Is Koh Chang worth visiting? Stupid question. Sorry, but of course it is! This is one of the jewels of eastern Thailand. Set out in the sparkling waters of the Thai Gulf, less than 30 miles from the Cambodia border, it’s a glorious mix of jungle-dressed hillsides, rugged bays, rustic fishing villages, and – here’s the doozy – pristine beaches that look like they could have been plucked from a set on Castaway (at least, they would if it weren’t for that reggae-playing backpacker beer bar!).
Covering 84 square miles and home to 8,000 or so permanent residents, Chang is actually the third-largest island in Thailand (only Phuket and Koh Samui are bigger). But it’s different to the western isles in that much of it is remote, dominated by high ridges soaring to over 770 meters or dense rainforests filled with snakes and butterflies and teak trees. Fringing all that are some seriously wonderful white-sand and stone beaches, along with resorts to suit all manner of visitors.
If that sounds like the sort of Thai destination that would stoke your wanderlust, be sure to read on. This guide will answer is Koh Chang worth visiting by delving into seven key aspects of the isle, ranging from the general vibe to the quality of the coastline. Let’s go…
The general vibe
Koh Chang is generally considered to be one of Thailand’s lesser-known islands. We wouldn’t say it’s off the beaten path, but it’s not in the spotlight like Samui or Koh Phangan, that’s for sure. The upshot is that you still get a taste of the traditional Land of Smiles, with ramshackle hamlets selling fresh-off-the-boat seafood stir fries and hidden villages inhabited by betel nut farmers.
If that’s your sort of thing, we’d recommend heading east to Ban Salak Kok. It’s tricky to get to, taking over an hour on a circular road around the north of the island, but retains much of the charm Chang had 20 years ago – think traditional fishing folk and a backdrop of untouched mangroves where you can kayak to stilt villages.
But – and here’s the beauty of it all – that doesn’t have to be your experience of Koh Chang. The west coast here is far more developed and in line with the tourism scene that many have come to expect of the Gulf of Thailand. Between the souvenir stalls and Bang Bao to the luxury hotels of Klong Prao, you’ll find everything from sandy beach bungalows to five-star honeymoon resorts.
Is Koh Chang worth visiting for the beaches? 100%. We won’t go waxing lyrical about the sands here being the best in the whole of the Land of Smiles. They aren’t. However, there’s something raw and wonderful about Chang’s coastline that we think helps to put it just a cut above the crowd.
The mainstay area for beach lovers has to be the west coast. That’s strung with pebble coves and little river mouth areas packed by palm trees. But, just occasionally, it will open onto long sweeps of honey-tinted powder that arc in front of rows of beach bungalows, bars, and low-stooping coconut trees. Basically: Heaven. The spots we’d most recommend there are:
- Lonely Beach – Best known for its nightlife scene (more on that later), Lonely Beach isn’t that long but is still lovely, thanks largely to soft, powdery sand and a backdrop of lush hills.
- Kai Bae Beach – A full 1.5 miles of pure stunning beachfront with lots of hotels and restaurants roughly a third of the way up the west coast.
- White Sand Beach – The northernmost of the west coast beaches is arguably the most popular around. It’s got cotton-colored sand and casuarina trees for shade. Really nice spot.
- Bailan Beach – A few rocks stud this largely-unknown bay south of Lonely Beach. It’s often the best shot for finding somewhere secluded.
Chang might bear the same name as Thailand’s most (in)famous beer, but it’s actually nowhere near the no-holes-barred party destination of, say, Koh Phangan. It’s way more chilled than that. Most people come to look for relaxed evenings of Thai food, cracking sunsets, and hammock sessions while the evening draws in.
But that’s not to say there isn’t any nightlife. There is. And it can be pretty gnarly if you want it to be. There are two main hotspots to know about. The first is in the far north, around White Sand Beach. In the village there is a hubbub of venues. From the ubiquitous Irish bar, Paddy’s Palms, to the rollicking Rock Bar, you’ll catch all sorts of music policies. Usually, folk end at Sabay Bar on the beach, which has live reggaeton and some psychedelic vibes.
However, the main center for hedonism on Koh Chang has to be further south, around Lonely Beach. That one cut its teeth as the main backpacker hub of the island. It’s got a similar feel to the Gilis in Indonesia, with different spots leading the partying on various nights of the week. The places we love the most have to be Ting Tong Bar – a classic Thai-Rasta mashup with neon paint and Bob Marley tunes – and Cancun Bar – head in for some edgy fire shows.
The thing about traveling to Koh Chang is that it doesn’t just open up Koh Chang itself. A journey here, into the depths of Trat Province in eastern Thailand, will bring you into the territory of the Mu Ko Chang National Park. That’s a vast marine reserve that includes another 50 islands in total, along with more than 250 square miles of the gorgeous gulf waters.
It’s easy to put together trips out to other spots in the region. Koh Wai is one of the most enticing. It’s a true unknown speck on the map of the Land of Smiles. There’s hardly a drop of electricity on the island itself, but the beaches are long, the color of talcum powder, and virtually deserted save for a few fellow adventurers willing to pay for the longboat across.
Another option is Ko Mak, directly south of Koh Chang. It comes with an inland of softly swaying rubber trees and a coastline of wide beaches speckled with rocks and coconut husks, all interlinked by sandy biking paths. Further afield again and Ko Kut (also known as Ko Kood) rises out of the Gulf of Thailand with its jungled hills and uber-pristine coves, not to mention just a few pretty fantastic honeymoon resorts.
The hotel options
Koh Chang isn’t overloaded with big tourist hotels and family resorts a la Phuket and Krabi. However, those sorts of places do exist. Only, they live alongside your classic Thai bungalow resort or backpacker guesthouse, where swinging hammocks are strewn across creaking deck spaces just a stone’s throw back from the beach. And there’s a range of even quirkier establishments to boot, in the form of treehouses and eco escapes in the jungles.
Honeymoon travelers looking for luxury and romance should be sure to check out super-remote Parama Koh Chang. At the end of the east-coast ring road, it occupies a whole bay almost to itself. The hotel is set on a stunning lagoon with swimming pools and jungles hemming it in on all sides. Sea View Koh Chang is another five-star option on the more popular west coast, offering frontline bungalow villas with infinity pools.
Backpackers looking to be close to the reggae bars of White Sand Beach might prefer the TP Hut Bungalows. They’re built like traditional shacks and sit on the fringes of the forest. Alternatively, there are some cool, off-radar places like the Oasis Koh Chang, which has a treehouse-style vibe and deluxe units with sea views.
Koh Chang has no shortage of waterfalls. The inland mountains and the lush rainforests here are carved through by oodles of gurgling rivers. They occasionally turn into silky cataracts or roaring waterflows that promise to be the perfect escape from the sun-scorched coastline and the beaches.
Arguably the most stunning waterfall of all on Koh Chang is Klong Plu. It’s the only one that’s easily accessible from the main tourist resorts on the west coast. Sat at the end of the Fiko River about 30 minutes’ walking from the main road, it cascades off a high bluff in the woods into a pool of gleaming turquoise water. Entry is 200 THB but you get to enjoy cool highland streams and some fantastic sunbathing plots on the rocks.
If you’re venturing across to the east coast, there’s an abundance of waterfalls to pick from. The shallow steps of Klong Nonsi are there, nestled between verdant groves of durian plantations. So, too, are the crashing courses of the Klong Jao Leuam, which have carved out a massive cleft in the peaks to create an echoing gorge and dramatic cascades of H2O.
Koh Chang is in the top three largest islands in the country. That means there’s plenty of coastline, but also a pretty vast interior that’s just asking to be explored. We’d say one of the best ways to do just that is by lacing up the boots and hitting the jungle trails. There are a few (sadly unmarked) paths that promise to be a true odyssey in the forest, culminating with spectacular lookouts on the very ceiling of the isle…
Check out the Klong Prao Trek. It takes travelers away from the fine-sanded beaches of the west coast and into the rubber plantations that cluster around Kai Bae. Then, the path bends upwards to conquer a 500-meter ascent to a vantage point that gazes back at Klong Prao Beach. The Khao Jom Trek is another with pretty jaw-dropping views. That one takes you over 600 meters up above the west coast, on a seven-hour romp that usually involves encounters with macaques and lizards.
If you don’t mind forgoing the viewpoints, you can also opt for the long cross-Island trek on Koh Chang. It’s basically rubber farms and jungle from start to finish but offers the added joy of going from one coast to the other in a single day. The walk takes up to eight hours and is very challenging, so be sure to get a guide and pack accordingly.
So, is Koh Chang worth visiting?
Is Koh Chang worth visiting? Koh Chang is 100% worth visiting. We’d not only put it up there with Thailand’s top islands, but also among the lesser-known islands in the Land of Smiles, which means you shouldn’t find an overload of crowds. The beaches – especially Kai Bae Beach and White Sand Beach – are something special, and so are the inland mountains, where adventurers will be able to pull on the boots and hit the hiking paths. Finally, Koh Chang brings the bonus of being close to some other fantastic Thai isles, like Koh Wai and Ko Mook, where the bays are all but deserted and the vibes are super chilled.