Koh Chang - A Paradise Lost…
I read an article entitled “Fantasy Island” by Lloyd Sullivan in the Bangkok post’s dated Thursday 10th August 2006, and was prompted to make a few observations………
It is unfortunate that many travelers to Thailand are rather uncritical about their environment and the effect tourism is having on the islands of the Kingdom. Koh Chang is a terrible example of unregulated tourist development gone mad.
I first went to Koh Chang in 2003 and was rather disturbed by what I found and what has happened in the subsequent years I find deeply disturbing.
Koh Chang is the second largest island in Thailand. And now with the sudden post-tsunami 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 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 2005.
So what’s wrong with this slice of “bounty” advert?
Koh Chang is a tragedy....it’s being badly developed, it’s overpriced and it's going down hill 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 even when you compare with Phuket and Samui. The insensitive despoiling of the island had started before the Tsunami as the island had been ear-marked for development by releasing the flat coastal land a few years before. Whether it ever appeared for sale on the open market I don’t know. In the post tsunami era the island’s desecration has continued with increased vigour as developers realised the new potential.
Almost all the west coast is now covered with awful self-contained resorts, built with no thought for the environment, conservation or island infrastructure. They are for the most part badly designed and ill finished. Appearance is all, the places are little more than decorated concrete sheds. Health and safety is simply not addressed - some of the pool designs look positively lethal. Slippery tiles adorn pool-side and bathroom alike. The building never stops; frequently you can find your room is on a building site. It is unlikely the hotel will warn you of this. This is now greatly restricting the amount of beach that is accessible to the public; it can only be a matter of time before all the good sandy beaches become resort owned or dominated sea fronts.
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 souvenir arcades-com-hotels.
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 main road is barely more than single track (asphalted) but cannot cope with the ever increasing load of traffic pouring onto the island.
As KC is the second biggest island in Thailand, walking around it in a day is not an option. KC is also very mountainous and the roads are very windy and hilly and the resorts can be a long way from any shops, night-life etc, the baht taxi service (song taew) is very patchy and any where you want to go is further than you want to walk, so it’s really essential to hire a motorbike or car; these are about 50% to 100 % more than on the mainland. It might even be worth hiring a vehicle on the mainland and driving there (Pattaya is about a 4 ½ hour drive to the KC ferries - fare approximately 350 baht).
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. The building over the last 3 years has completely filled the space between hills and shore. If you arrive on foot with no hotel booked a baht taxi will take you from the ferry to Whitesands and drop you there. (So long as he has a full load at the ferry or he'll want you to foot the extra money before he sets off.) 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, car/Jeep or motorbike and look around the next day for a place you like.
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 overpriced 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 last August (2005) 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. In fact as of Feb 2007 you should be able to get a room for about 2800 baht.
Wherever you decide to stay - CHECK BEFORE YOU GO ABOUT BUILDING WORK.....ESPECIALLY IN THE WET SEASON!
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 in fact, 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! (v. Ramayana!!)
Untrammelled development is occurring all over the islands of Thailand and visitors to the country should be aware of the unsympathetic, unregulated development that is taking place here. It is happening everywhere; Samui has suffered in particular at the hands of unscrupulous “developers” and the same thing is happening on Koh Chang.
However, I think that Koh Chang is unique in regards to this as it is not only the second largest island in Thailand. (Phuket is the largest but connected to the mainland by road) but the most recently developed. Even as you lie on the beach, an opportunity is being missed here to avoid all the mistakes made on the other “paradise” islands.
Anyone will tell you that their favourite island has changed beyond recognition, but Koh Chang still in my opinion has a chance of changing its ways especially if people are made aware of the situation before they go. Business interests on the island will react to market forces, there is little hope for swift and effective government intervention, as this is almost without precedent in Thailand. During a 2 week stay it is unlikely that the average visitor will become aware of the larger issues surrounding the conservation and development of the island, so I would hope that some at least will think before they go, and ask questions like...
• Where does the sewerage go?
• Where are the mangroves?
• What happened to the local agricultural industries?
• What do the fishermen do now?
• Where are all the fish?
• Where does the water come from and where does it go?
• What is the sea water quality on my beach?
• How is the coral?
• Who is looking after the marine and forest nature reserves?
• Why is there no satisfactory public access?
• Who owns the land?
It is quite possible that in the future Thailand could run out of islands to develop and lose one of its main attractions as a tourist destination. All this will be achieved with your money…you are paying for the development on these islands; it is your money that makes these short term goals achievable.
PPS - If you want up to date local info on KC, try this site: IamKohChang.com
a good site for info on Koh Chang and sounds like an interesting place to stay too!
PPS – I cannot recommend the Ramayana and Boutique resorts!
#1 khunwilko has been a member since 27/1/2007. Posts: 560
Thanks for this post.
This is the kind of stuff you want to read before going to one of these hell holes.
I just came back from Thialand. I spent two weeks there, and really enjoyed every moment but I was very happy to leave such a dirty poorly managed country.
I live in Australia and think the beaches in Sydney are disgusting and dirty, but compared to Thailand they're probably more of an island paradise.
General rule of thumb, if there is a lot of accomodation available on the island your going to...check to make sure its not a rubbish dump first.
staying in Patong, Phuket...Ko Phi Phi...and Bangkok...all three were dirty. The sad thing is I only really expected BKK and Patong to be so dirty (actually BKK was cleaner than I thought it would be)
Koh Phi Phi was sad. I've never been to such a tourist trap in my life. the main part was great for partying and hanging out in nice little bars and getting drunk. But that was about it. There is no way I'd swim in that water. As such we had to take a boat ride every time we wanted to go for a swim in clean water (cleaner). Or we had to make sure where we were staying had a pool. Its really sad to think on what once might have been described as an "island paradise" you need to find a place with a pool to swim because the beach is just horrible.
A boat ride to Bamboo island and Phi Phi Leh was an example of a paradise lost on the bigger island. The only reason they were ok was because there was no where to stay there
Monkey Beach on the other side of Phi Phi Don was another rubbish dump except this rubbish look liked it all came from passing boats.
If your from Australia, don't get your hopes up. We really do have amazingly clean beaches compared to Thailand. There are parts of Sydney Harbour I'd rather swim in than what we found between Patong and Phi Phi.
I have no idea how anyone can just chuck rubbish on the ground like that.
I can't even bring myself to drop a single ciggerette but on the ground. I hate people who drop rubbish and think people who do it in National Parks should be made to eat it.
There were parts of Phi Phi Don which looked less polluted...they were far more isolated though.
Be really careful of what island you choose to go to...do some reasearch. I've learned my lesson. Just because its a national park or a "island paradise" I wont blindly go expecting to see a natural well cared for paradise
I think Thailand will always attracted alot of international tourists because a lot of people probably don't have the beautiful beaches we have in Australia.
I always thought Bondi Beach was one of the dirtiest beaches I've ever seen...now...I'm just greatful its not as dirty as Thailand.
#2 darnsmall has been a member since 15/4/2007. Posts: 4
Thankfully the kind of development you encounter in Thailand is much less evident in Oz...but they still have their moments especially in Qld where they've been busily digging up mangroves for "canal side" housing estates or expanding the odd uranium mine here and there. However when they decide to manage a national park or something they do it right.
I had the choice of living in Qld or Thailand and I chose Thailand. Why? Because when all is said and done Oz was boring the pants off me!
#3 khunwilko has been a member since 27/1/2007. Posts: 560
I'd probably make the same choice given the too...Australia is really boring.
Eg, one of my mates is going to have to get a Replica Gun Licence so he can bring into Australia Transformers Toy which looks "too much like a real gun" when transformed...
I think that says it all
and yeah i'm so thankful that Noosa has been spared the over development of the Sunshine Coast below it.
I'm dead certain there are some really beautiful island in Thailand, they must be hidden away somewhere and I hope for their sake and the few that enjoy them, they stay that way. Because they have no idea when it comes to working with the environment...
Having said all that I did love the place and have a great time and would go back and look forward to next years water festival...but I'll defo be taking the road less traveled when island hopping
#4 darnsmall has been a member since 15/4/2007. Posts: 4