 15 years ago, are still there – or rather the restaurant & bar are but the actual bungalows were bulldozed in 2008.
Bailan Beach – Mostly narrow with a lot of stones at low tide with the exception of the beach directly outside the luxury Dusit Princess which is awash with powdery white sand – as it is man made.
East coast beaches – There aren’t any. Or at least nothing as good as those on the west coast. Some areas of reddish brown sand do appear at low tide but the sea bed is pretty stony and the beaches are quite short. Head to the west coast if beach-life is important. However, one notable exception is Long Beach in the far south-east of the island – a beautiful crescent bay with sunset views but not easily reached with two basic bungalow resorts Treehouse’ and Zion Bungalows.
All beaches in Thailand are in the public domain, however what you often find is that this means nothing if you can’t actually get to the beach.
Thais tend to enjoy going to beach resorts where the beach and the hotels are separated by a road, this allows easy access to the beach for both somtam vendors, the deck chair mafia and tourists. Foreign tourists prefer to stay as close to the beach as possible, leading to the land next to the beach being private property which is occupied by a resort. Koh Chang’s beaches are of the farang style, great if you are staying on them but getting to the sand can be a hassle if you’re not.
On White Sand Beach the National Park office designated three spots as public walkways down to the beach so visitors could avoid having to wander through a resort car park or past bungalows to get to the sand. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the walkway at the northern end of the beach, adjacent to the 7-Eleven, also serves as a storm drain which during high season collects garbage and tends to stink a bit. The one in the centre of the beach near BanPu Resort was washed away in a flood in 2006 and is now a pile of rubble and also serves as a storm drain which during high season collects garbage and tends to stink a bit. And finally the footpath at the southern end of the beach, adjacent to Baan Thai Resort, which is fine – just look for the sign saying ‘Publics Access Beach’.
There’s only one obvious way to get from the road to the beach on Klong Prao, which is good as it helps keep the beach much quieter than Kai Bae or White Sand Beach. At the far north of the beach, take the paved road leading to Chai Chet Resort, this heads to a small harbour where you can also easily park a car or motorbike and then walk onto the beach. Elsewhere, a public walkway to the beach was constructed at the end of 2005. It’s located midway between Klong Prao Resort and Koh Chang Resort and was built with quality as a secondary consideration. The builders didn’t anticipate the lack of foundations would have an adverse effect on the longevity of the structure, and , you guessed it, it partially collapsed when the tide came in too far. Damn you moon and your pulling effect on water! But it can still be used with care. Alternatively, to see the middle of the beach – take the track leading to KP Huts, Tiger Huts & Panviman Hotel, take any of the rough tracks that lead off to the left after you pass KP Huts.
To reach the sand on Kai Bae, it’s easy to park a bike beachside at the informal campsite adjacent to The Chill Resort. Alternatively just follow the road signposted to KB Hut and you’ll find you end up in a car/boat park next to the beach, from here it’s easy to walk along the , far nicer, southern stretch of beach.
To reach the sandy areas of Lonely Beach you have to go through one of the bungalow resorts on the beach itself or walk from the Treehouse. The security guards at Siam Beach Resort and Bhumiyama Resort won’t like you using their carpark for free, so head to Nature Beach or Siam Hut to park your motorbike or car and wander down to the sand.
Bailan Bay is a bit of a hassle to get down to, and, as the only real beach is the artificial one outside the new Dusit Princess Resort you may not want to bother. But if you head down to Bailan Hut you’ll see a narrow, slightly stony beach nearby.
Klong Kloi Beach, on the southern shores of Koh Chang is by far the easiest to reach, head about 1km past the Bangbao turn off and just park by the roadside after you go round a sharp right hand turn, you’ll see the beach in front of you. Walk over a rickety wooden footbridge and onto the sand.
One word to describe them ‘identical’. There must be forty or fifty small shops on Koh Chang that sell identical souvenir t-shirts, sarongs, fisherman’s trousers and bikinis. A bit of variety wouldn’t go amiss, that’s for sure but I guess there are still some people on the planet for whom the ‘McShit’ t-shirt is a ‘must have’ item of clothing. If you’re buying from these shops, do like the Thais and haggle. Thanks to my partner’s extensive research into shopping on Koh Chang we’ve discovered that Lonely Beach is the place where you’re most likely to be asked to pay way over the odds for clothing, the shops in Bangbao seem most willing to discount to normal Thai market prices and the vendors on White Sand Beach would rather sell their first born child than discount more than 10 baht from the asking price of a t-shirt ( and you’d stand more chance of getting a discount on their child). I buy my sandals at the local markets, for 250 baht you get well made Thai brands that will easily last 6-12 months without requiring constant use of superglue to hold them together.
There’s only one place you can get a decent pint of draught beer on Koh Chang and that’s the ‘Oirish’ Pub – Paddy’s Palms on White Sand Beach. OK, so it’s about as Irish as the staff who work there and has all the ambiance of two knocked together shophouses – which coincidentally it is, but they are the only place that has Guinness and Kilkenny on tap and beggars can’t be choosers. The food can be pretty good too.
For imported German beers with names ending in ‘-brau’ head to the deli at Top Resort, White Sand Beach, VJ Supermarket in Klong Prao or try the Wine Gallery, by the roadside in the centre of Kai Bae.
The main Pattaya-esque beer bar enclave is situated at southern end of White Sand Beach, just past the 7-Eleven and is known by the highly original name of ‘Little Pattaya’. As with the big motorbikes that are available for rent nearby the girls are Pattaya rejects, the majority of whom have had several previous owners, have seen better days but are still good fun to rent for a day or two. For a real eye opener drive by the small roadside bars in Chai Chet during daylight hours where even the most ardent feminist would struggle not to agree with the diplomatic assessment that the girls are “more than a bit rough”. (But there’s always a few expats and lobster red tourist propping up the bar from late morning onwards. Proof indeed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder . . . or should that be ‘beer holder’?)
In Oct 2006 the new ‘Koh Chang Entertainment Plaza’ opened in Chai-Chet just north of Klong Prao. A load of beer bars, each adorned with more fairy lights than an Oxford Street window display at Christmas, in what used to be a covered market. Most bars have long since gone but I think it’s still open. It’s hard to tell. Worth a visit only to see if there really are more bars than there are customers.
Wander around the centre of Kai Bae and you’ll find a few dimly lit roadside bars with bored looking girls perched on stools just dying to engage you in a lively debate on world affairs and the current state of Thai politics or, if you’re not in the mood for some mental stimulation, maybe just a game of Jenga and a friendly chat about the respective sizes of your willy and your wallet.
And all other flu scares of recent times. No outbreaks were reported in Trat or on Koh Chang. In reality, everyone has more important things to worry about such as job security, falling house prices and disappearing pensions than catching a cold. A few dead birds and a pig with a headache and runny nose is the least of anyone’s worries. Just avoid exchanging bodily fluids with any strange wildfowl or farm animals and you should be fine.
A couple of minimarts on White Sand Beach have new English language novels for sale direct from Asia Books in Bangkok, as does VJ Supermarket in VJ Plaza, Klong Prao which also has second hand books. English language books tend to be pricey in Thailand so if something to keep you busy on the beach or whilst waiting for your girlfriend to get herself tarted up for a night out is what you’re after then a visit to a second hand bookshop is in order.
Most backpacker places have a good selection of books for exchange. If you’re staying in or passing through Lonely Beach then a stop at Lonely Books at Nature Beach bungalows, is a must. This is the best you’ll find on the island, a very well stocked used book shop with something for all tastes. Tantawan restaurant on White Sand Beach save you the expense of buying a book by having a library service which is worth making use of if you can read quickly. Internet cafes sometimes have books for sale too Reckon on 100 – 200 baht/book.
Booking accommodation in advance.
In brief. Something simple to do if you’re staying in a large 4,000 baht/night resort. Something nigh on impossible if you’re staying in a small family run resort or a 300 baht/night flophouse. Small places aren’t geared up for the information age, as dealing with walk in guests is far easier than figuring out how to register with Paypal and far less hassle than and expense than signing up for a e-commerce package from a bank. You’ll find that many resorts with websites rarely answer emails as the person designated to answer emails doesn’t know how to or doesn’t have good English skills, therefore any emails containing anything other than an amusing flash animation of a cartoon kitten dancing to the latest hit from some Korean boy band on Youtube will end up in the Junk folder.
In high season book in advance if you can, and you’ll almost certainly save yourself a lot of hassle finding a room once you get here as many of the places mentioned in guidebooks will be booked up already. Advance booking, in the case of some hotels at least six months in advance, is essential for any beachfront resort from Christmas to mid-February, when the island is at it’s busiest. You will find rooms available if you leave it late, but if you want the best located , best value or cheapest then book early. On the plus side, there are plenty of new resorts on the island which aren’t in guidebooks or well known yet and so will welcome your custom. Many of these are off the beach, by the roadside, but some do offer much better value of money as they have to compete on price and not location for guests.
During Low Season you’ll find plenty of good deals on rooms in mid-range resorts and guesthouses advertised on roadside signboards.
If you start to tire of having to choose between Singha, Chang, Heineken and over priced table wine every evening, take a look at VJ Supermarket on White Sand Beach & Klong Prao or Koh Chang Wine Gallery in Kai Bae. They both have a large stocks of imported beers, wines and spirits in all price ranges. Aana store, just before the International Clinic, south of White Sand Beach is also worth visiting. Many restaurants and resorts on the island buy their alcohol from here. Avoid any wine bottle with ‘Koh Chang wine’ on the label and a picture of a bunch of grapes. Read the small print, it’s fruit wine and tastes like your Grandfather’s home brew. If you are a wine aficionado then bring your own to Thailand as you’ll be shocked by the prices – wines that cost a couple of Euros in Europe sells for nearer 10-15 Euros here. All due to the high tax on wine – both domestically produced and imported. It’s a drink for the rich.
If you’ve been doing a bit of searching for Koh Chang related information you’ll have found that the main page of virtually every site mentions that it’s the second largest island in Thailand, and many will even give you the area in square kilometres and population.
Who cares? Or are there really people out there saying:
“Ooooohhh Bob, let’s go to Koh Chang. It’s the second largest island in Thailand with a population of approximately 6,000 according to the 2000 census.”
“Yes, dear. And it’s part of the 52-island Mu Koh Chang Marine Park archipelago to boot. Status that was granted as long ago as 1982. Now, where’s my Visa card?”
If you really want to bore people to death at dinner parties, on the subway or in the pub you’ll be pleased to know that as of 2008, there were a total of 1,757 registered addresses on Koh Chang. You probably knew that already . . .but did you know that, according to the National Statistical Office website there are 28 people aged 85 or older, of which 23 are women and 5 are men? Why not see if you can spot them whilst on the island? Spot all five, take their photos, email them to me and you could win a prize. (Or you could have just wasted your vacation.)
Bottles of Gasoline.
As you drive down the west coast you’ll see stalls piled high with old whisky bottles that are two-thirds full of gasoline. A lot of people prefer to fill their motorbikes up from these stalls rather than from gas stations. I could understand that if there wasn’t a gas station for miles. but there are three on the west coast of Koh Chang. What’s more for some reason many people believe that fuel sold in bottles is cheaper than buying it from the same place that car owners use. And where do you think the stallholders get their petrol from? A private oil field in their garden or the gasoline station? Filling your rental bike up at a gas station will save you about 40% – 50% compared to filling it using the bottles sold on roadside stalls.
There are a lot on the island. Some are locals, some from the Trat area and many from elsewhere in Thailand. Prices for building work vary a lot depending on who you speak to, by a lot I mean 50 – 75%. In addition to finding someone to do the work for you at a good price it also helps to find a builder who specialises in the type of work you want doing.
If you want a two story concrete construction then you don’t hire a guy who makes his living putting up wooden huts – his workers won’t have the experience needed to do a good job of finishing concrete etc. Likewise if you’re planning on using wood then you’ll need to do some research first on the types of construction materials available and find a builder who can talk knowledgeably about his trade, for example the benefits/drawbacks of using different types of wood; and can estimate prices without having to be on the phone to the builders’ merchant for half an hour.
If you want a good construction company who can do everything for you from drawing up plans to completing the work on time and within your budget then K.E.C in Klong Prao, on the inland side of the road 100 metres north of Ramayana Resort, is your best bet. They aren’t the cheapest but will do the job professionally.
If you’re Thai then you’ll probably check into a dimly lit, concrete, airconditioned hotel room or bungalow, the darker and colder the better. You’re here to sleep until lunchtime, eat seafood and catch the latest episode of your favourite soap opera. If you’re not Thai then the notion of doing that seems a mite bizarre. Aircon is more of a luxury than a necessity if you have a good sea breeze. Nights are usually quite cool, except in summer – March / April / May – and a good fan is all that’s really needed. But all fan rooms are not created equal.
To been honest I’m surprised by the number of travellers who are happy to stay in rooms which are barely big enough to swing a cat in. Yes, they’re cheap. Of course they’re cheap, they have no windows, bamboo mat walls , a plywood floor, a 40 watt light bulb and ceiling fan that does little more than constantly rattle all night. Why not spend 100 baht/night more and staying in a room with windows, a bed, mozzie nets, running water and space to swing a cat should you desire?
None on the island, but you can buy tickets at most hotels, bungalows etc for minibuses to Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samet etc. Alternatively you can take big buses from the ferry piers back to Bangkok, without having to go into Trat first. make your way to Trat from where you can take a full size bus. Minibuses are quicker but unless you’re Douglas Bader or a fully fledged, card carrying dwarf you’ll find the lack of legroom stifling. The best deal on getting to & from back Bangkok is the government run bus service which runs between Ekkamai Bus Station in Bangkok to/from Koh Chang Ferry and Centrepoint piers on the mainland. Cost is around 250 baht/person. Both routes run services leaving Bangkok at 6.30am, 7.45am & 9.45am with returns back to Bkk, leaving at 12pm, 2pm & 4pm. There is also a direct service between Bangkok Airport to Klong Son on Koh Chang. Departs Suvanabhumi at 0730 and from Klong Son at 1330. Price 308 Baht including ferry ticket.
There’s only one place to go if you want real sausages, bacon, pies or other meat based delicacies and that’s ‘Slim Jim’s ‘ in Klong Prao, located behind the temple. James sells his pies and produce to resorts and restaurants on the island as well as through a couple of local supermarkets. As good as you’ll find anywhere. ( He closed a decade ago and now runs hydroponic farms in the south of Thailand)
Unlike other large islands such as Phuket and Samui the vast majority of land on Koh Chang lies within National Park boundaries and as such is off limits to developers . . . . unless they happen to be: a) rich b) related to members of parliament or c) both a) + b) in which case flattening a few thousand trees to make way for concrete can easily be overlooked. For us mere mortals the lack of available land on Koh Chang means that if you’re looking to buy land then you’ll have to dig deep into your pocket, especially if you’re relying on adverts in English or fellow farangs that you meet in bars to help you with your land search.
Speak to the local noodle stall owner, the guy in the hammock who sells overpriced litre bottles of petrol to passing motorcyclists and anyone else who doesn’t appear to be awash with cash – that’s how to find the cheap land. Better still get a Thai friend, (not a bar girl, as even the most buxom will invariably fall into the ‘breast size larger than IQ’ segment of the populace) to help you and steer clear of the businessmen who promise that the land title papers will be upgraded ‘soon’ or that they can give you a 90 year lease on some land.
One final thing to remember is to choose your friends, don’t let them choose you. Word quickly spreads and if people know you are looking for land you’ll find yourself with lots of new friends all eager to show you the same plots of land. It pays to be cautious.
The Koh Chang Television company are the sole purveyors of fine cable content on Koh Chang. Most hotels are connected up to their 50 channel service which includes news & movie channels, a few of which are in English. Subscription fees are 500 baht/month. Sign up at their HQ in White Sand beach. For your amusement there are also adverts from local businesses. Their website is, if it is online, www.kohchangtv.com – only worth looking at for the adverts. My favourite ad is for the Klong Son carwash, closely followed by the commercial for Angels Bar which is a lesson in ways to diplomatically say a hooker bar isn’t a hooker bar but still imply that it is.
When I was at Middle School I made a Victoria Sponge for which my Home Economics teacher gave me 10/10. If I can do it at 12 years of age, there really is no reason why good cakes can’t be made here on Koh Chang by owners of coffee shops and small bakeries. Yet for some reason it is next to impossible to find a nice piece of cake. I don’t ask for much, just some texture, flavour and icing that doesn’t taste like margarine. The sort of thing anyone with access to eggs, flour, butter and sugar and an over should be able to produce.
Cambodian Border Crossing.
The border crossing is around an hour and fifteen minutes drive by minivan from Trat town. Take a minivan from outside Trat central market. This crossing is far removed from the hectic activity at the far busier Aranyaprathet / Poipet crossing which anyone travelling from Bangkok – Siem Reap overland will go through. Had Lek / Cham Yeam border post is a far more laid back affair with no queues and formalities taking 10 minutes maximum.
Get your stamp out of Thailand at the small office on the left of the checkpoint barrier, then walk 100 metres to the Cambodian Immigration office – which is the first building you see on the left. (Look to the right and you’ll see the entrance to Koh Kong Casino Resort). Refuse all offers of help from the Cambodia guys who will approach you. If you’ve made it this far you can fill in a simple form in English without their assistance. If you don’t already have a Cambodian visa, head to the open door of the visa office. The office looks as though it has been recently looted, with only an empty wooden table, couple of chairs and no information or adornment of any kind on the unpainted concrete walls, other than a decade old map and a photo of the Cambodian King trying his best to look as un-gay as possible.
The Immigration guys will probably playing cards in the back somewhere. They know why you’re here and you’ll be given a simple visa application form to complete, you’ll also need to supply one passport photo. You’ll also need around 1,100 baht for the visa. When the hand of cards is over a guy will come and check the form, another will appear with a key and unlock a draw containing a book of blank visas, the visa takes up a full page of your passport, and a third will sigh, pick up his pen, fill out the blank visa stick it in your passport, call the guy who’s job it is to stamp visas, wait for him to do his official duty, then hand your passport back and you’ll be on your way.
Not very far though, only to the ‘Arrivals’ window immediately to your right as you exit the visa section. Here you’ll have to fill in the usual arrivals/departure card and get your passport stamped with arrival date etc, again ignore the annoying locals who will have these cards in their hands, take one from them and you’ll be pestered for a tip incessantly. Once your passport is stamped you can wander off, pursued by a rag-tag band of locals all wanting to escort you to a guesthouse, carry your bag or sell you cigarettes; and catch a motorbike taxi to Koh Kong village a few kilometres away. From here on the website www.talesofasia.com will provide you with all you need to know about Cambodia. ( That site’s still online although hasn’t been updated for a decade. It was run by an American friend who I worked with in Bangkok years ago. He moved to Siem Reap about the same time i moved to Koh Chang. )
If you plan on staying longterm on an unlimited number of consecutive free visas, you’ll have problems as you now only get 15 day visa on arrival if you enter Thailand by land. So visa runs will get expensive.
If you plan on staying in Cambodia only for as long as it takes to get your passport stamped ther be prepared to pay an unofficial 300 baht surcharge to the Immigration officers as compensation for not staying in their lovely country longer than you had to. You can argue about paying it and waste half a day of your life, but it’s much less hassle to just pay up and get back to Thailand.
Most resorts rent out sea canoes for visitors who wish to paddle around the shoreline. If you’re going to hire a canoe then it’s worth making the effort to paddle to somewhere rather than just going round in circles 50 metres offshore for an hour or two. From White Sand Beach you can head north, past the headland and onto Klong Son Bay – the bay with relatively little development, palm fringed shoreline, shallow waters and mountain backdrop looks seriously nice when photographed from the sea plus there’s some snorkelling off the northern tip of the island. If you rent a canoe from Kai Bae, southern Klong Prao or Lonely Beach then you’ll find that paddling out to the islands offshore make for a good day out.
From southern Klong Prao beach the nearest island, Koh Rom, is less than 30 mins away, lazy buggers may prefer to rent a canoe at the southern tip of Kai Bae where the nearest island, Koh Man Nai, is less than 10 mins away across waters which are wade-able at low tide.
Unlike the southern Thai islands there isnt much in the way of canoe tours yet. The only organised sea canoe, tours are from Kayak Chang, run by Brits who know what they are doing and use professional sit inside sea kayaks. They are based at the Emerald Cove Resort.
Good mangrove canoeing is available, the downside is that the two best areas to head for Salakkok & Salakphet are both in the south east of the island – i.e. 40-50km away from the areas where most visitors stay. You can rent canoes at a couple of places in and around Salakphet from where you can explore the bay, see the fishing village and visit the islands in the centre of the bay. The Koh Chang Discovery Club, run by the guy who owns Baan Kwan Chang elephant camp, started kayak rental in an easily accessible mangrove forest in Salakkok. It’s a very nice way to spend an hour or so if you are in this part of the island.
No public transport here though, so head to Salakkok on your rental scooter and follow the signs the ‘Salakkok Kayak Station’. 100 baht/hour to rent the kayaks. Follow a numbered trail through the mangroves and you cant really get lost. At the far south east of the island, at the end of the road past Long Beach, lies Sea Breeze restaurant – rent a kayak here for 250 baht / day and you can paddle to Koh Ngam – lovely beach, Koh Mai See Yai – large island only a couple of sea gypsy villages on it, Koh Laoya – private island with small beach or even down to Koh Wai if you wanted to. Koh Wai and back is around 14km, easily done in a day but check the weather first.
An easier alternative is to rent a canoe from any Klong Prao beach resort and paddle down the nearby river estuary. You can go around a kilometre up either of two rivers which feed the estuary.
Charoen Pokphand (CP) Company.
Mention CP to any local or small businessman and they’ll more often than not shake their heads in a mixture of envy and sadness. Before it was announced that the government had big plans for Koh Chang, CP went on a buying spree and locals, not realising that a big boost for tourism was on the way sold out to the big generous buyer. However, when land prices shot up almost overnight following the government’s announcement, local landowners saw that they had sold out far too cheaply.
At the moment CP’s developments, interests and friends with benefits include 7-Elevens, Chesters Grill & Coffee shops, Changburi Resort, Seaview Resort and Koh Sai Khao – a private island in Salakphet Bay. In addition, half of the usable land around Klong Prao belongs to them. And they own with the company that owns Koh Chang Ferry, which in turn owns the Mercure Hideaway Resort and the largest prawn farm on the island.
Unfortunately no longer in use – but still in the A to Z for novelty value. Originally a car ferry, then a snorkelling tour boat with a capacity of 300 and finally used for romantic dinner cruises. (But, as of mid 2009, rusting at the Koh Chang Ferry pier on the mainland.) The snorkelling idea didn’t really take off as, for some reason, tourists didn’t leap at the prospect of travelling by car ferry across open water to the small protected dive sites. It was then bedecked with fairy lights and moored off White Sand beach. Phuket and Samui have dinner cruises in everything from old Chinese junks to purpose built yachts, only Koh Chang offered an old car ferry as the ultimate in romantic dining experiences.
Not on Koh Chang but home to the nearest Tesco supermarket and only an hour’s drive from the mainland pier, and so worthy of a mention. There’s quite a lot of French influence in the older buildings, as they controlled this area of Thailand for a while until the early 1900s. Many Vietnamese immigrants who made it home around the same time too and the town has the largest Catholic church in Thailand.
This is the gem polishing capital of Thailand and is also, interestingly, known as “Gunman Town” to Thais, supposedly as it is also home to the cheapest and best assassins in Thailand. So, if you find yourself needing to stock up on household goods, buy an engagement ring and hire someone to knock of a business rival, plus take in a dolphin show at the nearby Oasis Seaworld with the kids, you know where to go. The town symbol is the Rabbit which is why you see huge topiary bunnies lining the roadsides.
Between the ferry piers and Klong Son the road winds up a small hill, on the right you’ll see ‘Chao Po Koh Chang’ which roughly translates as the ‘Godfather of Koh Chang’. (Whether he actually bore a resemblance to Marlon Brando isn’t documented.) in days of yore, when fishermen found themselves facing a strong monsoon or a farmers a poor harvest, they would seek guidance from the Chao Po Koh Chang. Cynics will be disappointed to learn that prayers have been known to be answered.
Nowadays many superstitious locals, head there to make offerings in return for having good fortune granted upon them. Outside the shrine you’ll see bamboo offered to the concrete elephants and drinks and snacks left for the spirits that inhabit the multitude of mini-likenesses of the Godfather and his wife to enjoy. You’ll hear many drivers beeping their horns three times when they pass to say hello to the spirits.
Either hot & fairly dry or even hotter and very wet; depending on whether you visit during November – May or June – October. You’ll sweat a lot and get burned regardless of what time of year you visit.
One of the reasons our first plan for a small business was to open a coffee shop was that we couldn’t find a decent place to buy the stuff when we first came here. There are a growing number of options now. ‘KC Coffee ‘ and ‘Cafe de Koh Chang’ ‘ are all on White Sand beach and have a variety of fancy coffee drinks ending in –chino of offer. Crust bakery in Klong Prao and Papa’s Deli in Kai Bae also offer coffee in espresso, cappuchino and latte form whereas, Kai Bae Hut Noodle Shop doesn’t try to be pretentious and has either hot coffee or iced coffee both of which are very good and half the price of the fancy coffeeshops. Beans used here come from ‘Roytawan’ in Chantaburi, which doesn’t mean anything to you, but the Roytawan coffeeshop usually wins barista competitions in Thailand and roasts their own beans.
‘Moccachinao’, opposite Papa’s Deli, is another good option in Kai Bae. for sale on White Sand Beach is pretty good but almost Bangkokian in it’s pricing. Hotels like to use the ‘Boncafe ‘ brand which offers style over substance with very average coffee, as you’ll no doubt discover for yourself. A few of the upmarket restaurants also now sell ‘Illy’ coffee and the ‘Senseo’ brand of coffee machines are also appearing, to appeal to people who like their coffee to come out of little coffee pods.
Save money and buy ‘cafe boran’ the traditional strong, sweet Thai iced coffee served to go in a plastic bag for 15 baht from a market stall.
Another popular way to kill time away from the beach on Koh Chang is to learn how to cook your favourite Thai dishes. ‘Blue Lagoon’ & ‘Ka-Ti Culinary’ – both in Klong Prao are two of the most popular places to spend an afternoon fighting back the tears as you choke on chilli fumes. The format of most cookery classes is pretty straightforward. A chat about Thai food in general, an introduction to some of the more exotic ingredients, then hands on experience making common or garden Thai food – Tom Yam Gung, Pad Thai, Green Curry etc, followed by eating your creations.
You’ll quickly learn that virtually all Thai recipes include adding liberal amounts of sugar, oyster sauce, fish sauce, mysterious seasoning sauce and soy sauce to enhance the flavour. (Adding a couple of spoonfuls of MSG while no-one’s looking doesn’t hurt either.) You will have fun, you will learn a lot and you will be too full to eat dinner. Figure on around 1200 baht per person for class, with a maximum of 6 people per class.
( Now called Sun & Soul) One of the most popular place for Thais and farangs to eat on White Sand Beach. And deservedly so. Good food and good sized portions at sensible prices. If you want to eat cheaply simply avoid the seafood. Our dog gets free sausages when he comes with us, we don’t. But we’ll get served by a small army of waiters all eager to play with the dog. Maybe not as good as it once wa though, in which case try Bamboo Restaurant to the south or Beach Terrace at Sangtawan Bungalows, 100 metres to the north. Both are also very good and Bamboo does some nice Italian food and rather tasty pizzas at far lower prices than Italian restaurants..
Contacting hotels from abroad.
You plan to book your hotel with your local travel agent but have a few questions that you’d like to ask the hotel management before you do so. Not a problem you think as you’ve got the hotel’s website URL and all the contact info you could wish for is listed.
First, of all stick to the tried and trusted methods – start with a Fax, remember them? You dial, then nothing, or at best a voice in Thai telling you that the number was discontinued years before the hotel was ever built. OK, the phone. You dial and get a confused receptionist, you then enter into a 15 minute conversation during which you repeat the following at least a dozen times each: “Hello, can you hear me?”, “Hello, are you there?”. You finally put down the phone when the line mysteriously goes dead and all subsequent calls to the same number are met with an engaged tone.
Finally, thank God for email. Your message isn’t bounced back as un-deliverable which may lull you into a false sense of security and you think you’re finally on a roll. You spend the next day eagerly awaiting the reply, and then you spend the following day eagerly awaiting the reply, and the next, and the next until it dawns on you that perhaps a follow-up email is in order. A week later you’ll then email me and ask me why you can’t contact your hotel of choice. as if I have some insider knowledge. Other than the fact there’s usually only one person in each 3 or 4 star hotel who knows enough English to answer a fax, call or email correctly (and if they’re off sick or too busy then you’re screwed), I have no idea. But it’s a very common problem. A simple rule to remember is that low level Thai staff and email seldom mix well.
Thailand isn’t as safe and crime free as you might think, it’s just that as most crime doesn’t involve tourists it isn’t reported in the English language media. In most aspects it is far safer than living in the UK for example, you won’t find hoodies lying in wait on street corners here. But it still pays to watch your possessions and not to antagonise the natives for no good reason. On Koh Chang violent crime against foreigners is pretty rare.
Expats / tourists do get attacked and have been murdered in the recent past here, but there’s still far more chance of that happening to you in most western countries or on any of the more developed islands or beach resorts than here. Thefts do occur too, although they are usually opportunist crimes rather than planned break ins to house or bungalows. If you have valuables that you want to keep safe, Island Cafe, located at Top Resort, White Sand beach has bank quality safety deposit boxes available for very reasonable rates.
The Tourist police numbers are: 039 557 287, on Koh Chang or 1155, for the main nationwide number, don’t confuse this with 1145 which is the number for Chesters Grill home delivery fast food service, they have a branch on White Sand beach and you’ll confuse the hell out of the poor operator who’ll be trying to figure out why you refuse to tell her if you want spicy or regular chicken wings.
That’s what this site has been called, and it is a little. Good luck to those people who are happy to live on, work on or visit their own rose tinted version of Koh Chang but this site is for people who have outgrown travel brochure nonsense, appreciate a more realistic view and don’t enjoy reading sycophantic muse written entirely to plug advertisers business ventures. Phew, got that of my chest.
You know what Malaria is, and if you are from the UK your GP probably tried to sell you a course of anti-malarial drugs as Koh Chang is in the red ‘Zone of Certain Death’ on the world map on the surgery wall.
The time to worry about Malaria is if you go to certain areas of Africa where 3,000 people are dying from it daily. Not when you are heading to a 4 star beachfront resort in Thailand.
If you must worry about catching a mozzie borne disease, Google ‘Dengue Fever’ and that should put you off travelling outside Europe for good. There’s no cure and in it’s worst form it will kill you. It’s also very common in S.E. Asia. Most expats in Thailand have either had it or know someone who has had it. (I got it whilst living in the centre of Bangkok.) It’s also known as ‘Breakbone Fever’ as every joint in your body seizes up and aches for an entire week. This is coupled by a migraine pounding behind your eyes. Then you get a red rash on your chest and recover. You’ll know if you’ve got the fatal strain if you start bleeding internally and die.
There is one dental clinic, called ‘Baan More Fun’ on Koh Chang, Koh Chang Dental Clinic ( www.kohchangdental.com ) is located roadside near the Amari Emerald Cove Resort. It’s run by Dr Itsakpong and a couple of other dentists who have had their own private clinic in Trat for well over 10 years. The equipment all comes from overseas – mainly USA & Germany and the place is spotlessly clean. Get your teeth cleaned for under 1,000 baht or a have them whitened and return home with a movie star smile for 10,000 baht. Just remember, just because a gleaming toothy smile looks good on Brad Pitt it, doesn’t mean it will suit you. You’ll probably end up looking like a Bee Gee.
The number of dive schools on Koh Chang has increased annually since time began, due to one simple reason. The sea around Koh Chang is home to some of the world’s top dive sites. There’s a bucket load of cash to be made. However, recently with the number of dive schools increasing far more rapidly than the number of visitors to the island the slices of the pie are getting thinner. Bangbao is home to many of the dive schools including BB Divers, which is one I recommend to people as I’ve known a lot of people who’ve dived with them and all have had a good experience. Their HQ isin Bangbao but they have a training pool & accommodation for divers in Lonely Beach.
They’re unique on Koh Chang in that it’s female-run, which would seem to indicate that not only will they be organised and efficient, but that there’s far less chance of bumping into the owner at 2am in Sabay Bar drunkenly trying to pick up a hooker.
Also worth checking out here are Scandinavian Chang Divers based in Klong Prao, opposite the entrance to Klong Prao resort and ‘Scuba Dawgs’ in Bangbao and ‘Tec Evolution’ in White Sand Beach, two of the new arrivals that offer more specialised or customised courses.
The lure of becoming a diving instructor isn’t simply the about getting paid to work in exotic locations. There’s learning about marine flora and fauna and the thrill of passing on your knowledge and experience to others who may one day become passionate about protecting the planet’s undersea beauty for generations to come. On second thoughts, bollocks to it, it’s all about shagging as many of your students and local female population as possible. As work in exotic overseas locations goes, it’s either teaching English or teaching diving for the majority of Western 20somethings, and, trust me, your average English teacher isn’t on any girl’s ‘must-shag-when-drunk’ list.
Let’s be honest, any one with a real zest for a diving holiday is going to head straight for the Andaman sea and the (really) world class dive sites around the Similan islands or heading straight to Koh Tao where virtually everyone visiting the island is there for the diving, Koh Chang won’t be on the shortlist. But if you’re new to diving or simply want to dive in Thailand at a location within easy reach of Bangkok then Koh Chang is a good option. The main undersea attractions are the underwater rock pinnacles which range from about 5 – 30 metres in depth. Whale sharks are also regularly sighted between December and February. Visibility is usually in the 10-20 metre range. There are a handful of wreck dives, but these are small fishing boats.
Dodgy Construction Work.
Local government staff, more specifically, those in the planning department, don’t work weekends. Therefore, you’ll often see large trucks shifting dirt from one location to another on a Saturday or Sunday. Why? Because, more likely than not, the work that they are doing is best completed without nosy officials getting in the way.
Once something has been built it’s far harder to have it removed than it is to either stop it being built during the planning approval phase or during construction. Therefore, don’t get plans approved and don’t let anyone catch you building it. Job done, but over a period of several weekends.
Around Koh Chang, there’s probably more chance of seeing dolphin on a menu than in the sea, which is why any ‘Swim with the Dolphins‘ tours you see advertised will head to Oasis Sea World at Chantaburi rather than the open seas. The dolphinarium is only an hour’s drive from the mainland ferry pier and you’ll have the chance to see a dolphin show and also swim with the dolphins. (Read the small print, actually swimming with the dolphins – which is what everyone wants to do – is always an extra on top of the tour fee which usually only includes the dolphin show.)
On the tour you’ll probably also be taken to a gem shop or two and a run-of-the-mill Thai temple, and even Robinson’s department store, as your guide will want to make sure you spend the whole day having your wallet emptied.
Despite, or possibly because of, this it is a popular day trip and it makes a for a pleasant day away from the beach.
If you had your own transport you can also visit the nearby mangrove forests, follow bike trails along the quiet roads that run parallel to deserted beaches. These are the real highlights of Chantaburi. If only someone would build an out of town shopping mall or gem shop nearby, you might be able to see them on a guided tour.
After going completely off topic for the past couple of paragraphs, and to get to the point, there is one place where you do have a good chance of seeing a pod of dolphins in the open water. Head right round the the south east of the island to the end of the road, past Long Beach. In the channel between Koh Ngam and Koh Chang dolphins regularly make an appearance early in the morning, that’s sunrise early and not 9am early.
There were also news reports in early 2009 of dolphins dying after being caught off Koh Chang in fisherman’s nets, due to them both trying to catch the fish that live around coral reefs. And in late June – early July 2010 eleven dead dolphins were washed up on the shores of Koh Chang, including an irrawaddy Dolphin that I found washed up on the beach which had had all the meat taken off it’s carcass. ( Photos are in the Photo Gallery on this site.)
A tarmac road circumnavigates over 90% of the perimeter of Koh Chang with only the 10km stretch between Bangbao and Salakphet still in a perpetual state of semi-completion. ( As of mid 2010, the latest news is that the funding for completing the road is in place, so we’ll see if work begins again in the near future.) It’s impossible to get lost on Koh Chang, so don’t let that deter you from renting a car. The only thing to be aware of is that the roads are narrow, steep and winding in the northwest and southwest of the island. Take care and be wary of drunk drivers at night on these stretches.
Officially the same illegal substances are banned here as in the rest of Thailand, and you’ll see signs outside police boxes pointing out the illegality of taking drugs, although they don’t specifically mention if ‘taking’ refers to usage or the act of not paying the dealer for the purchase of controlled substances*. However you’ll notice that some backpacker bungalows and restaurants have a more laid back view about allowing herbal tobacco to be smoked on the premises. This is usually linked to how well the owners know the local police.
* Legal disclaimer: Please don’t rely on this as your defence if you do get busted.
There are now four camps on the island. To me an elephant’s natural habitat is in the jungle and not tethered a few metres from the roadside. Whilst I’m sure that ‘Baan Chang Thai’, ‘Chang Chutiman’ and ‘Ban Chang Klong Plu’ camps ensure the mahouts look after their elephants well the idea of roadside, drive-in elephant camps just doesn’t appeal to me. These three camps are all in the same area of central Klong Prao.
Infinitely better is ‘Ban Kwan Chang’, the first camp on Koh Chang and run by K. Pittaya, who years ago set up the Asian Elephant Foundation and is regarded as an authority on elephant welfare. This camp is located in a valley about 3km from Klong Son village in the north of the island. There are 9 or 10 elephants of varying ages and personalities. A couple of the mahouts speak some English and there is quite a lot of written info available about the history of elephant handling in Thailand at the camp.
Pittaya has also written a very good coffee table book , in English, on the history of the Ta Klaeng valley, in Surin priovince near Cambodia, where villagers are brought up with an elephant in the family and looking after and training elephants is a way of life. What you wont find though are tacky souvenirs on display or elephants entertaining you with dance routines or stuff like that. Even if you aren’t up for a ride on an elephant you can buy some bananas, feed them and just enjoy the jungle scenery. Go there, you’ll like it.
As you’ll probably have discovered – from reading the first sentence on virtually all hotel websites, the name ‘Koh Chang’ means ‘Elephant Island’ in Thai. But why is Koh Chang called Elephant island? Surely, Koh Chang was called ‘Koh Chang’ well before the island was accurately surveyed or photographed from the air so the name coming from the shape of the island viewed from above seems a non starter. And you’d have to be smoking something stronger than menthol cigarettes to believe that the silhouette of the island resembles that of a reclining elephant, which is often given as a reason for the name in guidebooks.
As with many place names around the world, the name Koh Chang is derived from local folklore. This is the tale, which I have abridged but I kept the important parts . . .
Locals believe that long time ago a Buddhist saint came to Koh Chang and raised a herd of elephants on the island. He employed an old couple to look after the herd. The old lady was called ‘Yai Mom’.
One day an elephant called ‘Petch’ escaped from the herd onto the forest, met a wild elephant and had three baby elephants out of wedlock.
The saint found out about the matter and sent the old couple to look for the elephant and its babies. The old man went up north. The old lady went down south.
With the pachyderm equivalent of a cry of “You’ll never take me alive!” , Petch the elephant ran to north coast, leapt into the sea and doggy paddled to the mainland where she landed at the present day Baan Thamamchat. Being an unfit mother, Petch forgot that her kids couldn’t swim or at least not far enough to complete the 6 or more kilometres to the mainland. The three babies drowned and were transformed into 2 piles of rock at the head of Klong Son bay. Today, the Thai name is ‘Three Elephants Rock’. (Why three elephants were transformed into only two piles isn’t clear.)
Talking of transformations, whilst swimming to the mainland ‘Petch’, the elephant, needed a toilet break. Her bowel movements were also transformed into a rocky outcrop, now known as ‘Hin Kee Chang’ in Thai a.k.a. ‘Elephant Shit Rock’ – you’ll see this from the ferries as it is marked by a large buoy. (Obviously, Petch was extremely fortunate that her bowel movements turned to stone after they exited her body and not before.)
But that wasn’t the end of the totally unexplained transformations, the old lady followed the elephant onto the mainland, but fell into a mud pool and died. Her body transformed into a rock, now called ‘Hin Yai Mom’. Her hat fell on a rock at the end of the cape where there is now a lighthouse. The cape has since been known as ‘Laem Ngob’ (Hat Cape) and is now the departure point for passenger ferries to Koh Chang.
The saint expecting that ‘Petch’ would come back onto the island, asked for tenders for a project to build a large trap in the south of the islands the southern coast on the area that is now called ‘Ban Salakkok’. (This is the first recorded example of a pointless project costing an obscene amount of money being instigated by an individual in a position of power , and where the only real beneficiary is the person who commissioned the project in the first place. You’ll find plenty of latter day examples on Koh Chang.)
Petch the elephant did return to the island, but being streetwise and spotting what must have been a rather obvious, kilometre long, trap strung between two islands went into different direction. The saint therefore sent his men to catch the elephant.
In the end, the saint got so fed up with the hassle caused by ‘Petch’ that he cursed the island to prevent elephants from ever living there again. Since that day, there has been no elephant living on the island. (Until the advent of elephant camps for the tourists.)
Of course, this isn’t a true story but neither was it made up by myself in a drunken haze. This is the real local tale. To see a mural depicting the events above, go to Centrepoint Ferry pier on the mainland. Then drive east about 500 metres – in the direction of Trat – and you’ll see the entrance to a small temple on the left side of the road. Look at the old mural that is painted on the temple gateway by the main road.
Who you gonna call? Police: 039 586 191 or just ‘191’, International Clinic: 039 551 555 or ‘1719’ If you have to wake people up in the middle of the night, those numbers cover all the bases in event of a true emergency. (The Tourist Police , 1155, may have nice patrol cars, but don’t have any investigative powers and so you’d call them if you had been ripped off by a t-shirt vendor but not if you’ve been shot, robbed and left for dead by the roadside.)
Koh Chang has one, comprising local business owners. Their sole claim to fame thus far has been to put up large banners island wide announcing a Koh Chang Grand Sale promotion for Low Season 2010. Then hold a launch party for the promotion. But not actually have any concrete ideas about what the ‘Koh Chang Grand Sale’ actually stood for, how visitors could benefit, what was for sale or how to advertise it off the island etc. According to a recent news report they spent all the money on banners and the launch party and so are now planning for 2011 and have given up on the 2010 promotion – after a month.
Most hotels have small, feeble excuses for gyms. Usually a couple of dumbells, one exercise bike and either a treadmill or exercise bike. Keep fit by running on the beach, paddling a canoe, renting a bicycle or just enjoying a daily swim in the sea. There is a small gym, ‘Chang Gym’ in VJ Plaza, Klong Prao which has some free weights . ‘Gym 99’ is located at Paradise palms on Pearl Beach and also offers free weights.
There is also a much larger gym, also called ‘Chang Gym’ ** Now closed ** , but not the same owner, over on the east coast about 400 metres south of Centrepoint Ferry Pier. this is the largest gym on the island and has a wide range of equipment but is more aimed at those wanting to pump iron. Not ideal if you are here on holiday but if you are staying here longterm and have your own transport then it’s the best place to work out.
In case you were wondering what happens if there is a fire at your hotel, fear not. Koh Chang has a fire department and they own a fire tender. (Note the singular.) This is based in Dan Mai, on the east coast, a mere 30 – 45 minute scenic drive from most hotels on the west coast. With that in mind, best to make yourself aware of where your hotel’s fire extinguishers are when you check in – as you’ll be helping the staff to put any blaze in your room out.
In late 2008 there was a large blaze at VJ Plaza, Klong Prao. A dozen shop units were destroyed by fire. By the time the fire truck arrived the blaze had just about been put out by locals with their own water truck. The fire engine was delayed as it couldnt’ get over the steep hill at the north end of the island with a full tender of water, and so had to fill up before going to put the fire out. Luckily there were no serious injuries to any of the occupants of the units. In the months following, the fire engine was then parked on Pearl beach, on the west coast in case of further emergency.
In ‘B’ for ‘Bars’ I mentioned ‘Sabay’ bar. This bar gained it’s popularity from the nightly fire shows that it’s staff put on. If the sight of sweaty, well-toned, young Thai guys swinging balls of fire around their heads is of interest to you then be sure to stroll past at about 8.30pm every evening. Of course, the fire show’s popularity has ensured that virtually every beach bar on the island now has a fire show of a varying degree of mediocrity and danger to spectators.
The position of ‘Fireshow Guy’ now seems to be top of the career aspirations of local teenagers who, rightly, see this as their one shot at getting off with a buxom backpacker chick. And judging by the number of bikini clad babes seen practicing and taking private lessons the odds of that happening don’t seem to be too bad.
A tour offered by a few of the agencies on the island is a night-time one to see the fireflies at play in the mangroves. ‘Iyara’ restaurant in Klong Prao, combine a meal in their riverside restaurant with a free guided, 30 minute trip to see the fireflies by old style wooden gondola. Near by, ‘Phu Talay’ restaurant also offer their diners a free trip after their meal. The number of fireflies you actually see varies a great deal so it’s a bit hit and miss – but if you’re lucky then you’ll usually see several trees lit up with a constantly moving mass of lights. That coupled with the eerie surroundings of pitch black mangroves makes for an experience accurately described as “neat” by one American friend. Our house is a 10 minute canoe paddle from firefly central so we often get lost fireflies making their way into the house at night – the little buggers send the dog crazy as they zig-zag across a darkened room.
Very occasionally you also get phosphorescence underwater in the mangroves. As the gondola cuts through the water you get a green glow around it, causing one of our guests to ask if fireflies also lived underwater.
You can also see fireflies in the Klong Son mangroves, contact the Grand Orchid hotel in Klong Son for info on their firefly tour.
The largest mangrove forests are in the south-east of the island. If you are in Salakphet or Salakkok after nightfall you can see fireflies by the thousands in the mangrove forests there by canoe or on foot, along the public walkways.
In the late afternoon it’s common to see young locals and construction workers sitting on pier or riverbanks with their rods in hand, having a ball. Fishing isn’t simply a matter of drowning worms for fun, it’s free food – which if you’re earning less than 150 baht a day and spending half of that on a large Beer Chang & 20 ciggies – is something which helps appease the wife. After seeing a few decent sized, edible fish in the estuary outside our front door I was almost tempted to borrow a fishing rod but was stopped by one of our builders who assured me that he knew a far less time consuming, and guaranteed successful way of catching fish.
It’s simple, highly effective and, as I later learnt, also illegal – so don’t try this, unless you want a bucketful of fish in less than 30 minutes. Take one 10 metre length of electric cable, throw one end in the water in an area where fish like to congregate and hold the other near a plug socket. Watch and wait. When a six inch fish swims within a metre radius of the end of the underwater cable, make a quick connection with the plug socket. This results in the fish slowly freaking out on the surface of the water thus enabling it to be scooped out with a net or by hand. If you’re lucky and fish are in close formation, you can snare five or six fish in one zap. Beats watching fish ignore your bait time and again. (The reason it’s illegal is that all small marine life gets fried indiscriminately when you power up – a situation marine biologists describe as being “not a good thing”.)
If you are into your angling, you’ll find rod and tackle shops in Klong Prao village and near Klong Prao Resort – plus most local minimarts sell cheap rods for a few hundred baht plus lures. Sea Fishing tours are available for around 1,200 baht/day, double what a snorkelling trip costs, but that’s partly due to far fewer people being interested in drowning worms whilst on holiday. More seriously, we’ve had a few guests go on sea fishing trips with a company called ‘Sea Hunter’ and they’ve all loved it. All report that the staff are organised and efficient, the equipment is good quality and the guys on the boat know their stuff when it comes to fishing. In the day time expect to catch Grouper and Snapper. At night there’s more Squid and Barracuda.
Need a new pair of sandals . . no problem. You’ll be quoted 350 baht for a 99 baht pair of flip-flops that started life by being hastily stuck together in a Cambodian backwater by pre-teen workers. Be sure to buy a tube of superglue, you’ll need it if you plan to wear them for more than a week. If you want to buy crap, then haggle the price down to nearer 100 baht. Fake Crocs should be around 150 – 200 baht for adult sizes and are surprisingly durable.
Next option is to head to one of the markets and buy from the sandal vendors. They sell decent enough quality Thai brand sandals e.g. ‘Kito’ and ‘Adda’, for 200 – 250 baht. They’re comfortable and will easily last 6 months or more with no worries, I will usually lose one of a pair well before they fall to bits.
If you want brand name footwear, forget it. There were a couple of shops selling Danish ‘Ecco’ brand shoes and sandals, at prices cheaper than in Europe – as the shoes are made here in Thailand. However, no one bought them and the shops closed after a year.
Everyone knows that they get a very disadvantageous exchange rate when they change money at their hotel or guesthouse. So why do it? Laziness, that’s why. Get yourself to one of the forex offices run by Thai banks where Traveller’s Cheques and hard currency, i.e. not your stash of Lao Kip and Nepali Rupees, can be changed at the usual bank rates. There are exchange offices on White Sand Beach; at VJ Plaza in Klong Prao; near the northernmost 7-eleven in Kai Bae; and near the 7-eleven in Bangbao.
This fancy, more flavourful version of ice cream is gaining popularity in Thailand. You’ll find it on sale through concessions from well known Thai brands such as ‘Dream Cones’ in a handful of restaurants on Koh Chang.
The nearest golf club is the excellent Soi Dao Highland course. Unfortunaley, this is about 3 and a half hours drive from the mainland ferry pier. As a result, Koh Chang doesn’t attract many golf enthusiasts.
But if you simply must hit a ball whilst on holiday there is a makeshift driving range at the airfield in Klong Prao * Now Closed * . 100 Baht will get you a bucket of balls and a golf club of your choosing. Better still is Cookies Driving Range * Now Closed * , located in Klong Son valley. A very nice driving range complete with distance markers and chipping nets has been set up here. A full set of clubs and three racks of balls are yours just just over 100 Baht.
We’ve got one and they’re one of the more popular breeds on the island, if unloved, unwanted beach and street dogs are discounted. Or at least they are popular when they are puppies but many owners forget they grow and need plenty of exercise. You’ll see a couple of unwanted, stray, retrievers on the island now. Sad, but that what happens when puppies because their girlfriend’ thinks they are cute but forget that the odds of the dog outliving their relationship i.e. to making it to 6 months, are extremely high.
A ‘Koh Chang Green Club’ was in existence a few years ago. At the time I was pretty sceptical about it. My scepticism was based on the only people I saw wearing the Green Club t-shirts were prominent businessmen & resort owners on the island; one of whom we met whilst he was overseeing construction of a small luxury development in the south-east of the island. A project he was happy to admit had to be completed quickly, he was aiming to build two nice teak wood houses in under two weeks, so as to avoid being told to stop by planning authorities. Talking much later with the one guy in the original ‘Green Club’ that was actually into doing something to protect the environment, he admitted that his initial project had pretty much been hijacked by people wanting to promote themselves using the idea of being ‘eco friendly’ as a selling point.
The ‘Koh Chang Discovery Club’, run by K. Pittaya, is now the leader in projects that help protect the environment but still provide jobs and income for locals. They operate a couple of projects in Salakphet and Salakkok. The mangrove kayaking and restaurant in Salakkok is owned as a collective by members of the local community. They all have a stake in running the business, some put in a little money, others donate their time or work there. But all share in the profits. This project won an award for involving the local community in eco-tourism development at the 2007 Tourist Authority of Thailand awards.
Many resort owners have now realised that an ‘eco’ or ‘green’ motif is a good selling point but real, effective initiatives are few and far between.
You don’t see much graffiti in Thailand but Koh Chang is home to a little bit of the royal variety. Head to Tham Mayom waterfall to see the spot where King Rama IV and, a few years later, King Rama V carved their names into the stone. It’s probably best not to ask the park rangers if you too can carve your name there or enquire as to whether this type of royal vandalism should be promoted as a tourist attraction. In 2007-08, the graffiti actually became noticeable on the island with many street signs, some corrugated iron walls around construction sites and concrete walls in out of the way locations all getting disfigured by amateurish spray ‘artists’. And in 2009, some wierd and wonderful graffiti art featuring groovy, red elephants appeared on various walls around the island. The largest being painted on a wall directly opposite the Tourist Police station in Klong Prao.
The expat-run White Sands Publications churn out a free quarterly guide to Koh Chang and the surrounding islands which includes the best maps and lots of practical, useful & sensible tourist info and seems to be the most widely available guide on the island. Funded by paid ads from local businesses.
The company behind www.koh-chang.com, a touristy website aimed at getting you to book your hotel room online with them, also produce a free ‘ultimate guide’ However, this guide appears to be targeted at potential clients for a few of the big hotels and seafood restaurants on the island and is therefore full of lengthy outdated prose on the enchanting beauty of the island and phrases such as ‘Join with us to come to experience the only one natural paradise eden of Koh Chang.‘
It’s possible to lay your hands on free island maps of varying degrees of usefulness and accuracy or you could lay out some cash and buy a fold out map from most minimarts in tourist areas. But even these maps exist more to make money from selling advertising spaces to bungalows and restaurants on the island, rather than they do to provide any useful, accurate information. A truly abysmal map, which was unique in that the map itself contained no content that could be of use to anyone was produced by a german guy a couple of years ago. A testament to his marketing skills rather than his cartography.
‘Siam East’ * Closed * is a pocket guide worth checking out if you are interested in the mainland too. Quite a lot of info on Chantaburi and Trat areas. This guide also occasionally has some pretty humourous articles and interviews obviously written by a native English speaker who realises how dull his basic subject matter is and that it needs livening up a little with some gentle piss taking.
‘Koh Chang & Beyond’ * Closed * an advertorial filled free magazine which includes basic maps & general info guide to the island and Koh Mak & Koh Kood. I occasionally write some stuff for it, for free. But more often than not I have to write in a tourist mag style which means keeping a thesaurus handy and lots of references to ‘tropical paradise island’, ‘stunning vistas’ and ‘palm trees swaying in cool tropical zephyr ‘ and every restaurant of course comes highly recommended. So take it for what it is.
After working up a sweat by simply walking around, head over to Koh Chang’s first gym, namely ‘Koh Chang Gym’ located at the southern end of White Sand beach near Bangkok-Trat International Clinic. It’s a shop unit as full of as many free weights as can possibly be packed into 24 square metres of floor space . A much larger gym, also named ‘Koh Chang Gym’ is located at one of the ferry piers on the east of the island. They have a large selection of weights machines and barbells, dumb bells etc. At the old Dan Kao pier, 400 metres south of the Centrepoint ferry pier is the biggest & best equipped gym on the island. Loads of free weight machines and sweaty Thai guys. Weekly, monthly an annual memberships are available. Also see ‘Gym 99’ located at Paradise palms on pearl Beach.
You’ll find a couple of private clinics, pluss a government hospital and private hospital on the island. There’s also a very good dentist. If you have minor ailments, it’s often far cheaper and just as effective to go to a pharmacy and get them to give you the required drugs or bandages. See this page for far more detail on hospitals, doctors, clinics and malaria.
Koh Chang’s original herbal sauna is locate in Bailan. This adobe style building quickly caught the eye of backpackers who headed there to ‘chill out’ prior to a night partying. Build a room, build a fire, throw on some scented oil – how hard could it be to run a sauna? Not very assumed a growing number of backpacker resort owners who now have their own herbal saunas. on site. You’ll also find small herbal saunas in Lonely Beach, in the centre of Kai Bae near Coral Resort and also at the far south of the village just past the turning for KB Resort. In Klong Prao, there’s a small sauna on the walkway to the beach, 200 metres south of Koh Chang Resort.
If sleeping in a fisherman’s spare room, waking up to the sound of Granny hacking up phlegm, realising you aren’t flexible enough to use a squat toilet properly and then sharing a Beer Chang for breakfast with Dad’s chums – “Hey you! Manchester United, very good.“, “You like Thai ladies?” – is your idea of a holiday then several locals in the beautiful Salakphet Bay area will welcome travellers into their humble abodes for a small fee. (You pay them, they don’t pay you.)
You won’t know the word but you’ll know what they are. When you’re travelling around the island you’ll notice row upon row of new, non-descript shop units, usually home to vendors of t-shirts, beachwear and assorted souvenir junk to run down small bars and restaurants. This type of unit is called a ‘hongtaew’. Local developers have realised that there are plenty of people willing to pay a few thousand baht a month to rent 16-20 square metres of roadside space, so it’s easy money.
The downside is that most of the hongtaews are real eyesores and if the government was serious in developing Koh Chang as a high end destination they’d bulldoze the lot of them and build landscaped public gardens, complete with rockeries, water features and gazebo in their place. A large mall could then be built in the centre of the island to provide plentiful shopping opportunities coupled with great views and an up close jungle experience. Yep, I had a sneak peak at the Koh Chang Masterplan. ;-)
In Hua Hin, on the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand, horseback riding along the beach has long been a popular pastime. Here on Koh Chang, elephant riding (trekking) is the thing to be seen doing. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that the one attempt to open equestrian centre, i.e. a couple of horses that would plod around a 200 metre oval track, failed to take off and it closed in 2006. You may notice a chestnut mare tied up roadside near Baan Chaba Resort on Pearl Beach but this functions as a lawnmower, and not as a rental. The good news that in Klong Son valley the Pony Rehabilitation Centre offers pony trekking tours and also riding lessons. So anyone with the urge to ride whilst on holiday can now do so. ( UPDATE – No horses on Koh Chang nowadays )
The number of people who avoid putting ice in their drinks on the grounds that it will be infected with the plague, or something even worse, never ceases to amaze me. Do you really think that restaurant and bar owners sit around filling small ice trays with riverwater, then sticking them in the freezer overnight?
They don’t. If they need ice they pop down to the 7-Eleven or supermarket. And to the best of my knowledge, these businesses aren’t deliberately trying to poison the entire population of the island. In the grand scheme of things, dodgy ice is the least of your worries.
Forget Walls, Nestle and the shockingly poor but very cheap ‘Cremo’. Keep a look pout for the vendors of locally made coconut ice-cream. You’ll see the guys riding on motorbikes with a sidecar containing a large super cooled container of ice-cream. The sign in English ‘ Coconut Ice Cream’ is also an indication as to what they are selling.
You can get a cone or more popular is to have it served in a little plastic tub with your choice of peanuts, sweetcorn, dried fruit bits and evaporated milk. Usually 10 baht for a small cup. But not all coconut ice cream is created equal, some ‘brands’ are far better than others which skimp on the milk & coconut and so is of a bland, icy taste & consistency.
Don’t be surprised to see lots of strange insects in and around your resort. There’s a huge number of bugs on the island – most are harmless, but some will give you a nasty nip, so it’s best not to go picking up every creature that crawls. Centipedes can be the worst of all, they don’t look harmful but their bites are a far more common cause of serious allergic reaction than snakes.
Land lines now cover pretty much all of Koh Chang. So getting a phone line installed rarely necessitates a lengthy wait as it did in the past.
This means that anyone can easily set up an internet cafe, but nowadays the profit margin aren’t so high and so fewer new ones are being opened. More small resorts are also now offering in room internet or wi-fi, options that he older larger resorts still don’t offer or, if they do, charge a crazy price for. You’ll also find some bars and restaurants are now also providing free internet usage to their patrons. As internet cafes use ADSL services supplied by TOT or CAT, two government telecom companies. This means that internet access on the island should in theory be the same as the cost on the mainland i.e. around 20 – 30 baht an hour.
It isn’t of course ,because you people are tourists and tourists pay more. So expect to pay 1 or 2 baht per minute for internet access here. However, you’ll also see daily deals – e.g. ‘Unlimited use for 100 baht a day’ which is good if you plan to send your holiday fitting in front on an LCD screen fighting to save a make believe Kingdom from the twin threats posed by the Dark Knights of Kwarg and a far slower than advertised 2MB download speed.
( Update: We’re all on fiber optic connections nowadays A 400MB connection is just a few hundred Baht/month. So no excuse for any business having slow wifi. )
There are 52 islands in the Koh Chang Marine National Park. The vast majority are small and uninhabited and only four main islands are served by regular boat services ( Koh Chang, Koh Wai, Koh Mak and Koh Kood – although Koh Kood is technically outside the national park boundaries.) Snorkelling trips take visitors to several other very small islands which are more rocky outcrops than real islands. And you’ll also find some snorkelling and a couple of small beaches on the six islands located off the west coast of Koh Chang not too far from Kai Bae and Klong Prao beaches. Paddling out to these makes for a nice day trip by kayak.
A hamlet on the eastern shore of Salakphet Bay. Home to several bungalow resorts hat get the occasional Thai tour group staying at the weekend, and a local clinic and that’s pretty much it. No reason for to you go there, but you’ll pass through it on the way to Long Beach or Hat Yuthanavy, if you venture to this part of the island.
Jet-ski rental is banned here. However, you can use your own jet-ski as a handful of people do. They are good fun for those riding them, but extremely annoying for anyone else within a two kilometre radius.
The playful, artistic elephant at Baan Kwan Chang Elephant Camp. Feed her some banana’s tell her I said “Hi”. Look into her bright, lively eyes, you can tell she’s one hell of an happy, intelligent pachyderm (or as happy as a chained elephant can be).
This area was the site of some of the first backpacker bungalow resorts on Koh Chang. Families here were the first to recognise the potential in opening their houses up to scruffy hippies in the mid-eighties. Now, 25 years on and they’re coining it in.
Interestingly, years ago the family elders divided their land between the sons and daughters. The sons, of course, got all the good land, that which was best for farming fruit. The daughters got the scraps with poor soil where only coconut palms could grow. So, it’s the daughters and descendants, that now own the beachfront resorts whereas the sons’ families still have their fruit farms.
Question: What beach holiday wouldn’t be complete without a night spent in a karaoke bar? Answer: All of them, if you’re Thai. None of them, if you’re not.
Cultural differences you see, it’s these little things that make travel to countries poorer than your own so interesting. Stay here too long and you’ll be putting ice in your beer and dipping fruit in a mix of chili powder and sugar to give it some taste.
If you feel the urge to make a twat out of yourself in public then you can find a dozen or so small ‘videoke’ places which have coin operated machines that play Thai music videos with transliterated English subtitles. These are usually drinking dens for workers but anyone is welcome to join in the fun. In Klong Prao village a large Karaoke establishment ‘Bu Pha Karaoke’ complete with restaurant upstairs and aircon karaoke rooms downstairs opened in mid-2009 on the main road opposite Noren Resort.
Is a beach vacation too laid back for you? Do you feel the need to learn how to ‘whoop ass’ in a divine manner? Look no further as in high season you’ll often find impromptu classes in various martial arts on offer from MMA loving travellers eager to find the finances required to linger longer on Koh Chang. So, keep an eye out for classes in ‘Antique Tibetan Kung Fu in the Dragon style‘. (It was never going to be in the ‘fluffy bunny’ or ‘duckling’ style, was it?)
Backpacker activity credibility checklist:
- Gives a nod to an oppressed nation? – Yep.
- Got a bit of tradition? – Sure, it says Antique.
- Is violent, but in a spiritual and therefore acceptable manner? – Heck, it’s Kung Fu – don’t you remember the 1970s David Carradine TV show? (No, you probably don’t but you pretend that you do and that it was classic TV. It wasn’t.)
Surprisingly, there’s still nowhere that offers Muay Thai courses or training on the island. Something for which there is a demand.
The longest and overall the quietest beach on the west coast of the island. Still easy to find a quiet stretch of beach even in High Season. Home to large package tour resorts, a couple of the best five stars on the island and three backpacker hut resorts for people who like peace and quiet on a budget. Klong Prao village which offers a slice of normal life, rather than being totally tourist orientated, is located near the south of the beach.
The first small village you come to as you head from the ferry piers round towards the west coast beaches. Very much a local village for local people. The inland valley is home to a golf driving range, the best elephant camp on the isl;and and a pony rehabilitation project in addition to fruit farms. If you are looking for a quiet area to live then this is a nice location, 10 minutes drive to White Sand beach.
The Thai word for island. For the sake of credibility, and also accuracy, pronounce it the same as you would the first two letters of the word ‘God’ and not to rhyme with the word ‘Go’.
The going rate for laundry services on the island is about 30 baht per kilo. There are plenty of good laundry services are available so no need to pay extortionate hotel rates if you don’t want to. It’s not as if all hotels do their own laundry, often it is sent to one of the laundry services charging 30 baht/kilo and then add a 300 – 400% markup for their trouble.
If you plan on staying a while you could also keep an eye out for coin operated washing machines, you can find the in out of the way shops tucked down alleyways on all the main beaches. These usually cost around 30-40 baht for a full load. All you need is to buy a 5 baht bag of washing powder and give up an hour of your valuable time to wait for the machine to complete its wash, rinse & spin cycle. Laundry dries within 30 minutes with a bit of sun and sea breeze. Don’t worry about not having your clothes ironed wearing slightly crinkly t-shirt won’t kill you or shame you in front of strangers regardless of what your mother may have taught you in the past.
Whether you’ve been busted for the pigs for a crime you didn’t commit or wrecked your rental motorbike and are now facing a ridiculous demand for damages, you may think about obtaining the services of a lawyer. There are a handful of companies that practice law. Practice being the operative word as a couple of them have pretty bad reputations one screwed up a land deal for a hotel that almost resulted in them losing their land; another has been described on discussion boards as a “bar girl turned lawyer” and another will happily drawn up totally bogus 99 or even 999 year lease contracts allowing foreigners to ‘own’ farmland with no title deeds. So it definitely pays to be wary.
There is a small law firm called P&P law, located in Klong Prao – opposite the temple. They charge the same prices as lawyers in Pattaya but a couple of people i know have used them and said they knew what they were doing. My first choice for anything that involved large amounts of money would be to get a lawyer from Bangkok, if not then Pattaya who doesnt’ have any connections to landowners, business people here on the island and so you know they are acting on your behalf. They’ll cost more but they wont screw up the rest of your life.
Koh Chang’s first language school opened it’s doors in July ’06 and as with most ideas that don’t involve selling junk to tourists, closed a year later. It’s now a profitable German restaurant ‘Meals and More’ rather than an unprofitable place to learn Thai or English. You’ll find a few freelance Thai teachers on the island. But no organised classes available. Thais who want to learn English will head to the mainland where they can study in large groups for a very low cost. The benefits of paying slightly more for a far smaller class size are lost on them.
For a fleeting moment in mid 2009 there were now lifeguards on duty on Koh Chang’s main beaches. Yes, seriously. Those slowly rotting white wooden lifeguard towers did house volunteer lifeguards during the period from June – August 2009. They had a variety of red flags, life belts, life jackets buoyancy aids at their disposal along with walkie talkies. One thing I noticed was that they knocked off at 5pm. So if you planned on trying to drown, it was best to do it during office hours. However, that is all history now. The 1 million baht + the local authority was provided in order to train lifeguards didn’t stretch too far and the lifeguards haven’t been seen since. So this rainy season people are still drowning off Koh Chang’s beaches.
These are provided, in varying degrees of quality and quantity on ferries and all speedboats and tour boats. But rather than being designed to keep you floating face up in the water, they are more designed so that non swimmers can snorkel whilst wearing them, and therefore are great if you want to float face down in the water. The average Thai citizen’s unnerving reliance on lifejackets as the only thing standing between the wearer and certain death whilst on or near water is something just waiting to have a PhD. thesis written on.
Most Europeans who travel and take boat trips or snorkelling tours can swim or at least have the ability to float and also understand that the odds of the boat sinking are comparatively minimal. Many Thais, for whatever reason, aren’t naturally buoyant and therefore feel the need to don a day-glo orange life preserver at the mere mention of open water. Of course, taking non-swimming grandparents and young children snorkelling and then relying on lifejackets to keep the dangers of the ocean currents at bay isn’t one of the greatest ideas ever.
There are three types of lizard that you’ll almost certainly see or hear, when you are on Koh Chang. Geckos – which are everywhere and can be very social little creatures, coming onto dinner tables to steal small scraps of food. Then you have the small long tailed lizards that like to hide in undergrowth. You rarely see them , usually you’ll hear a rustling by your feet and maybe just a very thin tail disappearing as you look down. These are known as ‘Jing Len’. And finally there is the Tuk-kae, a much bigger version of a Gecko. But several times the size and with a head that looks too large for it’s body. These guys like to live in houses or bungalows and whilst you probably wont see one you’ll hear their distinctive call a loud “Tuk -kae” sound, hence their name.
The local population falls into two camps, those who cashed in on the land price boom too soon, and those with a brain.
The former group sold their land as soon as a nice man from Bangkok came to their door and offered them a couple of hundred thousand baht plus a second hand pick-up truck for their acres of useless beachfront coconut palms. The latter group, rent out their land but periodically sell small plots when they are offered huge sums of un-taxable cash. You’ll also notice that there are only a handful of families on the island and that everyone in a certain area has similar features. Pretty much everyone is related to everyone else and now it’s common to have a child from one landed family marry one from the neighbouring villages wealthiest clan, thus creating a super-family of resort and landowners. This is the old Chinese way of doing things kicking in. Families make money, inter marry and the offspring continue to build the expanded empire.
– see ‘Beaches’. Sure the beach is excellent but now that everyone and their dog has built small bars and dirt cheap huts it reminds me too much of Koh Phi-phi (pre-tsunami) and it’s shanty town, cash-in-quick commercialism. And like Phi-phi (immediately post-tsunami) levelling the place in order to build something a little more upmarket isn’t such a bad idea. In fact, the process is already well underway with Siam Beach resort doing away with their backpacker bungalows to provide rooms suitable for families and US$200 a night pool villas plus the Bhumiyama, a good 3 star, opened in 2005 sandwiched between two backpacker hut places. On a smaller scale the tasteful ‘Warapura Resort’ provides travellers who are looking for a bit more comfort but without the hotel ambiance very good value accommodation complete with pool, wifi etc by the sea.
Lonely Planet Guidebook.
A new ‘Thailand’ edition was published in mid-2007, the problem with listings for places such as Koh Chang which are developing so fast is that by the time the book is published the information is at least 18 months out of date. A researcher for the new edition was on Koh Chang in late 2008, so expect a new edition of the Thailand guide in late 2009. And in late 2009 Rough guide and more Lonely Planet authors were on the island. ( They read this site. )
So use the LP guide and other printed publications to get some ideas, but don’t expect prices etc to be anywhere near accurate and also note that so many small resorts and restaurants open and close every year that just because one isn’t in the LP, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth staying or dining at.
You wont see any of the type used in southern Thailand, narrow, 6 metre long boats with a truck engine mounted on the back. Here locals use smaller 4 metre fiberglass boats with 6 – 15 HP Honda engines. These are dirt cheap to run and also well worth buying if you plan to be on the island for a while, the only thing you need is somewhere to moor it. The cost, including delivery for a boat and engine which is ready to go is from around 60,000 baht, get one in Trat town. The one proper , southern Thai style, longtail belongs to Panviman Resort and is used to take their guests on short trips to the islands just off Klong Prao beach.
Will you catch malaria and die an agonising death if you visit Koh Chang? Or will you be one of the lucky ones and live to tell the tale of how you survived. Who knows? In reality, you aren’t going to catch Malaria on Koh Chang. For all the reasons why and also why you shouldn’t take anti-malarial pills, see page on Health & medical care. But to sum up, if you’re worried then take anti-malarial medication and you’ll have one less thing to worry about. But the odds of catching anything are very low and the chances of having side effects fro the tablets far, far higher than the risk of actually getting Malaria.
As mangroves have a habit of blocking beach access most of those on the west coast have long been cut down already. But you can still hire a canoe and paddle down the Klong Prao river estuary to see mangrove lined riverbanks. A really beautiful mangrove forest can be found in Salakkok, in the south-east of the island. Sea canoe is the best way to visit.
However, a newly constructed concrete walkway enables lazy-arsed visitors to walk about 800 metres through the mangroves. An experience that leaves you marveling at the poor construction on the concrete walkway for which huge tracts of mangroves were obviously cut down to enable it to be built. For a nicer mangrove forest experience, head to the head of the bay in Salakphet, turn left as you pass the temple in the village and follow the road to the end. Here a wooden walkway through the mangroves awaits you. Very peaceful down here. There are a few sings with information about the mangroves, but nothing in Engish.
Whilst the seas around Koh Chang may not offer Andaman-esque crystal clear waters they do offer a wide variety of marine life for snorkellers and divers alike. Rays, eels, turtles, groupers plus the very occasional whale shark can all be seen in addition to the usual multicoloured reef fish. The most interesting things I’ve seen are a couple of small sea snakes in the water off Klong Prao beach and big turtles near Koh Rang.
There are an increasing number of afternoon / evening markets on Koh Chang. Vacant plots of land are rented to traders who set up at various places on different days of the week. The same stall holders put in appearances at all the markets which generally kick off mid-afternoon. From 2pm onwards you’ll see people putting up stalls and by 5pm things are usually in full swing. Not a great deal that you would want to buy but interesting enough to look around. If you’re anorexic you may find some cheap clothes that fit but otherwise seasonal fruit, deep fried meat by-products on sticks, tattoos, second hand TVs and a wide range of plastic items in primary colours remain the worthwhile purchases.
You’ll find massage ladies on the beach, in your resort, lurking in hole in the wall shops everywhere on the island. Finding one isn’t a problem, finding a good one is far harder. Cost is about 250 – 350 baht for a beach massage lasting an hour or so. A good way to unwind after a day’s swimming/canoeing/elephant riding/snorkelling etc.
The vast majority are ‘traditional Thai massage only’ so, guys, if you’re in need of some form of ‘special’ massage for your dangly bits you’ll need to shop around – preferably discreetly. Getting a stiffy whilst enjoying a beach massage is considered impolite, and the odds are the massage girl won’t be impressed as she’s probably seen bigger & better in her time.
For a good value, proper massage away from the beach in well decorated, clean surroundings try Sima Massage, Klong Prao – near Chang Chutiman elephant camp. I know lots of people who have been there and they will get all the knots out of your muscles. Your body will feel like jelly by the time they finish with you.
Missing the ferry.
One of the common fears anyone arriving on Bangkok Airways evening flight is “What happens if we miss the last ferry and are stranded at the pier?” Don’t worry, that hasn’t happened yet and even if flights are delayed a by a couple of hours or so a special ferry s arranged for passengers on flight PG307. Trat airport is an informal place, you’ll be out of there 15 minutes after your plane lands and then it’s only another 15-20 minute drive to the ferry pier. The ferry waits for passengers who are on the airport minibus shuttles to the island. It won’t leave without you. Anyone heading to Koh Chang by bus should leave Bangkok before 12pm to make sure that they can get to Laem Ngop or Centrepoint piers in time for the 7pm ferry.
It’s handy to have a mobile if you are spending a bit of time in Thailand. No need to use your SIM from home, just buy a Thai SIM card for between 50 – 300 baht and use that. They will work with most European phones. The main service providers are AIS, DTAC and True. The price of the SIM card also includes a credit for phone calls. Buy a 300 baht SIM and you probably won’t have to refill it at all during a 2 week holiday. Pre-paid refill cards are available from just about any mini-mart in the country. There are a handful of mobile phone shops on Koh Chang, these sell both second hand and new phones. As of mid 2020, the cheapest smartphones are 1,000 baht or so. No frills, but it makes calls, SMSs, has apps and GPS and you won’t care if you lose or drop it.
This wouldn’t be Thailand unless some poor dumb creatures were being exploited. The dumb creatures in question being the visitors who head to see ‘attractions’ such as this one. Animal rights activists and anyone who’s sense of humour has developed further than guffawing over the sight of a leashed monkey dancing to Britney Spears’ latest offering should steer clear. “Look, Mummy, the monkey can walk around on two legs!”, “So could you dear if I held you up by a noose around your neck.” If you haven’t already visited Koh Chang, then you have now missed your chance to see this as the monkeys have all graduated and so the school is now closed.
There’s a monastery in Klong Prao and one of the perks seems to be that off duty monks are free to lurk around the beach near KP Huts trying to work their devout Buddhist charm on female backpackers. There are also couple of monk retreats (basically monk campsites ) in the jungle. Other monks can easily be spotted in Bangbao, Klong Son, Dan Mai and Salakphet where there are wander out of their temples early in the morning to receive alms from the locals. If you’re up around 6-7am you’ll see Thai business owners, workers and locals giving alms to monks by the main road in White Sand Beach, Klong Prao, Kai Bae etc.
100-125cc bikes are available to rent from virtually any hotel, guesthouse, hotel, noodle stall and street corner. Cost is 200 Baht for 24 hours rental which usually drops to 150 baht in low season. Expect to leave your passport or some form of photo ID as a security deposit. Most bikes are new and many are now automatic – which makes life far easier for inexperienced riders trying to navigate Koh Chang’s hilly west coast road. These will take two regular sized tourists, or four Thais, up the steepest of hills. You should be given a helmet as they are mandatory, although 95% of people don’t wear them.
Rather obviously, Koh Chang like most Thai islands, isn’t a good place to learn to ride a scooter. If you arent confident enough to learn in your own country on a test track with an experienced instructor, what makes you feel you can handle Thai roads where no-one else has read the Highway Code.)
The scooters are easy enough to control but if there is any danger or a novice rider panics then halfway up, or down, a winding, hilly road isn’t the best place to come off the bike.
Big bikes and dirtbikes are also available to rent from a couple of shops for anyone wanting to display their manliness by wrestling a V-Max around a few hairpin bends or going off-road in their resort car parks. Visit Koh Chang Choppers, at the southern end of white Sand Beach, just past the International Clinic, for Honda chopper rentals from around 600 baht/day. Avoid renting ATVs, they’re not road legal in Thailand, so you’re screwed if you have an accident.
There are two kinds of riders on K.C. The bad foreign riders and the bad Thai riders. Their traits differ however, the Thai rider will more often than not be a danger to other road users because he places all his faith in not having an accident in a small amulet his grandfather gave him rather than following any rules of the road.
This amulet gives him superhuman powers and makes him indestructible. Think about it, how fast would you ride if you thought you had eternal life?
Foreign riders pose an equal threat, not through speed, more through lack of it. Lobster tanned couples wobbling around on a 100cc scooter and eventually stalling and falling underneath the wheels of a pick-up when attempting to climb a hill are an all too common cause of tailbacks.
The best attitude to have whilst riding a motorbike is that everyone else on the road wants to kill you. If you bear this in mind you will be cautious. Also, don’t drive at night. If you do, assume that not only is every other road user is out to kill you but that they are also drunk and so don’t really care if they do.
Don’t mention the war. Or more specifically, the naval battle off the southeast of Koh Chang in January 1941 when the (Vichy) French navy opened a can of nautical whoop ass on the Thai navy. Or , as local historians prefer to recall, after a hard fought battle the French retreated . . in the direction of Bangkok.
Err, yes, that is true to a point. As after they’d sunk all the Thai ships, the French did indeed depart from Koh Chang, as they planned to sail up to Bangkok. It was down to the Japanese, who occupied Thailand at the time, to bang some heads together and tell the warring parties to stop the infighting. You could almost sense the Japanese commanders thinking “We’re never going to win the war with these guys on our side”
Regardless of who won or lost, the battle and the Thai sailors who lost their lives are commemorated in a ceremony on the mainland and also a smaller one at Hat Yuthanavy in the south east of Koh Chang every January 17-19. There is a large memorial complete with old guns near Krom Luang Pier, Laem Ngop – this is the pier that speedboats to Koh Mak depart from. The memorial at Hat Yuthanavy on Koh Chang is much smaller, just a spirit house for the souls of the dead sailors and a flag which usually flies the old Thai Navy flag – with white elephant at the centre.
Supermarkets on Koh Chang now stock the day’s Bangkok Post or The Nation newspaper.
New Year Gala Dinners.
Yet another pet hate of mine are the compulsory ‘gala dinners’ which guests staying at larger resorts and hotels over New Year, and often Xmas have to pay . . . along with inflated room rates.
I’m not sure who coined the phrase ‘gala dinner’ but I’m sure that it wasn’t originally used to describe a mediocre buffet and entertainment that consists entirely of the male hotel staff dressing up as women and lip synching Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s greatest hits – plus “I will survive” for the finale, whilst guests, who attend only to avoid wasting the 2,500 – 4,500 baht they’ve prepaid, down litres of free ‘punch’ in a desperate attempt to get in a party mood.
If it’s a full on full moon experience you’re after, heading to the islands south, rather than east, of Bangkok is a better bet. There’s a couple of nightspots that fall into the ‘nightclub’ category – Sabuy Bar on white Sand beach is one. they have live band and are often very busy. They also sometimes have fairly well known Thai bands appearing. ‘Vitamine Club’ Lonely Beach caters for a 99% backpacker crowd who still haven’t realised than dance music is dead.
There are also a handful of beer bar enclaves by the roadside on White Sand beach, Chai Chet and in Kai Bae. See the ‘B’ for Bars page for more info
Elsewhere you’ll find plenty of small bars which will stay open until the last customer leaves or passes out, whichever is sooner.
Don’t bother unless it’s been raining a hell of a lot in the previous 24 hours as this is a minor attraction if ever there was one – a small fall at the end of a usually track. Although the nearby restaurants just north of Dan Mai village are supposedly good so it’d make a pleasant enough stop on an east coast trip if you happened to get a puncture nearby.
Novels featuring Koh Chang.
Pick up a copy of ‘Thai Girl’ by Andrew Hicks at the airport or any good bookshop in Bangkok. Since being published in 2004 it’s been the best selling English language novel in Thailand. Part of the story is set on Koh Chang and the author is a regular vistor to the island. Reviews were uniformly positive, so you should have no qualms about it being ideal for a poolside read whilst you are here. Especially if you need an alternative to violent thrillers or want to stand out from the ‘DaVinci Code’ or Tom Clancy reading herds.
Koh Chang was home to one of the oldest people in Thailand, the matriarch of the clan that own most of Kai Bae. She thought she was 108, family members weren’t so sure but agreed that she is definitely over 100. She lived on the island all her life and attributed her longevity to daily shots of Thai whisky. You used to see her pottering around KB Hut Resort in Kai Bae.
Adventurous souls will head off to discover one of the other islands in the Koh Chang archipelago e.g. Koh Kham, Koh Laoya, Koh Rayang, Koh Mak, Koh Wai or Koh Kood. Unfortunately you will find that you have been beaten to it by large groups of Thai package tourists if you travel during weekends in the high season.
And, if you have particularly bad luck you’ll find yourself in the next bungalow to a group of Thai students, one of whom has brought his acoustic guitar along. He will play The Scorpions’ ‘Winds of Change’ repeatedly until daybreak. If you’re really unlucky a murdered version of ‘Hotel California’ will be thrown in for good measure.
Bangbao Boat runs passenger twice a day from Koh Chang – Koh Wai – Koh Mak – Koh Kood but only during high season. Ferry services For a mid price tropical island getaway take a look at Rayang Island Resort on Koh Rayang, southwest of Koh Mak. ( Koh Kham Resort, on Koh Kham north of Koh Mak, closed in 2008 when the island was bought by a property developer.)
Speedboat services to Koh Mak and Koh Kood also now run from Kai Bae during High Season
( Update – leaving this in here as although it’s outdated, it’s a reminder how fast things change. Remember payphones and landlines in your home? )
Landlines are now installed in virtually all resorts and medium size businesses. A number beginning ‘039’ is a Trat province land line number. Blue public coin phones can be found in most small hamlets on the road around the island. Using these will be way cheaper than calling from a guesthouse/hotel. To make cheap calls elsewhere in Thailand just dial ‘1234’ before you dial the Thai number. This costs around 1.5 baht minute. So the next time a tour agent charges you 50 baht for a 30 second call to reconfirm an airline booking with an airline office in Bangkok you know you’re being ripped off.
Most payphones can also be used to make international calls. They have info in English about how to do this but if you use a ‘007’, ‘008’ or ‘009’ prefix instead of the usual ‘001’, you’ll get much cheaper call rates – sometimes as low as 6 or 7 baht/minute to many Western countries.
The payphones outside 7-Eleven minimarts take phonecards that can be bought inside. These are for making international calls and use VOIP, so are also far cheaper than making a regular overseas call. You can also buy International ‘Tourist SIM ‘cards from True, one of the mobile phone operators. These offer VOIP over a mobile at very cheap rates.
Skype is also available at most internet cafes, that will save you a small fortune if you need to call the folks back home regularly whilst on your travels.
The large Kodak Shop on White Sand Beach, in the roadside shop units at Koh Chang Lagoon Resort, is probably the best place to get photos developed. You can also get passport photos, for around 100 baht for a four pics, and they will do portraits and other tacky soft focus photos of you and your wife and child. Prices at this shop are far higher than in Bangkok, but are still much cheaper than getting pictures developed in Europe.
It is possible to find a specialist photographer, or at least someone with a nice camera who can point it in the right direction, on Koh Chang, although unless you plan to get married here you probably won’t have any need. The locally produced free guides often have adverts for photography services, for one or two issues until whoever placed the ad realises that it isn’t a viable business here yet.
There are now several places offering decent homemade pizzas Baan Nuna were the first and were followed by Invito Restaurant who deliver for free in White Sand Beach and for an additional 30 baht in Klong Prao & Kai Bae. If you’re in Kai Bae then try the pizzas from Kai Bae Marina, located nowhere near the sea, but near the southernmost 7-Eleven mini-mart and very tasty.
On paper, very strict. In practice you can build what you want if you are rich enough and even if you aren’t you can ignore the local planning officers as the only power they really have is to stick a sign up telling offenders to stop building . . . . please . . . . otherwise they will come back and stick up another notice. Which of course will be ignored and once something’s built it’s extremely hard to get a court to convict someone of building something illegally on their own land and force them to tear it down.
More seriously, one of the problems on Koh Chang is that a lot of roadside construction is done on land with no title deeds. if the land is untitled farmland then technically you cant build on it. Therefore, it would be impossible for the Planning Dept to approve any plans for a structure build on this type of land. However, you do still have to submit plans, but they will not be officially stamped as being approved, you’ll get a verbal OK. This compromise means that the Planning guys know what is being built and get a little cash in their back pocket, but if there is any complaints in the years to come they can also show that they never actually approved any building work on the land.
This is why, although lots of people do build on farmland on Koh Chang, you shouldn’t spend your life savings doing so. If you are building a house, build it on titled land and have the plans approved properly. It will cost you a bit more but you’ll have peace of mind.
Tourists like to go shopping – that much we know. But who told the Thai developers that the deep U-shaped plaza layout was one that would attract custom?
The problem is that most people don’t walk to the back of a U-shaped plaza, they linger at the front, near the roadside. Which means that those who have rented units at the back have a n extremely hard time attracting any business other than that which comes from regular customers i.e. other shop, restaurant, bar owners whose businesses are also located at the back of the plaza and therefore have plenty of time on their hands. VJ Plaza in Klong Prao is the definitive example of a death zone for businesses, with many units at the rear changing owners virtually every year. And the rear units at 339 Plaza in Kai Bae were only occupied for 12 months when it first opened, and until everyone saw how quiet business was. They have been deserted for 3-4 years now.
A pretty laid back bunch. Most appear to be more interested in spending time on their outside business interests, which usually involve running bungalows, bars, acting as land & building agents etc than actual police work. Although I’m sure they’re fully committed to protecting & serving during office hours.
Many newcomers interested in setting up a business and on the lookout for help and advice often opt for assistance from the local men in brown. If you can’t trust the Thai police to help you out, then who can you trust? (Rhetorical question)
When boredom sets in, as it does with all of us, police uniforms are donned and fun is had by setting up checkpoints and seeing who can pull over the most tourists on motorcyclists who aren’t wearing helmets. You’ll need 100 – 200 baht in your wallet unless you want to walk home and explain to the bike rental place how you were hauled in for a grilling by the fuzz. Don’t expect sympathy, expect to have to fork out a few more Baht in way of a surcharge.
There are police boxes roadside on all the main beaches. I’m not quite sure of the purpose as the one time I needed some help they weren’t much help. I just wanted a brief report, in Thai, to say I had reported my phone as being lost, having this would enable me to get a new SIM with the same number from the mobile phone company. But I was told that this simple form couldn’t be issued at the police box. So I had to go 30 kilometres to the main police HQ in Dan Mai where initially I had to hang around for 15 minutes, until a commercial break in the program that was showing on the TV in the office. Then a weary officer whipped out a pad of paper and hand wrote a five-line report for me, stamped the police logo on the top, charged me nothing and sat back down to watch part two of the daytime soap opera.
Encouraged by the Thai government’s plans for Koh Chang to develop as an upmarket destination for polite, middle-class families who like nature and gay couples who like to spend lots of money, developers have knocked up some pretty decent resorts.
As the foreseen masses haven’t yet descended on Koh Chang this means there are some very good deals to be had at the larger resort hotels. This was especially true in early 2009 and 2010 which, thanks to the economic downturn coupled with the closure of Bangkok Airport and demonstrations against the government, were both far quieter than previous years. A bit of shopping around meant that you could find very nice rooms for 30-40% lower than their normal rates. This will probably still be the case in 2010-11 High Season
The facilities at the luxury resorts are usually pretty similar. Infinity pool, spacious rooms – some with indoor & outdoor bathrooms, umpteen satellite TV channels and an overpriced restaurant which you swear you won’t use but you will, as you’ll be too lazy to wander out of the confines of your hotel when nightfall comes. Note that staff remembering your name isn’t just a sign of good service, it’s also a sign of how few guests they have.
Resorts such as Tropicana, Ramayama, Bhumiyama, Panviman, Aiyapura, Aana, the Chill, The Dewa and even Emerald Cove can all be booked at the fringes of high season for the same cost as a night in an English Bed & Breakfast.
You’ll find plenty of scenic view type postcards for sale island wide. However, if you want something a little different take a look at Curlykez Gallery’s collection of postcards. You can find these at several shops on the island. The arty pics make a refreshing change from the usual deserted beach, palm trees and sea view photos.
There is a new one, by the roadside in Pearl Beach. look for the sign saying ‘Post Office’. It offers all services of the postal variety as you’d expect. For some unknown reason the postal service top brass that be have installed a postbox shaped like Flash Gordon’s rocketship at what once was a scenic viewpoint overlooking Kai Bae beach.
The electrical supply tends to go off at least once every couple of weeks. Usually these outages only last a few minutes, however during the rainy season you can have several hours without power. If you’re in a resort then they will have their own generator and so you wont be affected. But all small businesses will have the lights out until power comes back.
Longer power cuts are usually the result of branches or entire trees falling on the lines. But lines are repaired far quicker here than in many countries – even if it means leaving live cables running along the ground whilst fallen trees are removed and new poles set in concrete.
Queen’s Cup Kayak event. A worthwhile event that died a sad and lonely death in 2008 when it was called off due to complete lack of interest.
The event was designed to raise funds for Thai elephants, the idea was good but always seemed secondary to a back slapping session for sponsors and second tier local government officials.
The original un-tourist friendly format was teams of three people paddling for 3 days around the island, then a better one day format with teams of 2 paddling from Bangbao – Koh Mak and 2008’s event was to have featured a better format with a mix of shorter races off White Sand beach. But no-one could be bothered to enter, so it was called off at the last minute.
A pity, because if promoted and supported by businesses and resorts on the island properly it could have been a nice little annual tourist attraction for the island.
Update – Didn’t last long once Spotify was born.
Local radio arrived on Koh Chang in mid-2005 with the launch of the ‘poptastic’ Koh Chang Tourist Radio which later became SEA FM when it became clear no tourists listened to it. Very few people travel with a portable transistor radio nowadays and the phrase ‘Turn on the tranny’ now has a completely different meaning.
To join the on air shenanigans, get your finger on the dial and mosey on over to 98.5FM broadcasting to all the areas of South East Asia that lie within a couple of kilometres of Koh Chang.
From my one and only listening experience, conducted in the name of research, the output consisted of 70% Issan hits from the 80s, 25% advertising for laundries, noodle shops and motorbike repair centres (adverts in English come courtesy of two guys with French & German accents, which, when you hear interspersed with crap Thai pop, sets the surreal tone perfectly.) and 5% Bee Gees, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton and an hourly playing of ‘Hotel California’ and other easy listening favourites etc – which is for you . . . the foreign visitors.
When it rains it really does piss down with a vengeance. For anyone, myself included who is used to Bangkok’s rainy season weather i.e. a storm then a couple of days sunshine followed by another storm and so on, the rain on Koh Chang will come as a bit of a shock. It can rain solidly for a week or more., although this is pretty rare. But you do get long periods where everything from your house to clothes remain in a state of semi-dampness for weeks. Trips to Koh Chang’s waterfalls can kill a day but after that your best bet is to check into a rainproof hut and get hold of a few good paperbacks or hunker down in an internet cafe and catch up on all the porn you’ve been missing whilst being away from the office.
The main rainy season is from June – October. During this time it will rain during your stay on the island. Just how much is down purely to luck. With luck on your side, they’ll be a shower in the morning , clouds will clear and the afternoons will be sunny. Unlucky, and you’ll be huddled in your hut only venturing out when the clouds break and there is a brief respite long enough for you to get to a restaurant, eat and get halfway back to your room before it starts pouring again – leaving you a sodden mess.
Real Estate Agents.
None of the large firms that operate in the busy tourist destinations such as Phuket, Samui or Pattaya have an office based in Koh Chang yet. One tried, lasted a few months chose the wrong partner here and then disappeared.
There are a couple of small offices all of which seem to have pretty much the same selection of land for sale. But they all face the same problem of a lack of small plots of titled land that are affordable and suitable for housing. Also for most, selling land etc is secondary to selling tickets for snorkelling or elephant trekking trips to tourists. So it’s unlikely that the staff in the office can give you any additional information other than what’s written on a piece of paper in front of them.
Renting or leasing land/property.
Anyone making a quick visit to Koh Chang in the hope of snapping up a nice plot of land or property to rent easily will probably be in for a disappointment unless they are happy to pay over the odds. Virtually all rentable real estate isn’t advertised anywhere in Thai or English and the stuff that is is often overpriced and/or not worth renting in the first place.
As with buying land, the best way to find out what’s available in your preferred area is to put in a lot of leg work and ask around. The most recent, laughable attempt to price a resort for rent resulted in an asking price of 4,500,000 Baht annual rent for a small newly constructed resort in one of the quietest areas of the island that would require a hard to achieve 200% occupancy rate in order to make a profit.
The one main fact to bear in mind if you do decide to rent land or a property is that unless the owner will register the contract at the government Land Office in Laem Ngop, the contract is only legally binding for 3 years – regardless of whether the contract says it is for 9 years, 30 years or whatever. A related fact is that the vast majority of landlords wont give registered contracts. So you have to make a decision based on what you deem to be an acceptable level of risk for the amount of money you are putting in.
Anyone thinking that people who stay in large hotels are putting cash in the hands of big corporations whilst those who stay in backpacker huts are putting cash in the hands of locals are deluding themselves on the second point.
Businessmen have long realised that backpackers are a good source of cash, sure they don’t spend as much on a daily basis but it’s far easier & cheaper to knock up a few wood huts than it is to build a luxury resort and staff it. For example, one of the most popular places to stay on Lonely Beach is owned by a well-known politician another by a very wealthy businessman who also owns resorts. A few locals, however, have refused the blank cheques offered by businessmen – the prime examples being the family that owns most of the Kai Bae beachfront properties.
Update: A few of these restaurants from 2006 are still around. There’s now a proper restaurant guide on the site.
I’ve never got round to reviewing restaurants properly for the simple reason no-one’s yet offered me a lifetime of free meals in return for a favourable review. The places mentioned below all serve predominantly Thai food and seafood.
I’m not a fan of the vast majority of western food served up on Thai islands as it tends to be crap and if I’m paying a few hundred baht for a steak I’d like to know that the guy cooking it knows the difference between ‘rare’ and ‘well-done’ at a minimum.
Therefore, in no particular order here are a few places that I’ve tried and rather like:
Cookies, White Sand Beach – On the beach and very popular, good food, good prices and good size servings. Popular with Thais too. Not a gourmet experience but with so many options you’ll be able to keep even the fussiest of family members happy and well fed without breaking the bank.
Sangtawan Resort, White Sand Beach – Just north of Cookie, almost as good and prices are low. If you’re staying in a beachfront resort nearby, don’t feel compelled to eat there. Choose a beachfront restaurant which might not be as fancy but will serve food with some flavour and not the ‘toned down to the point of being tasteless’ crap that I’ve had at a couple of large resort restaurants on White Sand Beach.
Texas Steakhouse, White Sand Beach – A place to go to when you get bored of seafood and need red meat, carbohydrates, starch and a few pieces of salad or veggies to make you feel as though you’re eating healthily. The chef ensures you get western food the way western food should be cooked and well trained Thai staff provide the service in this small, 30 seat rooftop restaurant. Limited menu, with some Thai dishes, but the ribs are as good as I’ve had anywhere. As a bonus they make some of the best cocktails on the island. If you have never had a cocktail containing sweet basil leaves then you should give it a go. (If you just want a large well built burger washed down with a couple of beers then the nearby Buffalo Bills is a better bet.)
Invito, White Sand Beach – In Para Resort, on the road south out of White Sand Beach. Probably the nicest stand alone restaurant on the island. Decor, design and service are top notch. Very good, but pricey, Italian food and good place to go if you’re celebrating something. But current location far too noisy to make it a place for a romantic meal. If you visited Invito in it’s previous incarnation when it was located adjacent to a dozen loud beer bars, try the new restaurant for a similar quality meal but at a far lower decibel level.
Bamboo Restaurant, Bamboo bungalows, White Sand Beach. Pretty good Thai food and a ‘better than you’d expect’ Italian menu too. OK, so it’s not as good as the best Thai & seafood resturants and it’s not as good as the best Italain restaurants on the island. But prices are good and the Italian food that I’ve had there is much better than average. Another place to go if you want to eat Thai or seafood but your partner or fussy kids want pizza or pasta. Or better still just combine the options and have a four cheese pizza with your green curry and BBQ snapper.
Somtam shop, White Sand Beach – Located pretty much opposite Para Resort on the road heading south out of White Sand beach at the sign for Giant Bungalows. It probably has a name but I can’t remember it off the top of my head and there’s no sign in English anyway. Not much of a menu in English either. But it’s easy enough to order Somtam and sticky rice and point to chicken or pork on the BBQ. The somtam is the best you’ll find and they do very nice deep fried, marinated sun-dried pork in sesame seeds ‘Moo Det Diaow’ in Thai. Really good. Always gets packed full of Thais from Bangkok at the weekends and high season.
Chumnan Restaurant, Klong Prao. At first glance this may seem like a home for alcoholic expats as you may well notice several nursing their beers here at 10am in the morning in High season. They are here because a large Beer Chang is 44 baht – the cheapest on the island. Don’t let that put you off, the food is just as cheap, with most dishes going for 30 baht. they also do a selectiuon of western food and have a menu in English. The food is also very good, I regularly get lunch here. The only downside is that it is run by a local family who aren’t that used to cooking for more than one person at once. Go to a busier restaurant and you’ll see the cook has three burners on the go at once. Here everything is prepared one by one, so best to eat luch or dinner a bit earlier or later than usual to avoid a wait. Located on the main road next to the temple.
The Spa Koh Chang, Salakkok – Way over on the east of the island but if you are into healthy eating it’s a must if you find yourself passing by. Give the Thai dishes a miss and go for the vegetarian options washed down with concoctions such as a cayenne pepper, lime and honey cooler. Dessert is a ‘Softy’ – which is basically either ice cold banana, mango or pineapple pushed into a juicer. The resulting pulp has an ice cream like texture but is 100% fruit. Served topped with cinnamon honey. The resort and restaurant are also extremely well designed.
Yummy Hut, Klong Prao – About 50 metres north of the turning for Tropicana Resort, but on the opposite side of the road. Run by Rak and her husband. They’ve both got years of experience in the restaurant business and speak very good English. Their dishes are usually a little different to the regular Thai food, they like to experiment a little and substitute ingredients which makes their food stand a out from the host of other similar restaurants in the area who serve generic Thai dishes. If you’re staying at Tropicana or Barali Resorts, then this is a place well worth visiting.
Sassi Italian, Amari Emerald Cove Resort, Klong Prao. If you want to impress someone for whatever reason and you know that they are the type of person who wants not only good food, but good service as well then this is the place to go. Great Italian food, fairly formal ambience but with staff as good as you’ll find anywhere. One restaurant where you can order a starter, main course and dessert and be sure that they will arrive in that order and also that you wont have finished your entire meal before your partner’s soup makes it to the table.
P’ Nid’s Restaurant, Kai Bae – No signs in English, other than one that says ‘Thai Food 25 baht’ this is the place to go for 25 – 30 baht meals. They have an extensive small menu in English and a bowl of the best Tom Yam Gung on the island will set you back about 60 baht . The staff and owner, who’s from Kai Bae, don’t speak much English but you wont care when you eat the food. We’ve been going there for over 5 years and have yet to have a bad meal. Located about 50 metres just south of ‘Blues Cha Cha’ but on the opposite side of the road. Look for the phone booth roadside, which is in front of the restaurant.
Pak Pao Noodles, Kai Bae – Midway between the two 7-Elevens, near LaLuna guesthouse. A standalone building set back from the road with plenty of parking. Khun Anne, the middle-aged owner speaks excellent English and attracts Thai in droves with a franchise for extremely hot noodles from the north of Thailand. The secret is in the way the meat is prepared and the spiciness of the chilies. But they can make it milder. On the face of it all they sell is variations on this one type of pork noodle soup. But they do have other food and regular Thai food as well.
KB Hut Noodle Shop, Kai Bae. Take the turning signposted to KB Hut,opposite the southernmost 7-Eleven in Kai Bae. Head 50 metres down and you cant miss the large open sided restaurant on your left. Menu in English. Very good noodles and all Thai dishes for around 35 baht / plate. Always busy and great for people watching,. There are lots of cheap places to eat but you know this one is good as Thais working elsewhere on the island will regularly hop on their scooters and ride a few kilometres to eat here.
KB Resort & Kai Bae Beach Restaurants, Kai Bae – You cant really go wrong at either of these places. More expensive than the places I mentioned on White Sand Beach but serving consistently good food. Not a really great culinary experience but on the list as a good combination of location and food where you can;t go wrong. The resorts are next door to each other so easy to try both places during your stay. KB Resort wins marks for presentation and use of coordinated tableware. KB Beach has a restaurant right on the shoreline and every dish will arrive in a totally mismatched plate or bowl.
Treehouse, Lonely beach. Spend a night hanging with the travellers. Sit on the open deck by the sea, eat surprisingly good dirt cheap food which is not as toned down as you might expect in a place catering solely to young western palates. Wash it down with a bucket of your favourite cocktail
If you now have too many options, I’ll keep it simple for you. The one restaurant that you shouldn’t miss eating at while you are on Koh Chang is:
Kati Culinary, Klong Prao. On the main road 100 metres before Chang Chutiman Elephant Camp, 50 metres north of the turning for Tropicana Resort.
Run by a mother and daughter, using the mother’s recipes. She’;s in the back cooking and Ning is out frotn taking orders and looking after diners. I haven’t had any Thai food that is better than this on Koh Chang. There are only around 10 tables, so arrive early or call them to book a table in high season. One thing to remember is that everything is made fresh to order and so don’t expect a fish to arrive at your table in 10 minutes, figure on nearer 45 minutes – the time it takes to prepare and cook from scratch. Veggie options are available for all dishes and make sure you leave some room for desert – home-made ice cream or friend banana with cinnamon honey.
And as Plan B, if you prefer to dine by the sea . . .
Saffron on the Sea, Pearl Beach. Take the signposted turn towards the beach, just north of the Post Office. Another small place where you feel like you are eating in someone’s garden rather than in a restaurant. The resort only has a handful of bungalows and the restaurant consists of even fewer tables in a very nice garden setting by the sea. Ideal spot for a romantic meal with no music from karaoke, fire juggling shows or traffic noise, just the sound of the waves. As with Kati, everything is prepared from scratch, so you will have to wait a while for your food to arrive. But the wait is well worth it – guaranteed. The kitchen is open so you can watch everything being prepared.
Overall the roads on Koh Chang are in good condition. You’ll have no problem driving a small rental car around the island. No need for pick-up on the majority of roads as an asphalt road almost circles the island. Around the east coast the road is relatively flat, on the west coast there’s a very step climb between Kong Son & White Sand Beach, from there it’s flat road until you leave Kai Bae and the road morphs into a mini rollercoaster until you reach Bangbao at the far south of Koh Chang. The 10.157km (according to the sign) between Salakphet and Bangbao is a dangerous, narrow gravel topped road for motorbikes and bicycles only . . . or it would be if the central section had actually been completed. As it is, the road just stops in a dead end in the jungle after a couple of kilometres. You can go along the southeastern stretch to a beach called Wai Check, which is very nice – but only by motorbike as bridges are now washed out.
If you want to experience great views and the worst stretch of road then head to the far south-east of the island and drive to Long Beach. This 7km road is paved for half it’s length but with every rainy season it falls into a worse state of repair. Landslides and erosion is a big problem and before long large areas will start to crumble and slide down the hillside. But there are some spectacular vistas to be had as the road runs along a hillside overlooking Salakphet Bay. If you want to continue after the paved road ends, it’s better to have a 4×4 or a good motorbike.
A lot of complaints are made about the roads on Koh Chang being too narrow but plans were approved to add footpaths and widen the road in certain places on the west coast. In mid-2006 the road was widened from White Sand Beach down to Kai Bae to include an additional bicycle lane / parking area / area for setting up market stalls which runs along the beach side of the road. it isnt raised, so although it can be used as a footpath it is clear that providing for pedestrians isn’t top of the planners’ agenda.
The road widening continued in 2007/08 with a 100 metre long section in Klong Son village being widened to remove a kink in the road that caused drivers to have to slow down in their rush to get to the ferry. With the road wider and straighter there’s no need to change down into second gear when you pass through the village.
In mid 2008, a section of road on the hill at the southern end of White Sand beach the hill section was widened with the addition of a pointless inside lane that provides a place to park cars and what should be a lane divider full of plants, but which is only inhabited by weeds.
Go back and read the ‘Restaurant’ section above. ‘Saffron on the Sea’ is the place to be for great food, intimate atmosphere by the sea or if you want aircon, a multitude of knives and forks and extensive wine selection then ‘Sassi’ at the Emerald Cove is for you.
The perception that most tourists have is that Thailand is a smiley, happy, friendly place – a kind of utopia. In reality it isn’t. The murder rate here is higher than most European countries. But on the whole it’s Thai v. Thai and so tourists are usually safe. But you shouldn’t be complacent. It’s unlikely someone will whack you over the head and steal your wallet or knife you for no reason whilst you are on Koh Chang, but thefts and more serious incidents such as rape and murder do occur here – although they rarely get reported as that would be bad publicity for the island.
Salakphet Bay is where all the yachties hangout. There are no sailing schools on the west coast but if you want to charter a yacht or learn to sail this can be done at ‘Gulf Charters’, located at Island View Pier in the village of Baan Rong Thian on the western shore of the bay. Also, the well-known, world wide yacht charter company ‘Sunsail’ has a fleet of yachts moored at Koh Chang Marina a kilometre to the north.
Private yachts can also be moored at both Island View and Koh Chang Marina. Both places also offer accommodation on land in good value bungalows and apartments. This area is getting increasingly popular with sailors and anyone looking for a quiet home with easy access to a mooring for their speedboat.
The sailing here is far more of an adventure than around Phuket, for example. You will be able to call in at small fishing villages where no one speaks English and barter a bottle of booze for a few fresh fish or crabs and you will be able to moor off an untouched beach and wake up without having a dozen other yachts within eyesight.
More a strip of a couple of dozen fisherman’s houses on the shore of a large inlet than a village. Not often visited, but try to make the effort as there are some great views of mangrove forest. The view across the bay from the eastern shore is one of the best anywhere on the island. In this area you’ll find The Spa – a very nice place to stay for a week if you enjoy daily colonic irrigations; and also Salakkok Kayak Station, where you can rent a canoe to paddle through the mangroves for an hour or so.
Locals also run dinner cruises aboard traditional wooden gondoliers. You are paddled out into the centre of the bay where you can enjoy a meal aboard your boat under the stars. On a clear night it’s like dining in a planetarium.
Small relatively uncommercialised fishing village on the south east of the island. No resorts in the village but there are a few homestays. It’s a long motorbike ride to get there but worth it for the views of the bay. In the village, kayaks can be rented for 100 baht/first hour plus 50 baht for subsequent hours – hire one, paddle out to the nearby islands in the bay and enjoy the view of the mountains behind you and islands to the south of Koh Chang in front of you. You’ll also see the local fishermen with their boats moored outside their houses, something that you’ll miss if you just drive through the village.
These 2-3mm long insects are more of a pain than mozzies on most beaches. They are more of a problem on quieter beaches and outside resorts that dont rake the sand daily. Raking the sand kills the eggs that are laid and so the number of sandflies is reduced dramatically.
You can hear a mozzie but you cant hear a Sandfly, so the first you will know about them is when you feel something bite you and when you look all you will see is what appears to be a small piece of dirt or cigarette ash, half black and half white. This is a Sandfly. If you’re lucky the itching from the bite will go in 5 minutes, if you’re allergic to them then you’ll end up with one centimetre diameter red circles on your skin. It’ll look like you have measles. And they will itch a lot. Before you scratch them and they get infected, go to the nearest clinic or pharmacy and get some extra strength cortisone cream to relieve the itch and you’ll be fine. Bear in mind that most mozzie repellent doesn’t work with sandflies, but you can buy stuff from local clinics that keeps them away.
Google Earth expanded their high resolution coverage of the west coast of Koh Chang, in 2007 so if you know where you are staying you’ll be able to get a satellite view of your hotel. from the ‘Maps’ section of this site. Since then more high resolution images have been added for Koh Mak but they arent recent photos and many resorts aren’t shown.
There are six schools on the island in Dan Mai, Klong Son, Klong Prao, Salakkok, Salakphet and Bangbao. All are abysmal. Islanders with some common sense send their kids to school in Trat, which either entails the kids getting up at 5am and getting home around 7pm or having to board and spend the week on the mainland. Neither of which are good options – still it beats juvenile delinquency. Islanders with a lot of sense send their kids to study in Bangkok .
The school in Klong Son occasionally has a signboard up in the village appealing for volunteer English teachers. If you want to do some good, and thus avoid reincarnation as a lower life form, then kid yourself that spending a hour having a one sided conversation with a class of 40 bemused 7 to 10 year olds of widely varying degrees of English proficiency is one means to this particular end.
Sea Lice / Sea Fleas.
This is the name given to the things that can cause a prickling feeling when you swim in the sea at certain times of the year. It feels as though there are dozens of small pins sticking in your skin, not that painful but certainly noticeable and enough to make you get out of the water. But the prickling sensation will stop after a good shower.
These aren’t fleas or lice but are jellyfish larvae and the prickling is sensation of the poison entering your skin. The small jellyfish found off some of Koh Chang beaches only possess mild stingers, and if they sting you it feels more like the burning sensation caused when you rub an analgesic such as Counterpain onto a sore muscle. Nothing to panic about.
A seafood BBQ is another item on the ‘must do’ list of most visitors to Koh Chang. Judging by the signs outside all the large restaurants have been featured on one or more Thai TV shows at some time in the past. Prices don’t vary too much providing you steer clear of the fancy hotel restaurants. Don’t automatically rush to the beachfront restaurants though. You can eat seafood away from the sea.
Consider places such as ‘JE Seafood’, just south of the waterfall turnoff in Klong Prao. This unremarkable looking seafood restaurant hardly gets any foreign visitors. But pass by in the evening and it’s more often than not you’ll see cars and minivans lining the street. at long weekends it must be the busiest restaurant on the island and the road outside looks like the parking lot of a BWM and Mercedes dealership.
It’s where very wealthy Thais who could eat anywhere come to eat seafood when they are on Koh Chang. This restaurant is well known for the low price & high quality of the seafood, rather than for it’s decor or location. A similar place is ‘Mam Seafood’, another couple of kilometres south, 200 metres past ‘Big Elk’ steakhouse. They are a wholesaler but will also cook your seafood for you in a variety of styles. Eat it there or take away.
If you have any access to your own BBQ then you should stop off at one of the wholesale places in the Klong Prao area – just look for the very large red and blue plastic cool boxes piled up. This is where most of the resorts buy their seafood. 100 baht will buy you a decent size snapper, 200 baht for a couple of crabs, another 150 or so for half a kilo of good size prawns, 50 baht for half kilo of squid and finally 20 baht for another half kilo of mussels. That should feed 4 people easily enough
In early 2003 there weren’t any 7-Elevens on the island, by early 2004 there were three. Two on White Sand Beach, at either end of the beach and one in the centre of Kai Bae. In late 2004 another was added in Bangbao. April 2005 and Klong Son now has one too. March 2006, Kai Bae now has two. Jan 2008 and White Sand Beach now has three of them.
Say what you like about big corporations making the island too touristy, and putting local shops out of business but having a 7-Eleven nearby means that all visitors to the island no longer have to pay inflated local minimart prices for a bag of ice and that’s got to be a good thing – unless you happen to own a minimart near a 7-Eleven in which case you’re screwed.
Or rather, you would be screwed in any country other than Thailand. In reality a minimart can still get away with charging 10 baht for a bag of ice that is sold for 5 baht in the 7-Eleven even if the shop is only 5 minutes walk away from it. The exploitation of human laziness knows no boundaries other than the laziness of human beings.
Why let illegal Chinese immigrants have all the fun? On Koh Chang there have been two resorts constructed entirely of shipping containers. ‘Cabin Resort’ on White Sand Beach and ‘Charmed Resort’ – formerly known as ‘Container Staid’ (Yes, really) on Pearl Beach. To be fair, they do have door and windows and ‘Charmed Resort’ even go as far as to put a few pieces of wood on the exterior to give the appearance of a gigantic coffin . . . again, in keeping with the illegal immigrant experience.
Bang together a few sheets of corrugated iron and supporting poles and Bob’s your uncle – an open sided multi-use shack for less than the cost of a slap up seafood dinner for two. On the main road these are now being replaced with concrete shop units and shophouses.
But if you’ve ever wondered where all the workers live on Koh Chang then, for example head up to the old Monkey School near the International Clinic on White sand Beach. Or for a real, Rio de Janeiro type of slum sensation, take the dirt road that lies almost opposite Ramayana Resort, Klong Prao. This makeshift community is home to around 2,000 Cambodian workers who live in conditions that are frankly Cambodian. It’s an eye opener to see where many of the restaurant and lowly paid staff actually live. A Dutch couple have built a school for the Cambodian kids in this area to give them somewhere safe to stay, play and study whilst their parents go to work. More details here
If you want to continue the poverty tour then you’ll find a couple of inland areas in Klong Prao village where you’ll see row upon row of tin shacks with wild pigs running wild.
A day spent on a snorkelling trip is a day well spent providing you aren’t unfortunate enough to be sharing the boat with either Thai snorkellers, who in the main tend to be non-swimmers who love nothing more than standing on coral in order to pose for photos, or a tour group of 50 Europeans all of the same nationality.
Moving on . . .the visibility is usually good and you should be able to see wider variety of fish than in Krabi / Trang for example – at least that’s what I’ve found. at busy times, try to avoid going on one of the large boats. Not that there’s anything wrong with travelling with group of eighty other people but if I was a fish I’d piss off and hide somewhere quick as soon as dozens of large land mammals leapt into the water outside my front door. Try to take a small boat or speedboat tour. but outside the peak times the big boats are rarely over-crowded and more often than not you’ll have a very enjopyable day out.
Day trips should be 600 baht/person, unless you want to go on Thai Fun, Kon Tiki or other fancier converted fishing boats with western buffets that charge 1250 – 1500 baht/person. There’s no real reason to pay extra if you want to go snorkelling. The more expensive trips include more sightseeing and less time in the water.
Snorkelling Sites off Koh Chang.
There are a couple of average sites for snorkelling near the shoreline on Koh Chang. If you’re staying near Pearl beach then get hold of a mask and snorkel and swim out from the shore a little way, here you’ll see living coral and a variety of fish. An alternative is Chai Chet Cape, at the northern end of Klong Prao beach, swim out and around the rocky cape and you should see quite a few fish, but no coral.
Down in Bangbao the cove at Cliff Cottages affords some pretty good snorkelling too. But the best close by to Koh Chang is at the islands offshore from Klong Prao and Kai Bae beaches which often have clear water and plenty of fish on display. But you’ll need a sea kayak to get there or have to get someone to take you out in their boat.
There are numerous somtam restaurants on the island. One consistently good cheapy is adjacent to VJ Supermarket in Klong Prao. The BBQ chicken is also good as is the deep friend sun dried pork ‘Moo Det Diow’.
In second place is the stall in Klong Son, opposite the 7-Eleven which sells dirt cheap fried chicken and excellent somtam.
However, for the real Thai experience you need to head to the somtam & BBQ chicken restaurants at the entrance to Klong Plu waterfall. There appears to be more than one restaurant but in reality they are the same place run by different members of the same family, so prices & quality are the same. When Thais travel in large groups they will often head to a somtam & BBQ chicken place as you can feed everyone easily. A dozen plates of spicy somtam, couple of tubs of sticky rice, a chicken or two, coke for the kids and beer for the adults – easy. You can even sit near the river in the shade.
If you want to take a look at some of the other islands around Koh Chang, the best way is to travel by speedboat as the distances involved are pretty big. However, as speedboat hire starts at around
7,000 baht/day for an 85HP boat, more for a larger boat with 200HP outboard, you really need to get a group together for the cost vs. convenience argument to swing in the speedboat’s favour.
If you’re Thai this isn’t a problem as it’s odds-on you’ll be travelling with at least a dozen of your best mates/co-workers.
If you’re a foreigner then you’ll have to resort to attempting to organise something will fellow guests at your bungalows and, as anyone who has ever attempted to organise a disparate group of tourists knows, this is a nigh on impossible feat.
Come the morning of the planned trip, the Japanese guy will have got lost somewhere, the hippy chick has signed up for a journey of self discovery via a meditation class on the beach, the two unfeasably chiseled Swedish guys will have got off with local girls and the Brits will be too hungover to find the boat let alone be allowed anywhere near open water. Thus leaving Joe and Melinda, the tanned, enthusiastic American couple who organised the multinational event, wondering WTF happened to their coalition of the willing.
Spirit House Graveyard.
At the top of the hill between White Sand Beach and Klong Son there was a collection of discarded spirit houses lining a 20 metre long stretch of road. Virtually all Thai houses and businesses have a spirit house outside them, the owner will make an offering to the spirits of the land every morning and ask them to help make their business profitable etc. (This is a hangover from pre-Buddhist animist times) When the time comes to get a new spirit house, you can’t simply trash the old one. It has to be taken to a spot where it can be with other spirit houses and where it can offer a home to spirits who are trapped and can’t yet ascend to heaven.
However, in 2009, the powers that be on Koh Chang, in their infinite wisdom, decided to remove all the spirit houses and replace it with a couple of pointless wooden benches thus depriving future visitors of a slice of traditional island life.
Boat operators have come to realise that tourists will pay good money to see how squid – or more accurately cuttlefish – are caught. For a sum of 400 – 600 baht, the same as you’d pay for a full day snorkelling trip, you can go out at night for 2-3 hours and try your hand at culling the cuttlefish population. Providing you have brought your own beer with you and the conditions are right for catching squiddies it’s actually quite good fun. To tell if conditions are right, simply look out to sea at nighttime – if you can see literally dozens of boats with their lights on then conditions are right as these lights are from the professional squid fishermen’s boats.
Squid are attracted to the light, meaning that so long as there are actually some of them in the vicinity of your boat catching them is relatively simple. On the boat you’ll be given a razor sharp, upturned mini-chandelier of barbs for use as a hook. This is attached to a length of line, throw the hook over the side when you get to the fishing area and slowly move it up & down – that’s about all there is to it. One of the crew will BBQ the squid for you to eat as you fish and get pissed. Life is good.
Suzuki, a company that has the ability to produce engineering marvels such as the Hayabusa, a 200mph motorbike, is also able to turn out some of the worst vehicles ever to come out of Japan. A case in point is the Suzuki Cariban, the skinflint’s rental vehicle of choice whilst on Koh Chang.
Although retro styling is now in vogue, the Beetle, Mini, Fiat 500 for example, the Cariban is based on the classic ‘brick’ shape and is an example of designers simply not be arsed to attempt to design a car. Automotive folklore has it that it’s based on an extremely unlifelike sketch of a real ‘Jeep’ drawn by 4-year old Noriko Yamazaki, Suzuki Motor’s Chief Designer’s youngest child.
From the unsprung seats to the oversprung suspension everything about this offroader is wrong. (The offroader tag applies to the amount of time it spends in the repair shop.) And if responsive means the steering wheel does a 180 degree turn when going over the smallest of undulations then ,yes, put a tick in the ‘Responsive Steering’ box. The makers saw fit not to include any mechanics inside the gearbox with the car, instead you get one that appears to be filled with jelly. First, neutral, reverse, fourth . . . it’s nigh on impossible to guess what gear your in simply by looking at the six inches of wildly vibrating black plastic beside your left knee.
0-100km/h acceleration takes long enough for no-one to have ever successfully managed it. You’re more likely to run out of fuel before hitting top speed on the flat. Part of the problem stems from the aerodynamics which are akin to those of a caravan.
However, if you feel a cramped ride with tractor like performance will enhance your Koh Chang vacation please mention me when you rent one. (I cant afford morals when it comes to commission.)
You’re going to be surprised by the number of tailors on Koh Chang, in 2004 there were half a dozen, now there are somewhere around 50 tailors shops! There is a simple reason for this increase, many of them relocated from tsunami hit areas of the south and were attracted to Koh Chang by the relatively cheap rental price of shop units.
I’ve no idea which are the good ones and which aren’t as they all seem to be proud recipients of the coveted ‘Koh Chang Tailor of the Year Award’. So some will provide you with a perfectly fitted Armani copy for a fraction of the price of an original, and others will sell you an ill-fitting version for the price of an original.
No island would be the same without a few Indian or Nepalese run tailor shops offering genuine ‘Hugh Boss’ and ‘Giani Armani’ creations. I can’t imagine how many visitors decide they really need a double breasted three piece suit, two Oxford knit cotton shirts and free silk tie for $99, but quite a few must do judging by the number of shops offering this service. (ear in mind, no-one has ever walked out of a tailor’s with a suit and only paid $99. You’ll always upgrade to a better fabric, different style etc. Plus you’ll probably want it to fit you.
Tailors are usually portly and of Nepalese origin, although they’re Thai, from a town in the west of Thailand where most tailors originally come from. Their natural habitat is the territory around the frontage of their shop and are only rarely spotted skulking behind a pile of stock or chatting on their mobile like the common or garden Thai stallholder.
Keep a look out for the patented ‘Tailor’s Walk’ . . . as all tailors have the same demeanor. Clad in their own bespoke creations they strut around their neighbourhood, hands clasped behind their backs offering a cheery “Hello” to their neighbours and a rather optimistic “Excuse me sir, would you like a tailored lightweight linen suit in a pastel shade, as popularised in the hit TV show ‘Miami Vice’ twenty years ago?” to sunburned tourists. In some areas you’ll feel as though you’re being stalked as they’ll be tailors approaching you with flyers, business cards and the promises of wondrous offers and discounts.
If you’re easily amused you can see a tailor’s called ‘Chamois Collection’ in VJ Plaza. No idea why it’d be named after the rag you use to polish your car. But they are one of the better tailors on the island and would recommend it if you are staying in the Klong Prao area.
More seriously – a couple of things you should be aware of. Always negotiate a good discount – tailors pay big commissions to hotels, bar owners etc, hence the number of people you’ll meet who seem keen to recommend a trip to the tailors as a ‘must do’ on Koh Chang. So, if you walk into a tailor’s on your own, then that should be 10-20% off any price immediately. Average profit margins on a suit are 50-70%, therefore don’t feel too bad about haggling hard.
Also, bear in mind that no tailoring actually goes on in a tailor’s shop, there is no backroom with machinists hard at work. It’s all outsourced to a small handful of overworked, underpaid guys sitting at sewing machines in run down shacks. See the small shop units, below road level, on the beach side of the road, about 500 metres south of Klong Prao Resort. The quality of your suit also depends more on how busy these guys are as well as which shop you buy from.
When I was a lad only bikers, Motorhead and the Village People had tattoos, now it seems everyone has got a tribal motif of some kind on their right shoulder. I’m never sure if the tribal tattoo is designed to set you apart from the crowd or show you are part of the crowd. But, if you haven’t got yours yet, then what better place to get it done than lying on a sandy beach towel outside a hut on Koh Chang? There are a coupl,e of dozen tattooists on White Sand Beach, Kai Bae and Lonely Beach who will stick a sterilised needle tipped with sandy ink into your body in return for a few hundred baht.
Corporate types and twelve year old girls may prefer the henna tattoos on sale by beach vendors, they wash off after a couple of weeks so no bollocking by your boss or teacher when you get home.
If you are thinking of getting a tat remember to get it done at the end of your holiday as for a few days after having it done you wont be able to get it wet in the sea or pool. Bamboo tattoos are getting increasingly popular, one place that has been recommended to me by some of our guests is Noi Bamboo Tattoo in Lonely Beach. He isn’t cheap but does a good job.
There are no prime examples worthy of a visit on architectural grounds on Koh Chang so unless you’re cremating a close friend or relative they don’t really merit a visit. There are Buddhist temples in Klong Son, Dan Mai, Salakphet, Salakkok, Bangbao & Klong Prao. And the hill between the ferry piers and Klong Son is home to a small Chinese temple but that’s the lot. Klong Son temple dates from over 120 years ago, nearby, built on a sandbar, is a stupa that greets fishermen as they return home. a similar stupa can be see near the pier at Dan Mai.
A couple of times a year temples hold fairs which are fun to see. Temple fairs have long been a way for the temple to raise money. Expect to see lots of stuff to buy & eat, an old; classic Thai movie being shown on a projector from the 1950s; a mini-disco where the young and young at heart can get down and boogie to disposable pop from the past; never-ending games of bingo with a variety of plastic items up for grabs and form of gambling involving a frog or a rat.
In early 2010 Koh Chang’s first tennis court (singular) opened to the public at the grandly titled Koh Chang Tennis Club, located behind the motorbike repair shop in Klong Prao village. The one hard court is complemented by a small reception area where a fridge full of cold drinks and a sofa wait weary players. Around 200-250 Baht per person including racket and balls. It is floodlight though so playing at night is also possible.
About as much use to you as a chocolate teapot if you’re a landlubber, but essential if you plan on being out on the water. Printed tide tables for Laem Ngop (on the mainland) are available from the Marine Department office which is on Laem Ngop pier. Online, you can get pretty good, free, 7-Day forecasts which include wind direction etc as well as tides, from a couple of sites. Buoyweather.com has tides, wave heights etc from a spot not far from Salakphet in the south-east of Koh Chang and the British Govt.’s Hydrographic Office, has an excellent service for yachties, ‘EasyTide‘ with a free 7-day sailing forecast from places around the world – select ‘Koh Mak’ for the nearest spot to Koh Chang.
Another useful site for sailors is Wind Guru, which if your boat has sails will help you figure out just how slowly you are going to get to wherever you want to go. Expert use of the data from these sites, plus holding a moistened finger in the air should ensure you make it back to port safely.
An essential item if you are jungle trekking. Why? because of you are bitten by a leech you will need to stop the blood somehow. The leech zaps you with an enzyme that stops your blood from clotting and so the small hole in your foot or leg won’t block up. A pinch of tobacco pressed against the wound for 30 seconds and then left on your skin is what you use to stop the blood flow. I’ve tried it and it works.
How many people visit Koh Chang annually? This is something that no supposedly informed source ever agrees with another equally ‘reliable’ source. Counting ferry tickets is the easiest thing to do, but that requires obtaining accurate figures from the ferry companies. But, how would you discriminate between locals and market traders from the mainland regularly using the ferry, Thai tourists, overseas visitors, Thais visiting on business, etc etc.
The TAT use the number of visitors staying at their registered accommodation, which again relies on accurate reporting and doesn’t take into account the large number of places that aren’t listed with the TAT
The, ‘straight out of the hat’ figure that’s usually bandied around by local authorities for the average year is 1 million visitors . That’s obviously nonsense.. Since 2008 the number of visitors has been heading downward – due to the number of foreign arrivals remaining pretty contrast but the number of Thai tourists dropping significantly as prices increase. In rainy season the number of guests in most resorts can be counted on one hand. That’s very optimistic and what you see on the ground doesn’t reflect that level of occupancy. At the end of the day, does anyone really care?
As a visitor, all you need to know is that even in high season, Koh Chang is nowhere as busy as any of the better known Thai tourist destinations. It is still possible to escape high season crowds here.
But if you are thinking of starting a business here then you need to be thinking how you’ll attract customers in an increasingly competitive environment as a huge number of small bars and restaurants change hands after one season.
As of mid 2006, the Tourist Police have been based on Koh Chang. You’ll recognise them as they get a real police car complete with lights & a siren, to drive around in; rather than an old motorbike. They’re currently based in a shophouse next to Klong Prao temple, having moved there from their portacabin at the viewpoint overlooking Kai Bae in late 2008. If you have any problems, these are the people to call rather than the local police as they will at least pretend to care about your misfortune. But bear in mind they don’t have any investigative powers. Their emergency number is: 1155 ( They also have a quad bike and a speedboat, cool. )
About 65% of the visitors to the island are Thai. However, the majority of better resorts would prefer to get the majority of their income from Western guests for a couple of reasons. (Note, this doesn’t mean that owners feel that they can charge foreigners more than Thais it’s more down to what each group expects.)
Thais usually travel as a family or in a large group of friends, rather than ones or twos. But they will often still all want to stay in one room. Foreigners will arrive carrying only a backpack or suitcase. Therefore 99.9% of them won’t be carrying a charcoal grill, week’s supply of food, 100 liter ice box, gas stove and the contents of their kitchens when they arrive, unlike a typical Thai group.
With Thai groups the resort loses out by having three times as much mess to clean up as the guests will have been cooking in the rooms and also they won’t make anything in earnings from the restaurant.
Foreign tourists don’t do this, they stay 2 people in a room, eat 2 or 3 meals a day in the restaurant – maybe they aren’t as sociable but the real downside is that they aren’t always forgiving when things get screwed up and can be demanding but that’s life.
Probably the best known of all the Koh Chang hut complexes, a Lonely Beach legend. Having adverts showing a cartoon smiley sun, hearts, flowers and cute dolphins can’t hurt either. Very mellow man. Unfortunately it’s success proved to be it’s undoing as the landlord called time on their lease and the bungalows were pulled down after a lengthy legal battle. The Treehouse restaurant is still there on Lonely beach though. (The original owners have long since sold up and left Koh Chang.)
In mid 2005 a new Treehouse, down on Long Beach, which is about as far away from other people as you can get, opened to provide basic bungalows for people who really want to get away from it all. To get there take the daily, 10.00am pick-up truck service from Treehouse Lonely beach.
All backpacker bungalows have a contact who knows a guy who can take people into the jungle for a day’s trek. Some are good, some are the kind of people you wouldn’t really want to be alone in the middle of an uninhabited jungle with. Some can provide a pretty good commentary on what you’re seeing and about to be bitten by, other guides simply smile and point out the obvious “Snake, bad. No touch.”
‘Tan Trekking’ is a one man trekking company run by a Thai guy, Tan, who lived in Australia for a few years and who has worked as a tour and trekking guide in Chiang Mai and Krabi prior to moving to Koh Chang. He’s also fully licensed a a tour guide by the Tourist Authority of Thailand. He speaks excellent English and cuts his own routes through the jungle. He runs a variety of different tresk from short half day walks for families and older folks to more strenous treks to the top of Khao Jom, the peak overlooking White Sand Beach. see the Activities section for more info on the treks Tan offers.
Jungleway, a small out of the way bungalow resort deep in Klong Son valley, not far from Baan Kwan Chang elephant camp, also offer relatively easy guided treks for a few hundred baht/head. Overnight treks are also possible. See their website for more info www.jungleway.com
‘Mr Anong’ – is a one man trekking organisation operates around Klong Prao and takes visitors up into the hills above Klong Plu waterfall. By all accounts, he offers a good day out. Day treks for 1,200 baht/person.
Another alternative, in the Salakphet area in the southeast of the island, is the ‘Trekkers of Koh Chang Club’. A group set up by experienced local Thai trekkers to promote eco-friendly trekking on the island. They conduct several interesting day long treks in the park. The cost is around 900 baht for a day or 1,600 baht for overnight treks. Contact by phone: 039 525 029 or 01 578 7513.
You will find it useful if you visit between June and October.
If you’re the sort of person who is thinking of emailing me because you’re worried about getting Japanese Encephalitis or Yellow Fever on Koh Chang then save yourself the time and just get the vaccinations. There’s zero chance you’d catch it here and the locals wouldn’t have a clue what it was as it isn’t something they worry about.
Same goes for any other tropical maladies that expensive vaccinations are available for in Europe and the US. There’s no real need for them. But if you worry about catching something then save yourself the stress and get the jab. At least you’ll sleep soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that should something bite you you’ll be protected from harm. ( Unless of course you get Dengue Fever, which is prevalent all over S.E. Asia and for which there is no vaccine available. )
There’s a small Animal Hospital, located close to Koh Chang Resort, which is run by a nice Thai vet who used to work at a tiger zoo. She’s been on the island a long time and is the first choice for vetinary care for people living near the main beaches.
In Klong Son, Lisa, an American woman runs a small practice more as a community service rather than a money making operation. Lisa is in the process of registering her practice as a charitable foundation ‘Koh Chang Animal Foundation’ which would enable her to actively solicit much needed funding from organisations outside Thailand. If you’d like to contribute cash or veterinary knowledge, she’d be very pleased to hear from you. Animal lovers should call her on: 089 042 2347 or email: [email protected]
Any visitors to the island who’d like to make a donation in person to help her work can call into her house/clinic in Klong Son, 1.5km along the road to Baan Kwan Chang elephant camp. You can also find all the info you need about the Koh Chang Animal Foundation at www.kohchanganimalfoundation.org
For specialised veterinary care, you’ll have to head to Trat or better still Chantaburi or Rayong. We take our dog to a vet in Rayong (and another at Thonglor Pet Hospital, Bangkok ). They knows their stuff, are easy to talk to, isn’t expensive and won’t try to sell you pricey medicine if a cheaper generic equivalent is available. The only downside is that Rayong is a 180 km drive from Koh Chang.
It all used to be so simple for everyone from backpackers to bar owners to early retirees who wanted to stay on Koh Chang long term. All that was required was to hop across to Cambodia every 30 days and get a new 30 day visa. But as of 1 Oct 2006 the rules changed. The latest set of rules limits anyone who hasn’t already obtained a Visa, to a 15 day Visa on Arrival, if they enter Thailand by a land border and you can;t keep renewing them every 15 days. So, if you plan on staying on Koh Chang long-term, give visas some thought. Ideally get hold on a 12 month multi entry Non-immigrant ‘O’ or ‘B’ visa before you arrive in Thailand. These are easy to get from certain consulates around the world. Or a multiple entry tourist visa will enable you to stay a few months with just the odd day trip to the Cambodia border. ( For anyone in the UK, the Thai Consulate in Hull, is one of the best when it comes to obtaining visas of any kind, see http://www.thaiconsul-uk.com/.)
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t any central water supply on Koh Chang. But some villages do have a limited distribution system to homes. Since the development of Koh Chang was first mooted in 2002, newspaper reports have continued to state that an undersea pipe from Khao Rakham reservoir on the mainland is a priority. Then in 2009 plans for a small reservoir in the hills in Klong Prao were announced. 2020 Update: No sign of a any construction work yet, although land has been appropriated.
Residents and resort operators are left to their own devices when it comes to securing a source. The most common way is to dig a bore hole or lay several kilometres of pipe and syphon off water from mountain streams and waterfalls. As 90% of the rainfall on Koh Chang falls during the rainy season, this means that come January/February time the natural water supplies begin to run low.
Some beaches are affected more than others – if you stay on Lonely Beach don’t expect running water in your bathroom during the day as the majority of resorts have to buy water from the owners of boreholes in Bailan or Kai Bae. As more resorts are built so the water shortage will worsen, as on Koh Samui where even the plush hotels have to ration water. On Koh Chang large, more remote resorts cope by hiring water tankers to bring water in from other areas of the island on a daily basis.
The most visited falls are Klong Plu on the west of the island and Than Mayom on the east. The first is popular because it’s in a touristy area, the second because a couple of Thai kings carved their names in the rocks near the falls whilst on holiday a 100 or more years ago. The tallest falls are down near Salakphet in the south-east.
Waterfalls are great in low season, crap in late high season for the simple reason that they only have a decent amount of water in them during the rainy, i.e. low, season and the notion of paying a 200 baht entrance fee to see a cliff with a dribble of water running down it’s face into a rancid mud pool isn’t my idea of value for money and shouldn’t be yours either.
You’ll find ‘secret’ waterfalls inland from Klong Prao, Kai Bae and Lonely Beach. These aren’t noted on maps or mentioned in guidebooks and require a bit of effort to reach. they aren’t anything spectacular but worth seeking out if you want a mini adventure. Just ask around when you are here and someone will point you in the right direction.
Worth a look is the Thai meteorological department’s site: www.tmd.go.th/en/
There are a couple of live webcams on Koh Chang. Both set up by Colin from CocoDeeBo Tours. They are located at their beachfront office at the northern end of Klong Prao beach and on the roof of their office on the main road nearby . (Note that they aren’t always on, especially in the rainy season.)
You arrive at your resort and the smiling receptionist checks you in, explains how the coupon for breakfast system works and hands you a voucher for your free welcome drink in the bar. Great, an ice cold beer would go down well – even if it’s a small one. Read the small print: “This voucher is valid for non-alcoholic drinks only. Excluding coke, pepsi, water and any commercially available soft drinks you may have come across during your time on this planet.“
Therefore, if you’re the slightest bit sensitive to ‘E-numbers’ and/or are diabetic then avoid all welcome drinks. Mid-afternoon and the bar will be empty, one of the saddest things in the world is a newly arrived couple sitting in an empty reception area grimacing as they sip from a tumbler of sickly sweet, gooey orange liquid decorated with a slice of pineapple and a purple orchid.
They want to get up and leave but as they’re the only two new arrivals it’s obvious the barman will know who left the unfinished drinks and they don’t want to piss him off as they’ve set their heart on a sunset pina colada served in a hollowed out pineapple.
So you have to suck the unknown concoction down and just hope the orange pigment now lining the interior of your mouth isn’t permanent or won’t be proved to be carcinogenic by scientists in the coming years.
Wi-Fi Internet Access.
Until recently ‘wireless’ meant simply not having electric or phone lines. However, Koh Chang has now leapt forward into the late 20th Century and there are a growing number of restaurants and bars that offer free wi-fi to guests. Resorts are slower on the uptake and the notion that someone paying 4,000 baht/night may expect free wi-fi with their room is alien to hoteliers on Koh Chang. So expect to pay hefty access charges if you use wi-fi in your hotel here.
There’s no reason for this, other than greed. We’ve got free wi-fi for laptop carrying customers at our little guesthouse, so if we can afford the 600 Baht/month cost for an unlimited use 400MB connection and a couple of thousand baht for a wireless router, you’d have thought that larger resorts and luxury hotels could also provide the same service for their guests. Seems most still can’t.
A veritable host of wild things inhabit the interior of the island. 70 plus species of bird, about 30 different mammal type things and over 40 reptiles of varying kinds can be found by those looking to get themselves bitten, stung or poisoned.
To simplify matters I now refer to all potentially dangerous forms of wildlife as “Bob” far easier than remembering Thai names for various spiders, jellyfish, snakes, spiders etc although, admittedly, not really threat specific enough for emergency situations and probably not going to gain sympathy with care givers. Still we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. “I was bitten by Bob, do you think it’s serious?”, “I’ve no idea, now piss off and come back when you grow up.”
I’ve encountered several snakes since I’ve been here although they aren’t that common in our area of the island. (The largest that has been caught & photographed on Koh Chang was a python which was about 8 metres long. ) But a couple of years ago I did see the biggest snake I’ve ever seen outside a zoo – approx 3 metres long. It came up out of the river and into our kitchen where it looked around as we, & our neighbour, tried to figure out just how deadly it was.
A moving snake looks a lot more hostile, and a lot larger, than a photo of a carefully positioned stationary snake in the ‘Idiot’s Guide to Dangerous Reptiles.’ We all decided that we were too chicken to take it on and so, using long pieces of wood, we gently ushered it back into the mangroves.
A musical instrument, totally unrelated to this site but Koh Chang ‘Xs’ have got me stumped. Unless of course you count the large wooden xylophone (or ‘ranad’ in Thai) at Salakphet Seafood. You’ll see this in the restaurant and you are welcome to have a go at getting a recognisable melody out of the tuned wooden bars.
See also ‘Sailing’ What better way to explore the Koh Chang archipelago than by sailing boat? This isn’t an option for your average budget traveller though as weekend trips start at about 7,000 Baht/head but it is a unique way to see the islands. Gulf charters or Sunsail both in Baan Rong Thian on Salakphet Bay can get you sorted.
Gulf Charters have recently relocated their entire fleet to Salakphet and Sunsail started operating out of Koh Chang in 2007. Charters and sailing classes are available through Gulf Charters, everything from learning the ropes to skippering your own yacht. So, although it’s still very early days for sailing in this area, the future’s looking rosy for anyone wanting to get involved in yachting in the south-east of Koh Chang.
Meet up with fellow yachties at Island View Pier & Guesthouse in Salakphet. Deiter, the German owner, first sailed around the area in his own yacht around 20 years ago. Good place to stay if you want to do some sailing or sea canoeing and a good place to call in if you’re on your own boat and need a mooring.
On the west coast of Koh Chang, SEA Adventures operate daytrips for 1,300 baht/head aboard their 13 metre catamaran. Look for the advertising boards all over the island if you want a ticket. Private charters are also available. A lot of people have mentioned that Sea Adventures is well worth it, although you don;t go very far – just meander up and down the west coast of Koh Chang . Expect lots of tacking if the wind picks up. You won’t get as much time snorkelling as if you were on a speedboat and you wont get as far south as you would on a yacht charter from Salakphet, but but they look after you well on board. Good if you want to enjoy life in the slow lane whilst on holiday.
This area of Thailand is famed for producing yellow oil, a herbal cure all that has been proven to be an effective treatment against everything from insect bites to AIDS, cervical cancer and Bird Flu. This stuff is like hard core Tiger Balm.
The most popular brand is ‘Mae Ang-Ki’s’, but many of the massage women on Koh Chang sell a locally produced ‘no-name’ brand which smells like it should do you some good. Whether it does or not, I have no idea as I don’t have a caged chimp or rabbit to do a spot of DIY animal testing on. But if it is carcinogenic I wouldn’t worry too much as the effects are unlikely to kick in for another 20-30 years or so after first application.
There isn’t a specific Koh Chang Yellow Pages full of useful numbers in print. But most free maps & guides of the island have numbers of varying degrees of usefulness listed.
At the start of every high season signs for various classes in trendy types of exercise spring up. But one place that’s well-established and worth a look is Baan Zen ( NOW CLOSED) , Klong Prao. The home of Joelle, a Frenchwoman with years of experience teaching different types of Yoga. Classes take place in the morning & evening, leaving you with plenty of time to enjoy the beach during the day. She also teaches introductory classes for Reiki and Tui-Na.
Can’t think of anything. For example, there are no trendy clubs named ‘Zoo’, no African themed restaurants called ‘Zulu’