TRAT, Thailand — Koh Chang, which in Thai means “Elephant Island,” is not often spoken of when tourists marvel at the wonders of Thailand. And many people just assume keep it that way. Especially Thai tourists, who go there seeking refuge from the nearly 20 million visitors who make their way to the Land of Smiles each year.
While Koh Chang has enjoyed relative obscurity, it has become more and more popular with international tourists looking for something off the well trodden path. There is little in the way of industry other than coconut farming, and the permanent population numbers only 5,000 souls.
The Full Moon crowd has started making their way to Koh Chang’s Lonely Beach (which is lonely no more) and the family oriented tourists are sipping lattes on White Sands Beach, but spots such as Bailan Bay are still relatively undeveloped and offer a nice respite for the weary traveler.
Situated in the far southeast corner of Thailand, right next to Cambodia, the 30 km long by 14 km wide Koh Chang is Thailand’s third largest island. Much like Hawaii’s “big island,” it is relatively young geologically and the rocky, mountainous coast has little given way to the sea, with most good stretches of sand being on the Western coast.
I stayed on the island 21-days in a small matchbox bungalow complex on the southwest coast, near Kai Bae beach. At about 15 square feet it was spartan, with a mattress on the floor, a fan and two large French doors that opened up to a small river feeding into the gulf about 50 meters away.
The shower was outside the back door, enclosed with mortar and sea coral, with the canopy of trees serving as the roof high overhead. For me (and the neighborly geckos) it was perfect.
My humble abode for 21 days on Koh Chang looked out onto a slow moving river that emptied out into the Gulf of Thailand about 50 meters away.
My mornings were most often spent writing on my computer on the small patio that stretched from my bungalow out over the water. My days were spent practically alone on the beach, or tooling around the mountainous roads on a rented scooter with the girl who cut my hair.
There are elephants, though they are not indigenous. The name comes from the elephant-head like shape of the island itself.
I did get to know one particular elephant pretty well. He was up bright and early every morning ripping up trees and clearing the land at the command of his Thai master.
If elephant arboreal assault is not your thing, there are several elephant trekking tours through the lush forests. There are also a few small companies offering daily snorkeling and diving tours, and nearly twenty waterfalls to relieve yourself from the hot Thai sun.
There is a wide array of accommodations to suit any budget or taste. You can do the resort thing for upwards of $500 a night, or enjoy something a step above my spartan accommodations for about $15.
In the evenings, you’ll find a wealth of great seafood restaurants on the water, as well as a small nightlife scene including a dance club, cafes and shady bars where you can enjoy a cold Chang beer while trying your luck against the working girls on the pool table.
If I had one complaint about the evenings is that even in my quiet bungalow complex I could hear the outdoor karaoke going on a kilometer or so away every night until the wee hours. A testament to the quiet surroundings and the ability of irritating sounds to travel well in the warm island air.
Off-key crooners aside, with its increasing popularity Koh Chang is one of those places you should check out before it’s overrun with more off-key crooners and just about everyone else. With Thailand's tourism growing exceedingly fast (up 20% from last year), now is the time to do it.
It’s best to catch one of two daily buses that leave every morning from the Ekamai bus terminal on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. The route ends at the Laem Ngop Piers, and from there you catch the ferry out to Koh Chang. For more info visit www.koh-chang.com
As you can see on the chart below, the variation in monthly rainfall is quite stark between winter and summer. I was there in June, and while it would piss buckets for about an hour each day, it was for the most part sunny with showers late in the evening as well. The trade off of course is that in the winter, there are a lot more tourists visiting Thailand.
|Daily highs (°C)||31||32||33||35||33||32||32||32||31||30||30||30|
|Nightly lows (°C)||20||22||24||25||25||24||24||24||24||24||22||25|
Photos by Bmc