Koh Chang (Elephant Island) is the second-largest island in Thailand. Located in Trat Province and part of the Mu Ko Chang National Park, Koh Chang is quickly becoming one of Thailand's most popular island destinations.
The relatively close proximity to Bangkok along with gorgeous beaches and calm water make Koh Chang a great vacation destination for families with small children. Although once an island mainly popular for backpackers and budget travelers, prices have risen dramatically over the years.
Note: There are actually two islands named Koh Chang in Thailand. The other is a smaller, quieter island found on the Andaman (west) side of Thailand near Ranong.
What to Expect on Koh Chang
Koh Chang is a large, hilly island with many beaches and small bays. Despite the size, the population of permanent residents is relatively low throughout the year.
White Sand Beach, the busiest and most developed beach on the island, stretches along the west coast. Spectacular sunsets, palm trees on the beach, and powdery volcanic sand add to the paradise feel of Koh Chang.
White Sand Beach (Hat Sai Khao) is the longest and most family-friendly beach on Koh Chang. Numerous bars, resorts, and restaurants stretch along the beach and open directly to the sea. Calm water and a soft-sand bottom that gently slopes to deeper water make White Sand Beach the best place to swim.
Although large resorts have taken over most of the beach, budget travelers can still find a cluster of cheap bungalow operations on the very northern end (turn right when facing the sea) of White Sand Beach.
Ironically enough, "Lonely" Beach (Hat Tha Nam) is Koh Chang's party epicenter for backpackers. While there is a mix of restaurants and guesthouses to meet all budgets, many budget travelers end up on Lonely Beach to socialize and party. Unfortunately, most of the beach is rocky and not nearly as nice for swimming as other parts of the island.
Parties on Lonely Beach can go until 5 a.m. and there is little escape from thumping music. If you're after a peaceful island experience or a good night of sleep, consider a different beach during the high season!
When to Visit Koh Chang
Koh Chang enjoys a slightly different and unpredictable climate when compared to Bangkok or other islands on the east side of Thailand.
The driest months in Koh Chang are between November and March. November is the best month for visiting Koh Chang, as temperatures have yet to rise and rainfall drops off sharply compared to other islands. You'll still find decent prices and smaller crowds in November, but both tend to increase significantly between December and March.
Getting to Koh Chang
You'll find numerous travel agencies offering tourist bus tickets from Bangkok to Koh Chang for great prices. Alternatively, you can make your own way to the Eastern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and arrange your own first-class bus to Laem Ngop in Trat province, then take the ferry. Tickets sold at guesthouses and travel agencies typically combine the bus, transfer to the jetty, and ferry to the island into one convenient package.
The bus from Bangkok to the jump-off point for Koh Chang typically takes between five and six hours with stops. You'll then wait for the next hour-long ferry to the island.
Ferries arrive at the top (north end) of Koh Chang. From there, you'll find songthaew trucks waiting to carry passengers to the various beaches along the west side of Koh Chang. The fare varies according to distance; White Sand Beach costs around 50 baht per person.
Getting Around Koh Chang
Koh Chang is a big island, so unless you're staying on one beach, you'll need to figure out how to get from place to place.
Songthaews (covered pickup trucks with seating in the back) cover most of the island's perimeter and function like public buses. On a regular route expect to pay about 30 Baht.
Motorbikes are available for rent on Koh Chang for about 200 baht per day, but be warned that the road conditions can be very tough! Biking around Koh Chang is not for the inexperienced. There are plenty of accidents every year. Koh Chang is very hilly and traffic can be intense, so only experienced drivers should take the challenge. See more details about renting a motorbike in Thailand.
Rental Cars and Jeeps are available on Koh Chang if you need to have your own four wheels.
Where to Stay
There are more are more hotel, resort, and bungalow options available on Koh Chang every month. Whether you're looking for a cheap bungalow or a luxury resort you'll find it on the island.
Just south of Koh Chang are a handful of other islands, the largest of which is Koh Mak and Koh Kood (sometimes spelled "Koh Koot" or "Koh Kut"). Koh Kood is already well-known among travelers who want off-the-beaten-path destinations that aren't too remote. Koh Mak is fast becoming a favorite island among those who want to have seen something just before the rest of the world gets wind of it. Both islands are accessible by boat from the mainland or from Koh Chang.