Picture Thailand and your mind probably drifts away to tropical paradise: white sand beaches, clear blue waters, and everyone drinking coconuts. Much of southern Thailand really is the embodiment of this fantasy. Thailand is full with islands on the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. Each island has something special and is beautiful in its own way, but there is one island that is serious traveler’s perfection.
Koh Chang is often overlooked by backpackers or holiday makers in Thailand, simply because it is a bit out of the way. It is not just a couple hours from Bangkok, nor is it along Thailand’s southern tail. Koh Chang is all the way over next to Cambodia, but is an ideal stop along the way if you are making the overland border crossing into Cambodia, or from Cambodia into Thailand. The bus from Bangkok isn’t too bad, about six hours, but its much faster to drive yourself, only about a 3 1/2 hour drive if you know anyone with a car. Koh Chang is actually the second largest island in Thailand, following only Phuket. But because it is off the generic tourist path, Koh Chang is less-visited and less-developed, making for a really different experience.
Koh Chang’s size make it ideal for many activities, not just typical beach and water activities. The middle of Koh Chang is completely wild jungle. A lot of activities that one generally associates with northern Thailand can be done here. There are many mountains in the middle, the highest of which reaches 744 meters. The interior of the island is a tropical rainforest with lots of waterfalls, monkeys, birds, and elephants. Some of the waterfalls can be reached easily alone, but others are much better with a guide as trails are not marked and maps of the interior of the island are limited.
The southern tip of Koh Chang is home to a traditional floating fishing village. People actually live here so you cannot tour their homes, but the dock that runs through their homes is where all the dive and snorkeling boats leave from, letting us glimpse into their life. That said, diving and snorkeling are the main activities on Koh Chang given the gorgeous, untouched islands nearby. Koh Chang is next to the Koh Rang National Marine Park, which has protected islands and waters that have an abundance of marine life and coral. Nearby islands such as Koh Rang, Koh Kood, Koh Mak, Koh Yak, Koh Nok and more have unbelievable sites for diving and snorkeling. Since these areas are protected, the waters are unbelievably clear and there is a huge variety of colorful tropical fish and coral to see! Kayaking is another popular water activity around the island. At most of the beaches on the western side you can rent kayaks and paddle out to the nearby unnamed and uninhabited islands for a bit of exploration.
The sandy beaches are on the western side of the island and where most of the resorts, hotels, and tourist amenities are. White Sand Beach is the longest and busiest beach, but Lonely Beach is the backpacker’s beach. Lonely Beach is not lonely at all; this is Thailand after all, and you can always find a party somewhere. Here is the cheapest accommodation (but still nice, imagine a 500 baht a night bungalow right on the beach!), cheapest and liveliest bars, and cheapest food. Ting Tong Bar hosts live music every night and its where most of the backpackers and expats living there hang out. Thai fire dancers spin on the beach and buckets are downed by everybody.
If you want a quiet place to stay, the eastern side of the island has a few high quality resorts as well. And exploring the island is another fun activity. The island is almost entirely encircled by the one major road, but it does not completely meet at the southern end. The trip can be done on a scooter but it is not recommended if you are not an experienced driver as the roads are curvy, hilly, and rocky, dangerous even by Thai standards. The other option is to take a song taew, but they charge between 50 and 150 baht a ride per person. You can always hitchhike, Koh Chang locals are extremely friendly and laid-back and will probably just ask for a cold drink in return.
Koh Chang is Thailand’s best island because it honestly has it all, nearly every activity you can do in the whole of the country can be found on this special island. You can laze on the beach, snorkel, scuba dive, jungle trek, see elephants, visit waterfalls, see local communities, complete a cooking course, and party your face off. Koh Chang has it all.