Why Koh Chang is one of the best islands in Thailand
There are so many islands in Thailand, all of them beautiful and different from one another, that deciding where to go can be a daunting task. I decided to go to Koh Chang, considered one of the best islands in Thailand, because I felt it suited all my needs. After having traveled across South East Asia for 4 weeks, from Vietnam to Cambodia, and having endured the unbearable heat of Cambodia, I needed somewhere to relax. That somewhere had to be on my way between Cambodia and Bangkok, from which I would fly home.
Find out more about Bangkok on my post “Nine fabulous things to do in Bangkok.”
Plan a trip to Vietnam by reading my post “A concise guide to the things to do in Vietnam.”
Koh Chang proved to be a good choice and its reputation for being one of the best islands in Thailand is well deserved. It is the second biggest among the islands in Thailand – although size is quite a relative concept. I come from Sardinia, a huge island in the centre of the Mediterranean, and to me Koh Chang – where it only takes one hour to drive from top to bottom – is actually quite small.
To learn more about Sardinia, check out my post “The island of wonders.”
The days I spent in Koh Chang were hardly enough to make the most of it, yet sufficient to fall in love with it and come to the conclusion that Koh Chang is one of the places to visit in Thailand and home to some of the best Thailand beaches. Here’s just a few of the reasons why I think Koh Chang is one of the best islands in Thailand.
What makes Koh Chang one of the best islands in Thailand?
Koh Chang has some of the best beaches in Thailand
Koh Chang is home to some of the best Thailand beaches. While Lonely Beach is perhaps the most famous beach in Koh Chang and one of the best beaches in Thailand, I opted to hang out in Klong Koi Beach, right off Bang Bao.
Indeed, despite its name Lonely Beach hardly gets lonely. It is a popular backpackers destination as the village has a lot of budget accommodation options, there are lots of restaurants, shops and parties go on until late. What makes Lonely Beach worth a visit is the incredible sunset it offers every day and the young, backpackers vibe.
Klong Koi Beach is a smaller and way quieter beach. Bang Bao, the nearest village, is the last village at the South of Koh Chang and much smaller than the rest – a few houses, a rather quiet market, some seafood restaurants and a harbor from where boats to nearby islands leave. As a result, Klong Koi gets significantly less people. The beach isn’t spectacular – not for someone who, like me, is used to the standards of Sardinia – but it is nice, sandy and generally clean, and lined with palm trees and the shallow waters are incredibly warm. It is so relaxed and quiet that to me it is one of the best Thailand beaches.
Read more about one of the best beaches in Sardinia on my post “How I got to one of the best beaches in Sardinia and almost killed myself there.”
Koh Chang is a great place to relax
What makes Koh Chang one of the best islands in Thailand is that its pace of life is incredibly relaxed. And although the weather is hot – after all, this is South East Asia – as for the rest of the islands in Thailand, Koh Chang gets a lovely marine breeze that makes it all the more enjoyable (and way more bearable compared to the still heat of inland Cambodia).
I spent my days in Koh Chang busy relaxing. Thailand beaches are perfect for that, and Klong Koi didn’t disappoint: it is super quiet. I normally went to the beach, swimming in the shallow waters, cooling down in the infinity pool, taking nap after nap in the shade, having a coconut by the beach during the day and an icy cold beer at sunset and eventually making my way to one of the restaurants on the waterfront to enjoy a lovely meal. And since it is so quiet I got some great quality sleep at night – it was really good to recharge my batteries after a month of intense travels.
Nature in Koh Chang is amazing
I love wildlife and nature and I was delighted to find out that Koh Chang is great for that – making it one of the best islands in Thailand. The island is populated with various species of birds and the unmissable monkeys. I know some people don’t like monkeys because they have a reputation for being cheeky and stealing stuff, but I still find them hilarious and I get instantly happy and amused whenever I see one (or many, as it happened at the Monkey Forest in Bali).
Read more about the many things to do in Bali on my post “Things to do in Bali in one week.”
There are several hiking trails around Koh Chang, some of them requiring a multi-day trek and others simpler, half day treks that go through the thick jungle to reach some beautiful waterfalls . The only problem with the hikes is the heat – but the nature, the waterfalls and the wildlife are beautiful, confirming Koh Chang reputation for being one of the best islands in Thailand.
Koh Chang is a great access point to visit Koh Wai
On my way to Koh Chang I met a lovely couple who mentioned they would spend a few days in Koh Chang and then move to another, smaller island called Koh Wai. Supposed to be one of the best islands in Thailand, and to have the best beaches in Thailand, I was curious to find out more about it.
Koh Wai can be easily reached on a 40 minutes slow boat ride from Bang Bao pier, at the south of the island – which become 20 minutes on a fast boat. The island is so small that there are no roads – just a trail through the forest that connects the two main beaches – and thus no cars, scooters and the likes. Bungalows there are quite basics and wi-fi is only available in one of the very few restaurants.
Day trips to Koh Wai are quite common, and guide books say that the beaches get crowded and recommend spending a few nights on the island to enjoy how quiet it is. I didn’t have much time so I tried my luck and I must say it went really well: I was one of no more than 10 persons at the beach, which was simply gorgeous and by far one of the best beaches in Thailand.
A long stretch of white sand, thick vegetation at the back and the most transparent azure waters, full of fish and corals, and no noise around whatsoever: this is Koh Wai, one of the best islands in Thailand. I spent my day there relaxing, snorkeling (gear is provided on the boat), reading my book, napping and had a lovely lunch in the local restaurant.
The boat ride costs 600 Bahts and includes a 50 Baht voucher, which is hardly enough for a main course, but the food is quite cheap anyways, and delicious.
Sunsets in Koh Chang are stunning
Whether from Lonely Beach, on the ferry that goes to Koh Chang or from Klong Koi beach, admiring the sunset in Koh Chang is a great experience. The sun disappears under the ocean or behind the hills, giving it a special aura. This is one of the reasons why I think Koh Chang is one of the best islands in Thailand.
People in Koh Chang are incredibly friendly
Thai people have a reputation for being super kind, and I have to say in Koh Chang they actually go even further. They are very friendly, they go above and beyond to help out, they are always ready for a laugh and curious to have a chat with travelers. This made my time in Koh Chang even better. It certainly is one of the best islands in Thailand for solo travelers who wish to meet the locals.
Koh Chang has some incredible accommodation options
There is an incredible variety of accommodation options in Koh Chang, as in all the best islands in Thailand. From budget to luxury, there is something for all but I really recommend to opt for one of the great Sea View resorts in Koh Chang for extra comfort. I felt the need to pamper myself after having traveled in sometimes uncomfortable conditions – sleeping on night trains, dodgy hotels, extremely basic hostel dorms etc. And I knew I wanted to stay somewhere super quiet.
I stayed at Chivapuri Beach Resort and it was – to put it simply – amazing. As soon as I arrived I was welcomed by the staff with a fresh towel and a delicious guava juice. I immediately felt at home!
The resort is right on Klong Koi, one of the best beaches in Thailand. It is completely surrounded by nature (think palm trees) and the garden is beautifully kept. There are a number of villas, each facing the beach and the pool. My room was incredibly spacious and cozy, had all sort of amenities and direct access to the beautiful garden. And the bed was oh so comfortable.
The infinity pool at Chivapuri Beach Resort is lovely, large and surrounded by nature. It faces the beach (which is kept very clean, as one of the best beaches in Thailand), and the water temperature is much cooler than that of the sea so actually allowing guests to properly cool down!
There also is a bar by the beach and a restaurant – tables are right on the sand! And the food is delicious. Breakfast is incredibly abundant and varied – I particularly enjoyed the wide selection of the most delicious and fresh tropical fruit.
Books and dvds are available for guests – I welcomed this, as I truly enjoy reading. There is a daily shuttle that takes guests to Bang Bao village and back, free of charge. And to top everything off, there is a gorgeous cat – belonging to a member of the staff – roaming about the park. I love animals and I had a good time playing with him.
Yet, what I appreciated the most about Chivapuri Beach Resort is its staff. Everybody made me feel welcome, all the time. They were all available to give me information and tips, helped me in organizing day trips and in arranging my transportation to Bangkok. In particular Mah, one of the receptionist, is a real star – so kind, so nice.
My stay at Chivapuri Beach Resort was absolutely fantastic and I would gladly recommend it to anybody: it is the perfect retreat in one of the best islands in Thailand.
… And more
Rumor has it that Koh Chang is also one of the best islands in Thailand for beginner divers, thanks to its shallow waters and the easy access it offers to other smaller islands. And it is possible to get a PADI Open Water Certification. I can’t express an opinion on this though, as I have never dived in my life (shame on me!).
Another thing to do in Koh Chang is kayaking: the calm waters are perfect for this, and there are kayaking expeditions to the nearby islands.
Finally, as with the rest of Thailand, lots of visitors in Koh Chang enjoy getting massages which are available pretty much anywhere on the island for a real steal.
What not to do in Koh Chang
There are various elephant camps in Koh Chang. When I found out about them, I enquired enthusiastically thinking that these would be protection and foster centers for these gorgeous animals. As soon as I realized that they were no more than elephant safaris I obviously decided not to visit them. These are cruel tourist attractions and I truly wish they were stopped and that no tourist went at all.
There is no way whatsoever that I want to support any business that profits from using elephants, especially knowing that in order to be trained for the safaris they are ill treated and that it is not natural at all for them to carry any weight. I strongly advise anybody visiting Koh Chang not to ride elephants, and I hope that, being one of the best islands in Thailand, Koh Chang makes a move towards closing down these kind of camps and turning them into conservation and foster centers.
Find out more about the use of animals in tourist attractions on my post “Don’t ride that elephant.”
Practical information about Koh Chang
How to get to Koh Chang and away
Although it is one of the biggest islands in Thailand, there is no airport on Koh Chang. Koh Chang can thus be reached by ferry from Trat, but beware the harbor is about 30 km from Trat main town.
I arrived in Koh Chang from Battambang, in Cambodia, and by the time I arrived in Chivapuri I had been traveling for almost 12 hours – which included waiting around for almost 2 hours at the Thai border to get a connecting minivan. Transportation from either Siem Reap or Battambang costs between 18 and 20 USD and includes the minivan to the Cambodian border, the minivan from the Thai border to the harbor outside of Trat, and the ferry.
The minivan took me to the Cambodian side of the border in Poipet (about 3 and a half hours drive from Battambang), where the company gave me a sticker to indicate my final destination (and by which I was identified by the same company once on the Thai side). I had to walk to the border for immigration and this was a relatively easy process. I was warned of possible scams on both sides of the border but apparently tourists that have a sticker like I did (indicating a connection) are hardly bothered.
The drive from the Thai border to the harbor takes another 4 hours. I have to say, those vans are hardly comfortable. There’s never an empty seat and as the luggage is placed inside the van (there’s no boot) it gets tight and uncomfortable inside, with hardly any room to move. I guess I should be used to this, having traveled on chicken buses all across Central America.
There are two companies that operate ferries between the mainland and the island. Koh Chang Ferry leaves from Tha Thammachat and arrives at Tha Sapparot. Centrepoint Ferry leaves from Tha Centrepoint and arrives at another harbor further east. The ferry takes about 45 minutes to one hour. The ferry that leaves at 6:00 offers a great sunset view.
Once landed, passengers can hop on one of the many shared pick-up vans/taxis to reach the main villages.
There are regular connections from Koh Chang to Bangkok – either the city, or the international airport. There are two pick up times in Koh Chang – from 8 am or from 1 pm (the pick up time depends on the location). The ride costs around 850 Baht and includes the ferry ticket. It takes overall 8 hours to get to Bangkok international airport.
The same companies operate from Bangkok to Koh Chang. The best way to organize the transfer is enquiring at the hotel or the hostel as they usually know the companies that run and the schedule.
Getting around Koh Chang
As with most of the best islands in Thailand, it is fairly easy to get around in Koh Chang. There is one main road that goes all around the island, except from a bit at the bottom south where there only is a dirt road.
Taxis in Koh Chang are usually shared. Once people disembark in one of the harbors that connect it to the mainland, they can hop on the back of a pick up truck that will follow the main road to take passengers to the main villages on the island. The price of the ride is fixed, and obviously cheaper for the villages closer to the harbors (it can be between 50 and 200 Baht). Passengers are dropped off on the main road or at taxi stations.
Some taxis refuse to drive to the further resorts on the South of the island as there only is a dirt road to get there. I was staying in Chivapuri, on Klong Koi Beach, and the taxi driver demanded an extortionate price to take me there. I had the option to be dropped off a the entrance of the village (no more than a few houses) and then walk along the beach to get to Chivapuri. As it was dark already and I was exhausted after 12 hours of traveling, I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at Bang Bao, and called Chivapuri to send someone to pick me up. Otherwise, it takes no more than 10 minutes to walk from the entrance to the resort.
Like in all the best islands in Thailand, most visitors in Koh Chang rent a scooter. This is a fun way to explore the island, driving around its hilly road, moving from one beach to the other and visiting one of the parks – there isn’t much traffic so it is fairly easy!
Lots of resorts also provide daily shuttle services to get to the main villages on the island (at fixed times). Once I even got to ride a strange moto-taxi. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but it was short and it was fun.
Where to eat and where to take cooking classes in Koh Chang
Food in Thailand is delicious. As one of the best islands in Thailand, eating options in Koh Chang are many and varied. The biggest villages such as Lonely Beach also have international restaurants, but in my opinion Thai food is so good that there is no real reason to look for things such as pizza or steaks.
Bang Bao is originally a fishing village and for as small as it is, there are lots of seafood restaurants. There also is a lovely coffee shop right by the Seven Eleven that does amazing fruit smoothies – I tried the tutti frutti one, which costed 70 Baht and although it wasn’t so cheap it was worth every cent!
One of the things that made me fall in love with Koh Chang and makes me consider it one of the best islands in Thailand is the choice of restaurants right on the beach. In other parts of the world, one may feel this is less than an intimate experience – this is the way I felt in Jimbaran in Bali, for example. In Koh Chang, things get quiet after a certain time and the restaurants by the beach are sparse.
Read more about my experience in Bali on my post “Has Bali lost its magic?”
My favorite restaurant remains the one right off Klong Koi Beach resort. I walked by it one night as I was looking for a place to eat. It is right on the beach. It is run by a lovely lady called Pekan and her brother, who welcome their guests very warmly. They organize a barbecue every other night, as well as some entertainment with music. The vibe is relaxed and, more importantly, the food is amazing. I have tried several curries and soups – they were deliciously spicy – and the fantastic mango with sticky rice, to which I confess I am addicted.
Pekan also runs a cooking class, though this isn’t every day as she generally tries to put more people together in order for them to have a cheaper deal.
As with the rest of Thailand, it is easy to get a really good cocktail in Koh Chang, though to me there hardly is anything better, when on one of the best islands in Thailand, than having an icy cold beer facing a gorgeous sunset.
Have you ever been to Koh Chang? What did you like the most about it?
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Chivapuri Beach Resort during my trip to Thailand, however all the views expressed are my own.