Return to The Elephant Isle
Koh Chang, the second largest island in Thailand after Samui, almost a decade ago, was closer in resemblance to a Robert Louis Stevenson island than the carnival beach paradise it is now. In those days the quiet beaches were studded with bamboo huts and collapsed Khao Sarn backpackers, you could budget your way through a month on ten dollars a day happily unaware that your Beer Chang t-shirt was worn by every other traveller on the island. Then the bulldozers, diggers and bar girls came, the crooked fingers of Bangkok money men had plans for Elephant Island: transformation was unstoppable.
Koh Chang is certainly different, luminous by night and multicoloured by day, but in no way as obtrusive, intrusive, as the Costa Del Samui, and much more attractive than its seaside neighbours, Samet, Rayong, Pattaya. The best thing about Chang being its vast spectrum of things to do; its eclectic nature that can pretty much suit any budget or taste. If you want pubs, real western food, parties and comfortable rooms you can get it, if you want a wooden bungalow where the lips of the ocean smack against your veranda, where your daily bread costs a handful of change, you can get that, and if you want to spend an arm and a leg being mollycoddled and treated like a rock star, then there’s plenty of that too. All this with the majestic backdrop of Chang’s giant verdant rainforest, full of natural delights … a short trek away, if you can be bothered leaving your Mai Tai and beach lounger.
There are three main beaches on the popular west side of Koh Chang, each bares a certain ambiance and style, suiting different tastes.
White Sands Beach
Easily the most popular hub, mainly because it has the longest beach and there’s so much going on; you could spend the entire holiday without leaving the demarcations of Had Khao Sai. A landmark here is 15 Palms Beach Bar and Restaurant, packed at night, with a BBQ and drinking on the beach, it’s also a laid back place to relax during the day. English manager Danny Turner has worked on Koh Chang for some time and knows it inside out, if you go to 15 Palms he’ll do his best to take care of your needs, whether that be a cocktail, a motorbike, or some insider’s advice about the island and its many diversions. They can also arrange a one day sailing, snorkelling, fishing trip (recommended) on a catamaran. The owners of 15 Palms have an Irish Pub, Paddy’s Irish Pub and Paddy’s Resort. The pub serves top notch British food and is actually one of the most impressive Brit pubs you’ll find anywhere in Thailand.
The nightlife at White Sands can get quite frenetic given the right climate. After a bite on the beach many of the restaurants and hotels have live music; there’s even a ‘Little Pattaya’ for the budding sex tourist. Most of it is low key but there are a few places that stay open, depending if the police are enforcing the law.
Klong Prao Beach
According to the guidebooks and local feedback, this part of the island is where the wealthy wine and dine, ensconced in palatial resorts that have bought up tracts of sand. It is home to one of the island’s most popular – to those in the know – seafood restaurants (also the supplier of seafood to other parts of the island) JE Restaurant. The streets are less prepossessing than those at White Sands, there’s the odd quiet pub, a few girly bars and some restaurants… What majesty lies behind the barricaded walls of the resorts only a man with money could tell you.
Lonely beach was packed on my visit, so ‘lonely’ may be a misnomer of sorts. It’s here you will find the Koh Chang of yesteryear, bronze skinned hippies with Thai tattoos (scooter scars) from Scandinavia on budgets opening their spiritual and sexual envelopes, English Sang Som addicts with a penchant for Adidas footwear and other Euro-hippies on long sabbaticals taking some time off before they sell insurance for the rest of their lives. It’s Khao Sarn on the beach, which isn’t a bad thing if you like cheap deals, bungalows right on the sand, German, Belgian techno or Bob Marley playing on loops. For the young girls it’s a great opportunity to sleep with a Thai barman with dreadlocks and for the lads you can really get your rocks off with the young travellers. There are also lots of shops flogging beach gear, souvenirs and bric-a-brac. For those with the cash, Lonely Beach does have a few resorts where the riffraff are kept at a safe distance.
This is a fishing village turned tourist hub, it’s the end of the island and you can walk the pier and see the fishing boats coming in with their catch in the evening. There are about five or six really good seafood restaurants where you can sit and watch the sun go down, there are also some cool bars and tons of souvenir shops down at the pier. For those wanting to do a PADI course there are many dive shops.
15 Palms Beach Bar and Restaurant (nightlife, eating, chilling) Paddy’s Palms Irish Pub and Resort British food, drink, great little resort – 900-1,300 baht www.15palms.com www.paddyspalms
pub.com Tel: 039 551095, 083 8511174
Invito Italian and Mediterranean Restaurant mid price range food – more of a formal affair Tel: 039 551460
India Hut Indian Restaurant low to mid price range Indian food Tel: 081 441 3234
JE Seafood not easy to find, so just ask any Thai when you arrive at Klong Prao, depending on what you eat, the price varies, but be sure to ask the price before ordering from the buffet Tel: 039 551594
Siam Huts cheap huts – around 500 baht – right on the beach, some with air-con. Tel: 086 6097772
Warapura Resort: Funky resort in very chilled atmosphere – 2000+ baht – on the beach, but it’s a rocky beach. Tel: 039 558123, 083 987 5777
Ruen Thai Seafood Restaurant follow the pier and you’ll see it, great seafood plus a beautiful view Tel: 089 833 5117
HOW TO GET THERE
(4-5 hours): drive to Bangkok and take either Highway 344 which goes through Bang Na, Chon Buri, Klaeng, Chanthaburi, Trat (318). From Trat drive to Laem Ngop Pier and then you can take your car on the ferry or park it in Laem Ngop. It’s better to take the car as the island is so large.
By Bus or Train:
You can take the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then the bus from Bangkok to Trat or right to Laem Ngop Pier. Go to Ekamai Bus Terminal in Bangkok, it’s on the Sky Train. It’s better not to take minibuses and definitely stay away from VIP (not sure about the ‘V’ and ‘P’ but the ‘I’ must mean ‘ironic’) tourist buses. Once in Koh Chang you’ll have to share a songtaew from the pier, which stops at all the beaches.
You can fly to Bangkok and then from Bangkok to Trat by Bangkok Airways.