Oct 30, 2004
Way back I contributed a few articles to the fledgling editions of a new independent travel magazine based in Bangkok called ‘Farang’. That was around 3 years ago and since then Farang has moved on, gained popularity and now has the clout to attract writers and contributors rather than having to beg for them from friends of the owners. However, their Koh Chang page was a tad dated, so I re-wrote it for October 2004 edition.
The problem is that I don’t like to write stuff that doesn’t provide much real information, when you have to write up an island in under 800 words you’re reduced, in my case anyway, to having to scrap 75% of what you initially wrote. My 800 word write-up on the island appeared every month in the magazine until it’s closure in 2007.
This is the original far too lengthy version:
In the latter part of the 20th century Koh Chang was almost exclusively the playground of a comparative handful of travelers who visited for the deserted, uncommercialised beaches, and groups of Thai students and office workers who visited at weekends for the waterfalls and to gawp at topless farang chicks.
All that changed, except the gawping, in 2002 the Thaksin government announced it had plans to magically transform Koh Chang, and the surrounding archipelago, into the “Maldives of Thailand” and a “Lost World” where high rollers could experience Stone Age living. Koh Chang took these nonsensical notions as the key to finally take off her horn rimmed glasses, let her tousled hair down, and make come hither eyes at any property developer with baht to invest. It was time to start to play catch up with Samui and Phuket.
Development has come rapidly, there’s even a package tour hotel on Lonely Beach – once the exclusive preserve of the unwashed masses. Accommodation ranges from five star resorts to the ever popular 100 baht/night flophouses which leave you marveling at the versatility of chipboard. However, not all new resorts have been built on a grand scale, there are a good number of smaller, boutique resorts best suited to visitors who’d rather not drink cocktails out of a bucket, enjoy the comfort of an aircon room and consider an indoor W.C. a necessity not a luxury.
Staple daytime activities for the majority of visitors comprise lazing on the beach, diving, snorkeling, jungle trekking and lazing some more. Sadly Koh Chang is lacking in the nightlife department and the odds of it becoming a hedonistic trip-tastic island whilst the powers that be are under the impression that no-one ever ventures outside their resort during the hours of darkness are lower than the occupancy rates of the island’s luxury hotels. FMPs are held on Koh Chang, alas, comparing them to those on Koh Pa-Ngan is akin to comparing your younger sister’s 12th birthday festivities to one of Led Zeps backstage parties. It’s fun but not with a capital F.
And to be frank, that isn’t a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for kicking back in a beachfront bars and evening walks along palm fringed beaches which don’t require you to evade fire jugglers at every turn.
The island’s west coast is where 90% of visitors head to, and rightly so as it’s here you’ll find the best beaches, great views from the cliff hugging road and widest choice of accommodation.
KLONG SON BAY
Geographically the first beach you reach on the north-west of the island. A beautiful bay let down only by the fact that at low tide the clear blue waters are replaced by a dirty brown mudflat.
PLACES TO CRASH
The glitzy Aiyapura Resort & Spa will welcome you as a guest but probably frown if you use the term â€˜crash’ whilst checking in to your 5,000 baht/night and up digs. If your Visa card has a limit, then the secluded Premwadee Resort at the top end of the beach is probably a better bet as is the roadside Riverside Resort which has a great low season deals with all mod con rooms at under 700 baht/night. Adventurous types in need of a budget nature fix will find Jungle Way, a couple of clicks inland near the elephant camp, fulfills their requirements more than adequately.
WHITE SAND BEACH
The welcoming sight of a new 7-eleven greets visitors as the road winds down into White Sand Beach, by far the most developed of all the island’s beaches. If it’s comfort and convenience you’re after then White Sand Beach is for you. Budget travelers shouldn’t be deterred by the sight of so much concrete, a 10 minute walk to the northern end of the beach reveals a small backpacker commune the equal of the old Lonely Beach in price and vibe.
PLACES TO CRASH
Beginning at the northern end of the beach; here you’ll find the Star Bungalows where an empty stretch of powdery white sand and accompanying coconut palms can be yours for a couple of hundred baht/night. KC Grande Resort offers something for everyone, from 6,000 baht/night family sized villas down to 150 baht/night (low season) bargain beach front huts. Nearby 15 Palms will do you a good deal on a new ensuite, aircon bungalow complete with satellite TV for well under a grand. If hotels are your thing, the newly constructed Cookie Hotel provides a similar level of comfort plus the added bonus of a balcony with an uninterrupted sea view for 1,800 baht or so during high season, but half that rate right now. Cookie’s cheaper beachfront bungalows are on the opposite side of the road.
Neighbouring Cookie is another new addition to the mid-price lodging scene, Logan’s Place, a Swedish run guesthouse and restaurant. Back on the beachfront Apple, Mac, Tantawan and Bamboo all cater for the beachfront bungalow dwelling crowd who are looking to pay 500 – 1000 baht/night to sleep near the surf. As stones replace sand at the southern end of the beach the accommodation options are limited to larger package tour friendly resorts such as Plaloma and Koh Chang Hillside.
A stony shore lacking in both pearls and sand didn’t put off the local marketing guys when it came to bestowing a moniker on this stretch of shoreline. Pearls there may not be, but this area – a couple of kilometres south of White Sand Beach – is home to some of the island’s best designed and best value accommodation.
PLACES TO CRASH
Remark Cottages have a cluster of a dozen or so high-end wooden bungalows in a lovely tropical setting for 2,000 baht+/night. If you want to get so close to nature that it bites, then Buddy Lodge, located down a dirt track leading inland, offer low season mountain views for the princely sum of 100 baht/night. Look right, left and right again, cross the road and make a beeline for â€˜Saffron on the Sea’ where a micro-resort of seven Balinese influenced bungalows with all mod cons awaits you. On the way you’ll have passed the Mediterranean styled Keereeta resort, which is well worth a look around even if you have no intention of staying in their uniquely styled 2,000 baht/night rooms. Also in the vicinity Paradise Palms, Penny’s, Jan Chaley and Koh Chang Privilege offer aircon bungalows with sea views, ideal for families or anyone in need of a quiet break for around the 1,000 – 1,500 baht/night mark.
This long curving beach is tipped to become the island’s Chaweng in the coming years. At present, that level of development still seems a long way off and finding accommodation to suit your pocket isn’t a problem. Choose from fine, powder sand at the northern end of the beach or harder, darker sand – ideal for a morning jog – at the south. Accommodation amongst the mangrove clad banks of the two river estuaries in the area also makes for a serenely calm alternative.
PLACES TO CRASH
At the northern end Coconut Beach, Koh Chang Paradise, Koh Chang Resort all provide beachfront accommodation mainly catering for weekending Bangkokians and anyone foolish enough to have booked a 3 day/2 night tour to the island through a mainland travel agent. Expect to pay 1,200 – 2,000 baht/night for an all mod cons room. A little further on, the long established Klong Prao Resort will do you a good deal if you have a group of 100 Thai employees in need of a staff outing. Failing that you’d be better off staying on the songtaew a little longer.
The beach is divided in two by a river estuary, at the tip of the southern section, in a location Messrs Hilton, Amari and Marriot would die for, you’ll find the 100 – 200 baht/night ThalÃ© Bungalows. Not easy to reach and in need of a lick of paint but it’s as laid back and chilled as the Dalai Lama in a freezer. The river estuary is home to the Baan Rim Nam – Koh Chang’s first â€˜holiday home’, this waterfront 3 bed river house goes for 3,000 baht/night. Nearby a night’s stay at the gaily painted River Hill Bungalows can be yours for 800 -1000 baht/night. 800 metres to the south, past the pricey luxury Panviman Resort, you’ll find KP Huts, a well deserved perennial favourite providing all manner of wooden huts including several new treehouses perched on the fringes of the beach.
At the southern end of the beach Barali and Tropicana battle it out for the hearts and minds of tourists with 2,500 – 4,000 baht/night to splurge on accommodation which is best described as “most excellent”. A literal stone’s throw from the Tropicana is Blue Lagoon, who in addition to running all manner of cooking & batik courses, also have quiet, waterfront bungalows for a few hundred baht/night. Just around the corner and destined to open in early November, is the 164 room Amari Emerald Cove which will be offering everything you’d expect from an Amari. Close by, Chokdee Resort and Magic Resort strictly adhere to the “concrete good, wood bad” mantra and therefore their clientele almost exclusively consists of Thais and farangs who’ve been dragged there by Thai partners.
Kai Bae is rapidly becoming a popular destination for travelers who are old enough to remember the furore that greeted Boy George’s arrival on the new romantic pop scene. A slightly older, but mellow, crowd plus a decent choice of bars, restaurants and 300 – 1200 baht/night bungalow accommodation makes Kai Bae a good choice as a base camp on KC.
PLACES TO CRASH
If planning your holiday budget is something one of your staff does for you then Cliff Beach Resort at the very northern end, or Seaview Resort & Spa at the very south of the beach will province you with all the comforts you have come to expect when venturing to the tropics. Anyone not in the highest tax bracket will find comfort at KB Bungalows, 400 – 1200 baht/night for a shady ensuite bungalow in this friendly, family run operation. Kai Bae Beach, Porn Bungalows and Kai Bae Hut all offer adequate places to lay your head should KB be full.
The backpackers’ mecca – or at least it is for non-Muslim backpackers. A brief history. The key to Lonely Beach’s success lied in its name. With popularity came the need for accommodation other than The Treehouse. With that came the need for more fake tattoo vendors and comely beer bar hostesses. The result was a Phi-phi-esque mess. The end.
PLACES TO CRASH
Life is full of tough choices – on Lonely Beach you have to choose sand or bars. Beach lovers should make a beeline for Nature Beach, Siam Bay or the slummier Siam Hut for their 200 baht/night digs. Those responsible enough to have a credit card could do worse than plump for the 3 star Bhumiyama Resort, smack in the centre of the beach, which allows you to watch the hippies from the safety of your cordoned off poolside.
A few hundred metres down the road you reach the enclave of hastily constructed bars & restaurants. Roadside you’ll find the compact Tiger Hut and heading towards the shore basic rooms of varying degrees of cheap and cheerfulness are available at Maggies Place, Sunset Hut and the new Paradise Cottages – which are a good low season deal at 200 – 300 baht/night.
The quiet little hamlet has so far managed to retain all of its local charm, there’s not a T-shirt vendor in sight. The shallow, stony bay isn’t suitable for any tourist related activity other than photo ops and as such Bailan tends to attract visitors who just want to get away from it all for a few days. Need to unwind? This is the place.
PLACES TO CRASH
The Mangrove, just before you reach Bailan proper, is where it’s at if a very well designed, back-to-nature, crag hugging resort with rooms for under 1000 baht/night is what you’re after. Down a notch or two in quality and price you’ll find inner peace can be had at Happy Hut, Bailan Hut or Bailan Family Bungalows. And if you’re a beggar not a chooser then the roadside no-name stilt bungalows and Jungle Hut provide bungalows which hark back to the Dark Ages, for 100 baht/night.
This once lazy fishing village, comprising one â€˜street’ of houses built on stilts out into the sea, is now home to more dive schools, seafood restaurants and boat tour operators than fishermen. But it’s still worth a visit and is a good place to stay for anyone planning on heading off to the islands further south.
PLACES TO CRASH
If you’ve got a Rolex on your wrist then you’ll be heading for Nirvana, a resort with a peninsula of its own just across the bay. The price per night is irrelevant to anyone staying here. Wearers of streetstall fake merchandise will more likely plump for Bang Bao Sea Hut. Ignore the word â€˜hut’. As you’d expect for over 2,000 baht/night we’re talking teak not plywood when it comes to construction materials. And if you rely on a Casio digital that came free with a box of cornflakes as your timepiece of choice, you’ll be pleased to learn couple of hundred baht a night will get you a room with a great panoramic sea & mountain view at Cliff Cottages. The no frills bayfront bungalows nearer Bangbao proper can be had for a similar price as can a place to lay your head at Dragon House a little way past the turn off to Bangbao.
The often neglected east coast of the island is home to a few small scale resorts but unless you have your own transport or simply aren’t interested in seeing any of the west coast beaches then you’re better off making the west coast your base.
PLACES TO CRASH
Funky Hut, 20 mins walk from the passenger ferry pier, has upscale A-frame huts with views of the mainland for a few hundred baht/night. Way down in the south east of the island Long Beach Resort has dirt cheap rooms on the deserted beach of the same name and in Salakphet there are several small homestays with prices in the 100 – 150 baht/night region. Nautical types should note that Koh Chang Marina, has rather nice bungalows for rent overlooking Salakphet bay but don’t expect much change from a couple of grand/night.
Let’s be honest it’s piss poor state of affairs when the best night out on the island is to be had in the cavernous Sky Bay nightclub, a Thai style place in Pearl Beach. Think live band, volume turned up to 11, dancers, resort staff letting their hair down and a few bemused farangs and you get the picture. Nearby on White Sand Beach, Oodies is an old favourite for lovers of live music whilst Sabuy bar is everything you have come to expect a Thai beach bar to be, mats on the sand, oil lamps, and a nightly fire show. If you’re in need of a feed the excellent Cookie Restaurant is right next door. Beers bars, Connect 4 and mind numbing conversation can be found just past the 7-eleven on the road south out of White Sand Beach, as can Invito Italian restaurant, the perfect place to take your Connect 4 playing cutie of choice. Down in Kai Bae, Rasta Baby, Lek Bar and a host of hole in the wall joints compete for your custom with cheap drinks and a bog standard music policy. The Doors bar in Lonely Beach is the place to fuel up on vodka-redbull before heading down to Nature Beach for your nightly dose of progressive tribal techno dance noize.
A couple of days can easily be spent simply touring the island. 45 degree hairpins should hold no fear as the introduction of the automatic Yamaha Mio bike has been a godsend for novice motorcyclists lacking hand, eye and foot co-ordination, rent one for 200 – 250 baht/24hours. Those crap Suzuki jeeps you wouldn’t be seen dead in by your friends back home can also be rented for around 1,200 baht/day.
All resorts can arrange trekking into the interior of the island for 400 – 500 baht/head, overnight stays in bug infested areas are also possible. Anyone who believes an elephant’s natural habitat is in the jungle, rather than tethered roadside, should make time to visit Baan Kwan Chang located deep in a valley near Klong Son. 450 baht will get you a ride, and a free pick-up service is also available.
Over a dozen dive schools operate on Koh Chang so there must be something worth seeing underwater. 10,000 baht will get you on a PADI Open Water Course and for 2,000 – 2,500 baht qualified divers can enjoy a couple of dives at the Koh Rang dive site. Consider Dolphin Divers for fun courses with a personal touch, Dive Adventure if dive trips to Cambodia interest you or Ploy Scuba for a big operation with a dogs bollocks boat. Snorkelling day trips for 400 – 700 baht/head are a deservedly popular alternative way to see a few fish and the odd turtle. Try Captain Toom’s snorkeling trips in Bangbao if you enjoy a few beers and a laugh between underwater adventures.
If you want to eat what you’ve just spent the day looking at then the contemporary The Bay restaurant and the more staid Chowlay Seafood, both in Bangbao, have great selections as does Salakphet Seafood way down on the south-east of the island. A long trip, but worth it for foodies with a hunger for the best.
WAY TO GO
By Air: Bangkok Airways fly twice daily, at 8am & 4pm, from Bkk – Trat. Low season deals from 3,000 baht return.
By Bus: Take a regular bus from Morchit Eastern Bus Terminal in Bangkok to Trat. Departures are every 30 mins or so, 170 -200 baht/5-6 hours. From Trat a 20 baht songtaew ride will take you to the passenger ferry pier at Laem Ngop. Hop on one of the hourly boats, 50 baht/one way.
By minivan: A 4 hour drive from Khao San Rd at breakneck pace. 270 – 300 baht, including cost of ferry crossing.
( In 2005 the magazine was re-named ‘Untamed Travel’ and it unfortunately folded in 2007.)