As Ko Chang island is fast becoming the target of many tourists and I received quite a few requests to write an article about it, I decided to write a general article about this island at this time, and elaborate more about it in a different article later on.
Generally speaking, as Ko Chang island is undergoing a fast development period nowadays, I prefer to visit it again, in order to write an updated article about it.
I visited Ko Chang a number of times in the past few years. You will find my opinion about the island, based on these visits, at the end of this article.
Some background on the island: Ko Chang, (the elephant island), is the second-largest island in Thailand, (only Phuket is bigger than Ko Chang island). The island is located in Trat province about a 6-hour drive from Bangkok. It is estimated that 5000 people leave on it in a few villages found mainly on its east side which is not a tourist area.
The island, which not long ago was the target of backpackers and had only simple huts, is fast-changing and many resorts are being built on it.
At this point in time, the island is still relaxing so anyone interested in visiting it is better off doing it soon before the island becomes as crowded as Phuket and Ko Sumoi.
Ko Chang Geography: the island is mostly a combination of mountains and forests. There is a single circular road along the beaches. Despite its size there are only a few beaches on the island. Most of the beaches are rocky and the sandy beaches are mainly found on the island’s west coast.
This is the place to warn you that the circular road, (which can be seen in the picture), can be very steep and narrow with dangerous curves at times so it is not especially recommended to anyone… not even to those who want to exercise their driving in Thailand!!!
For this reason, most of the resorts are located on the island’s west coast and this is the part of the island where most tourists visit. You will hardly see any tourist on the island’s east coast, the side facing the main land. The east coast is slowly developing and mostly targets the local people.
The beaches: there are a number of beaches on the island’s west coast. The central most visited beach is White Sand, (Had Sai Khao). This beach is the first beach you will see when you arrive on the ferry and drive south on the island’s west coast.
The beaches in White sand are considered the best on the island but I would say that in comparison to other beaches in Thailand, such as Hua Hin, Koh Lhak and other islands beaches they are mediocre.
On this beach, there are many resorts, shops, massages, etc. This is the most vibrant beach in Ko Chang, but it is not as good as other beaches, beginning with the high quality ones such as Koh Lak and Hua Hin and ending with the lower quality beaches – Chaweng beach in Ko Sumoi or Patong beach in Phuket.
During the evening you can see a fire show and there are a number of pubs or you can enjoy dinner on the beach at one of the resorts. It is nice but not unusual.
Even on the White Sand beach, there is not much to do during the evening. You can sit on the beach, walk around a little or go to one of the simple pubs along the main street (which is the only street).
Down the road to the south, you can find other beaches. The next beach on your way is Klong Prao beach – looks much like White Sand beach but a little less developed. On your way south you will find Kai Bae beach and after it Tha Nam beach which is also known as Lonely beach. The famous Lonely beach is not lonely for many years now. This is the beach where young tourist go and it has plenty of cheap resorts. The beach itself is rocky but the parties during the night probably make up for it.
You can travel from beach to beach in a Songato, which is basically a kind of a pickup truck going back and forth on the circular road, (their drivers can be pretty wild at times), beginning at the ferry stop and all the way up to the island’s south coast. The tickets cost 50-100 Baht depending on how far you want to go.
Bang Bao Bay: you can’t write about Ko Chang without mentioning one of its greatest attractions – Bang Bao bay and the fisherman village there, baring the same name.
Bang Bao bay is located on the south end of Ko Chang west coast. It is situated at the beginning point of the different agency tours – fishing, snorkeling, visiting other islands. There is a long pier there going into the bay and at its end you will find a lighthouse.
There are many buildings on both sides of the pier, built on posts on the sea. You will find a lot of shops, travel agencies, plenty of restaurants and guesthouses for overnight stay.
Ko Chang attractions: It is hard to say that there are plenty of attractions on Ko Chang. Nowadays you can find zip lines from tree to tree like the ones you can find in Chiang Mai area and in Chonburi province. I did not visit there and hope that next time I’ll be there I can look into that and write about it.
In addition, there are mountain tours and tracks as well as some waterfalls on the island. The waterfalls are not as impressing as Arawan waterfalls at Chonburi or Pala-U waterfalls at Hua Hin area.
Apart from that you can also take a fishing boat or a snorkeling cruise and visit the nearby islands – which I did but found it mediocre and not half as good as similar attractions in south Thailand. My feeling is that the attractions you can find on Ko Chang are not so great – a small stream is called a waterfall and a few small fish are considered snorkeling. In other words, the attractions at Ko Chang are simply not the best.
Summary: Ko Chang is a nice island, it is very quiet in comparison to other crowded islands such as Ko Sumoi or Phuket.
How to get to Ko Chang: there are a few ways to get to Ko Chang. The simple way is to take a van from the Bangkok Central Van Station. There is one leaving every hour on the hour, not far from Victory Monument in the center of Bangkok.
If you are driving to the island, you can easily take a ferry, (with your car), from one of the piers. The best pier is Tammachat, which is the nearest to the island, so that the ferry is short, only 25 minutes.
Recommendations and Conclusions: As I wrote in the beginning of this article, here are my recommendations and conclusions from many visits to Ko Chang. I must say this is my personal opinion after comparing Ko Chang to other beaches and resort areas and Islands I have been to.
By itself, Ko Chang island is OK. The beaches, even its best beach, White Sand, are mediocre. They are not as good as you can find on other islands and cannot even begin to be compared to resorts such as Koh Lak or Hua Hin or the wonderful beaches you can find in Krabi and other places in southern Thailand. Ko Chang nature is pretty but not as breathtaking as in Krabi and other islands in south Thailand. You won’t find good quality on Ko Chang as found in other islands and resorts such as Hua Hin or Koh Lak and the nightlife are also not as good as in these two places. The number of attractions on the island is limited and there is not much to do there.
The island has two significant disadvantages:
• The long travel to it – it is more than 6 hours each way from Bangkok without considering the way to the pick-up location and the drive from the ferry to the resort – in short, it takes almost a day each way! To those driving to the island, it’s a boring drive with no attractions on the way, (apart from Chantaburi Cathedral).
• Prices – in my opinion the resorts and hotels there charge much more than you’d expect. Places such as Ko Sumoi and Phuket have turned into a money machine after they have been developed but in Ko Chang this has happened even before development has reached its full extension.

Summary of my recommendations and conclusions: I emphasize again, this in my own personal opinion – if Ko Chang was a couple of hours drive from Bangkok – it would have been an island worth traveling to for a short holiday. The thing is that spending 12-15 hours on the way for a short holiday – is not worth it and for a long holiday – the island does not have sufficient qualities, attractions and activities to justify such a holiday and that even before considering the high resort prices. It’s possible that Ko Chang can replace Ko Sumoi, especially for tourists who do not consider nightlife as important.
Those of you who simply want a good quality holiday with wonderful beaches and lots of attractions – Hua Hin is much closer to Bangkok and offers much better beaches, magnificent wild nature, and many attractions. If you are willing to do the long travel – you are much better off choosing south Thailand – Krabi, Koh Lak and other places which surpass Ko Chang in every possible way you can think of.

Note: During some month the quantity of rain in Ko Chang is the biggest in Thailand – 1000 mm a month.

Ban Sao Nak is an impressive teak-wood structure on pillars, which is more than 100 years old. The house was built in 1985, and today serves as a museum exhibiting many products that provide a glimpse into the local life and culture of the time.

Ban Sao Nak means the house on many pillars; the building integrates Lanna and Burmese styles as the house is made entirely of teak wood and its foundations and roof are supported by 116 pillars.

The terrace design is Burmese and the roof as well as the rest of the structure are Lanna styled.

 

 

 

The structure was built back in the days of king Rama 5 by a wealthy Burmese merchant named Maung Chan Ong. Today, it functions as a private museum that educates visitors of the local art and culture that was typical of the time.  

 

 

 

 

Inside the structure you’ll find various exhibits representing the time – ceramics, furniture, pictures, tools, fabrics and more.

In the entrance to the main building there’s a lovely little garden along with a smaller structure that once served as a barn. In between the wooden pillars supporting the house, there are carriages of the time.

 

 

 

Lampang – Ban Sao Nak  – Thailand

Dr. David

The Golden Triangle is located in the northern part of Chiang Rai. This is where the borders of 3 countries meet – Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma); it is known to locals as “Sop Ruak”, as this is also the meeting point of 2 rivers: the first, Ruak, separates Thailand from Myanmar (Burma) and pours into Mae Kong river.

A long time ago, the area was famous for its opium crops, the production and distribution by the villagers to western countries. However, due to the royal family and Thai government’s operations, this is all in the distant past. The only link to opium that remains is 2 museums.

Many tourists visit the Golden Triangle, particularly in organized day trips. Personally, I prefer other locations in Thailand – and specifically the north – that are more to my liking. However, I would describe the area as follows:

Some 15 minuets from a small town called Chiang Saen, there are few local attractions: a temple on the river, a nearby market and small park overlooking the area, 2 opium museums and a pier, from which you can take a longtail boat for a short river cruise and a visit to the market located on an island – which formally belongs to Laos.

 

 

Most tourists (many Chinese) visit the exact same places and I will elaborate on that:

Large Golden Buddha Statue – located on the riverbank, sitting on a boat, and next to it 2 giant elephant statues. The site features a small market, souvenir stalls, small coffee shops and food stands. Next to it there are piers, from which you sail across the river and of course, to the market in” Laos” that I will describe later on.

Opium Museums – the large, impressive museum is called Hall of Opium and the small one is called House of Opium”. Both museums provide a glimpse into the history of the local opium industry, display processing and smoking tools and offer information on the dangers of drug addiction and the suffering of addicts.

The “Laos” Market – In the Mae Mae Kong river, on a small island called “Don Sao”, there’s a small market which mostly offers knickknacks, cigarette packs and the local highlight – alcohol bottles with snakes and/or scorpions that you can taste if you’d like. While the island officially belongs to Laos, there’s no need of visa/passport to visit there.

Wat Phatat Sam Mum Muang – if you are already in the area, I highly recommend visiting the small temple that offers a lovely viewpoint of the Golden Triangle area, and the meeting point of Ruak and Mekong rivers.

Lodging: most tourists who arrive to this area belong to organized groups and are here on their day-tours from Chiang Rai. There are few hotels of various classes in the area, including humble lodgings and guesthouses in the nearby town of Chiang Saen, on the riverbank.

My Opinion: I’ve been to more interesting spots and impressive locations in the north and of course other parts of Thailand.

Conclusion: The Golden Triangle is an area in Chiang Rai where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Many years ago, the area was famous for the opium crops industry, but nowadays its only link to opium is thematic museums. There’s a market and some landscape – but I’ve seen better in the north – in this day-tour destination.

Please note: I’ve intentionally excluded the Golden Triangle area from our private luxury tour plans to northern Thailand, but if you’d like to visit there, I can easily combine it in Chiang Rai tour plans.

 

Chiang Mai, which is also called “The rose of the North” is the fifth largest city in Thailand. Its atmosphere is cosmopolitan, lively and bubbly and it is often used as a base from which tourists venture to explore the north. The city is located on a plain, some 300 meters above the sea level, surrounded by mountains. Chiang Mae functions as the gate to northern Thailand with an international airport, and millions of incoming tourists every year.

Chiang Mae means ‘the new city’. It was built in 1296 and previously known as the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. The original city was crowned by a wall and a canal (moat), whose relics can still be seen today. Up until the early 19th century, it took a long, tedious river cruise (on Ping river) or elephant ride to get to the city.

 

A lot has changed since then and the city has evolved and grown towards all directions. It became cosmopolitan, lively and colorful, and now features multiple markets, several shopping centers and lively, bubbly nightlife. The recent years also saw a significant – and sometimes wild – building wave, and the enhanced development also brought various implications – traffic jams, air pollution etc.

Inside and around Chiang Mae city there’s much to see and do, and I don’t presume to cover all the options. Rather, I’d like to briefly review a few famous attractions in the city and its surroundings – and more material will be added here in the future.

 

 

 

Nimman Rd.

Its full name is Nimmanhemin, but almost everyone refers to it as Nimman Rd. The street and alleys branching out of it have rapidly evolved over recent years, and the entire area is now modern, trendy and stylish. Many universities are located here which also contributed significantly to the area’s development.

An extended review of Nimman Rd. will be posted soon.

My Opinion: Nimman area provides a different view of the city, which I personally like. It’s different than the sight of multiple hotels next to each other, all near the night bazaar and in the old town area. Another bonus point for Nimman, is that the area is close to Chiang Mae’s international airport.

 

Chiang Mae Markets

Chiang Mae night bazaar has gained much fame, and I’ve already heard some stories about families that just landed in the city after a long flight, immediately checked in the hotel and left their luggage there, and ran to the night bazaar right away. Well, personally I think this is one of the disappointing night bazaars you can find in Thailand so don’t get your hopes up.

An extended review of Chiang Mae night bazaar will be posted soon.

My Opinion: a tacky, disappointing market with nothing special to offer; the commodity is low quality, redundant and common and the atmosphere is hardly unique or even pleasant. Across Thailand – and in Chiang Mae – you’ll find much better markets elsewhere!!

 

 

Sunday Market is in the old city area, and it stretches from Tha Pae Gate to Wat Phra Singh, along Ratchadamnoen Road and the nearby streets (a very large area). On Sunday, the entire area is closed for vehicles, so this is a real walking street.

An extended review of the Sunday Market will be posted soon.

My Opinion: a lovely, bubbly, entertaining market but sometimes overcrowded and too large for visitors. Still, if you happen to be in Chiang Mae on Sunday – don’t miss it!!

 

Saturday Market is also known as Wui Lai market or Saturday Walking Street. This is the ‘little brother’ of Sunday market; it resembles the larger market in its atmosphere and ‘character’ but it is much smaller and less crowded. Here too, you’ll find souvenirs of mountain tribes etc., but also local designer clothes, handicrafts and arts, and of course, many food and drink stalls alongside coffee shops. The Saturday market is located south west of the old town (Chiang Mai Gate) and on Wui Lai Rd.

An extended review of the Saturday Market will be posted soon.

My Opinion: both the Sunday and Saturday markets are great, pleasant and fun, so it’s hard to pick between the two. If you prefer a smaller, less crowded market – you should visit the Saturday market.

 

Warorot Market is the place for you if you’d like to get a real sense of Chiang Mae as a city, not just a tourist destination. The market is famous and well known to locals, and set at the heart of the Chinese quarter, a short walk away from the night bazaar and next to the river. The market is also called Kad Luang, which means “the big market” in the Lanna language.

An extended review of Warorot Market will be posted soon.

My Opinion: Unique, interesting and worth your time, if you’d like to experience the authentic, un-toured Thailand.

 

Evening Shows and Attractions for Tourists

Kanthoke Dinner Show is a local folklore experience for travelers, which includes a dance show of the northern tribes followed by a nice dinner.

There are several companies that offer a similar experience and the price usually includes transportation from and to your hotel. When it comes to the site I visited, the dinner was reasonable, and so was the show. It was nothing special or spectacular, but it was nice – certainly if your expectations aren’t too high.

 

 

 

An extended review of Kanthoke Dinner Show will be posted soon.

My Opinion: a nice, heavily toured experience, which you will enjoy – certainly if you have nothing special to do during the evening.

 

 

 

Around Chiang Mae City

Doi Suthep temple is a very impressive site, overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, and one of the most sacred temples in northern Thailand. The temple is very close to the Suthep mountain top, some 15 km west of Chiang Mai. A winding road will bring you to the foot of the temple; from there, it’s possible to climb up 300 stairs (if you insist) – but fear not – we will use an elevator/cable car which will take you up to the highest level where the temple is located.

An extended review of the temple will be posted soon.

My Opinion: The place is recommended to temple lovers AND those who aren’t temple enthusiasts. The visit in this beautiful, colorful site will take you about an hour– including an overview of the city Chiang Mai- will appeal to kids and adults alike.

 

 

Paper Umbrellas and Handicrafts Villagessome 13 km east of Chiang Mai city, you’ll find Bo Sang & Sankampaeng Villages – the center for the famous, local handicrafts of the area. In these villages, you can visit a wide variety of handicraft factories and shops – paper umbrellas/parasols, hand-held fans, carved wood, silk, gems, ceramics, bronze etc. The area is rather commercialized, yet offers a nice experience – especially for kids.

An extended review of the site is available here => click the link

My opinion: the place is commercialized and packed full of tourists, but it’s still a lovely attraction, so you should stop there for a short visit, especially for the kids.

 

 

Sankampaeng Hot Springs

A short ride past the Paper Umbrellas and Handicrafts Villages, you’ll find Sankampaeng hot springs. There’s not too much to say about this place: it’s just a display of water jet streams bursting out of some tubes; a few canals to dip your feet in, and a mediocre swimming pool – you’ll find nicer pools in average, 3-star hotels.

An extended review of the site is available here => click the link

My Opinion: boring and redundant, don’t waste your time!!

Mae Tang is a district in Chiang Mae province, about an hour and a half away from Chiang Mai city. On its western side, Mae Tang borders with Pai (which belongs to Mae Hong Son province) and the road leading to the town of Pai. On its northern side, Mae Tang borders with Chiang Dao district and the way leading north towards Chiang Rai.

The excellent geographical location of Mae Tang area, it’s various attractions and diverse activities, make it a significant point in all our luxury tour routes through northern Thailand. Therefore, I’ve chosen Mae Tang as the branching spot for these routes.

 

 

After you’ve enjoyed various attractions and fun activities in the area, and stayed in a lovely local resort – you can either continue your journey to the north through Chiang Dao and up to Chiang Rai, or head west towards the lovely town of Pai and then continue to Mae Hong Son – while exploring wonderful sites along the way and in the region, including UNSEEN, unique places.

Most of the tourist activities in Chiang Mae area are based in Taeng Mae and its vicinity – many elephant farms, zip lines, rafting, ATV tours and more; everything is available in a rather small area.

 

 

 

Unfortunately, you’ll also find here extremely commercialized sites with a disgraceful exploitation of elephants, animal shows of all sorts, ox carriages etc. – that I strongly recommend you avoid.

An important note: animal shows and commercialized animal-related activities are excluded from our private luxury tours across Thailand. We refuse to include commercialized animal shows, as we believe that animals belong in their natural habitat or in decent farms where they are treated and rehabilitated appropriately. We make sure to double check every site that involves animals, while consulting authorized professionals in the area.

Here is a brief summary of the main attractions and activities in Mae Taeng area

Various activities in Mae Taeng area:

Elephant rides and horse carriages

This poor “attraction” refers to 2-3 local ‘factories’ for elephant rides and ox carriages, ‘entertaining’ hundreds and possibly thousands of tourists who come here as part of their travels or day-tours. They come in dozens of busses, and the poor elephants must constantly carry a heavy bench on their backs to ‘entertain’ them, as the tourists sit on the animal’s back and go for a ride. The site features a wooden ramp that stands between the “elephant riding industry” and the “ox carriage industry”. In between, there are also “elephant shows” presenting “drawing elephants” etc.

In my opinion, such activities pertain to the poorest part of the “tourism industry” and I pity the poor animals and tourists who spend their time on this redundant ‘attraction’. When I inquired on site why do so many tourists come here, I found out that this is simply the cheapest activity in the area, and that high commissions are given to those who bring the tourists to the site.

My Opinion: a poor experience that I suggest you avoid.

Such activities are excluded from our luxury tour plans.

ATV Tours

This area features many companies that provide ATV tours, but the quality of equipment, safety procedures and standards may vary from one company to another, and the tour routes are different too. The season is also a factor you should consider as not all seasons are suitable for the ATV experience.

  • To read an extended review and watch a clip about ATV tours follow this link => to be posted soon

My Opinion: a great experience if your visit takes place in a suitable season, and you have chosen a good route and a decent, reliable company to provide the tour.

A quality ATV tour is included as part of our private luxury tour plans in the north of Thailand, without any extra charge.  

 

Zip-Lines

Here too, the route location, quality and safety varies from one company to another, so make sure you are using a reliable, organized company with quality equipment and properly trained, experienced instructors that guide you.

  • To watch a clip about the ziplines that I’ve taken follow this link => click and watch

My Opinion: an excellent and fun experience.

Quality zip-lines are included as part of our private luxury tour plans in the north of Thailand, without any extra charge.  

Rafting

The local rafting experience depends on picking the right company – since Mae Taeng area is packed full of tourists, many companies provide similar services and activities. Some of them are hardly professional and offer low prices – so don’t be tempted by their cheap deals. In our tours, we’ve picked a high quality, experienced company with a good reputation, high quality equipment and most of all – qualified, trained and experienced guides with international rafting certificates – certainly don’t settle on this factor and consider the season; there is a big difference in rafting during different times of the year.

My opinion: a great experience if you choose a good, reliable company, in the right season.

  • To read an extended review of rafting and watch a clip about it, follow this link => click here

♥ Rafting is included in our private quality tours to northern Thailand without any extra cost.

“Being Mahout for a day” is a positive elephant experience, that distinctly contrasts the negative elephant rides/ox carriages industry that I mentioned earlier. As I wrote in the introduction – you can find decent, worthy elephant farms that care for the animals, and here I’d like to suggest this lovely activity with elephants – “Being Mahout for a day”.

  • To watch a clip of the unique elephant experience which I’ve taken on site, => click the link.

My Opinion: a unique, exciting and fun experience.

You can enjoy the experience as part of our private luxury tour plans in the north of Thailand.

 

Attractions in Mae Taeng area

Ban Den Temple

You don’t have to be a temple enthusiast to fall for this wonderful place, that seems to come out of a Disney animated movie.

  • To read an extended review of Ban Den and watch a clip about it, follow this link => click here

My Opinion: a unique, magical place. Don’t miss it!!!

♥ Ban Den is included in our private quality tours to northern Thailand.

 

“The Geyser”

“The Geyser”, or in its full name Pong Dueat Hot Spring, somehow became famous, from a reason that’s certainly a mystery to me. I find this ‘attraction’ very mediocre and redundant.

My opinion: a mediocre attraction; certainly not worth a special trip to the place.

  • To read an extended review of the ‘Geyser’ and watch a clip about it, follow this link => click here

♥ The site is not included in our private quality tours to northern Thailand because of its mediocre quality, but since our tour route to Mae Hong Son passes close by, we will stop there, if you still wish to do so.

 

Mork Fa waterfall

This attraction is located on the way from Mae Taeng to the town of Pai in Mae Hong Son. The waterfall is not particularly high or large, but certainly impressive and beautiful; it is one of the finest, most pleasant waterfalls in northern Thailand.

Mork Fa waterfall have several advantages beyond their natural beauty – easy arrival, comfortable bathing possibilities (remember to bring your bathing suits and towels) and most importantly – a waterflow that persists throughout the year, even during the hot, dry months, in the unpleasant weather conditions of the northern summer.

My opinion: among the most beautiful and pleasant waterfalls in the north. Highly recommended!!

  • To read an extended review of the Mork Fa waterfall and watch a clip about it, follow this link => click here

♥ Visiting and bathing in Mork Fa waterfall is included in our private luxury tour plans in northern Thailand, as part of the Pai and Mae Hong Son route.

 

Resorts and restaurants in the area

To complete the luxury tour experience, you’ll need an excellent resort as well as quality restaurants, that are clean, hospitable, and offer rich, diverse and delicious cuisines. Thus, we have ‘scanned’ and searched thoroughly across the area, to find the best resorts and restaurants for our travelers. I’m happy to say that we have succeeded.

The resort in Mae Taeng area which was chosen to host our travelers after an eventful day of fun and excitement is an excellent place. We visited there several times, and I am positive that you’ll love it as I do.

As for restaurants – it’s not always easy to find a good, decent place to eat in rural and village areas, but I’m happy to say we’ve succeeded in that as well. We found a beautiful, clean restaurant with a delicious, rich and diverse menu.

 

Dr. David