Hike to waterfalls and paddle down mangrove-draped rivers. Plunge into terrific diving and snorkelling sites. Enjoy a swanky villa or kick your feet up on a beach hut porch. Hit the pubs or find a low-key spot to watch the fishing boats. And, of course, relax on divine beaches between dips in the teal water. In the Ko Chang archipelago, most island lovers find everything they’re looking for.

During dry season, this part of the eastern Gulf of Thailand is an island-hopping winner thanks to slow ferries and public speedboats that link Ko Chang to Ko Wai to Ko Mak to Ko Kut, with tour/dive boats accessing other islands. While visiting is possible during rainy season from May through October, getting around at that time of year requires doubling back to the mainland between islands.

Getting around

The Ko Chang archipelago is well serviced by slow ferries and public speedboats. They link Ko Chang to the surrounding islands and depart both morning and afternoon during the dry season. Most depart from Bang Bao Pier on Ko Chang but piers may change depending on the weather. Travel agents or resort staff will tell you where to go or throw in a transfer to the right pier when you book your ticket. It's all made rather easy for travellers.

Island hopping by private boat is not common but private speedboat or yacht charters are available. Unlike in parts of southern Thailand, the more affordable longtail boats are not found in the eastern Gulf.

Once on Ko Chang you'll find an abundance of songthaews (hop-on/off shared taxis) which will take travellers to any resort and can be used to get around the island during your stay. Or you can rent a car, motor scooter or mountain bike. Beware that some of the roads in southwest Ko Chang are extremely steep and dangerous, especially when wet.

Trat province borders southwest Cambodia and many travelers keep the beach vibes going by crossing the border at Hat Lek and heading out to Cambodian islands, such as Koh Rong. Public vans run frequently between Trat town and the border crossing. If you’re travelling west towards Bangkok, consider stopping in Chanthaburi for its old town and temples.

Key information

Destinations Thailand
Activity Beach, Family, Active, Diving, Snorkelling, Nature & Wildlife, Culture, Solo Travel
Physical Level Easy
Season Season November - April

Suggested itinerary

Get to know Elephant Island

Get to know Elephant Island

Day 1–3 in Ko Chang

At 213 square km, Ko Chang looms as Thailand's third largest island. While it's not as heavily developed as Phuket or Ko Samui, you'll find more than a dozen different beaches to go with all sorts of activities. Elephants are not native to the island, but Ko Chang does resemble an elephant head on a map. It's also one of a small number of Thai islands accessible by car ferry.

Most visitors opt to stay on one of the beaches that rim the west coast, each delivering a distinct vibe. Notable stretches include White Sand Beach, which can be lively but is also heavily developed. Further south lies family-oriented Khlong Phrao Beach; Kai Bae Beach with its excellent food scene; and Lonely Beach attracting hippie-party types. In the southwest, mellow Khlong Kloi Beach is in a scenic bay where most of the dive and island-hopping ferries depart.

To name a couple of the seven waterfalls, Khlong Phlu and Than Mayom will both give you a taste of the interior forest, which is protected as part of Mu Ko Chang Marine Park. Cone-shaped mountains reach above 740 meters and guided treks are available to take you deeper into the jungle.

Consider day tripping to the sleepy east coast and down to Ao Salak Phet, a bay dotted with fishing villages extending to coconut farms. At Wat Salak Phet, a temple with gorgeous murals and a meditative vibe, look for the old photos showing off a visit by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in the late 19th century. From there you might walk or paddle into the mangroves.

Also in the southeast, Wai Shak Beach and Long Beach will show you the island's more remote coasts. The latter extends near a memorial to those who died in the Battle of Ko Chang, when the French Imperial Army defeated the Royal Thai Navy during the Franco-Thai War of 1940-41.

Many of the small islands around Ko Chang can be hit by group tour, private boat, or kayak if you have the gumption. A beach on Ko Man Nai is easy to reach by kayak from Kai Bae, and paddlers can make it to the khaki-sand isthmus on Ko Ngam from Long Beach. A little further out, Ko Yuak attracts snorkellers and beach lovers via a regular day tour launching from Kai Bae.

Snorkelling and kayaking Ko Wai

Snorkelling and kayaking Ko Wai

Day 4 in Ko Wai

Hop on an inter-island ferry and ask the crew to drop you at Ko Wai, a small island with a sizeable reef offshore. With no roads to speak of, only a dirt foot trail connects two gorgeous beaches on the north shore. If you prefer to paddle, encircling Ko Wai in a kayak takes only a couple of hours.

While most visitors hit Ko Wai on a group tour from Ko Chang, nature lovers should settle into a spartan beach bungalow at one of the five small resorts. Electricity is limited a night -- don’t forget that torch.

Mellow out on Ko Mak

Mellow out on Ko Mak

Day 5–6 in Ko Mak

The next stop is Ko Mak, a star-shaped island at the centre of the archipelago. Unlike its two larger neighbours, Ko Chang and Ko Kut, Ko Mak consists mainly of rolling farmland rather than jungle-draped mountains. It’s a fun place to rent a bicycle and take a leisurely spin, stopping to make friends in the cafes and to watch the pineapples, cashews and rubber trees grow.

Ko Mak’s relaxed vibe and close-knit community make it a favourite of long-stay travellers. Small resorts that are ideal for families and couples back the two longest beaches, Ao Kao and Ao Suan Yai, while backpackers often choose the cheap huts on Laem Tukkata Beach. Some of Ko Mak’s beaches have a pinkish hue and, while they’re all lovely, sand flies can be a problem at certain times of year. Ask the locals about them before you nap on the beach.

Kayakers will enjoy paddling out to the five islets found off Ko Mak’s shores. Ko Rayang has a beach to the southwest, and the white sand of Ko Kham is easy to reach off Ao Suan Yai. A little further west, tiny Ko Phi attracts the snorkellers. Then there’s Ko Kradat, a flat island with little more than a coconut farm, a few beaches and a herd of freely roaming deer.

The beauty of Ko Rang

The beauty of Ko Rang

Day 7 in Ko Rang

With no human inhabitation apart from a couple of ranger outposts, Ko Rang and its many offshore islets stand together as the archipelago’s primary diving and snorkelling area. Clear aquamarine water supports staghorn and other coral that teems with angel fish, butterfly fish and barracuda. It is magnificent.

Ko Rang also has terrific white-sand beaches backed by an interior forest that humans never touch. Locals on Ko Mak refer to the island simply as “the marine park,” and while Mu Ko Chang Marine Park covers many other areas as well, it's hardly debatable that Ko Rang is the star of it. A lot of travellers skip Ko Rang if they’ve already been to Ko Wai. That is a big mistake.

Camping may be possible on Ko Rang, but the vast majority of visitors arrive with tour boats or dive boats from Ko Mak, Ko Chang or Ko Kut. Out of those, Ko Mak is the closest and tours from there are usually more relaxing than the Ko Chang-based tour boats, which tend to be larger and more crowded.

Ko Kut’s marvellous beaches

Ko Kut’s marvellous beaches

Day 8–9 in Ko Kut

Why not save the most beautiful island for last? Many of the beaches that rim 111 square-km Ko Kut are not only some of the best that you'll come across in the Ko Chang archipelago; they also rank among the finest beaches found anywhere in Thailand. Calling all sand lovers.

A couple of beauties with solid selections of resorts include centrally located Khlong Chao Beach and Bang Bao Bay with its picturesque piers. Both of these and many others deliver silky white sand, but you can’t go wrong with any beach on Ko Kut and there's not a big difference between them when it comes to the vibe. They’re all quiet and popular with families and honeymooners. Solo travellers might feel out of place in the swankier resorts.

The factors to keep in mind when trying to choose which of Ko Kut's brilliant beaches to stay on are, firstly, what you’re looking for in a resort; and secondly, if you prefer seclusion or being more centrally located. Ko Kut is known for luxury resorts, including several named after characters from Peter Pan. But budget lodgings have also sprouted up as the island has gradually moved away from its roots as a package tour destination in recent years.

Away from the sand, journey into the rugged interior jungle to swim at three different waterfalls and gaze at towering banyan trees that are up to five centuries old. Kayaking is another option, with several mangrove-lined estuaries piercing the interior. For dinner, go for fresh seafood in the fishing villages found at the north and south ends of this fairly large island.

Ko Kut’s few dive outfits run trips to an artificial reef off nearby Ko Raet and down to Ko Rang, among other sites. If you can afford it, set out on a private boat to go beach hunting on Ko Kut's mostly uninhabited east coast.

On the mainland

The piers for Ko Chang and Ko Mak are both situated in Laem Ngop district, while the pier for Ko Kut stands further east in Laem Sok. All of these piers are easy to reach by shared pick-up truck (songthaew) from Trat, the main city in the area. It has plenty of lodgings if you get stuck there for a night or choose to stay and explore the markets and heritage architecture. Trat Airport (TDX) is serviced by Bangkok Airways exclusively. Most visitors arrive by bus.

Trat province borders southwest Cambodia and many travelers keep the beach vibes going by crossing the border at Hat Lek and heading out to Cambodian islands, such as Koh Rong. If you’re travelling west towards Bangkok, consider stopping in Chanthaburi for its old town and temples. You could also detour to Ko Samet, a popular yet pretty island, if heading in that direction.

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