Koh Chang sits in the gulf of Thailand to the East, just a stones throw from the Cambodian border. It's called the Island of Elephants with the most likely story being that the island is shaped a little like an Elephants head as there are no wild Elephants here wandering the jungle.
It's a fair sized island as well
. The second biggest in Thailand behind the famous Phuket. If Thai islands were all graded by some sort of scale ranging from Ko Pha Ngan (the craziest wildest party island) to Koh Kradan (one of the quietest with the most beautiful beaches) then I would put Koh Chang somewhere between Phuket and Koh Lanta. We were not quite sure what to expect despite the usual research but Koh Chang was a pleasant surprise and after 11 days the place had really grown on us to the point where we did not want to leave and were also kicking ourselves for hanging around in Bangkok too long when we could have had more quality time on the island.
If you've never been to any Thai islands then Koh Chang is an excellent starting point to ease you in and give you a taste of everything that island life has to offer and for you to decide what elements of island life you like and where that may take you to next. For a start it's easy to get to from Bangkok. 5 1/2 hours on a bus gets you to the pier on the mainland and another 30 minutes on the ferry and you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle metropolis of the big city
. Another great thing about this island compared to some is the price. It's so close to the mainland with a car ferry that you benefit from mainland prices. Drink, cigarettes, accommodation and food, the staple goods of island tourist inflation are all in line with what you pay on the mainland. In fact after we had haggled for the price of a weeks accommodation it was cheaper to stay on Koh Chang in a lovely clean little bungalow and rent a bike every day than it is for just our hostel in Bangkok without a bike. It is low season now though due to the rain but to me it felt like it's the best time to go. The weather has been fantastic every day. Bright sun shine with no wind and it's only been on a night when the clouds come in and the rain starts. Low season also allows you to get great deals on somewhere to stay and gives you much more haggling power when talking to the owners.
Being a fairly big island but not as developed as Phuket has allowed Koh Chang to give you a little flavour of everything a Thai island can offer you
. There is a road that runs round the entire island bar a small 5km section at the far South. This break in the road seems to have slowed some of the development here and ensured the entire coast has not become over ran by tourists. The West coast is the developed tourist side with it's white sand beaches and the East is a slower paced more local rural affair. It's a great combination. The West gives you that taste of the slightly wilder side of island life. Enough girly bars to keep the biggest of Asian lady (and ladyboy) connoisseurs happy, bars, Reggae bars in the South selling their happy shakes and weed and countless places to eat. An hours ride on a motorbike round to the East side and you find yourself ambling along a very quiet road passing the occasional temple and small fishing village. There really only is the one main road as well that hugs the coast from East to West. The heart of the island is fairly rugged untouched hilly rainforest, accounting for 70% of the land here which is nice and gives an amazing backdrop from anywhere you may find yourself
I'm not sure where the past 11 days have gone. They seemed to slip by before we noticed such is the slow easy pace here during the quiet months. We rented a bike for most of the days so that we had freedom and could get around easily. I love riding bikes in Asia it really is the best way to get around and explore everything. We checked out most of the beaches here including a couple that are well off the beaten path. We had read and heard about one particular beach named Wai Check which is the hardest to reach of all the beaches here. It's either accessible by boat which would have been an expensive option or by bike and foot provided we could find some reliable directions and didn't mind doing some fairly serious off roading on the bike. We went with the second option and after an hour riding round from the West coast to the South East we turned off the nice smooth tarmac and found ourselves negotiating a rocky steep mud track. Steep enough to the point that Dani had to get off and walk many many times
. This beach really is out of the way almost to the point that you think the locals really don't want you to find it. No signs, and no real access. The local tourist map briefly mentions it with the caption of 'Can you find it!' After around 5km of off-road riding we hit the end of the trail and swung a left towards the coast down a dirt track before reaching a small river where we had to park the bike up and continue on foot. Another half a kilometer on foot and we could see the undergrowth disappearing around us and opening up into level land with coconut trees dotted about. We felt genuinely excited. Think of the film 'The Beach' when they first arrive on the island. We hadn't seen another single soul other than two locals on a bike in the past hour and the anticipation of reaching the beach was exhilarating. The coconut trees stopped and we stepped out on to a 500m stretch of beach without another single soul around. Unfortunately the beach was not what we expected. Due to it's isolation and lack of development combined with rainy season meant the beach was covered in leaves and natural litter
. With nobody here to keep it clean and probably due to the currents and it's location it had a covering of leaves and foliage all the way along it. It really could be an amazing beach if it were clean but I guess it was nice to see a beach that was entirely left to nature for a change. Satisfied we had actually found it and made it here we hung around for ten minutes before the local indigenous wild dog population caught our scent and the canine platoon appeared at the headland to our right and were sprinting towards us. Like a scene from Benny Hill we were off in a flash, running back to the river and our bike while keeping one eye over our shoulder and listening to the where the barks were coming from, it was a good little adventure out.
From there we headed off to another fairly isolated hard to reach beach, Lonely Beach. This one is well noted on the tourist maps and signed but due to the building of a new access road it is currently hard work to reach it. Again steep hills, some sections with brand new concrete and easy riding mixed in with the unfinished sections that are like riding through a recently bombed building site
. Thanks to a few local lads working on the road we were pointed in the direction of the beach and parked the bike up to walk the last 100 yards. What a disappointment it was when we arrived. As with Wai Chek I'm sure Long beach could be beautiful. There are a few cheap bungalows to stay at down at one end but during quiet season everything shuts down on this beach and unlike Wai Chek the beach is not littered with just natural foliage but with plastic and man made items strewn all over. It was horrible to see. Whenever we are at a beach we will always pick up any nearby litter that others have left and dispose of it but this would have been a weeks work to clear it. Such a shame that the beach gets left to be in this state and the impact mankind is having around the world with plastic and waste.
As well as getting out and about a lot, visiting the small fishing villages and waterfalls we have had a lot of lazy beach days. There are some great beaches with crystal clear waters on Koh Chang
. Our favorites being Kai Bae where our digs are, Lonely beach which is just around the corner and is the more lively backpacker party strip but still idylic and quiet during the day and Klong Prao which is at the very South of the island and home to the Reggae population of the island. It's a great escape to waste a few days lazing around taking a dip in the beautiful turquoise waters every now and then to cool off and we also rented a Kayak at Kai Bae and paddled out to an uninhabited island about a Kilometer off shore which was a great way to spend an afternoon. By the look of the water we probably could have waded across it looked that shallow but the Kayak was a well needed bit of exercise as well as a peaceful way to get ourselves around the bay.
As the days passed by and it became time to leave the island I suddenly realised just how much I like Koh Chang. At first it didn't strike me as anything spectacular. The beaches are good but not as great as say Koh Lipe. It's fairly quiet but not as much as Koh Lanta or Koh Kradan
. What it does do though is give you enough variety to make it easy to stay here for quite some time and at a good price as well. I was sad to leave the place and will definitely come back. The locals are nice and welcoming, if you hunt around enough and avoid the tourist traps there is some great cheap local food to be sampled and it's all just, well, a bit easy really. Nothing is a stress or a hassle on Koh Chang, the scenery is beautiful, it's easy to escape the nightlife or any hustle and bustle if you wish. Likewise easy to find a party if you want one. It even has the usual 7-11 dogs living on the steps to make you smile every time you pass by. (If you don't know about the 7-11 dogs in Thailand you soon will if you ever come here!)
So that's it for Koh Chang. A big thumbs up from me and certainly a place we will return to if we are ever stuck in Bangkok again deciding what to do next. Next stop now is Myanmar, a totally new country for us and one we are really looking forward to and expecting big things of. We have read that the internet is dial up speeds at best so the blog may have to wait until we have finished our time there but it's also a country that is changing by the day so who knows I may still get the occasional blog posted now and then.