Koh Chang; big tourist island in Thailand's southeast

How to get the best possible hotel deals in Koh Chang?

Book directly with the hotel – this cuts out middlemen, saving cash for both guests and hotel – and we take no commission.
We identify hotels that guarantee, in writing, to discount below the lowest on-line agency rates for guests who book direct. See the GUARANTEE list on this page, then contact the hotel via the e-mail box on the hotel page.
DISCOUNT ROOM VOUCHERS – the very cheapest rooms in Koh Chang – are also available here for some hotels, but they are limited in number. See Top Deals above.

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Koh Chang (Elephant Island in Thai) is Thailand's 2nd largest island, with about a dozen beaches big enough to hold a few, or many, beachfront accommodations. This Club has mapped over 80 true beachfront accommodations here, ranging from simple backpacker bungalows to luxurious, beautifully-designed 4-star resorts. That accounts for about 90% of all accommodations on the island, for only a few hotels are built away from the beach. That, however, is beginning to change at the top end of the island, with more hotels and guesthouses forced to build along the main road, away from the beach, due to the lack of beachfront land. Development is beginning to catch up with Koh Chang.
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The island is very close to Thailand's frontier with Cambodia, and it takes a five hour road trip from Bangkok to get to the ferry stations that provide crossings to the island. Until quite recently Koh Chang was a resort island for Thais from Bangkok, particularly university students getting away for weekends and holidays in small groups. In the 1990s global backpackers began to abandon the fast-developing Koh Samui and gravitate here, attracted by and its cheap bungalows on undeveloped, natural beaches.
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Only since about year 2000 have more comfortable, 3-star and 4-star hotels and resorts opened on Koh Chang, attracting both middle-class families from Bangkok and regular tourists from around the world. Thai companies also like to use the island for incentive tours, bringing their staff here by the busload for fun on the beach, social and team-building activities. The Thai students and foreign backpackers are still there, though their budget bungalows are being pushed ever southwards as the top end of the island develops more rapidly. Koh Chang is big and diverse enough to house all-comers – but only for the time being. Beach land is already scarce, and of course, exceptionally expensive – something that limits future development along the beaches to more up-market resorts.

Koh Chang's beaches, narrow & shallow due to mountains & monsoons

If we were to believe Google Earth's satellite images we might think Koh Chang has few or no beaches, for they just don't show up. The reason? Koh Chang's beaches are generally narrow, are partially hidden by overhanging trees. Also, the beaches here often disappear underwater at the highest tides, while some have no white sand to make them stand out.
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Koh Chang is exceptionally rugged, with virtually the whole island a big mountain range. Where mountains fall into the ocean there is little space for beaches, and many shorelines here have only cliffs or rocks. All of the island's famous beaches are found along the west coast, for waves are the real beach-builders, and the southwest monsoon pushes quite small waves across the Gulf of Thailand each year to create them – but not big beaches. The east side is largely protected from the opposite, northeast monsoon by the landmass of nearby Cambodia, and thus has even narrower, poorly developed beaches.
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Happily for Koh Chang's prolific rainforests, the mountain sides are mostly too steep to be farmed. This has held off the rubber plantations which have replaced the forest and transformed every low island in the country. Here rubber and oil palm plantations have only a small hold, being restricted to the relatively small areas of low hills.
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Koh Chang's heavy cover of natural rainforest makes its appeal for foreign tourists even stronger. There are several waterfalls hidden in the forested hills, and walking into those is popular. But where the thick forest reaches down to the sand, often stretching far out over it, we find a delicious amalgam of sea, sand and forest that gives Koh Chang much of its charm.
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So while Google Earth might suggest this is an island without beaches, we have drawn our beach maps with extra care, showing all beach areas – both sand and pebble – quite accurately in beach yellow. But do remember those pebbles. For a more detailed look at the beaches of here, see Koh Chang's beaches; sand, pebbles & trees .

transport to & from, getting around on Koh Chang's few roads

It's four or five-hour drive from Bangkok, followed by a wait for a ferry that might run to an hour. The crossing to the island takes just twenty minutes, but this is followed by a rough trip down Koh Chang's west coast that can take an hour to get to the southern-most beaches. Added up, the trip from Bangkok to comfort in your Koh Chang resort can take up most of a day's travel. Later, the Koh Chang visitor has to do it all in reverse. A holiday in Koh Chang thus takes travel time that the great majority of foreign tourists cannot, or will not, afford. The Mrs and Mrs Average tourist crowds go elsewhere, and that suits the many fans of this big island just fine.
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There is a small airport at Trat, Koh Chang's provincial capital, into which a small portion of visitors fly to save two or three hours off the road trip – but only if the limited flight schedules are convenient. Minibuses, or 12-seater vans, provide the most common way to get between Bangkok and one of the two large ferry terminals servicing Koh Chang (there are three terminals altogether). These have regular departures from Bangkok's Victory Monument, though larger resorts and some travel companies organize their own vans or private cars. There are also regular bus services from Bangkok's southern terminal at Ekamai to Trat provincial captial, from where there are regular 'song-taew' departures to the ferry terminals. Bus provides the cheapest, and slowest way to the island.
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Ferries run approximately every hour through daylight hours, with more frequent services early and late in the day. Crossing the five-kilometre wide straight takes just twenty minutes. Most larger resorts organize transport from Bangkok right to the hotel reception. But visitors without this convenience are greeted on the island by a host of options. Young travellers cram into little 'song taew' buses for a wild ride down the steep west coast road; wealthier visitors hire their own taxi, while others are collected at the ferry station by resort transport. The ferry services also carry cars, and many Bangkok residents take their vehicles all the way to the resort carpark.
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Renting your own car or motorcycle to drive from Bangkok or Trat independently is also quite easy, and gives freedom of movement plus the chance to see all of this large island at will. If you command your own transport, do stop at the peak of the first steep mountain just beyond the ferries. From here, grand vistas of Koh Chang's west coast give an appreciation of the island's rugged nature, while also providing an eagle-eye view of the first and most popular beach, Sai Khao (White Sands Beach).

Note that during the high season large ferries and speedboats run regular services between Koh Chang and its two smaller, nearby island neighbours, the stunningly beautiful Koh Kood and small but funky Koh Mak.

Koh Chang's beachfront hotels & resorts moving up-market, boutique, beautiful

Boutique, beautifully-designed, remote – all great selling points for the new breed of hotel that is becoming especially popular on Thailand's resort islands. While the boutique movement is something of a stylish craze on Koh Samui, now Thailand's island of style, Koh Chang too, is catching boutique fever.
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On Koh Chang the number of small, luxury 'designer' hotels increases year on year. They typically have less than 100 rooms. Specialist architects and designers are employed to infuse these properties with style that follows the guests into every corner of the resort. Skilled landscape artists are also engaged to bring the finishing, tropical touches. Resort owners often compete to out-do each other in style and flamboyance. And of course, to qualify as boutique, each establishment must have a high-class spa, well-appointed to provide a cornucopia of wishful body treatments with dream-like names.
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While the new boutique movement brings higher-than-average prices, and thus restricts the market, the number of 3-star resorts for Mr & Mrs Average Tourist still remains numerically dominant. But among new resorts being built here now, 4-star rooms form the new majority.
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Six of Koh Chang's most stylish boutique resorts can be seen in Boutique & beautiful, Koh Chang's new boutique facade.

need to know; Koh Chang’s 2 strange tides & 2 predictable monsoons

There is one anomaly that visitors to Koh Chang should be aware of, particularly those who like swimming while on a beach holiday: the Gulf of Thailand is one of the few, unusual places in the world where there are only two tides each 24 hours, instead of the regular four. It means Koh Chang sometimes has low tide through the whole day, with it high for most of the night. Alternatively, it can be high all day, giving great swimming conditions but also swallowing most of the beach.
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If swimming is an important part of your beach vacation, check the tide times, and beware of the months April, May and June, when the low tide can be expected to run through the whole day.

For an explanation of this strange effect see: monsoon weather & strange tides in the Gulf of Thailand.
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Koh Chang's weather follows the normal pattern for central Thailand – not the unusual one that affects the islands further south, including Koh Samui and Phangan. It means the high season, with its calm seas and clear skies, runs from November through April. See more on the weather of the Gulf of Thailand, including the monsoon season.
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The northeast monsoon that wreaks havoc on Koh Samui and its neighbours from November to January has only marginal effect on Koh Chang, despite that this island lies rather close to the source to that monsoon, the Pacific Ocean. Just as the Southeast Asian mainland, particularly Vietnam and Cambodia, shields all but the southern parts of Thailand from the violence of this powerful monsoon, so it protects Koh Chang. The regional map shows how Koh Chang is tucked well up into the Gulf of Thailand, well sheltered by those generous neighbouring countries.
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by John Everingham

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