Ko Chang (เกาะช้าง) is an island in Trat Province, Eastern Thailand. Ko Chang is Thailand’s second largest island, and the biggest in Eastern Thailand. With about 5,000 permanent residents the island is not heavily populated, but tourism (and development) has increased dramatically over the last few years.
Ko Chang is one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands with long white sandy beaches. The island is also home to a wide range of wildlife, including a good selection of birds, snakes, deer and a number of elephants. The island and its vicinity are great places for snorkeling, diving and jungle hiking. The “discovery” of the island as a tourist destination since 2000 has brought on a large amount of rapid development, and while still far quieter than places like Phuket or Ko Samui, it is far from quiet in high season. Regarding services and activities specifically aimed at tourists prices have reached such a level that the islanders are pricing themselves out of the market when compared to the other islands.
Prior to World War II, Ko Chang was little known to Westerners and was lightly-populated. The few families there made a living growing coconuts and fruit on the mainland. In January 1941, during the Franco-Thai War, the Thai Navy fought against a French surprise attack in in the waters to the south of Ko Chang.
The first backpacking foreigners started arriving on local fishing boats in the mid-1970s. In 1982, Ko Chang, along with surrounding areas, became part of Mu Ko Chang National Marine Park. Only very recently, in less than ten years, Ko Chang has turned into a major tourist destination, both for foreigners and local Thais.
This sudden tourism boom however, has been fraught with controversy concerning land use, etc. The government is trying to “develop” it from a backpackers’ paradise to a top-level destination, and construction work is going on throughout the island, with basic huts torn down to make way for fancy resorts.
Ko Chang is the largest island in the Ko Chang Archipelago. The name means Elephant Island, named for the elephant shape of its headland, although elephants are not indigenous to the island.
Ko Chang has an area of approximately 429 square kilometres. The topography contains high mountains and complex stone cliffs. The highest mount is Khao Salak Phet which is 744 metres high, rich in fertile evergreen forest which is the main water source. Therefore, there are many waterfalls, beaches and splendid reefs in the west of the island.
Most accommodation is located on the western side of the island, where the sandy beaches are. On the eastern side of the island there are few sandy beaches; as such, this side is far less touristy. There are some nice waterfalls though.
70 percent of this undisturbed island is rainforest, steep hills, cliffs, waterfalls, and wildlife, fine beaches, coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. The island also offers tall mountains and rock cliffs.
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Ko Chang has the same seasons as Bangkok. The best season to go is the (comparatively) cool season between November and February. March to May are roasting hot and between June and October it rains, and a lot at that: 4,000 mm in an average year. Many guest houses close during this season, so accommodation is limited.
Bangkok Airways flies 3 times a day from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (the “new” BKK) to Trat Airport . The flights depart at 08:30, 11:40 and 17:05, and take 1 hour exactly. Ticket prices are between 2,000B and 3,800B return trip depending on the time of year.
Direct door-to-door minibus transfers from Trat airport to Ko Chang resorts cost 500 Baht/person one way and 900 Baht/person return including the ferry crossing. The minibuses are air-conditioned.
From Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, take the free express shuttle bus from outside the arrivals concourse to the airport’s own bus terminal, and from there the next available bus to either Trat or Chanthaburi, then proceed as described below.
From Bangkok the most economical way to get to Laem Ngop (where the Ko Chang ferry piers are) is to take a 1st class bus #999 from the Eastern (Ekamai) Bus Terminal direct to the Laem Ngop piers. The fare is 275 baht one-way (520 baht return) and takes just over five hours. Departures from Ekamai are at 07:45 & 09:45, and return at 14:00. Subject to seat availability, this bus can also be boarded at Chanthaburi and at Suvarnabhumi Airport. However, as of December 2009 there was a more comfortable way to travel from Bangkok Airport to Ko Chang: the new bus line # 392 starts from the airport bus terminus (make sure to take a free shuttle from main airport to airport bus terminus) at 07:30 and returns from Koh Chang at 12:30. Tickets can be bought online at the Suvarnabhumi Burapha Bus Company. As of 1 Nov. 2010 there are also express shared minibuses running from Suvarnabhumi airport non-stop to Lonely Beach on Ko Chang. Tickets are 308 baht for the big bus and 600 baht (800 baht round trip)for the Lonely Beach Express minibus which includes a ticket for the ferry. However, this service can be unreliable; jammed minivans with unsecure luggage and drivers breaking traffic rules. It is also not guaranteed that your return will be by minivan, but rather with a large bus carrying people for other destinations which requires lengthy stops along the way.
Alternatively, there are 1st class (approx. 5 hours, around 250 baht) and 2nd class services from both the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai) and Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit) direct to Trat, and frequent songthaew services from Trat to Laem Ngop (approx. 30 minutes, 50 baht/person). Departures from Ekamai are more frequent than from Moh Chit. If coming by bus from the south, the #511 air-con bus can be used to connect directly between Bangkok’s Southern (Sai Tai Mai) and Eastern (Ekamai) bus terminals.
Departures from Ekamai on the Cherdchai Private Bus company second class bus are 255 Baht to Trat (March 2015), with departures approximately every 2 hours during the day and advertised travel time being 4 hours.
There is a new government bus line 999 that travels between Ekamai station and the ferry to Ao Thammachart Pier. It is properly airconditioned and each traveller receives a refreshment pack. Unfortunately the travel times for bus 999 are limited. There are only 2 departure times per day, both in the morning.
The Cherdchai Private Bus company night sells seats on a first class airconditioned night bus that leaves Ekamai at 11.30pm and arrives in Trat town around 5am the next morning but it cannot be recommended as the bus was crowded, the airconditioning was almost non-existent, the toilet stank of urine and the bus itself was filthy. Be careful too that if the Cherdchai ticket booth at Ekamai charges you for a ferry ticket to Koh Chang as the ferry ticket is overpriced and puts you on a ferry to Centrepoint Pier, which is a 45 minutes trip compared to 25 minutes if you take the ferry to Ao Thammachart Pier.
Connection in Trat can also be used if coming from Pattaya (2nd class bus, 4 hours, around 200 baht).
There are direct minibus services to Laem Ngop from Pattaya, Ban Phe (gateway to Ko Samet), and Bangkok’s Khao San Road and Victory monument (in front of the Payathai hospital). They, however, are less comfortable and spacious than public buses, and you may be charged significantly more by travel agencies selling tickets to these, as often with any tourist-oriented transportation in Thailand.
It may also be possible to proceed directly to Laem Ngop by minibus or songthaew from the Hat Lek / Koh Kong border crossing with southern Cambodia, depending on the time of year, time of day, etc – enquire locally. Price around 120 baht (one way) from the border to Trat bus station
Most ferries operate from Laem Ngop, which has three piers . The Laem Ngop(Tha Khrom Luang or Tha Laern Ngop) pier is approximately 700 metres west of Laem Ngop. The Centrepoint (Tha Centre Point) pier is located about 3.5 km north-west of Laem Ngop. These piers serve both vehicle and passenger ferries.
Koh Chang vehicle ferry pier is located in Thammachat Bay (Ao Thammachat), around 15 km west of Laem Ngop.
All piers on Ko Chang are situated on the eastern side of the island. The major piers are the two Dan Kao piers, Tha Dan Kao and Tha Ferry Dan Kao, who handles most of the traffic. To take a boat from Laem Ngop to the Dan Kao piers take around 45 minutes. The car ferry from Laem Ngop take around 1 hour and arrives at the Tha Ferry Dan Kao pier, situated 400 metres southeast of the Tha Dan Kao pier. The car ferry from Thammachat Bay stops at the Ko Chang Ferry Pier (Tha Ferry Ko Chang) in the Sapparot Bay (Ao Sapparot), 3 kilometres northwest from the Dan Kao piers.
Light meals, fruit, fruits and beverages are available at all the piers and on the car ferries.
There are two operators that provide daily speedboat services from Ko Kood to Ko Chang. One is based in Bang Bao, the other on Kai Bae Beach Rates are the same but departures times can vary, so make sure to book ahead.
By taxi or limousine
From Bangkok or Suvarnabhumi international airport the ride takes a total of about 5-5.5 hours by Limousine or Taxi. Most taxi drivers will decline this journey as the risk of empty return is too high for them. Most (airport) limousines or minibuses will deliver you at the hotel or resort on Koh Chang, especially if they can make it back to the mainland before the last ferry sails.