Koh Chang Island, Trat Region, Thailand.
I have visited Koh Chang several times over the past 10 years and honestly it has not changed drastically in this time. There must have been many changes but I just note the addition of some new, up-market hotels and otherwise not a vast difference.
It remains a laid-back island with some beautiful beaches and interesting sights to explore. We stayed at the delightful Blue Haven Bay and I would heartily recommend staying here if you are looking for an unspoilt bay that stretches almost as far as the eye can see. It is a very relaxed and quiet resort area with many different restaurants and activities. Also extremely convenient for the ferry being just 5 minutes away. You can read our full review at ….
We travel with our own car. We have developed a relaxed teamwork and prefer the convenience of having everything that we need in the vehicle. I have been driving in Thailand for over 10 years and believe that I now know every surprise that the Thai roads can spring on us! When you arrive in Koh Chang you immediately have to climb quite a steep hill(the turn off to Blue Haven Bay is just on the other side). You then drive through a little village and then all traffic has to climb a seriously steep pass with multiple hair-pin corners. The locals treat this road with typical indifference but so many tourists struggle especially if they are on a rented motor scooter.
Whilst renting a moto-scooter in Thailand is part of the experience, for some it becomes a painful memory with scars to prove it. Please wear helmets at all times(it is the law) and drive carefully.
In general, the island was relatively quiet during our visit. Talking so many locals we were told that November to February is the busy season and the rest of the year it is quieter. The exception is any Thai holiday when many Thais will undergo the longer journey to be further from Bangkok and enjoy an island experience. There were people around but certainly not crowded.
It takes 6-7 hours to drive the 350 kms from Bangkok. There is a small airport at Trat but this is only serviced by costly Bangkok Airways, so the island is beyond the average weekender, therefore encouraging longer stays.
We actually love the North and East of the island. It is cruising country with the windows open, inspiring music and spectacular coastal views as you drive through the fertile farming area. Much quieter that the West, few brave the drive over the mountain to explore. We have noticed that some coffee shops are now opening providing pleasant breaks for the adventurous travellers in this area.
We were most impressed by the Salat Khok boat trip through the Mangroves. It is a community project supporting sustainability. The boats are flat bottom punts and your ‘Captain’ stands with 2 paddles propelling you silently through the calm estuary. It is very relaxing, we did not see any plastic but limited wildlife. Check the tides, as when it is low tide, all the water disappears! The food at their restaurant is excellent and reasonably priced. We did try to continue further south and made it eventually to Au Salat Phet and Long Beach, but hardly worth the effort of a long drive..
When you look at the map it appears that there is a lot to see and most attractions are waterfalls. With the exception of some showers and isolated storms, it has not rained substantially in Thailand for many months. Waterfalls are a pleasure to visit but they need water! So if you are travelling during the dry season the majority of the falls will just be a trickle rather than a torrent.
Travelling with a Thai partner, one tends to give in to their whims and wishes, so having said farewell to the Blue Haven Bay we first visited the Klong Son Elephant Camp. I am generally against animal exploitation but many of these camps would not exist if it were not for the tourist contributions. Our wonderful elephant did not seem to notice a 99kg farang landing daintily on her back! The walk is not over inspiring but feeling the adroitness of this marvellous animal as she picked her way through the boulders was enthralling. You are offered two options, just the ride or the ride with bathing. When I asked if they had water for bathing, the lady just gave me the ticket for the first option! At the end of the ride the elephant has the opportunity to bathe in the camp!
So now it was time to take on the pass to cross into the rest of the island. It is not long but the hairpins and elevation difference is quite spectacular however the looks on the tourists faces as they saw the road revealing it’s challenges again makes me remind everyone to wear a helmet.
As you come back to ground level you are plunged into White Sand Beach. Mostly hotels and resorts on the beach side and bars, restaurant and commercial entities on the landward side. It is a lovely white sandy beach and for some maybe a pleasant place to stay. For me the beach only comes alive in the evening as the restaurants extend their terraces to the water’s edge. A good range of shops, massage and bars can be enjoyed.
The drive south continues and I had to make a stop at Wari Café located on Klong Prao Beach. From the road the resorts tend to hide the beach, but look for the Wari sign and you can enjoy an excellent coffee whilst relaxing in their comfy beanbags. A short walk will take you to the saltwater estuary with restaurants and hotels on both sides.
At this point a mention on the infamous Thai Sand Fly. These blood-sucking dipteran can inflict nasty bits without you even feeling it. You never see then but a few hours later you will feel them. Sadly, I think that some had taken refuge in the Cafés beanbags and when my less than graceful descent into the enveloping comfort dislodged them, the voracious females proceeded to vigorously attack without my knowledge. Only later did the bites appear and the scratching commenced. I find that the ubiquitous Zam-Buk in the green and white tins the best and some antihistaminic to reduce the itchiness. Whilst Tiger Balm is good to relieve mosquito bites it is not recommended for Sand Fly bites.
Continuing south one passes the built up areas around Kai Bea Beach and then the road starts to climb through the lush jungle that covers most of the island. The road is relatively narrow and again be prepared for steep clumps, tight bend and invigorating descents. Our destination was the Bang Bao Pier which is the main departure point for the boats to the myriad of islands south of Koh Chang. Once a thriving pier with shops, restaurants and ticket sellers, it was still quiet and many of the shops remain empty. There had been a substantial kerosene spill in the water and the smell was intense but sadly the local fishermen did not seem concerned. We usually enjoy a fish lunch here but with the smell we retreated quickly.
Fortunately just above the pier is the charming Pipin Café who serve a deep, aromatic Chiang Mai espresso in a delightful island style café. It is the best coffee in this area of Koh Chang and a visit is highly recommended.
Starting to retrace our route back we chose to stay at the quirky Koh Chang 7 Resort. At the end of an every narrowing trail and right on the water’s edge the resort is quite basic yet has island charm. The 5 huts to the front are rustically constructed, simple, charming and have good a/c. Surprisingly the bathroom had a superb shower. The appeal of the resort was to be able to enjoy a cold Chang In front of our shack directly on the sea whilst waiting for the sunset. The resort is quite well known for it’s Korean restaurant which we tried and the food was enjoyable.
The next morning our plan was to return to the ferry but first a stop at the wonderful Fig Café which I remembered served a superb espresso. I even found it without Google maps only to discover that it was closed on a Wednesday. If you are in the region and looking for an excellent coffee, I do heartily recommend the Fig Café.
Just a short 3 day stay to see what was happening on Koh Chang and it was encouraging to see that many establishments have re-opened and being joined by new ones. Still relatively quiet during our March weekday visit but alive, kicking and always an enjoyable island destination.
Naturally a few Instamgramable images!
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand. Any questions or comments on this post? Please do feel free to contact me through our ‘Contact Form’ or directly [email protected]