Am wanting to spend a couple of weeks in May on a relatively unspoilt/underdeveloped island where there is still a large backpacking community and good weather.
Am thinking Ko Samet or Koh Chang possibly? Any recommendations? I've previously been to Ko Samui and Chaweng beach and I've heard it is very touristy now so want to avoid there. Would like to go back to Koh Phi Phi but am not sure the weather is so good on that side of Thailand in May.
Here are some thoughts on Koh Chang
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!
I would let the weather at the time you are there dictate what coast to choose. If the Krabi side is OK, it is hard to beat Koh Lanta, Koh Jum area. Pretty and not expensive.
If Krabi is too wet, then you can try Koh Phan gan off of Samui. Or try one of the smaller islands off of Koh Chang. The above post may have put you off KC. Try one of the less visited islands like; Koh Mak or Koh Kood. Not as big, not as developed. A great website that should answer all your KC questions is: iamkohchang. Everything you could possibly want to know about KC is there or e-mail him and ask your questions. Good Luck with your trip.
In May you would be better off in the Samet / Chang or the Samui/tao/Phangan areas or along those coast.
Paradise Lost ! _ We went to Patong on Phuket a few months ago and I could have cried! Ok, it was always busy and lively and I have no problem with that at all and enjoyed many a great night out, but now it is just Irish Pubs and Euro bars, coffeee shops and fast food places, people dressed ragged shouting, drunk in the restaurant areas, burgers and fries seem to be the favored dish. Even at what used to be lovely Kata Beach one of my favorite small Thai restaurants has changed and a billboard offers 'Burgers and Fries'.