We recently returned from a quick trip down to the beautiful island of Koh Chang, Thailand. Koh Chang is situated in the Gulf of Thailand, not far from Cambodia. We decided to make the trip there in low season (i.e. “rainy season”) to take advantage of the bargain-basement resort prices. We lucked out and won the weather lottery, and it only seemed to rain at times when we weren’t at the beach or pool – jackpot! As an added bonus, it was raining when we left – I LOVE when it’s raining on the day you’re forced to leave the beach!
Getting to Koh Chang is not easy!
In fact, it’s damn near impossible. The map below shows the route we took to get from Chiang Mai to Koh Chang. We do not recommend it for the faint hearted – if you spend just forty extra US dollars, you can shave over 10 hours off of the journey! Unfortunately for us, we have an overinflated sense of adventure, and an under-inflated travel budget. Let’s be honest here, that’s usually a terrible combination.
We decided to try our hand at traveling the “cheap route” to Koh Chang, figuring that at the very least it would be an adventure. We didn’t realize it would be a neverending saga that would leave us feeling nickeled and dimed. There’s really nothing worse than feeling like people are taking advantage of you – I do not enjoy being charged double the rate charged for locals. Kevin and I call it the “tourist tax”. It sucks, but it’s really just life here, and it’s easier to pay the extra couple of dollars than try to argue with someone in a language you don’t speak.
Anyway, our disaster of a journey down to Koh Chang went something like this:
Leg #1: We started with a Songathaew ride from our apartment to the Arcade Bus Station. Songathaews in Chiang Mai are essentially just organized hitchhiking. You flag down one of these red pickup trucks, tell the driver where you’re going, and if he agrees to your destination, you hop into the covered truck bed with bench seating. Cost: 40 Baht (US$1.25) per person. Time: 30-minutes.
Leg #2: Next, we grabbed a 10-hour overnight bus to Bangkok’s Northernmost bus terminal, Mo Chit. Our bus left at 8pm and arrived at 6am. It was surprisingly not that bad! Everyone gets a blanket and head pillow, the seats recline nearly flat, and they give you tons of snacks and a bottle of water. For $14/person, it’s not a bad deal! If it weren’t for the strange 2am stop at a bus station, it would’ve been fairly normal. We didn’t take a “VIP” bus, but noticed there was a buffet at the bus stop for VIP customers. There’s nothing like hitting a Thai Buffet at two in the morning, amirite?! I was glad for the stop even without getting to go to the buffet – I only used the onboard bus bathroom once on our trip, and it was a harrowing experience. I don’t know about you, but a bathroom with water sloshing all over the place in a moving vehicle is not my cup of tea. Cost: 463 Baht (US$14.40) per person. Time: 10-hours.
Leg #3: After arriving to Bangkok’s noisy, dusty Mo Chit bus station at 6am, we wandered around in a complete daze trying to find some coffee. We eventually stumbled upon the booths selling minibus fares to Trat and snagged two tickets for a 7:30am departure. This is where things started to get sketchy. Minibus drivers in Thailand are absolutely insane – did you know that red lights are just guidelines, and that it’s perfectly ok to drive on the shoulder? Cost 270 Baht (US$8.40) per person. Time: 5 hours.
Leg #4: After our 5-hour white-knuckle drive from Bangkok to Trat, we were dropped off at what seemed like someone’s front porch, and told we had to pay 130 Baht/person more for our next minibus and the ferry. We didn’t really have any other options, so we paid up even though it felt like a scam – it’s just $4, right? I also had to pay 5 Baht to use their bathroom, which didn’t flush, had no toilet paper, and didn’t have a sink to wash my hands. Sigh. We hopped on a 20-minute minibus ride to Ao Thammachat Ferry Terminal. Cost: 130 Baht (US$4) per person. Time: 20 minutes.
Leg #5: Ferries in Thailand are not quite like Washington State Ferries. The paint on our ferry to Koh Chang was peeling, everything metal was rusted, most windows didn’t close, and it was rocking and rolling so much that I was looking around for the nearest exit and life jackets. Luckily, we made the 30-minute ferry trip safely to Koh Chang. Cost: Included in Leg #4 fee. Time: 30 minutes.
Leg #6: Upon arrival in Koh Chang, we were absolutely bombarded by Songathaew drivers hoping to take us to our hotel. Based on my previous research, we were again hit with the tourist tax – they charged us double the usual rate, but it was raining and I didn’t feel like we had much of a choice. Cost: 100 Baht (US$3.10) per person. Time: 15 minutes.
The Total: 30-minute songathew + 10-hour bus + 5-hour minibus + 20-minute minibus + 30-minute ferry + 15-minute songathew = nearly 20 hours of traveling for the bargain price of just 1003 Baht ($31) per person.
The Verdict: We do not recommend that you do what I just described – it was not fun. For our trip back home to Chiang Mai, we did something MUCH smarter. We paid 650 Baht (US$20) per person for a minibus that picked us up right at our hotel in Koh Chang and took us straight to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, then we flew to Chiang Mai on Bangkok Air for 1590 Baht (US$50) per person. It cost over twice as much to travel home, but we got there in less than half the time. I also absolutely love Bangkok Air and will fly with them any chance I get – they have free checked bags, a lounge with free snacks, drinks and Wifi at BKK Airport, and they always serve a meal on their flights whether it’s 40-minutes or 5-hours. I’m pretty sure we ate enough free cookies, muffins, and sandwiches at their Airport lounge to make up the extra money we spent flying, anyway.
A note on Koh Chang weather: We really lucked out and got some sun in Koh Chang. However, if you’re flying all the way over from the USA to visit Thailand, we recommend you just suck it up and pay the higher prices to go somewhere that is not currently experiencing its rainy season. Because the wet seasons vary depending on which of Thailand’s coasts you visit, there’s always somewhere with guaranteed sunshine – spend the money to make your vacation worthwhile!
So how was Koh Chang, anyway?
It was actually fabulous once we finally got there. Because it was low season, it was nearly deserted. We scored a pretty good deal on a wonderful little beachfront bungalow at the KC Grande Resort right at the North end of Koh Chang’s popular White Sand Beach.
The KC Grande is the kind of place where they fold swans and elephants out of your towels and sprinkle flower petals on your bed:
This resort is also the kind of place where you get a free glass of juice on check-in, and get to hit up the lobby bar for a free welcome cocktail:
Our resort had four pools. That is not a typo. They have a beach-front infinity pool where you can swim while you watch the sunset:
There was a rooftop infinity pool which was absolutely deserted during lunch one day – we felt like celebrities up there all by ourselves! We ordered some lunch and coffees and ate them poolside – we felt like we owned the place:
I couldn’t help but get a rooftop panoramic photo:
They also had a pool with an insanely fast water slide that should not be allowed to be used by kids. It was way too fast, but we loved it. You should definitely click on the photos below to see them bigger – the look on Kevin’s face is amazing:
There was also a small pool about 20 feet from our bungalow, but I don’t have photos. They also have a row of lounge chairs right on the beach:
The colossal KC Grande breakfast buffet at the resort was included in our room rate, so we hit it really hard every morning. They had pancakes, waffles, french toast, pastries, toast, soups, noodle dishes, eggs at least 5 ways every day, sausages, bacon, ham, salad, four kinds of jams, syrup, honey, yogurt and granola, fruits, five kinds of juice, coffee, tea, and an array of cheeses. We did our best to consume a normal day’s worth of calories at breakfast, and I think we succeeded. I’m talking three plates per person at breakfast. The seating next to the beach wasn’t bad, either:
We did go for a barefoot run on the beach one day to try to make up for that buffet breakfast. I was going to wear my red one-piece swimsuit and let my hair down and run around Baywatch style, but common sense prevailed and I wore actual running clothes:
We also found a swing on the beach while we were exploring!
And Kevin made one of his lifelong dreams come true – after we woke up, he immediately put on his swim trunks, ran out to the beach, and went into the ocean for a morning swim. This was before coffee, people! It was everything he dreamed it would be and more:
We ended up spending most of our time in Koh Chang just hanging around at our resort. With a view like this one, who wouldn’t, right?
Do we recommend Koh Chang to others?
If you’re on a really long vacation and you are not crunched for time, we think it’s worth the effort to get there! However, if you only get two weeks of vacation per year, we would recommend hitting a different Thai beach destination that doesn’t require so much effort to travel to. Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui are a bit more touristy and crowded for a reason – you don’t have to jump through five thousand hoops to get to those destinations. If you do decide to go to Koh Chang, be sure you book a minibus from Bangkok that will take you all the way across the ferry to the island and deliver you directly to your hotel. If you have a big travel budget, Bangkok Air operates somewhat pricey flights from Bangkok to Trat, where you can get a minibus and ferry ride over to Koh Chang.