Edged with a chain of long, mostly white-sand beaches and dominated by a broad central spine of jungle-clad hills that rises sharply to over 700m, KO CHANG is developing fast but still feels green. It’s Thailand’s second-largest island, after Phuket, but unlike its bigger sister has no villages or tourist facilities within its steeply contoured and densely forested interior, just a few rivers, waterfalls and hiking trails that come under the auspices of the Mu Ko Chang National Park. Some of its marine environment is also protected, as the national park extends to over forty other islands in the Ko Chang archipelago. Ko Chang’s own coast, however, has seen major development over the past decade, and the island is now well established as a mainstream destination, crowded with package tourists and the overspill from Pattaya, and suffering the inevitable inflated prices and inappropriate architecture. That said, it’s still possible to find accommodation to suit most budgets and though the beaches may be busy they’re undeniably handsome, with plenty of inviting places to swim, stroll, or snooze under a palm tree.
At 30km north to south, Ko Chang has plenty of coast to explore. The western beaches are the prettiest and the most congested, with White Sand Beach (Hat Sai Khao) drawing the biggest crowds to its mainly upmarket and increasingly overpriced mid-range accommodation; smaller Hat Kai Bae is also busy. Most backpackers opt for so-called Lonely Beach (officially Hat Tha Nam), with its roadside village of travellers’ accommodation and famous beachfront party scene; those in search of quiet choose the more laidback Hat Khlong Phrao, a long and lovely sweep of sand that caters to most pockets, or Bang Bao, which has a village on a jetty with fine views, and its quiet neighbouring beach, Hat Khlong Gloi. Every beach has currency exchange and most have ATMs, along with minimarkets, tour agents, dive shops, internet access, clothes stalls and souvenir shops. White Sand Beach and Hat Kai Bae have the densest concentrations of facilities.
During peak season, accommodation on every beach tends to fill up very quickly, so it’s worth booking ahead. The island gets a lot quieter (and cheaper) from June to October, when heavy downpours and fierce storms can make life miserable, though sunny days are common too; be especially careful of riptides on all the beaches during the monsoon season.
Sandflies can be a problem on the southern beaches (see Other bites and stings); watch out also for jellyfish, which plague the west coast in April and May, and for snakes, including surprisingly common cobras, sunbathing on the overgrown paths into the interior. The other hazard is theft from rooms and bungalows: use your own padlock on bags (and doors where possible) or, better still, make use of hotel safety boxes. After a local eradication programme, Ko Chang is no longer considered to be a malaria-risk area by health authorities in the US and the UK.