Koh Chang isn’t a small island and all the beaches have a different vibe. Most visitors will have a clear favourite that suits their style of travelling and meets their expectations in terms of level of development and the type of accommodation , amenities, facilities etc that are on offer in the nearby area. Unless you are an unfeasibly healthy Scandinavian, or a stoned backpacker, you won’t be walking from beach to beach, therefore choosing where you stay is important.
Read through my random thoughts and descriptions of the different areas and by the end of it all you will either be more confused than ever, as some of the info may not tally with the tour brochures and travel magazine’s ‘Undiscovered, Palm fringed, ‘Last Paradise on Earth’, Oriental Eden’ take on the island; or you will have a better idea of where to stay and what to really expect should you decide to visit.
Once you have done that the Koh Chang Maps section will show you where places to stay, eat and drink are and the chapter on Hotels and Resorts on Koh Chang details my thoughts on around 60 resorts, varying from backpacker huts to luxury hideaways, that you can book online.
Areas of the island in brief . . .where do you want to virtually go today?
Klong Son: You probably won’t stay here unless you book the Furama Xclusive (previously Aiyapura) Resort thinking it is on White Sand Beach. This is a local village with a picturesque bay that is the property of a housing developer. Inland, the best elephant camp, fruit farms, good trekking, a golf driving range, cock fighting arena and even a rather nice little waterfall await you in the valley.
North White Sand Beach: The most developed and busiest beach on the island, a two kilometre long strip of concrete with no redeeming architectural features. Hotels, restaurants, souvenirs shops, tattooists, beachwear shops, tour agents and tailors shops as far as the eye can see. Every business serves the needs of tourists and so to many visitors, it is a true tropical Thai paradise. The far northern end of the beach is still excellent though with some funky, old skool budget bungalows hugging the hillside and a very nice stretch of sand at White Sand Beach Resort. Head up there to avoid the lobster tanned masses.
South White Sand Beach: A bit quieter, but without the good beach. If your idea of holiday activities consists mainly of lounging in a deckchair, drinking cocktails and knocking back copious amounts of BBQ seafood nightly, then this is for you. Not the beach to opt for if you are looking for peace and quiet. The main road leads away from the beach and up a hill past the ‘Little Pattaya’ bar area and other budget accommodation and more small bars.
Pearl Beach: This is the strip of stoney shoreline between White Sand Beach and Klong Prao. No sand here but a couple of nicer boutique resorts and some pretty good value accommodation. A good option if you already know the island or are planning an extended stay. Snorkelling is possible on the small reef just offshore but not a place to stay if you want to walk a long a beach everyday as you’ll need to rent a motorbike or rely on public transport to get to some sand between your toes.
North Klong Prao Beach: Klong Prao is a long swathe of curving bay split in half by a river estuary which divides it in half. The northern section is busier with several 3 star resorts plus a couple of roadside shopping plazas. However, the main downside is the high probability of encountering aging male Russian package tourists in their speedos at breakfast. More optimistically, the chances of encountering young female Russian tourists in g-strings at breakfast is also very high.
South Klong Prao Beach: This area is home to a cluster of the island’s more upmarket resorts. Development is still limited in most areas and so it is easy to walk along the beach and get away from people even in High Season. If you want a larger resort or relatively empty beach plus shops/amenities a local village complete with a temple full of monks then it’s worth a look. Bring your matching white linen ensembles to blend in with the ‘dress for dinner’ crowd if you plan to dine at your hotel.
Kai Bae Beach: Not quite as busy or as tacky as White Sand beach but getting there, although it attracts a different type of visitor. If your name is Sven and you are travelling with your wife Annika and your four children aged between 3-17, then this is the beach for you. More for older backpackers or families who prefer either a boutique resort or beach bungalow rather than hotel environment. Although there are a couple of large resorts at the far north and far southern ends of the beach. Lots of options for eating and drinking, but the beach itself isn’t as good as those further north.
Lonely Beach: If you’re on a limited budget and want to spend more on food and drink per day than your accommodation then head here. Basic huts clustered amongst reggae bars, tattoo parlours and cheap eateries. However, most accommodation is away from the actual sandy beach and many bungalow resorts are now moving more upmarket to cater to the ‘flashpacker’ crowd who like a hot shower, wifi and windows in their bungalow but who also want to drink cheap vodka/redbull buckets and party a little. Got traveller’s tales to tell about that time you were ripped off by a tour agent for atubing trip in Laos? You’ll find an audience with a sympathetic ear on Lonely Beach.
Bailan: The sleepy, backward younger brother of Lonely Beach, 2km to the north. Basic huts and some more comfortable bungalows for those who want peace and quiet on a budget. If you like to walk barefoot, have an iPod with songs on it from every UN member state and have been known to pause pretentiously before answering a simple question such as “Where do you come from?” you’ll like it here. There’s also one luxury option to be found, the Mercure Hideaway, which has an artificial beach as the bay here is mainly red sand and stones – not suitable for swimming in. In the past I have written that drinking & dining options in Bailan are limited. That is definitely changing rapidly now. It’s even possible to have a good night out without having to head to Lonely Beach.
Bangbao: Koh Chang’s very own ‘Ye Olde Fashioned Quaint Fishing Village’ – in the minds of people who have never been to Thailand before. This is the main setting off point for most dive and snorkelling trips. Once home to fishermen, now inhabited by tour agents, souvenir sellers, dive schools, coffee shops, large seafood restaurants etc. Some good views, some souvenir shopping at prices lower than White Sand beach, but polluted water and little authentic charm now. Around the bay are a handful of quieter places to stay – notably on the headland to the west.
Klong Kloi Beach: Until 2013 I had lumped this in with Bangbao but this rapidly developing beach area on the south coast of Koh Chang has, to my mind, more of a southern Thai island feel to it. Don’t really know why but the atmosphere is totally different to the other beaches on Koh Chang. There are deckchairs on the the sand, but this isn’t White Sand beach. It’s a relatively short beach, but with a more but has more laid back beach bars than Lonely Beach. It’s quiet, like Bailan, but can get very busy during the day.
East Coast: Head here to get away from pretty much everything and everyone. It’s too quiet for many people but a handful of resorts cater to those who just want to escape and for whom the island experience isn’t enhanced by trips to a tailor’s , internet cafe, souvenir shop or beer bar during their stay. On the roadside more cosy restaurants and coffee shops are springing up and a growing number of expats now choose to live here in peace and quiet.
Salakkok: There’s not a lot in this beautiful, undeveloped mangrove lined bay in the south east of the island – and that’s the attraction. Good kayaking is available though canals snaking through the mangroves, past ramshackle fishermen’s houses and into the shallow bay. You’ll need your own transport to get here but worth making the effort in order to see some of the ‘real’ Koh Chang.
Salakphet: Huge bay in the south east of the island. Home to yachts and a small marina. If you know your jib from your mainsail head here. One very quiet beach with only a couple of basic hut resorts on the far south eastern side of the bay. Fisherman’s villages and a few good places to eat on the western shores. Also a couple of waterfalls that are free to enter, one of which is the tallest on the island and rarely visited. Again, not a touristy area but it really should be on your itinerary if you want to see more of Koh Chang than just the souvenir shops and beaches.