Kyle and I decided to spend Christmas in Koh Chang, and we could not have been happier with this choice. Originally there was a chance of us remaining in Laos for the holidays, but after our experience in the 4000 Islands the last thing we wanted was to be stuck in a place on Christmas day feeling unwelcome and scrummaging around town for a turkey dinner. We ended up leaving the 4000 Islands a couple of days earlier than expected, and made our way on a lovely 24-hour commute to Koh Chang.
There are a few different locations to stay on Koh Chang, and we opted for Lonely Beach due to its backpacker vibe. Upon arrival I grabbed a welcome beer and we clambered onto a tuk-tuk, which led us to our temporary accommodation. We then scouted out the area for the best bungalows and opted for Sunset Huts. Apart from the piano player who played pretty much the same songs every night, the restaurant was picture perfect looking out over the water, our bungalow was basic but satisfactory, the staff were hilarious and the beach only a three-minute walk away. For a Christmas away from friends and family, Kyle and I couldn’t have asked for more.
Note: Many bungalows and huts along Lonely Beach can be quite noisy at night from the beach bars and nightclubs in town. Kyle and I had a few restless sleeps, but with earplugs didn’t mind, however this could irritate some people. If this is the case there’s another hostel slightly further south called Gu’s Bay that’s quieter at night, but will cost you 100 baht each way to get to the action in Lonely Beach.
Lonely Beach was by far our favourite spot on the island. It was a long stretch of white sand, clear water and not nearly as many tourists as somewhere like White Sand Beach further north. For backpackers, this is the ideal location, with plenty of bungalows lining the beach, cheap food at every turn and bars with buckets to keep that thirst quenched. If anything there were an overabundance of bars to the point where many seemed to be empty. However, after travelling to a few other islands in Thailand like Koh Phi Phi, the vibe in Lonely Beach was not nearly as obnoxious or in-your-face as some of its distant Thai island cousins, many times removed.
Almost all the beaches on Koh Chang are located on the west coast, with only one titled Long Beach on the east that we heard of. This one is far more remote and usually for those looking to get away from it all. Starting at the very top of the west coast is White Sand Beach, which is alright but not as clean as Lonely Beach, and has more resorts than chilled-out bungalows with backpackers. Moving down the coast is Khlong Prao, which we only drove by, but have heard it’s more of a happy medium between the high-end prices of White Sand Beach and budget backpacker digs of Lonely Beach. Mam Kai is the next one down, which we kayaked to from Lonely Beach for the day. It’s a nice strip of sand but quite small with a few restaurants and hotels. Quite honestly, our vote remains with Lonely Beach for the best sand, water and accommodation!
There are a ton of restaurants in Lonely Beach, ranging from small stalls with aged women cooking up Pad Thai, to more upscale spots along the beach. We were fortunate enough to even find a restaurant that served a turkey Christmas dinner oceanside! While the stuffing was non-existent, it did come with a mushroom sauce, which was the closest thing to gravy I’ve tasted this entire trip. Again, another reason why Koh Chang for Christmas was one of the best choices we’ve made on this adventure so far.
If you love seafood, go to Bangbao Pier on the south tip of the island. Restaurants towards the end serve up some of the best fish, crab and other edible ocean varieties that will keep you coming back for more. I had the curried crab, and despite having a few issues with the shells (patience when hungry is not my strong point), it was delicious.
Kyle and I loved the various ways we spent our days in Koh Chang. If we weren’t lying on the sand, we would rent a kayak for about $4 each from Siam Beach Huts on Lonely Beach and paddle around for the day. There are a few small surrounding islands to check out, and you can even kayak to the other beaches along the west coast if you have the energy. For another day we rented a scooter for about 200 baht total (plus gas for 60 baht), and checked out Klong Plu waterfall. Entrance was slightly expensive (200 baht), but worth it for a relaxing way to spend the day. Just be warned: the water is very cold!
The final verdict? We loved Koh Chang. It was our first introduction to the Thai islands, and after experiencing more of them it remains one of our top two (with Koh Tao as its rival). Lonely Beach still has a great backpacker vibe, without the grunge and grime resulting from too many tourists found in places like Koh Phi Phi. It was the perfect medium between party and chill, cheap yet comfortable, and plenty of things to do on the island. Many people skip Koh Chang when visiting Thailand since it’s almost directly east of Bangkok and not on the traditional southern route, but if your trip allows it, this is an island you don’t want to miss.