Not to be confused with the far bigger and better known Ko Chang of Trat province in the Gulf of Thailand, little Ko Chang — or, as we have always known it, Ko Chang Noi — is a formidable destination in its own right. One of Thailand's quietest, most relaxed, and undeveloped islands, Ko Chang Noi makes up for its lack of sparkle with an artsy, laid back atmosphere you'll find nowhere else.
Don't expect luxury resorts and bus loads of short-term holiday makers but rather rustic bungalows and a unique community of artists, writers, and musicians who return for long-term stays year after year. If you like nature and reggae music — and are looking for an escape from the world — then Ko Chang Noi is for you.
The island took its name not from actual elephants living here but by the fact that, on a map, the island vaguely resembles the outline of an elephant's body. There may not be actual elephants roaming, but Ko Chang Noi isn't exactly small — its 18 square kilometers are filled with rugged forest teeming with wildlife, some impressive rocky cliffs and steep hillsides, vast stretches of largely barely developed beachfront, and picturesque rubber plantations and cashew nut orchards. Don't know what a cashew looks like while still growing on the tree? Come to Ko Chang Noi and you'll soon find out.
Virtually all Ko Chang Noi's accommodation is in the form of simple, rustic bamboo or wood bungalows. All but one solar powered resort runs its own generator, typically from 17:00 to 23:00 only, so don't expect hot showers, TVs, or even a fan. A comfy hammock, however, seems to come standard on the porch of most bungalows.
While it's possible to arrange diving trips through Cashew Resort's Alladin Dive Safari, fishing excursions through Eden Resort or Koh Chang Resort, and kayaking from most resorts, the majority of visitors don't seem to stray too far from their hammock. Snorkelling is possible but the waters are on the murky side so there's not much to see underwater. On the beach, daily yoga classes (at Cashew Resort), beach volleyball, and guitar sing-alongs are some of the more popular activities.
While Ko Chang Noi's beaches lack the squeaky white sand of other islands in the region, they are spacious and often empty, and the sand itself is a relatively fine light gold colour that still makes for photos that ensure your friends and family back home will be ever so jealous should you send them a shot or two.
Ko Chang Noi is largely a high season only island with the majority of visitors coming between November and April. During rainy season the island gets lashed with especially harsh storms and is one of Thailand's wettest areas. While several resorts stretch into the shoulder seasons of May and October, there are just a couple places willing to accept guests during the brunt of the rainy season from June to September, and at this time food choices will be very limited. The pass between Ko Chang Noi and Ranong can also be dangerous at this time of year so boats run just once per day, weather permitting.
Ko Chang Noi's main beach, Long Beach, stretches along the centre part of the island's west coast — if Ko Chang Noi were an elephant Long Beach would be the mahout's saddle on the elephant's back. St Matthew's Island in Burma is visible in the distance from here, and Long Beach is a splendid sunset spot. The beach comes to a rocky pinch at Koh Chang Resort before stretching another several hundred metres further north and ending at Crocodile Point. There are a few secluded beaches south and north of Long Beach, and a handful of low key resorts have taken advantage of the isolation, but if staying at any of these be forewarned it's a solid two to three kilometre hike to Long Beach.
A sporadically paved road connects Long Beach to the northern resorts and a small Thai Navy encampment, which looks more like a country retreat than a military post and doesn't affect the island's relaxed atmosphere in the least. Another small concrete road runs west to east, starting from Eden Resort at the northern point of Long Beach and running through a handful of homes and eventually to a proper but seemingly deserted pier on the island's east coast facing the mainland. This pier is apparently used only by the Navy and local boats that run during rainy season. Other than the pier the entire east side of Ko Chang Noi is uninhabited by people and filled with mangroves, rocky shores and a couple secluded beaches. A small Morgan sea gypsy village is tucked near the island's northern tip, which is only reachable by boat.
The longtail ferries that drop off visitors in high season typically disembark at Koh Chang Resort's small pier, but this seems to be inconsistent as we saw it unloading passengers on another part of Long Beach and at Hornbill Resort's private beach on different occasions. Small boats from the more isolated resorts meet the ferry to pick up those wishing to stay with them.
There are no 7-elevens or anything close to one, but Sabay Jai Bungalows on Long Beach has a small mini mart where basic necessities, drinks and snacks may be purchased.
There are no hospitals or clinics on the island but one doctor by the name of Arm can at least provide basic treatment for minor injuries and ailments. Arm may be reached at T: (087) 933 3644. If Arm's not around, or if it's something more serious, a boat to Ranong can be chartered by any resort on the fly. On that note, bring plenty of mosquito repellent — some big, mean mosquitoes come out every evening at dusk.
There are also no Internet cafés on Ko Chang Noi and virtually every resort's answer to the question, "Do you have WiFi?" was a resounding "No." One exception is Cashew Resort — the only spot advertising Internet service for 2B per minute — and Nature View Bungalows right next to Crocodile Point, which is solar powered and does run a relatively reliable Internet connection. Keeping with their chilled out style, Nature View didn't make it clear how much an hour of usage would cost but it probably will depend on the owner's mood. A few other resorts offer painfully slow AIS or dtac air cards that will, at the least, allow for an email to be sent.
While cell phone signal generally works on Long Beach itself, we did not get a signal at the northern resorts and even when stepping back into the trees off Long Beach the signal weakened considerably. There are also no banks or ATMs on the island so bring enough cash for your stay.
By David Luekens.