Get on your hiking shoes
Published/Last edited or updated: 12th January, 2017
Ko Chang Noi offers some terrific options for long strolls on the sand or hikes that pierce into farms and forests before ending at secluded bays. Few places to buy food and drinks are found beyond the beaches and it’s easy to get lost on inland lanes that often take you beyond the range of cell service. Do bring water and a compass if going exploring.
Many visitors never leave Ao Yai, the “Big Bay” or “Long Beach” that covers some three kilometres of the west coast in three sections divided by natural features. The longest contiguous stretch is in the north, hosting the island’s only temple, Wat Pa Ko Chang. Just south of the temple, you can easily wade through a canal at low tide but can only cross it at high tide via a long wood footbridge with no handrails, beginning in front of Minimart.
South of the canal is Ao Yai’s shorter central section, hosting Thai Bar and Freedom Bar along with a few bungalow joints. Continuing south, an outcrop of rocks requires you to balance across a narrow concrete walkway, also with no rails, that doubles as the retaining wall for a rainwater pool. Then it’s up the hill, through Koh Chang Resort and down to Ao Yai’s southern section, which ends at a hill-topped peninsula, Crocodile Point, hosting a few more places to stay.
Head uphill again at the south corner of South Ao Yai, behind Ta Dang Resort, and an unmarked dirt lane continues south for a few hundred metres through rubber trees to Ao Tadaeng, a smaller beach with a few more bungalow joints. At the south end, behind Mama’s, a hiking trail cuts uphill before eventually dropping to Ao Kai Tao, a tiny beach with only a ranger station. At this point you’ll be due west of the forested mountain known as Phu Khao Ko Chang.
From Ao Kai Tao, another trail cuts south all the way down to the west end of remote Ao Siad, a south-coast bay connecting to Ao Lek. Ao Siad has two small beaches at either end, each hosting a bungalow spot separated by a roughly kilometre-long trail. Expect a two-hour hike that includes some steep sections if hiking all the way from Ao Tadaeng to Ao Siad via Ao Kai Tao and the west-coast trails.
Back between Central and North Ao Yai, a concrete lane cuts inland behind the temple for 1.5 kilometres to the village, or Baan Ko Chang, consisting of little more than a few houses and a couple of restaurants at a crossroads. Facing east with your back to Ao Yai, turn left (north) here and you’ll pass a large reservoir before reaching a right (northwest) turn towards the New Pier. Keep straight east in the village and, after about a kilometre, you’ll come to the school, clinic and a dirt path cutting right (southeast) to the rarely visited Old Pier.
Turn right (south) in the village and the lane turns to dirt, piercing through rubber plantations. Bear right after about a kilometre and then keep right onto a narrow trail and, after at least an hour of hiking, you’ll arrive at the east end of Ao Lek, a long mangrove-lined beach stretching along the far southeast coast. On this trail we passed an abandoned bungalow joint and some cashew orchards, where hornbills glided from branch to branch.
Continue south from Ao Lek and the trail lumbers uphill before dropping down to the east end of Ao Siad. At this point, one trail shoots left (south) to Green Banana while another keeps straight (west) to Tommy’s Garden, passing a few fishing shacks and a multi-storey structure that was built largely out of teakwood and looks totally out of place—apparently it’s a Thai architect’s vacation home.
Another trail that didn’t appear to get much use cuts north from the east side of Ao Siad for 2.5 kilometres to the “national park”, or so says a sign that’s only noticeable when heading back north towards Ao Lek and the village. We reckon it’s worth a look if you’re hoping to spot more wildlife.
In a long day you could do the somewhat challenging hike south along the west coast from Ao Yai to Ao Tadaeng to Ao Kai Tao to Ao Siad, and then take the easier trail back north passing Ao Lek and the village on the way back to Ao Yai. Round trip, this is a roughly 10-kilometre hike if starting from Central Ao Yai. The bungalow spots on Ao Siad can arrange a boat if you're too tired for the return trek -- or you could stay the night!
Another good hike begins on the sealed lane running north behind Sunset Bungalows on North Ao Yai, taking you up to the tiny northern beaches and beyond. This cashew-lined lane gets hilly and turns to dirt but is not as challenging or remote as the far southern trails. Look left after passing Contex Bungalows to find a helicopter pad just south of the Navy base affording great views to several mountainous islands up in Burma.
If you continue north on this trail, all the way past Sea Eagle Bungalows, it passes an undeveloped beach at the island’s far northern tip before turning back southeast behind a Moken village with stilted wood houses and a tiny Christian church nestled into north-facing Ao Ko. These Moken “sea gypsies” keep a low profile and their homes are not tourist attractions; do respect their privacy.
The trail then continues south into the interior, linking to sealed lanes that cut back west to North Ao Yai, east to the New Pier and south to the village. Starting from North Ao Yai, this northern route is a roughly five-kilometre round trip.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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