Photo: The view out and over Bang Bao.

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Introduction

Situated at the bottom of Ko Chang's western side, the picturesque bay of Bang Bao is the island's diving centre and a jumping-off point for Ko Kut, Ko Maak, Ko Wai and other islands in this vast archipelago. Tourism has all but replaced fishing as the village's main industry, but Bang Bao retains a laid-back, breezy feel that makes for a welcome break from much of the highly developed west coast.


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Time and an over-abundance of travellers and day-trippers have resulted in Bang Bao shifting from an "authentic" little fishing village into a bit of a tourist trap. Despite this rising commercialism, Bang Bao remains interesting. Some excellent (though pricey) seafood restaurants boast commanding views from decks over the water; vendors fill the air with the irresistible scent of grilled squid; and some good accommodation options offer the chance to sleep with the sea gushing beneath the floor.

Most of the action is on the same-named 700-metre-long concrete pier that stretches into the bay. Until about halfway out, it's lined with private houses, shops selling touristy trinkets and beach towels, seafood restaurants and guesthouses -- all on stilts. Beyond that, the pier is used for boat parking, and it gets noisy when double-decker scuba and snorkel boats disembark in the mornings and return in the late afternoons.

Once the morning boat traffic has subsided, Bang Bao can make for a pleasant place to unwind. The end of the pier sports a cute lighthouse to go with great views over the palm-covered hills that form the bay's east and west sides. Tropical fish can be seen in the clear teal water, and the abundance of sea eagles hunting for them are a photographer's dream. Locals often join in with their fishing rods.

As Ko Chang's diving centre, Bang Bao is also home to head offices of several scuba operations. Among those with good reputations are BB Divers and The Scuba Dawgs, both of which offer a range of courses from day dives to PADI certification. If you just need to pick up some diving gear, you'll find everything you need here.

Orientation
Back on land near where the pier begins, the heart of Bang Bao village is home to a 7-eleven, a couple of ATMs, several travel offices, a few cheap places to stay, a tiny post office, a school and the sleepy village temple -- Wat Bang Bao. Head west from there and the road snakes past a quiet west-facing cove at Cliff Cottage before turning to dirt on the rugged peninsula that forms the bay's western side. Here you'll find some of Ko Chang's most romantic accommodation.

Take the main road east from the pier and you'll wind past a modern housing development -- Tranquility Residence -- immediately before the tiny Haad Sai Noi. This tiny, relaxed strip of sand is home to the long-running D.Jambe House, a hippy hangout that throws serious parties on Friday nights.

From there, the road cruises uphill to a motorbike parking area overlooking Khlong Kloi Beach. An idyllic and relatively long but narrow stretch of sand with calm seas suitable for young children to play and swim, Khlong Kloi offers an entrancingly laid back experience. Think rag-tag beach bars playing Jack Johnson, a few cheap bungalow joints, kayakers ditching their paddles in favour of a Thai massage, and no shortage of return-visitors who like to think of this as their little secret.

Continue past Khlong Kloi and the road pierces through thick jungle and steep hills until it ends at Aunchaleena Resort. Formerly known as Grand Lagoona, this quirky upscale spot charges visitors 50 baht to enjoy its lovely private beach, rundown floating swimming pool and the small but pretty Phrao Talay Waterfall.

Bang Bao is connected to the rest of Ko Chang by songthaews. They arrive and depart from the base of the pier, in the small town square.


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