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Koh Chang Snorkeling Tour

Koh Chang & Koh Samet Travel Guide | Hotel Accommodation - Villa Rental - Sightseeing and Transportation

► Overview Koh Chang

The largest island in the Ko Chang Marine Park archipelago, Ko Chang was named for the elephant shape of its headland, although elephants are not indigenous to the island. Best visited outside of the monsoon season -- which runs from about June to September -- the sea is warm and clear, the beaches for the most part white and sandy and the interior is filled with National Park protected forest and craggy, picturesque mountains. Most of the beaches are on the western coast, and each has built up with a distinctive atmosphere based on shopping, activities, partying or chilling out. Accommodation offers a style to suit every type of traveller, from independent low budget backpackers to those wanting a touch of luxury. There are plenty of activities to be organised from almost anywhere on the island: snorkelling and diving trips to nearby coral reefs, jungle treks and elephant rides, not to mention various beach sports.

With it's long stretches of sandy beaches and bay, Ko Chang's west coast has become the focus of the development boom, and that's where most foreign travellers stay on the island. Beaches such as Haad Sai Khao (White Sands Beach), Khlong Prao and Kai Bae have developed more in the past few years than most of Thailand has in the last few decades. If you want to party, swim, dive or do practically anything else you'll find somewhere that's perfect for you. There are three different and definitive vibes from each of the three main west coast areas; White Sand beach, Kai Bae/Khlong Prao and Lonely/Bailan. White Sands is more modern than the others, reminiscent of Kuta in Bali, or indeed its aspired cousin, Phuket. The Kai Bae and Khlong Prao strip is gorgeous on the eye with its quaint village appearance, plenty of quirky shops and bars -- certainly more of a tropical island vibe. Lonely Beach and Bailan Bay continue on the topical island theme, but are far more traveller orientated; less souvenir shops, more bars playing Bob Marley. No Italian restaurants, but an abundance of affordable Thai fare. Ultimately it's a backpackers heaven.

The east coast is home to major Thai villages but few beaches and so attracts far fewer foreign travellers. This side of the island is popular with Thais from cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai, who might never have seen the ocean before and want to join in traditional Thai seaside life. Sea Eagles, monkeys, epic views and jungle noises are all around, and if you're lucky you may spot the majestic Great Hornbill, resident of Ko Chang but rarely seen. Ko Chang is somewhere you can let your hair down a little, where perhaps those who hit the road in years gone by can capture the spirit of this wonder that we call travelling, yet enjoy the facilities that they yearn in today's society... namely air-con, hot water and a comfortable bed, and all found in abundance in White Sand, Khlong Prao and Kai Bae Beaches. At the same time, the old scene still exists at places like Lonely Beach, a reminder of what got the ball rolling in the first place.

A word of warning, the roads on Ko Chang are treacherous. The steep gradient of the hills can be very dangerous, particularly during the rain, and every year there are fatal accidents; during our research through mid 2008, three people died in road accidents in one week -- serious statistics. If you're not an accomplished and experienced driver then this is not the island to start to learn. Cars and minibuses travel at breakneck speeds around the island and coupled with the hundreds of motorbikes whizzing about it becomes quite hazardous. Particularly bad stretches of road lead from the ferries to White Sand Beach, between Kai Bae and Lonely Beach, and the stretch from Bailan Bay to Bang Bao. With numerous hairpin turns up high on the cliff there is no room for mistakes. Taxis are a far better and safer option for getting about for the inexperienced. Also worth bearing in mind is that the clinic charges a 4,000B fee just to walk through the door for accident victims, even if all you need is a light bandage and some antiseptic. Through the last decade, a wave of travellers, both international and domestic has washed over Ko Chang in ever increasing numbers, and its popularity will only continue to grow towards its government driven target of becoming the 'next Phuket'. That said, Ko Chang has much more of a tropical island feel than its larger cousin Phuket. Phuket Island is a province in itself, with an intricate network of villages and roadways -- Ko Chang didn't even have a main road ten years ago!

► Overview Koh Samet

Meet the troublesome teen of Thailand's islands: Ko Samet. Its older siblings – Ko Chang, Phuket, Ko Lanta – have grown up into respectable, package-holiday resorts. Meanwhile Samet remains the one that stays up late, wears its henna tattoo on its sleeve and sips vodka from a bucket. Ko Samet is part of Khao Laem Ya–Ko Samet National Park, which encompasses Khao Laem Ya on the mainland, as well as various other islands. Ko Samet has been developed over the past few years and remains hugely popular with Bangkok folk who take up many of the rooms during the weekends. Despite its national park status all of Ko Samet's beaches have been developed -- the only way you'd know you're in a national park is via the entry fee charged to visitors. Many who come looking for an island paradise complain that the island has been ruined: tacky resorts crowd the best beaches, and trash sometimes spoils the landscape. Nevertheless, Ko Samet retains enough beauty and appeal to win over a regular stream of return visitors and it’s certainly a great, easy getaway from Bangkok if you need to kill a few days and have had enough of the big smoke.

The teardrop-shaped island has beaches running down most of its eastern coast, with Haad Sai Kaew being the most developed. Ao Tubtim is our personal favourite, though Ao Hin Khok just to the north is arguable the centre of the backpacker scene. The west coast has pretty Ao Phrao and on the north you'll find Ao Noi Na, both of these are dominated by more upmarket resorts. The island is famous among Thais as the setting for a story by their most famous poet, Sunthorn Phu. Travellers will notice on Haad Sai Kaew the decaying statue of Phra Arpaimanee, who travelled with his flute around Thailand until one day he was captured by a ravenous giantess. After seeing her chomp the head off a buffalo, he managed to lull her to sleep with his music and ran away. Upon escaping he met and fell in love with a beautiful mermaid. They married and lived happily ever after with a son, Husakorn, who had the body of a horse and the head of a dragon. As Ko Samet misses most of the heavy monsoon that plagues other islands, the weather is guaranteed to be pleasant at almost any time of year. Although most beaches have been overdeveloped, they still manage to be beautiful, with sparkling white sand curving between coconut palms and clear cerulean water. If you can get past the fact that this should be a national park, you'll find Ko Samet to be a traveller's paradise of magnificent beaches, delicious seafood and dozens of choices for nightlife.

Ko Samet is popular with Thais, foreign travellers and expats from Bangkok and Rayong, so there's always a good mix of people. However, this also means that it can get rather hectic unless you arrive mid-week. Being so close to Bangkok, Ko Samet gets crowded on weekends and holidays, and prices rise accordingly -- sometimes by as much as 60%. If bungalows are full when you arrive, it is possible to camp on the beach, despite what you may be told. With the crowds comes a lively nightlife, with good deals on drinks late in the evening, including the popular coin toss, which gives you a 50/50 chance of winning a free drink. All bungalows have their own restaurants, and many fire up beach barbecues at night. Where you choose to stay on Ko Samet depends largely on what your ideal scene is. The east coast is the most popular, as it's dotted with sandy beaches, coves and most of the island's restaurants, bars and accommodation. The tiny west coast beach is more secluded and upscale, with only three top-end resorts to choose from. Though the nightlife on the west coast is limited, the resort bars see a good crowd coming to watch the sunset over the water. The north is Ko Samet's quietest coast, with just a few small guesthouses clinging to the rocky shoreline. Some upscale resorts dot the far end of this coast on the only strip of pleasing beach. As the island is a national park, all visitors have to pay an entry fee. This is 200B for foreign visitors (be grateful, it used to be 400B) and 20B for Thais and foreigners who can prove they live in Thailand; a driving license or teacher's card usually suffices. While it's important to decide which coast is more to your taste when choosing where to stay, the island is only 6km long and 3km wide, so it isn't difficult to visit another area on a daytrip.

Saturday, December 07, 2019