After the craziness of Bangkok, we needed the laziness of some more beach time. We headed southeast from Bangkok towards Trat and the Chang Islands. The island group consists of Koh Chang, the biggest and most popular, and a few smaller islands including Koh Kut, Koh Wai, and Koh Mak. We split our time between visiting the sleepy, quiet Koh Mak and the (relatively) bigger, busier Koh Chang. For anyone looking for a Thailand island experience, but wants to avoid the busy (and expensive) islands around Phuket, we would highly recommend the Chang Islands.
As we wrote about in our post on Khao Lak (see it here), when most people think of Thailand’s islands and beaches, they think of the islands near Phuket. Unfortunately, they are becoming more and more overrun and prices are high to match demand. Visitors can fly directly into Phuket from many international destinations, making those islands easy to get to. By contrast, the Chang group of islands are a 6 hour bus ride from Bangkok. That is followed by a 40min – 1hr+ ferry. It’s amazing how the lack of a direct flight can scare off the riff-raff!
Similar to our experiences thus far in Thailand, we ran into a lot more travelers from Germany and Russia than we did Brits, Americans or any other nationality. Not complaining, we were just surprised.
We paid for the “luxury” of a 1st class bus out of the Ekkamai (Eastern) bus station of Bangkok. All that got us was an on-board toilet (a rarity in Asia) and assigned seats, but hey, for about $10, we weren’t going to complain.
Most people head straight for Koh Chang. Instead, we got off at the next pier, and boarded a speedboat to get to Koh Mak.
Koh Mak is one of the smaller, less developed islands a bit further off the coast. With only about 30 cars on the entire island, and none of the prevalent 7-11 stores you see everywhere in the rest of Thailand, Koh Mak feels downright rustic. However, there are plenty of small guesthouses and resorts, and a smattering of restaurants and beach bars serving local food. It was exactly what we wanted for a few days of relaxation. We stayed at Lazy Day resort and can’t recommend it enough.
We even rented a scooter for a day. It took us maybe an hour to 90 minutes to literally see the entire island. The island is perfect for newbie scooter riders – low traffic and mainly flat roads!
While Koh Mak was more expensive than Koh Chang, we would go back in a heartbeat. Both the ferry and the accommodations are a bit pricier, because the island is more remote. But to get that little bit off the beaten path and find a piece of quiet and solitude in Thailand, it was worth it.
There are a few options to travel between the islands. The speedboat takes only an hour, but for less money we decided to take the slow wooden boat. The benefit of the wooden boat is we stopped at several of the smaller islands, which we would have skipped entirely on the speedboat. The smaller islands (such as Koh Wai) were beautiful – rustic lodgings on the water where guests had to transfer between the boat and their resorts by canoe. If/when we come back, we might try out one of these other islands.
Once we arrived in Koh Chang, the difference was stark. The pier at Bang Bao, which used to be a quaint fishing village, is now a mess of souvenir shops. Crowds of people wander around looking for taxis to their respective resorts. We got in the back of a truck for the short ride north to the Lonely Beach area of the island.
Being in a more populated area compared to Koh Mak definitely has some advantages. There were plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from and lots of other travelers around. Our resort was on the waterfront, but not beachfront.
The beach in Lonely Beach is a short walk from the town. It’s a decent beach, lined with hotels and resorts, and a couple of beach bars. It fills up throughout the day, so we tended to go in the mornings when it was already hot enough to justify a swim in the ocean.
We had intended to do a couple of excursions on Koh Chang – either some scuba diving or a jungle trek. Unfortunately, both options were fairly pricey and only available if we signed up for a long day, with no half day options. We debated for a while, but just couldn’t summon the motivation to sign up for an early morning pick-up and an all-day excursion. So we explored around Lonely Beach, enjoyed some cheap massages, and did a half-day trip to the quieter Khlong Kloi Beach on the south coast of the island.
Would we go back?
So would we go again? That seems to be the best way to measure any travel destination. The answer is a definite “Yes”! However, we’d probably skip Koh Chang entirely unless we planned ahead specifically to do a jungle trek. We would absolutely go back to Koh Mak for a few days of relaxation, and would love to check out some of the other small islands in the area. Anyone wanting to party – Koh Mak is probably not the place for you. But anyone wanting to get away from it all, sit on a beach, and have a more authentic Thailand beach experience, we can’t recommend these islands enough.