Beaches, Waterfalls, Snorkeling and New Year’s Celebration: A Guide to Ko Chang, The Best Island in Thailand

Months ago when I was still in Edinburgh, a friend of mine said I needed to visit Ko Chang. Forgetting this advice, I started looking for places to take my brother when he joined me in Thailand for the holiday season, and picked the same island. When I mentioned this to locals in the country, one for one they said it was the best island in the country. Although I haven’t been to any other islands in Thailand, after 10 days I’m willing to agree.

Bangkok to Ko Chang

Finding a ride to Ko Chang was our first adventure. At our hostel, we were told the only way to get there was from the East Bus Station (Ekkamai). We arrived at the station before 11 AM, and found that all the cheap buses were sold out for the day. Our only option would be to get the minivan around 3 PM, but we then wouldn’t get to the pier before the last ferry of the day left. We would need to spend the night in Trat, across the water from Ko Chang.

As we already had a hostel booked on Ko Chang and didn’t want to lose the money, this wasn’t an option for us. However, the only way we would make the ferry in time was by hiring a taxi. We found this out from a couple at the bus station who were planning to do the same.

The Thai girlfriend of the couple booked a taxi through her business, which we then found two other travelers to join us and share the costs. The six of us ended up paying 600 baht each. The normal van would have been around 350, but the additional cost of another hostel in Trat, while losing the one we booked on the island, made it a worthwhile investment. What we weren’t counting on was the speed the taxi drove in order to make the ferry. Reaching speeds upwards of 140 km/h, he often used the shoulders on both sides of the road to get around traffic, narrowly missing bikes and pedestrians. As a seasoned traveler, I slept through most of it. My brother Payton didn’t fare so well.

We did make the ferry, and were on the island before sunset.

Selfie with Payton Arriving on Ko Chang

Getting Around Ko Chang

Instead of paying 150 baht for a taxi down to our hostel in Bang Bao, we chose to ride with the couple down to White Sand Beach and get a scooter from there. Unfortunately, when we got to the beach we found that all the motorcycles were already rented out for New Year’s weekend. We then tried to get another taxi to Bang Bao, which wanted to charge us 150 (after we paid 50 to get to White Sand). Finally, we found a rental shop which had a bike returned just as we walked up. I rented a bike for four days, which we used for the both of us to get to the hostel. It was far from the best quality bike, and barely made it up the hills.

The road from the ferry at the top of the island to Bang Bao at the bottom is full of hair-pin turns, steep climbs and crazy declines. It was a challenge for the best of riders. In fact, the taxi Payton was riding in one night was unable to climb up one of the inclines after it had begun to rain.

My advice would be to skip renting a scooter on Ko Chang and just stick to the taxis. Both the scooter rentals and gas on the island are expensive. I also ran into the unfortunate event of having my bike knocked down overnight while it was parked. I had to pay a ridiculous amount as the owner of the shop insisted on replacing the scratched parts rather than getting them painted. If you do end up renting a scooter, beware of Honey Tour Rentals across from Pajamas Hostel!

Honey Tour Bike Rentals
Avoid this scooter rental!

Also, your passport states it’s the property of your government. You shouldn’t be leaving it anywhere outside of your possession, especially when many countries, including Thailand, will check to ensure you are carrying your passport. I’ve been stopped twice by the police to see my papers here.

Bang Bao: A Fisherman Village on a Pier

I had no idea our hostel was at the far end of the island (which probably accounted for why it was so cheap). However, this turned out to be a fantastic location.

Bang Bao is the name of the fishing village built on stilts around the pier. Extending nearly a full kilometer out into the sea, the first half is built up with dozens of huts. While many of them remain as homes to the fishermen, others have been turned into restaurants, guesthouses, shops or all three combined. The end of the pier is where you’ll find all the snorkel and scuba tours for Ko Chang.

Bang Bao Pier

Read more about Bang Bao in the article I published for Perceptive Travel here.

Our first hostel was Asia Backpackers, located about 5 minutes away from the pier. We went to the pier several times for meals, or walked further down the road to Hat Sai Noi beach. The hostel was also where we met several new friends whom we spent the next several days with. These included Tessy, John, Lauren, Jordan, Princess, Loco (the LOnely KOrean), Emese and Joy.

Selfie with Friends on Taxi

New Moon on New Year’s at Lonely Beach

As a group, the twelve of us all went to Lonely Beach to celebrate New Year’s. Our first stop was at a bar for drinks, followed by Himmel Bar for free vodka buckets. After nearly everyone got a bucket, we were entertained by a truly amazing fire show. Finally we made our way down to the beach for the countdown to midnight. With the recent death of the king of Thailand, the festivities were toned town but not cancelled. While there weren’t any fireworks, there were bands, dancing and a wooden New Year’s 2017 sign which they lit on fire at midnight.

If you must know, I might have shared a kiss with another solo traveler. Isn’t that what you do on New Year’s Eve? Yes, she was a member of our group. Was it a good kiss? Definitely! Am I still thinking about her? Yep. Are you interested in reading about this? You tell me! Feel free to comment. I don’t usually get personal in this blog. Maybe you want me to. But where does a kiss go when we’re half a world away the next day?

If you haven’t already, read the rest of the story about New Year’s on Ko Chang.

Ko Chang Beaches

Most of the time on the island was spent at the beach. Payton came from Montana, where temperatures were -27°C when he left. We were both paper white, so a sun tan was in order. The first four days we stayed in Bang Bao, visiting the Hat Sai Noi beach nearby. Since Hat Sai Noi is at the end of the road, literally, it only had a handful of tourists. Cafes and outdoor massage parlors dot the beach a few feet from the water. One day I partook in one of the massages. It was my first oil massage in Thailand. I only had my neck and shoulders done, but the old man who delivered it was a true miracle worker. As far as I’m concerned, the older the masseuse, the better! They really know their stuff!

Hat Sai Noi Beach

On the small beach, there wasn’t a lot to do other than the massages. Well, should say all you could do was enjoy the scenery. That was good enough for me. I did get some work done on my new laptop, but otherwise I just enjoyed the sun, swam in the water and watched the tide going out. The tides around Ko Chang are high around noon, and low around midnight. By sunset you could walk out several dozen meters before the water reached above waist level. I never went later at night, but I’m assuming you could make it out even further.

Sunset on Koh Chang

After four days, Payton, Tessy (the last of our group) and I moved up the island to Khlong Phrao Beach, where we spent the next two days once again enjoying the sun. On the second day, I swam half a kilometer out to the rocks, and then sprinted back to our spot. Just sticking to my New Year’s Resolution to get in shape.

Kai Bae Waterfall

On Day 7, we returned to Bang Bao and rented a guesthouse right at the end of the pier. On the way down, I branched off in search of a little known waterfall I caught wind of. It’s not on Google Maps and supposedly most locals don’t even know it exists.

Selfie at Kai Bae Waterfall

Just south of the 7-Eleven at the bottom of Kai Bae Beach is a road heading inland. Drive up that to the end and take a left, then the first right. This is essentially a dirt track leading up to a village. Find a place to park, and then follow the signs (which finally show up) to the waterfall. It’s about a 10 minute hike. The waterfall at the end is secluded and peaceful, on par with the one we found in Pai. The best part was I didn’t see a single other person on the trail! Talk about a hidden gem!

Bang Bao Boat Tour

The location of our new guesthouse that night was perfect, as we got up early on Day 8 to get the Bang Bao Boat Tour. The boat launch was less than a minute from the guesthouse, and we were able to purchase our tickets at the booth. As we skipped the middleman of the hostel, we were able to get 50 baht off our ticket. The normal cost is 700 baht for the trip. We paid 650, plus the 200 fee to enter the national parks, i.e. the other islands.

The boat is scheduled to leave at 9 am, but ours left at 9:20. There are plenty of seats and multiple boats, so I think there’s a pretty slim chance it will be sold out. Although we took the 1-day, 5-island tour, there are several other tours and companies to choose from. Ours was the cheapest. You also have the option to go diving with BB Divers, but those packages start at 3500 baht. The price of the snorkeling trip includes a mask and snorkel, lunch and an afternoon snack.

Selfie with Bang Bao Boat Tour

We arrived at the first island, Koh Yak Lek, at 10:40. It’s tiny, maybe 20 meters across and not even labeled on Google Maps. Surrounded by coral reefs and schools of fish, it’s the perfect place to snorkel. All the tours follow the same route, so you can expect there to be at least half a dozen boats dropping off tourists.

Snorkeling in Ko Chang

We had an hour at this spot. That might seem long, but it was easy to lose track of time, as I did. When I heard the horn that the boat would be leaving soon, I was on the far side of the island. By the time I got to where the boat was moored, it had already weighed anchor and was moving away. I had to do some pretty impressive swimming to catch up, which I just barely managed. That was certainly a close call!

Next we were brought to Koh Rang and Koh (?) for more snorkeling or just relaxing on the beach. In truth, the first four islands are all grouped together within a couple minutes of each other, so there isn’t a lot of variation. After an hour of Koh Rang, you’re brought to Koh Mapring, just a few meters north of Koh Yak Lek.

Bang Bao Boat Trip Panorama

Finally, the boat took us to Koh Wai, where it docks to a pontoon pier for the final hour. You can relax on the beach, use the toilets or even grab a bite to eat at the small restaurant on the island.

Selfie on Koh Wai

On the way back to Bang Bao, the boat stopped on the west side of the Bang Bao peninsula, where a barrel of monkeys came out of the trees to see us. Or rather to get fed by us, as the staff of the boat started throwing all the leftover scraps to the rocks for the monkeys to collect. Not all the passengers enjoyed this, and we soon pulled away to return to the pier.

Feeding the Monkeys

When you take the tour, make sure you wear a sturdy pair of sandals, or better yet, bring a pair of water shoes. Most importantly, listen to Baz Luhrmann and wear sunscreen! After a week on the beach, I still wasn’t burned. After a day snorkeling, I was roasted! Not fun!

Summary

My brother and I originally planned to spend just a couple days on Ko Chang, and then head to Ko Tao to meet a fellow blogger and yoga instructor. However, we saw that Ko Tao was being slammed by typhoons, and chose to stay put. I ended up leaving the island after 10 days, and Payton remained behind to enjoy it even longer. Unfortunately, I took the sunny skies with me, and he was stuck with days of rain.

Without a question, the island is fantastic. I think the best feature (other than the incredible beaches, beautiful scenery and enjoyable boat tour) was the lack of tourists. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a bunch of foreigners, but nowhere near the numbers found in the cities, or how I imagine the other islands to be. We got our time in the sun, but I only made it to one of the nine waterfalls, and there’s also a tall mountain I’d like to hike someday. So, once again, this is a destination I’ll return to.

Sunset on Ko Chang

Accommodations

I had four separate hostels on Ko Chang, all of which were cheap and rather nice.

Asia Backpackers

At the bottom of Ko Chang, the location might appear to be poor. However, if you’re like me and prefer to be away from the crowds, the spot couldn’t have been better. We landed there by default when it was the only place left to stay on the island over New Year’s weekend. I immediately fell in love with the place, and we extended our stay. The first night my brother and I were the only ones in the room. It was quiet, clean and had good facilities. The lady at reception was really helpful too. Both breakfast and dinner were tasty, and not too expensive. If you want hot water for your shower, make sure you use either of the two on the left.

Asia Backpackers Bungalows

Ko Chang Luxury Guesthouse

Located at Khlong Phrao Beach, a few kilometers south of White Sand Beach, this was more of a budget hotel than a guesthouse. The room came complete with TV, refrigerator and en-suite bathroom. I skipped eating there as it was 200 baht for the American breakfast – out of my budget. They cleaned the room in the afternoon between the two nights we were staying and left water for us. Find it on Google Maps as the Koh Chang Luxury Botique Hotel.

Ocean Blue Guesthouse

This was undoubtedly the most unique guesthouse I’ve ever stayed in. Located on Bang Bao pier, the house is built on stilts, and a door in the room opened directly over the water. As mentioned before, it was also located just a couple dozen meters from the boat tours. I paid the budget option for only the fan instead of the AC, but the room had an en-suite bathroom and even a TV. They don’t serve food, but there are many great places on the pier to eat at (see below).

Habitat Hostel

This is the newest hostel on the island, opening in October 2016. It’s located at VJ Island View and Plaza, just a stone’s throw away from Ocean Blue. The room was very spacious, with only four beds and an en-suite bathroom. The whole hostel was spotless, the staff were extremely friendly and went out of their way to make me comfortable, and a free continental breakfast of toast and cereal was provided.

Room at Habitat Hostel

Food

While I ate at numerous places during the 10 days on the island, there were a few restaurants that stood out and deserve mentioning.

Chill House Bang Bao

This was the first restaurant we ate at on Bang Bao pier, and we ended up returning again and again. The man at the restaurant was very friendly and funny, talking with us constantly and making small jokes. They have a wide range of Thai and Western dishes. I ended up getting the bacon and egg sandwich nearly every time I went. I also tried the ginger and mint lemonade, which was delicious but a little heavy on the ginger. Prices are decent, more expensive than street food but cheaper than other restaurants.

Bangbao Delight

Located on the right side of the pier near the end, this place serves a wider ranger of Western and Thai dishes. It’s a bit more pricey than Chill House. I got the hamburger meal (I need some Western food now and then) which was really good, although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the fries. They also have a great selection of bakery items. I picked up a couple croissants for the boat tour.

Burger at Bangbao Delight

The Lucky Gecko

The Lucky Gecko is located at the south end of Lonely Beach. Run by an Austrian man and his Thai wife, this place serves delicious food. Most of their dishes are either Thai or German (Austrian), but there are a couple other options too. I tried several plates here, including the schnitzel, pad thai and chicken strips, while others in our group were obsessed with the several styles of curry. The food is a reasonable price, especially for the large portions they serve.

The Happy Turtle

I don’t remember who recommended that I try The Happy Turtle, but I’m so glad they did. Located next to The Lucky Gecko, this place is run by two Swedes. You know what I think about Swedish cooking! I had the bacon chicken burger here with fries and their special herb mayonnaise. I know, I know, I should be eating Thai food in Thailand. But after awhile, you’ve gotta balance it out. Well, this place was the perfect balance. The burger was surprisingly good. Leave it to the Swedes!

Chicken and Bacon Burger at Happy Turtle

Nong Bua Seafood

Nong Bua Seafood is the restaurant attached to the Pajamas Hostel, where Tessy was staying the last five nights of her trip. I had a couple meals there and I have to say they are hit or miss, and also not really budget friendly. The first meal was an omelet for breakfast, which was served tiny and plain. The coffee was self-serve, instant coffee. At least the eggs were thoroughly cooked. The second meal on the other hand was delicious. Pineapple fried rice with cashews, pork and raisins in a hollow pineapple. It was the best pineapple rice I’ve had so far in Thailand!

Pineapple Rice at Nong Bua Seafood

Resources

  • Attractions – Get up to 40% off attractions across Thailand and SE Asia with Go Voyagin.
  • Lodging

Find great deals on hotels and hostels with Agoda. Read my guide on whether you should book ahead at a hostel.

If you’re traveling with more than one person, I’d recommend using Airbnb. Some locations can be fantastic.

You can also find opportunities to volunteer on Ko Chang via Workaway.

Please note: Skyscanner, Go Voyagin, Agoda and Airbnb are affiliate links, and using them here will help to support me financially in my travels.

Months ago when I was still in Edinburgh, a friend of mine said I needed to visit Ko Chang. Forgetting this advice, I started looking for places to take my brother when he joined me in Thailand for the holiday season, and picked the same island. When I mentioned this to locals in the country, one for one they said it was the best island in the country. Although I haven't been to any other islands in Thailand, after 10 days I'm willing to agree. Bangkok to Ko Chang Finding a ride to Ko Chang was our first adventure. At…

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