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Thailand’s Island of Koh Chang is the Backpacker Paradise You’ve Always Dreamed Of

Koh Chang

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A secluded archipelago huddled near the Cambodian border, Thailand’s Koh Chang is a seaside paradise perfect for the budget traveler — my version of paradise:

In This Thailand Article You Will Discover:

  • The Draw of Koh Chang
  • Why it Is Perfect for the Backpacker
  • Pitfalls to Avoid During Your Visit
  • What To Expect When You Arrive

Brady and I stumble off the industrial-transport-turned-ferryboat and on to the broken pavement of Koh Chang, a remote island located near the Cambodian border in the Gulf of Thailand.

Brady had managed to sleep a couple of hours during the daylong bus trip we had taken from Bangkok that morning. I, however, had barely managed to close my eyes since the previous morning — a hangover from the Lipovitan D, a syrupy energy drink that makes Red Bull seem like a cup of decaf, I had consumed tesle rampaging through Bangkok until 8 a.m.

To say I was bleary eyed would be an understatement.

Koh Chang Dinner

Dinner on the Beach at White Sand Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand.

Koh Chang, though, is the antithesis of Bangkok. Undeveloped, serene and difficult to get to, this is one of Thailand’s last true paradise islands, free of chaotic traffic and (some) of the tourist hoards infamous on islands such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. In fact, the entire archipelago (consisting of 52 islands and islets, the largest of which, Koh Chang, is 30-km-by-14-km) was declared a national park in 1982 to preserve its wonders: long, soft-sand beaches, mountainous jungles and pristine waterfalls. It is said that two-thirds of the tourists to Koh Chang are Thai nationals.

We wander to a songthaew — a taxicab pickup truck where patrons pile in the back — idling near the dock. Drivers schedule pickups for ferry arrivals to Koh Chang, so vehicle-less visitors never wait long.

The driver asks me where I want to go. I have no idea. Luckily, there is a crudely painted map on the side of the truck, with Koh Chang’s spots of interest scribbled upon it. I read aloud the most prominent waypoint.

“White Sand Beach?”

I’m half expecting him to tell me I can’t, or shouldn’t, go there for some reason. But there are no problems and a few dozen baht exchanges hands. As we ramble off, the breeze cools the sweat from my chest.

I want to sleep forever. But — I — still — can’t.

Siam Hut Bungalows

The delightfully rustic and dirt-cheap Siam Hut Bungalows, Lonely Beach, Koh Chang.

A short jaunt through winding, overgrown jungle-island roads, we arrive at White Sand Beach. It is the tourist epicentre of Koh Chang, but that said, it seems like a ghost town compared to the Thailand I’d experienced thus far. Lining the waterfront, we find a few hotels and guest houses, a couple of souvenir shops and — gasp — the only 7-11 I noticed on the entire island!

Brady and I wander like zombies, our packs weighing too heavy on our backs, searching for suitable accommodation. We are ripe for the picking when a young man offers us a room for the low, low price of 1,500 baht per night. I can’t fight it. We pay for a single night, and it remains to this day the most I have ever paid to stay anywhere in Southeast Asia. We eat green curry on the beach and are asleep by 7 p.m.

Up at five a.m. for a sunrise swim in the bathtub-warm water of White Sand Beach, we vow to find cheaper accommodation toute de suite. Destination: Lonely Beach, and the wonderfully rustic Siam Hut Bungalows.

This is Thailand Backpacking the way you imagine it: a breezy, bamboo oceanfront hut. Sleeping on a dirty futon with a mosquito net draped atop as a rusty fan groans away from above. A modified garden hose for a shower. A bare-foot, bare chest restaurant nearby. Barbecues nightly. Sunsets to follow.


BBQ & Tattoo

BBQ, OK, but no tattoo, thank you. (Your choices at Siam Hut Bungalows.)

We pay up-front for four nights and still hand over fewer baht than we did the day previous. Man, that rip-off stings me.

Rested for the first time since we arrived in Thailand, Brady and I are ready to take on Koh Chang. We rent two scooters in questionable repair, and, with no map, no sense of direction and having seemingly left all sense of personal safety back in Canada, we tear off in some ridiculous fashion, racing these scooters through the intermittent rainstorms the mid-morning had brought. May in Thailand holds unpredictable weather, even in the stable Gulf of Thailand.

This is Thailand Backpacking the way you imagine it: a breezy, bamboo oceanfront hut. Sleeping on a dirty futon with a mosquito net draped atop as a rusty fan groans away from above. A modified garden hose for a shower. A bare-foot, bare chest restaurant nearby. Barbecues nightly. Sunsets to follow. Paradise.

Koh Chang Scooters

The author poses for a photo on an un-named pier on Thailand’s Koh Chang.

We howl through the twisty roads, avoiding the mangy sleeping dogs that litter the roadways and the jumping lizards that hop from the beachsand.

The single-cylinder scooters somehow top 100 km/hr on the straight-aways. The only things louder than our motors are the screaming insects that populate thick jungle trees lining the empty, two-lane roads. Our fuel vanishes, replenished by streetside vendors doling out low-octane swill stored in used whiskey bottles. Afternoon brings an end to the rain and the beginning of a scorching day of equatorial sun.

Soon, the pavement runs out. A rocky, rough-and-tumble hill winding around a beige stone monolith intrigues us beyond all hope, and we follow the “road” to its terminus on Koh Chang’s southeastern-most point.

Long Beach — Koh Chang’s crown jewel, and perhaps the least-visited stretch of sand on the island, greets us on the backside of the rock. It is absolute Eden, rivaling even famous Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Leh, with its bleached-white sand and protected, warm and too-salty waters.

Long Beach

Thailand of Your Dreams: Long Beach, on the southeastern tip of Koh Chang.

“This is the reason I came to Thailand,” I mutter to no one. We dive into the sea, desperate to be cooled from the sun’s now-torturous rays. The ocean offers no respite. We would later find out the water temperature was nearing 30 degrees Celsius. As an Australian snorkel guide would say, “It’s like swimming in your own piss.”

The sun presents a concern beyond comfort. When we had left that morning, it was mostly rainy and gloomy. Consequently, we had left our sunscreen back in the bungalow. I could feel my olive-toned skin blister, and Brady’s whiter-than-white complexion was ready to catch fire.

We needed to leave. Now. For Christ’s sake, neither of us even had even brought a T-shirt.

Sunset at Lonely Beach

It doesn’t get much better than this: sunset at Lonely Beach, Koh Chang.

An hour-or-so later we are back at Siam Hut, our skin sizzling like the nightly chicken barbecue. Aloe vera lotion, please. Then chicken. Then Chang.

Then, lured by the thump-thump of nearby music, we follow a pitch-black path leading from Siam Hut into the jungle — and find ourselves at Koh Chang’s signature backpacker hangout, the Treehouse Bar.

What happens next is another chapter entirely….

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

11 comments… add one
  • BackpackerThailand Dec 15, 2010 Link

    Maybe a good suggestion. This year I’ve been to the island of Koh Lipe in Thailand. This island is located 70km off the Andaman (west) coast of Thailand’s most southwestern province, Satun Province and shines out among some of Thailand’s most beautiful, and unforgettable environments.

    I had a great time on Lipe and there was a lot to do like snorkeling, shopping and eating in good quality restaurants and bars. I found my resort on Koh Lipe on http://www.welovekohlipe.com, where you can also check out more information about Koh Lipe and the surrounding areas. I can really recommend Koh Lipe for a nice relaxing holiday in paradise!

  • David Webb Dec 7, 2010 Link

    Wow, your experience was much different than mine. In fact, I’ve never had any concerns with locals & theft. Usually, it’s fellow tourists that cause the trouble…

  • Jose Gancho Dec 6, 2010 Link

    I visited Siam Hut just yesterday. Pleasant place with bad staff!

    My money was stolen in front of other customers and 6 of my colleagues. I left my wallet on the counter to deliver drinks to my table. After ordering another round I found my wallet missing. I asked the girl behind the counter and she immediately gave my wallet to me. BUT!!!!! All of my money was gone. It totaled 3500 Baht. This is not a lot of money to some; but, it is to me. When I asked her who returned the wallet, she got very defensive and looked rather angry/guilty. She made up a story about a White guy returning it. (lies!). As I left she tried to yell at me and make me feel bad about loosing my money to which I let her have a verbal beating back. I called the police and made a report and immediately left the island. Now I have heard more about this manager and her ways. Many people have had there money stolen there. One man who was brave enough to confront her more got his hand chopped up with a butcher knife.

    I have been going there for 10 years and never had an issues like this, no matter the resort I stayed in. I just want others to know.

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  • Frank Aug 31, 2010 Link

    Hi Dave!
    Great writing and I agree with most of your discoveries to a full 100 %. We have found some neat resort right at the southern end of White Sand Beach, that is small – but probably the best deal to be had here with the nicest “bang-for-the-buck”. Check yourself, I am now on my 9th trip in 13 months here and am very glad to have discovered it 🙂

    http://blog.siampedia.org/?p=3313 (photo report with vid from my blog @ SIAMPEDIA.org )

    Happy trails, keep up the good work!

  • found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  • It really does sound like the backpacker’s or anyone’s idea of paradise – I especially like the difficult to get to & unspoilt angle

  • emt training May 5, 2010 Link

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

  • David Webb May 5, 2010 Link

    Thanks for the update… things either change quickly or I was just so enthralled by the natural beauty I looked completely past the other 7-11s and only paid attention to the one I popped into. Oops!
    Thanks for reading!

  • Ian May 5, 2010 Link

    “gasp — only one 7-11 on the entire island!” Don’t get too carried away, there are four on White Sand beach where you stayed and another five elsewhere on the island. 🙂

    But good to see you made it to Long Beach which is well worth the effort. Enjoy your travels – head down to Koh Mak or Koh Kood too if you’re still in the area.

  • ultrasound technician May 4, 2010 Link

    This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!

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