This is a quick overview of the state of Koh Chang, the second largest island in Thailand. Now with the sudden unpopularity of the west coast (i.e. Phuket) there is an ever increasing number of Western tourists heading for this island. Here is my polemic on why this is not so good: I've been to Koh Chang many times over the past three years, largely because it's near to Sri Racha, where I live, and every time a friend comes to stay, this is the most convenient "paradise island to take them to". My brother even got married there in March.
So why can I not recommend this slice of bounty advert? (Deep breath) Koh Chang is a dull, badly developed, overpriced pit of a place, and it's going downhill at a rate of knots. Why? The land for development was all bought up by bigwig friends of the "great and powerful," and now anyone who wants to set up a business there has to pay through the nose for it. All the hotels are overpriced, especially when you compare with Phuket and Samui. Almost all the west coast is now covered with these awful self-contained resorts, which are for the most part badly designed and ill finished. Frequently, you can find your room is on a building site. Health and safety is simply not addressed - some of the pool designs look positively lethal. If you're coming from Europe or the States, you'll find that the cost of living and rooms is cheap, but not compared to elsewhere in Thailand. You'll love the sunsets and the white sand; you won't wonder where all the sewage is going and what happened to the mangroves or the fishing industry that gets smaller catches every year, or the fishing villages being turned into a souvenir arcade-cum-hotel.
The centre of Koh Chang is a national park , but unlike all of Thailand's other national parks, apart from the odd waterfall, no one is allowed inside. You can get a guide who will take you in but strictly speaking that's against the law. There is virtually no effort made to set up a good system of eco-tourism in the park as you might find in Australia. There is only one road around KC and it doesn't go all the way round, it's a horse-shoe affair. There is a motorbike track that connects the two ends but it's not for the faint of heart! The road is barely more than single track (asphalted) but cannot cope with the ever increasing load of traffic pouring onto the island. KC is the second biggest island in Thailand and walking around it in a day is not an option, KC is also very mountainous and the roads are very windy and hilly and as the resorts are all a long way from any shops etc its essential to hire a motorbike or car. These of course are about 50 to 100% more than on the mainland. The baht taxi service is very patchy.
Anywhere you want to go is further than you want to walk. The main town, if you could call it that is White Sands a long strip of hotels ,resorts and motley bars about 3 km long. If you arrive on foot a baht taxi will take you from the ferry to Whitesands and drop you there. (So long as he has a full load or he'll want you to foot the extra money) You will then have to find somewhere to stay this is impossible on foot and with luggage So book in advance at least for the first night. Then get some wheels. There is no airport on KC itself, if you go by plane you'll land at Trat airport which is on the mainland quite near to the ferries to KC. Get a taxi to the ferry - only a few baht. There are several ferries across, the crossing takes 45 to 90 min, depending on which ferry you take. On one ferry I paid 30 e/w for me and my car, on another I paid 360 baht for my car an five people return. Now you may think I hate the place, well I don't, I just get very disappointed in the direction the powers-that-be have taken KC, it's lack of infrastructure and any forward planning will mean that sooner rather than later this place will become a collection of overprice resorts and nothing else.
Where to stay? - Klong Prao Beach is probably as good as it gets, there are about 4 resorts there actually with beach frontage, The Paradise is all nicely built new bungalows, Coconut and Royal Coconut are next to that and Klong Prao resort has a long beach front and good pool beside the sea. However the last time I stayed at Klong Prao Resort in August the place was a building site. They didn't tell me until the day I arrived even though I was a regular guest there. If you do book in advance you must ask about this sort of thing because you will very likely not be told by the staff. Building also precedes a hike in prices. I used to pay 1800 baht to stay there. That time I paid 1750, a discount of 50 baht (just over a dollar) because it was the wet season and there was building going on! I was told the new price is 3500 baht and that was what they would still charge whilst the building was continuing. The problem with Koh Chang is that it is changing and changing rapidly for the worse. Hotels are constantly building and encroaching on the environment. Prices are rising and beach access is getting more and more taken over by private resorts. The days of a hut on the beach for 200 baht are virtually gone. The scuba divers are going further and further a field in search of clear water and fish, and don’t be kidded that so long as the hotel claims to be by the sea that it has a beach!
Remember that it is now high season and what with the tsunami still driving many extra visitors over from thee west coast, you may find many places fully booked. PS – I cannot recommend the Ramayana and Boutique resorts! If you want up to date local info on KC, try this site - IamKohChang.com - Good site for info on Koh Chang and sounds like a good place to stay too!