With no less than 50 offshore islets, Ko Chang is Thailand's second largest island, and the biggest in the Ko Chang National Park. .
Pretty much the first Western contact that the islanders of Koh Chang had was when the corpses of French sailors, killed in a sea battle with the Japanese in 1941, washed up on their shores. The backpackers who started arriving in the mid-1970's didn't smell much better to the islanders, but had big smiles underneath their big noses and had what seemed like a fortune to spend.
In common with all Thailand's islands, Koh Chang was then first developed for backpackers, who are now being displaced as the island is turned into a luxury destination: construction work is going on throughout the island, with basic huts being torn down to make way for luxury resorts. This is obviously unfortunate for the budget travelers but will hopefully be good for the environment, provided the developers don't get carried away, as the more expensive resorts can afford better sanitation and waste disposal facilities than could their predecessors.
Koh Chang's recent success is due not only to its proximity to Bangkok, but to its lovely mountainous topography, which is rich in primary forest, waterfalls and still thinly-populated sandy beaches. There are coral reefs to the west of the island which, whilst not amongst the finest of a kingdom blessed with such magnificent underwater treasures, are colourful and abundant with marine life.
Located just 200 kilometres from Bangkok and a three-hour walk from top to bottom, the T-shaped island of Ko Samet is known for its exotic coral, crystal-clear waters and many little beaches covered in sugary white sand. The sand on the island, which has an alternative Thai name that means 'Island with Sand like Crushed Crystal', is so fine that it is prized by glass-makers which, in a country with so many gorgeous beaches as Thailand, is a compliment indeed.
Forest blankets 80% of an unspoiled island which, whilst lacking the dramatic topography of other Thai islands, is lucky in that it has so far escaped overdevelopment. There is a low-key party scene on Hat Sai Kaew which, with its offshore winds, is also an excellent location for those wishing to do a bit of wind surfing. Windsurfers can be rented out, so you don't have to lug your own all the way here.
The half-moon bay Ao Vong Duan, in the middle of the eastern side of the island, is particularly beautiful but is rather crowded and is unfortunately afflicted with the jet-skis that are supposed to be illegal in this marine park, so visitors looking for tranquility are advised to stay on one of the two closely-flanking beaches, Ao Chan and Ao Thian, or further afield. The deeply-pocketed should book in at Ao Kiu beach's gorgeous Paradee resort, which discourages guests from bringing small children.
The pristine reefs and beaches of the four nearby uninhabited islets Ko Kudi, Ko Kruai, Ko Kham, and Ko Pla Tin make them lovely scuba and snorkelling day-trips, on which visitors are advised to bring their own food and water (always a good sign on an island-hopping daytrip). Ko Thalu, slightly further afield, is lushly forested and inhabited by seagulls, flying foxes, and turtles. Whilst high cliffs occupy the west, often-deserted white sandy beaches are to be found on the east and southern sides of the island. Happy days.
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