Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

Koh Chang: The Last Cheap Thai Island


Lots of people dream of finding a random island in Thailand, getting a beach hut for a dollar, and spending days doing nothing and spending next to nothing, just chilling on a beautiful beach with a guitar.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but that image, more or less, no longer exists.

Thailand’s islands are far more expensive than the mainland and especially the north.  On Koh Phi Phi, a typical backpacker budget will set you back at $40-50 a day.  Dorm room lodging on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon Party will run you $20 a night.

Sure, you can find small, little-developed Thai islands and local beaches for cheaper, if you don’t mind going far off the beaten path.  But as far as islands with major tourism infrastructure go, you won’t find any.

However, there’s an exception — Koh Chang.

Koh Chang is located on the eastern Gulf coast of Thailand, not far from the Cambodia border.  The island is huge — it’s the second largest Thai island after Phuket — and because of its size, its beaches are a series of neighborhoods.

I chose to camp out in the backpacker favorite, Lonely Beach.

Cheap — but nice!

I paid 200 baht (about $6.67 USD) for my own private bungalow at Ice Beach Bungalows, just an eight-minute walk from Lonely Beach.

The bathrooms were extremely basic — shared and outdoors, with cold showers and squat toilets — but really, at 200 baht during high season, you can’t complain!  (And you can go to a restaurant if you need a Western toilet, if you know what I mean.)

Food was well-priced as well — you could find food in basic, local restaurants for 30-50 baht ($1-2) per dish, and slightly more for Western food.

Free WiFi is available in plenty of cafes. My favorite?  The Art Gallery Cafe, which is home to nice decor, friendly people, fantastic electronica music, and plenty of power outlets.

Why, hello there, hippies!

Plenty of places in Thailand are home to hippie communities.  They vary in degrees of friendliness — I found the Koh Lanta hippies to be laid-back and welcoming, while the Pai hippies were cold and insular.

Lonely Beach is home to some of the warmest and friendliest people I’ve met in Thailand. I made instant friends virtually everywhere I went.

That friendliness extends to the tourists. Within a few days, I’d befriended sarong-wearing Austrian men in their sixties, two forty-something women from a lesbian tour group and Scandinavian backpackers my age, along with plenty of Thais, of course!

The Most Fantastic Beach

I’ve been on a lot of Southeast Asian beaches over the past six months.  Lonely Beach is my favorite.

That’s a loaded statement, I know.

I found Lonely Beach to have the perfect combination of beauty, an uncrowded shore, soft sand, and clear, turquoise water.  It was close to everything, but felt blissfully isolated.

Lonely Beach isn’t overdeveloped (yet).  You can relax in an isolated corner, and if you want to grab some lunch, there are several well-priced restaurants within a five-minute walk.

Tattoos and Fun Times

After a few days, I was delighted to have a friend of mine join me on the island — Adam of Travels of Adam, a fellow Bostonian travel blogger!

Adam and I spent far too long watching a guy get his right butt cheek tattooed. It seems like everyone on Koh Chang is covered in tattoos, and there are a dozen studios in Lonely Beach alone!

The guy, who looked miserable, was lying on his stomach with a glass of whiskey in each hand as the artist hammered a long, bloody bamboo needle into his skin.

Remind me not to get a bamboo tattoo ever.  It’s not pretty.

Laid-Back Nightlife

Koh Chang isn’t a big party destination. Most of the nightlife centers around live music.  You can sing along to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with the long-haired Thai guys, or join in “I Will Survive” with the feisty flamenco guitar girl!

But if you really have your heart set on partying — you definitely can.  Look for 100 baht buckets at happy hour and late night dance parties at Ting Tong Bar!

Koh Chang: The Best of Everything

To top it off, Koh Chang is only a half day’s journey from Bangkok — much closer than the islands in the south.

I stayed on Koh Chang for nearly a week, and I easily could have stayed longer. Some of the expats were telling me that they came for a week and stayed for months, and I believe them all.

I am adding Koh Chang to my “Go Now” Southeast Asia list, along with Kampot, Koh Lanta and Railay. The prices are great, but they’re not going to stay this low forever.

Enjoy Thailand’s last cheap island while you can — it’s a very special place.


86 Responses to “Koh Chang: The Last Cheap Thai Island”
  1. You’re dead on the money about Koh Chang and Lonely Beach … my first and favourite beach stop in SE Asia this winter … I stayed at Ice Beach too, kinda basic, but it is what it is — cabin camping just a hop, skip, and a jump to Lonely Beach.

    Wish I could go back, but I’m jetting back to Canada in 4 days … gotta pay down that debt, yay! 😛

  2. “The prices are great, but they’re not going to stay this low forever.”

    I’d say this is probably true for most of the developing world. It used to be that backpackers would head off to Europe for a cheap destination. Now it’s mostly Asia and Central and South America. In a decade or two these currently “cheap” areas will, in all likelihood, no longer be cheap. The rest of the world is working hard to close the standard of living gap with the U.S. It’s great for them, but bad news for travelers looking to pinch pennies. (It is especially bad news for the legions of modest-income expats who moved to developing countries as a way to afford retirement. I fear many of these plans may be busted in the years ahead.)

    • JULIEN says:

      Europe cheap , when 1946 ?

      Though you are right I am amazed how much prices have gone up I wish I had gone in the 90’s with the 4 dollar beach side shacks , and $30 dollar hookers .
      Seemed like a much more authentic experience to, based on travelers tales .

      • andras says:

        i did went in the 90’s, 92 in fact , $4 ? i paid a fraction of that , hell motorcycle rental was not even $4 a day , a snack $4 is crazy high

  3. Archer says:

    Well, this sounds like my kind of trip Kate! Looks and feels like the beaches in my side of the globe -The Philippines! While I love hopping in and out of the many white sand beaches here, I still have my eyes set on Thailand. Haven’t heard much about Koh Chang like Samui and Phi Phi Li but this Lonely Beach is simply breathtaking! And that coconut juice photo looks like a dream! nice shot!

  4. Adam says:

    Oh boy, I’d almost forgotten about that guy getting the tattoo!

  5. You forgot to mention the not-so-awesome aspects of Koh Chang. Beware the middle-aged man in a thong!

  6. Betti says:

    I haven’t dared to go back to Ko Chang since 2005. too much change always breaks my heart. I used to be a Treehouse junkie. now they moved to Phangan, by the way.
    we all have our secret little hideaways, when I blog about them, I never say where they are 🙂 still plenty of islands out there waiting for me!

  7. travelroach says:

    Great info! Ko Chang is far from being the last cheap Thai island for backpackers. There’s actually another island named Ko Chang in the South. To get there you have to go to the city of Ranong, a messy provincial capital that smells like fish guts. From there you can take ferries to Ko Chang (the different one) and Ko Phayam. Both are lovely escapes and don’t have too many travelers. Ko Phayam is a favourite of mine…at night the stars shine real bright and you can see the Milky Way like a cloud, and bioluminescent critters in the sand glow when you step, leaving a glowing trail of pixie-dust in your wake. The beach huts are rustic and power is only provided by generators. I don’t think there’s any wifi.

  8. Anne says:

    Hi Kate! Gosh! I came across your blog last night and I read every article about your Asia jaunt all night long. 🙂 If you plan in coming here to the Philippines, I’ll gladly meet up with you and tour you around! 🙂 Good luck on your journey!

  9. Hi there – new (inspired) reader here. I just found your blog via twitter & I am so enthralled & inspired by your adventures!

  10. Natalie says:

    Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan is my fav hidden gem–last June I had a beach front (literally beach front… maybe 10 meters from the ocean’s edge!) bungalow, pretty basic but western bathroom, for 250 baht a night. And because it was low season, we talked them down to 150/night for several nights. Add in a couple hundred baht to catch a boat to the beach, and it’s still very reasonable. Played soccer on the beach with guys from the resort in the afternoon; enjoyed many lazy beers in the bar in the evening and listened to the guys play guitar and sing well into the night. One of my favorite travel memories thus far.

  11. cram says:

    I just got back from Phuket, and reading your blog makes me want to catch the next plane back to Thailand 🙂 Great post Kate. Have a great one!

    My 2 cents: Try Bon island, 10 minutes away by longtail boat from Rawai beach in Phuket. Virtually nobody there, but you can’t stay overnight. You can only spend the day, but possibly have the island all to yourself!

  12. Rebecca says:

    Looks like heaven! I’d never heard of it before but one of my friends was there earlier this year and had such a relaxing, great time.

  13. Rob says:

    Glad to hear that you had a great time on Koh Chang! Lonely Beach is a cool place… Drop me a line if you ever come back and I will show you a couple of places off the beaten path 🙂

  14. Derek G says:

    I Dunno… Sittin on lonely beach as I type this.. It’s kinda living up to it’s name. Tough place to travel to single.

  15. I have been to most of thai islands and Koh Chang probably remains my favorite when I want to chill out and still have some animation. I love Bang Bao and have dinner on White Sands Beach. The prices are always increasing. I fear this will step step become like Samui and Cie 🙁

  16. Regev says:

    Yo Kate, how’s the diving there?

    I’m looking for a place to relocate for the next few months, it sounds like a solid location.


    • Regev, I didn’t dive, and it’s not as renowned as other locations like Koh Tao and Koh Phi Phi, but you can definitely dive on Koh Chang!

      • Regev says:

        Yeah it’s just that I wasn’t sure whether there’s any equipment to rent there =)

        I’ve rented in the Philippines, and spent like 7 months in Asia last year, but I really feel the need currently to live in some far away land. You pretty much sold me on this island ,even though I’m still considering going to a totally new environment, like central america (have you been there?)

  17. Chris says:

    I am at lonely beach now. I arrived in patong which I hated. I then went to koh phagnang which was
    Better, and to bangkok which surprisingly I loved. I have wait 8 days
    For my Indian visa so I cameto koh Chang . Those who have been no its well
    Chilled out , im at sea flower bungalows 300baht a nite hot shower
    And no need to squat for a poo. A little stroll and ur on the beach, outside my hut
    Its pebble, but a beautiful white sand beach it just over there. Ppl here
    Are amazingly nice, I feel safe and loved and this is the best spot
    I have even so far on my travels. I simpy love it, it’s home for me. Though
    I must say I have been stoned stoned most of the wk. yep and tattoos are common haha .
    I’m off to Cambodia now then Vietnam India Nepal, loving ur blogs thank excited to do
    That halong bay party boat nxt wk..oh, and swim with an elephant here, amazing

  18. Deanne says:

    Hi Kate
    Can you tell me how you get from Bangkok to lonely beach in koh Chang
    if by train how much are the cost and how long traveltime
    Can u give me some cheap addresses where to stay and is it safe for woman alone
    Kind regards and enjoy reading yr experiences

    • Deanne, any hostel or travel agency will book a ticket for you easily. It’s about six hours by bus, then a 45-minute ferry, then a sangthaew journey to Lonely Beach. Very safe for women traveling alone. I stayed at Ice Beach Bungalows for 200 Baht ($6.50) per night, but they are very basic.

  19. Andrew says:

    Hi Kate.
    Some help would be mostly appreciated….. I want to spend about a week on Lonely beach, somewhere cheap and cheerful, can you recommend somewhere, also do you have to book in advance or are places easily available? We are looking to travel end of April/start of may… is that a good time to travel? Lastly, could you advise me of average food and beer prices
    Many thanks
    Andrew 😉

  20. Jaclynn says:

    How long did it take you to get to the beach?? im looking for the closest place i can stay to the beach, and thats my only requirement! – besides cheap of course 😉

  21. William says:

    Sounds great, thanks for the info.

    I might have to check it out. Thailand has been on my list of places to visit. I was in Singapore and Malaysia for quite a bit last year – but I cancelled my trip to Bangkok, because I decided Thailand is a place I would want to spend a lot longer than 2 weeks in.

  22. john says:

    Hey, Lonely is defnitely a very nice beach, especially in June and July when the waves are really high you can almost surf. My favourite is Klong Prao beach, 3 kms of beach with the coconut grove all along, even in high season it’s pretty empty and now in low season you can say it’s practically your own private beach!

  23. HG says:

    Thanks for this post, Kate. It’s one of the reasons I came east instead of south here in Thailand – love to get off the beaten path!
    I’m here in Pattaya now – do you have any idea how one gets from here to Koh Chang? It seems most people depart directly from Bangkok…

  24. Yitzhak says:

    I’ve been researching different islands to stay on for several weeks, and finally I’m completely sold. Thanks for this post, Kate.

  25. AJAY says:

    iam planing this yr to visit thiland which month is best and give me ur pkg detaik

  26. Deb M says:

    You’re absolutely right, Kate. I spent two weeks sailing a catamaran around Koh Chang (and some of the little surrounding islands) in January 2012. It was special… As quiet and beautiful and relatively deserted as Phuket and the other islands on the west side used to be. I know it’s not going to be that way for long… Sigh.

  27. Bob Smith says:

    Hi Kate (or anyone),

    Trying to figure out whether Koh Chang or Koh Lanta in Thailand or Danang or Mui Ne in Vietnam. We’re not backpackers – a few 40 something guys with some budget looking for pure chill with some partying, but not crazy. We like our comfort, the backpacking days are behind us. Will also be going to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, maybe Hanoi. Any advice welcome. Tks.

    • I’m now on Lonely Beach on Koh Chang and I will say that sadly the development has skyrocketed since this post was written. The sandy beach here is littered with tourists, businesses, and loud music. However if you say a bit off the beaten path there are beautiful resorts with rooms for only 900 baht per night. That said, most of the beaches in these areas are rocky. An Bang Beach near Danang is amazing, check out the post about it on my blog. I hear really good things about Koh Lanta as well. Good luck!

    • Koh Chang has much better beaches. Mui Ne has more adventurous motorbiking around. Mui Ne is a bit cheaper. All about preference!

  28. Pali says:

    is it a good idea to go to Koh Chang in (early) July?
    Want to take there my children but not sure because of a weather – rainny season (also limited accommodation during that season).
    Any suggestions?

    • Depends on your tolerance for rain. Completely up to you. Personally, I wouldn’t plan a trip to the islands in the rainy months, but if that is your only time you can go, do whatever you’d like to do.

  29. Tim C says:

    I’m writing this from Koh Chang. Prices have skyrocketed in the last three years. Hard to find any food less than 90 Baht and the food at that price is pretty bad. The beaches are great but the road is scary with all the pasty white or beet red Euros and Russians on rented scooters. I’ve come here to escape the yearly burning season pollution in Chiang Mai where I live. While the air and water here are great it’s really hard to make myself spend 3 to 5 times more for food that is very mediocre. This place is SO expensive compared to Chiang Mai. But it does have good beaches

    • My fiance went to Koh Chang on his own this year and he said that Lonely Beach wasn’t as good as I said it was, sadly. More trash and such.

      That said, Northern Thailand is in a completely different price bracket from the rest of Thailand and comparing Koh Chang to Chiang Mai is like comparing apples and oranges.

    • Yiping Wang says:

      Thanks for your information.
      I’m in Aranya now, just crossed border from Cambodia, planning where to go in Thailand.
      I ever planned to go to Koh Chang, but since food is so expensive as you mentioned
      (it’s worse than expensive accommodation)
      I have to give it up. because I need food everyday three times.
      A fried rice in Samui or Phuket is just 60B, mainland 40B.

  30. andrew says:

    What are the must visit places on Koh Chang? I am going in 3 weeks but only for 4 days so want to squeeze as much as possible in?

  31. I am travelling to Koh Chang in August only time my bf can get off work, am i mad going then?

  32. Stefan Schweizer says:

    I love Ko Chiang. Right now I’m at Lonely Beach. It’s totally relaxed and low key. Many travelers stayed away of the way the western media reports on the military coup. However it’s more like a coup and nobody cares here. If you didn’t know you couldn’t tell. There is a curfew at midnight but with only a few visitors right now life dies down at midnight anyways. today there were about 20 people on the entire beach. But really awesome vibe, life music and nice hippie ish art gallery cafés

  33. Ryan says:

    I love Koh Chang. I think it’s my favorite Thai island. I feel lucky that I got a chance to visit back in 2002 before it started to really develop. Back then White Sand beach was just as cheap.

  34. Leah says:

    Hi there! Can you recommend specific places to stay and rent a bungalow in Koh Chang?
    And or inexpensive bungalows to rent in Ranong?

    • I stayed at Ice Beach Bungalows in Koh Chang, which is still the cheapest accommodation in Lonely Beach (this isn’t the Koh Chang near Ranong, though — it’s the Koh Chang on the eastern Gulf coast).

  35. Joe says:

    Hey there! Thank you very much for your post, Kate! It’s been helpful for years now.

    I live in Bangkok and I’m planning to spend some days on the beach in Christmas, and I would like to find a cheap bungalow on a nice beach not too far away from Bangkok. Something like what you did, Kate, but few years later.

    Where do you think I should go? My first bet was Koh Samed, but checking the prices I don’t see any bungalow under 1500 baht (jesus!). Do you think Koh Chang will be a cheaper option? Do you think that I will find something at a better price if I just go there and search around instead of previously booking something? Also, any other suggestions about nice places not too far away from Bangkok would be more than welcome.

    Many thanks again!

  36. Jean says:

    Hi Kate, I was wondering how safe it is to travel from BKK to Koh Chang alone? Everyone said I shouldn’t travel alone. I have a couple of friends who are heading to Krabi but our next destination is Siem Reap, I was thinking Koh Chang is it is the nearest and less time for travelling from Krabi to Siem Reap. While Koh Chang is so close to Siem Reap. What are your thoughts?

    • It’s totally safe and easy to travel along to Koh Chang. Just buy a minibus-boat combo ticket from one of the many travel agencies in BKK or your guesthouse. (Who is telling you it’s not safe? Someone who hasn’t backpacked there in the past decade, I’m guessing…)

      Koh Chang is actually NOT close to Siem Reap. Appearances can be deceiving. It’s a daylong journey.

  37. Ryan says:

    I am here in Koh Chang currently sitting at a restuarant on Kai Bae Beach, reading your post. I find all reports of inflation to be very accurate, in my first 24 hour impression. I just had a skimpy Pad Thai and a Lassi which cost 200 Baht. The hut I am renting tonight is 800 Baht, last nights’ motel was 990 Baht and I even had local Thai friends here who helped me score these “deals”. Albeit, it’s Decemember 26th so I didn’t pick a very affordable time to arrive.

    I just arrived in Thailand from Pohara, Nepal where I was living off $15/day including meals and accoms so by comparison Thailand in general seems very expensive. I do appreciate however that Nepal is a third world country and not really comparable.

    All of that said it’s very beautiufl just as you described. The water is aqua blue and its still not hard to find peace and queit. I will try to make it to Lonely Beach.

    The most jarring thing so far is indeed the overwhelming amount of causacian tourists who have seemingly overun the island. Very few of them seem even remotely friendly, and they look very upper class. As I walk by (im early 30’s -do not look like intimidating) smiling & saying “hi” casually I get about 2 out of 10 who will acklodwgde me with a greeting. The rest just ignore. More so, I am shocked at the actual apperance of the tourists themselves. Nearly everyone here looks like an extra from Baywatch. All of the men are chiseled (even the one’s in their 50’s) walking around in speedos and all the women are bombshells. I don’t know where these people come from? I live in Canada and none of my friends or family look like this. And yes, EVERYONE here has tattoos, wtf?

    Thanks for a great read about Koh Chang.

  38. I agree with what has been said. I’ve been living on Koh Chang for the past 4 years and believe me I’ve seen a sharp increase in prices, be it for lodging, food as well.. a good deal as far as I’m concerned is a Tiger Huts on Klong Prao beach. In high season the small bungalow right on the beach is 450 baht I think, not too bad for being just a few meters from the sea.
    All the best

  39. Junesse says:

    Is there a quicker way to get to Koh Phi Phi from Koh Mak without flying please?
    Thank you

  40. Pam speck says:

    Hi Kate,
    We r in our sixties,well traveled,Would like to go to ko Chang in high season,about 30days,would like a bunglow with western toilet,on the beach.size doesn’t mater.
    Love reading all the comments,hoping we can be sitting at lonely beach ,one day n sending you a message.

    Go to Bali every year for three months n love it,but its time to get out to new places.regards Pammy

  41. Ivan Mendis says:

    It was totally wrong it was beautiful place. And also the budget of the place was low.

  42. Crista says:

    Try Koh Larn next time. It is absolutely beautiful and just a few hours away from Bangkok.

  43. Rich says:

    Hi Kate
    Congrats on making your living on your travel blog. I have fun, great content, but cannot come close to supporting myself. Do you have the Daily Show clip of you being mocked??
    Koh Chang is STILL very cheap, was there in May. have some videos and photos and descriptions for you readers to add to Kate’s.

  44. Eileen Muir says:

    I am looking to go to Koh Chang next September what will the weather be like?

  45. Kluk says:

    Hello again Kate!
    Guess what, the Kids and I have made it to Lonely Beach in Ko Chang (via a very hazy KL and then Bangkok) and we LOVE it. I’ll tell Boy to check out the cafe you mentioned because he is worryingly obsessed with electronica (doesn’t do it for me, I’m more of a heavy metal teddy). Did lots of insects get into your hut? We’ve passed the huts from your photo on our way to the beach a few times and the location looks amazing but Girl was especially worried about possible gaps in the floorboards. Anyway, I should get back to watching boy devour a deelish looking pancake in Stone Free before we head to the beach…

  46. Hi Kate! Great blog 🙂 My GF and I are flying to Thailand on Friday (Nov 6th 2015) and we’re trying to decide on what island to choose for our first (month-long) stop.

    Last time I was in Thailand (2010) I had a really nice time staying in a bungalow (with private bathroom) literally ON the beach in Ko Phangan for like $7/night. I was hoping to find something similar in Ko Chang but I’m not sure that’s available there anymore.

    Which island do you think has cheaper/better beachside bungalows, where you can look out at the sea from the window of the hut, and walk along the beach to find restaurants for dinner?

    Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂


  47. Josh says:

    On Koh Chang there is still a chance to escape from it all on Long Beach down the east coast but it now seems Koh Kood is the next lesser developed island!


Check out what others are saying about this post...
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  3. […] Plus, as luck would have it, my friend Kate was on the island at the same time. She covered what makes Koh Chang such a great hippie island in her post, so be sure to read that here. […]

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