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Once a hard-to-reach slice of paradise and now a not-so-lonely backpacker magnet, Lonely Beach is Ko Chang's version of Ko Pha Ngan's Haad Rin or even Bangkok's Khao San Road. Think raging parties, travellers passed out on the beach at dawn and more than enough tattoo shops and reggae bars to go around.
Yet there's still something genuinely enchanting about Lonely Beach, which is known as Haad Tha Nam to the Thais. The narrow main road is lined with airy thatch-roofed houses. Concrete hotel blocks have not replaced the venerable trees that still hang over the main road. Some outstanding yet dirt-cheap accommodation can be scored in the "village," and on the lush hillside that runs inland and affords great views over the Gulf.
Though the term "Lonely Beach" is used for the whole area, including the inland village, the beach itself is a 10-minute walk north of where most of the restaurants and services are located. It's a short but excellent stretch of powder-white sand where a couple of mid- to high-end resorts rub shoulders with long-running budget haunts. Siam Hut continues its raucous beach parties, but the far northern side of the beach retains a quiet air.
Further south, the main road, or a dirt-path shortcut from Siam Hut, connects the actual Lonely Beach to a rocky coastline where budget spots and a few flashpacker resorts taper into the village. The area's legendary old backpacker favourite, Treehouse, has now officially ceased to exist after an apparently unsuccessful move to the far, and we mean far, southeastern point of Ko Chang.
In the Lonely Beach village, nighttime ushers in a lively atmosphere at places like Stone Free and Guitar Bar, where travellers converge to sing, dance and drink on the cheap. If you're a light sleeper, you're best off at the northern end of Lonely Beach, or down the road in Ao Bailan.
A 15-minute walk up a hill and then back down again brings you to Bailan Bay, which has a few interesting budget bungalow spots to go with a rising number of midrange guesthouses and one top-end resort -- the Mercure Hideaway (formerly Dusit Princess). Apart from a tiny beach at the north of Bailan, low tide reveals a rocky landscape that extends hundreds of metres from the shore. Despite the lack of good swimming spots, Bailan's relaxed atmosphere makes it a fine choice for travellers who appreciate the wily vibe of Lonely Beach, but don't exactly want to stay there.
ATMs are located at the convenience store along the main road near Siam Hut, and at the fake 7-eleven in the heart of Lonely Beach village. If you feel the need for a work out, BB Gym is a surprisingly well-equipped fitness centre to the south of Lonely Beach village. Points of interest in Bailan include a muay Thai training facility, Treetop Adventure Park and Hammock Hut, a roadside shop run by the gang at Jungle Garden Bungalows. They sell beautiful hand-woven hammocks in varying sizes, colours and materials that are made by non-profit-supported hill dwellers in Thailand's far north.
By David Luekens.