Not to be confused with the much larger Ko Chang off Thailand’s east coast, Ranong’s KO CHANG is a forested little island about 5km offshore, whose car-free, ultra laidback, roll-your-own vibe more than compensates for the less than perfect beaches. The pace of life here is very slow, encouraging long stays, and for the relatively small number of tourists who make it to the island the emphasis is strongly on kicking back and chilling out – bring your own hammock and you’ll fit right in. Those in search of (slightly) livelier scenes head across the water to sister-island Ko Phayam. Most islanders make their living from fishing and from the rubber, palm and cashew nut plantations that dominate the flatter patches of the interior. The beaches are connected by tracks through the trees and there are only sporadic, self-generated supplies of electricity for a few hours each evening.
The best of Ko Chang’s beaches are on the west coast, and of these the longest, nicest and most popular is Ao Yai. The tiny bays to the north and south mostly hold just one set of bungalows each and are good for getting away from it all, though access to Ao Yai is easy enough if you don’t mind the hike. About halfway between the west and east coasts, a crossroads bisects Ko Chang’s only village, a tiny settlement that is home to most of the islanders and holds just a few shops, restaurants and a clinic.
Nearly all the bungalows on Ko Chang close down from about late April or early May until mid- or late October, when the island is subjected to very heavy rain, the beaches fill with flotsam, paths become dangerously slippery and food supplies dwindle with no ice available to keep things fresh. Many bungalow staff relocate to the mainland for this period, so you should phone ahead to check first.
Going for walks (and not minding getting lost) is the most popular activity on this large, traffic-free island, but several resorts, including Ko Chang Resort, run fishing, snorkelling and camping trips to Ko Kham, which is famed for its beautiful beaches and reefs, and to Ko Phayam. For divers, Ko Chang is particularly well placed for the sites in the Mergui Archipelago across the border in Burma, while the top local dive sites in Thailand are Ko Surin, Ko Bon, Ko Tachai, Ko Similan and Richelieu Rock.