Despite being the third largest island in Thailand, Koh Chang is not one of the best known islands in the country. Its name means ‘elephant island’, not because it has such animals but for the island’s abrupt relief, which supposedly resembles the shape of an elephant. The island has a large and wild inland area covered by steep mountains and jungle, and this is probably the main reason why tourist development of Koh Chang started much later than in other popular Thai islands. But in the last two decades the island’s infrastructures have quickly developed along its west coast, where most of the beaches are concentrated. Fortunately, Koh Chang has so far managed to retain some of its wild atmosphere, that other touristy Thai islands have long lost. Some of the beaches on Koh Chang are really beautiful, although many agree that overall they are not among the most spectacular in Thailand. But while staying in Koh Chang it only takes a boat daytrip to explore Mu Koh Chang National Maritime Park, which includes fifty islands, some of them virgin and beautiful as the little paradise of Koh Rang. All in all, Koh Chang is a great beach destination while traveling in Thailand.
There are all kind of beaches in Koh Chang: some concentrate many hotels, restaurants and all kinds of tourist services –such as Haad Sai Khao (White Sand Beach)–, others offer a backpacker atmosphere and parties every night –such as Haad Nam (Lonely Beach)–, and some others are ideal for those looking for total calm –such as Haad Yao (Long Beach)–.
ℹ️ Top Things to Do in Koh Chang
One of the best ways to enjoy the Koh Chang archipelago is to join a full-day boat tour, including a few stops at some of the most beautiful islands and beaches, as well as time for some snorkeling. All tourist agencies in the island offer this type of boat tours, which can be done either by speedboat or by regular boat. In general, we recommend the second option, since it is much safer, more comfortable and cheaper, about 600-900 THB/person, usually including food, snorkeling equipment and transfer from/to your accommodation, although on top of this price you must add the 200 THB entrance fee to the National Marine Park.
Almost all the interior of the island is a mountainous terrain that reaches an altitude of up to 700 meters, covered with dense jungle vegetation, furrowed by several small rivers that flow across the rugged territory forming numerous waterfalls. All these ingredients, together with a rich wildlife, make Koh Chang a good place for trekking and hiking. Keep in mind that trekking in Koh Chang is not a walk in the countryside: you need to be well equipped and hire the services of a local guide, since the trails are not signposted and it is easy to get lost… you surely don’t want to spend a long night lost in the middle of the Thai jungle!
There are many waterfalls in Koh Chang, some of them hidden deep in the jungle, others easy to reach. Keep in mind that the flow varies enormously depending on the time of year, and logically the falls look more spectacular well into the rainy season -between July and October-, while between the months of February and May they fall with very little water. The two most popular and easily accessible waterfalls in Koh Chang are Khlong Phlu -the most popular and busy, largely due to its easy access east of Khlong Prao beach- and Than Mayom -a popular picnic spot for Thai tourists on weekends,near the town of Dan Mai in the east coast-. Entrance fee of 200 THB for each one of the waterfalls, valid for both if visiting on the same day.
Diving & Snorkeling
The Koh Chang archipelago is made up of 51 islands and islets, some of them really beautiful, untouched and with a crystal clear marine environment perfect for diving and snorkeling. All of the island’s diving agencies have an office at Bang Bao Pier, the sheltered bay on the south coast from which all Koh Chang dive expeditions depart. One-day dive expeditions typically start at around THB 2,500, while the price of a PADI certificate course costs THB 14,500. Many dive shops on the island remain open during low season -rainy season-, despite the fact that visibility and sea conditions are usually not very good.
Kayaking & Paddle Surfing
There are several coastal areas of Koh Chang which are perfect for exploring aboard a kayak or paddle surfboard, to reach the islets near the coast, explore its bays and explore the beautiful mangrove areas found in the many estuaries of the island. Some of the most attractive areas to practice these sports are the bays of Bang Bao, Khlong Prao, Salak Phet and Salak Khok, and in all of them there are kayak and paddle board rental businesses. Don’t miss out, Koh Chang is ideal for exploring by rowing!
Nightlife in Koh Chang is centered around Lonely Beach -party central-, Haad Sai Khao -more urban- and Kai Bae -more laid back-, with a few other odd spots scattered along the west coast. Lonely Beach is the most hard partying area in the island, with lots of bars, live music, and beach bars with Dj’s that keep thumping and open until late into the night and beyond. Besides bars and live music spots, more developed Haad Sai Khao has a more urban feel in comparison, with a nightclub, some sports pubs and even what seems a miniature version of a Pattaya style red light area. Kai Bae party scene is more low key, and in general more popular among the middle aged than the young.
🏨 Where to stay in Koh Chang
Best Areas & Beaches in Koh Chang:
The bulk of the accommodation in Koh Chang is found along its west coast, even though there are quite a few options in the south coast, and a few scattered along the east coast. Take a close look at the island’s map before choosing the area you want to stay at, since the road that runs close to the coastline is not really a loop, and it gets cut off for a short rugged stretch in the south, making Koh Chang’s east coast rather remote in its southern stretch.
Haad Sai Khao (White Sand Beach)
Best for: Travelers of all budgets looking for a nice beach with all kind of tourist services.
Accommodation available: all kinds, from hostels and cheap bungalows up to 4 star Resorts.
✔️ The northern part of this long beach is really pretty and feels somehow remote.
✔️ Lots of hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, shops and tour agencies.
✔️ Many different nightlife options.
Lonely Beach (Haad Nam)
Best for: Backpackers and party lovers.
Accommodation available: Mainly cheap guest houses and bungalows, up to 3 star Resorts.
✔️ Beautiful beach.
✔️ Lots of accommodation, restaurants, bars, shops, minimarts and tour agencies.
✔️ Most lively nightlife area in all of the island.
Best for: Families and couples.
Accommodation available: all kinds, from cheap Bungalows and up to 4 star Resorts.
✔️ Central location in the middle of west coast, along which most of the beaches are located.
✔️ Restaurants and bars in Kai Bae are overall renowned as the best in Koh Chang.
✔️ Beautiful beach, although narrow and not especially good for swimming.
Best for: travelers looking for quietness in a less touristy area.
Accommodation available: all kinds, from hostels and cheap bungalows up to 4 star Resorts.
✔️ Beaches and bays you can find here: Ao Bang Bao, Haad Khlong Koi, Ao Salak Phet, Haad Yao (Long Beach).
✔️ Ao Bang Bao and Haad Khlong Koi are conveniently connected by road to the west coast.
✔️ Ao Salak Phet and Haad Yao are the most remote, great if you’re looking for a secluded location.
🏖️ Best beaches in Koh Chang
We’ve been to all of them, these are the best:
1️⃣ Bang Bao & Haad Khlong Koi
Bang Bao, the starting point for all diving expeditions, is a quiet fishing village at the western end of the south coast, in a well sheltered and beautiful bay. The best beach in the area is Haad Khlong Koi, in the central area of the bay. In fact it is no one but three contiguous beaches, all of them quiet and really beautiful, with a narrow strip of khaki sand, and an abundant offer of accommodation, ranging from simple and economical wooden cabins up to some luxury resorts.
2️⃣ Haad Yao (Long Beach)
Remote Ao Salak Phet, in the eastern half of the south coast, is a really beautiful and unique bay, sheltered between two peninsulas, with three islets protruding from the water in the center of the bay, and a perfect mangrove estuary to explore aboard a kayak. In general, the beaches in Ao Salak Phet are not among the best of the island, but gorgeous Haad Yao is an outstanding exception to this, even though in rainy season quite a lot of waste flushes onto the beach.
3️⃣ Kai Bae
Kai Bae is a popular tourist beach, with a broad offer in accommodation, restaurants and bars. What makes Kai Bae especially beautiful are the islets that jut out from the sea right in front, which makes it a great place to rent a kayak and go snorkeling around them. On the downside, it has only a narrow strip of sand, which in some sections disappears completely when the tide rises, and it is also not very good for swimming, since the water along the shore is shallow, and there are quite a few rocks and algae.
4️⃣ Lonely Beach (Haad Nam)
Lonely Beach -known locally as Haad Nam- is by far the most popular beach among the young crowd, offering cheap accommodation, a backpacker atmosphere and parties that go on until late night hours. The beach is really pretty, but not at all lonely as its English name suggests: its narrow strip of sand can get really crowded during high season. There are many monkeys in the area, so you better keep an eye on your posessions!
5️⃣ Ao Khlong Prao
Khlong Prao Bay, right in the middle of the west coast, is an excellent location as a base camp, provided you have your own vehicle. At its northern end there’s the town of Chai Chet, with a beautiful beach facing south, recommended for those traveling with children due to its shallow waters. Ao Khlong Prao Bay extends all the way south from Chai Chet, with a series of narrow beaches disrupted by three estuaries. The beaches keep narrowing down on its way south, with some stretches completely disapperaring in the high tide hours.
6️⃣ Haad Sai Khao (White Sand Beach)
Haad Sai Khao is the most popular and largest beach on the island, with the largest concentration of hotels, resorts, restaurants and shops. Despite being the most built-up area on the entire island, the northern stretch of this long beach of about two kilometers is quiet and really beautiful, with a backpacker atmosphere, a remoteness feeling due to the lack of road access, a jungle hill rising behind the beach, and deep waters perfect for swimming.
7️⃣ Ao Bailan
Ao Bailan is located immediately south of Lonely Beach, a small bay with a small beach at each end, with a mix of sand and rock. The beach is beautiful even though not very good for bathing, but most people fall in love with its relaxed vibe. The few accommodations options here are small resorts with a family atmosphere, a good option if you want to sleep tight and quiet but at the same time be quite close to Lonely Beach party scene.
8️⃣ Khlong Son
The town of Khlong Son is located next to the bay at the northwestern tip of the island, and despite the fact that all travelers pass by Khlong Son during the journey from the arrival pier to their accommodation on the west coast, few stop here. The town has grown to become one of the main residential areas in the island, and it has a really beautiful sandy beach. Accommodation options are generally mid-range and high-end, although off the beach there are also some fairly inexpensive options.
✈️ Getting to Koh Chang
To reach Koh Chang, you must first get to Trat, and then go to the Ao Thammachat pier (at Laem Ngop) and take a ferry to the island.
From Bangkok, you can get there by combining plane or bus with boat:
Plane + boat
➡️ Easiest, fastest but most expensive option: fly from Bangkok to Trat with Bangkok Airways. There are usually 2 daily departures.
➡️ If you didn’t arrange all transportation in advance, at Trat airport you can hire the combined transport by road to the pier + the boat to the island of Koh Chang.
➡️ Check the flight and ferry timings to make sure there’s time enough for the connection, or otherwise you’ll have to stay one night in Trat.
Bus + boat
➡️ From Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus terminal, you can take a bus, minibus or van to Trat. The journey takes about 5 hours, the ticket costs between 200 and 250 THB, and there are frequent departures between 05:00 and 23:30.
➡️ From the Trat bus station you’ll have to take a songthaew (60 THB) to Ao Thammachat jetty, and finally take a ferry to Koh Chang.
➡️ To make things easier, you can buy a combined bus ticket including the transfer to the pier and the ferry to Koh Chang.
➡️ In high season there are ferry departures every 45 minutes in both directions, between 06:00 and 19:00, for 80 THB/person, and the trip takes about 45 minutes.
➡️ During high season -November-April-, there are four daily boats connecting Koh Chang with its main neighboring islands, Koh Mak and Koh Kood, while only some of them stop as well at Koh Way and Koh Rayang.
➡️ In Koh Chang three of these boats use a pier at Bang Bao (south coast), and another one uses a pier at Kai Bae (west coast).
➡️ Price ranges between 300 and 900 THB, depending on company and destination.
➡️ In low season these boats stop operating.