by Bianca Ohannessian
Travel to Koh Chang in Thailand and you’ll be met by a magnificent tropical island of towering jungle hills and a selection of beautiful beach towns running along its west coast. About an hour’s taxi ride from the port sits the lovely Lonely Beach.
Despite its name, Lonely Beach is one of the island’s most sociable areas. Known as the “backpacker beach”, it attracts a mixed crowd of free spirits from around the world that have found their new happy place.
Its position near both the Thai and Cambodian shorelines means that it is tucked away off the direct route of the tourist trail that leads holidaymakers down towards the southern islands. Koh Chang is a bit less commercial, a bit more chilled but also has its fair share of fun and adventure to offer.
Whether you’re into wreck dives, waterfalls or simply watching the world go by, you’ll find lots to keep you busy here (and plenty to keep you lazy too).
Kayak to a deserted island
Discover your own deserted islands just off the west coast. You can see them as you look out from Lonely Beach, backlit by a pink sky with the sun setting behind them, calling out to you. “Kayak over to me…” they say. “Let’s hang out…” they say. So there’s only one thing to do; grab a kayak and start exploring. Well, it would be rude not to.
Depending on how fast you paddle, you could reach the nearest one, Koh Man Nai, in around 30-40 minutes on a calm day. You can also launch your kayak from the neighbouring Kai Bae Beach, which is a bit closer.
When you reach the island, you’ll see a small sandy beach framed by coconut trees and backed by tropical jungle growth. You can just pull your kayaks onto the sand, take a look around and admire the wonderful views back out towards Koh Chang. And if you’ve got a spare $1,800,000 you can buy the whole island for yourself – its currently up for sale!
Tip: Take a picnic and make a day of it
Go chasing waterfalls
Koh Chang is a vast island with lots of thick jungle, waterfalls and other natural beauty to explore. Large areas are protected as part of the island’s National Park making them easily accessible. You’ll also find lots of tours available if you want a guided hike or ATV drive through the trees.
Klong Plu is one of the most spectacular waterfalls on the island. Around 20 minutes away from Lonely beach by car or bike, it’s an easy day trip. The best time to go is around rainy season when the cascading water flow will be at its strongest.
It takes about 15 minutes to walk down to the bottom of Klong Plu, which is accompanied by plunge pools that you can swim in. There are several other waterfalls in the area too, as well as clearly marked trails for you to follow.
Tip: Bring a bikini or shorts and take a dip in the natural pools
A wreck dive to remember
All aboard the HTMS Chang, the largest wreck in Thailand. It’s one of two shipwrecks sunk specifically for diving around the coast of Koh Chang.
Certified scuba divers can explore the 100 metre-long navy ship up to depths of around 30 metres. Swim through the corridors, cabins and the engine room, alongside vibrantly coloured fish and maybe even the odd whale shark or two. Try a night dive to make it even more thrilling.
Unlike many other wreck dive sites, HTMS Chang was not sunk under unfortunate circumstances but represents something more positive. In an effort to combat a bout of coral bleaching and give the local marine life a new place to hang out, as well as give visitors a great diving experience, the ship was towed to the island and submerged in the sea. The artificial reef is now thriving and even has its own Facebook page.
Beachside activities at sunset
One way to unwind after all that adventure is to stretch out with a yoga class. Smoothie bar Aire organises regular morning classes as well as private sessions at sunset. They provide the mats, so all you need to bring is comfortable clothing and a willingness to connect with your inner zen.
The Lonely Beach sunsets are truly spectacular, so whether you’re practicing your plank or just chilling on the sand with a cold drink, head to the beachfront around 6pm to see the sky change into glorious shades of pink and orange. Or rent a stand-up paddle board and witness the sunset colours as you glide along the sea.
Tip: Try Aire’s tropical smoothie bowls after your yoga class
Laid-back bars and open mics
Need a break from the beach? Take the 10 minute walk into town and transport yourself back to the 1970s. Lonely Beach’s laid-back bar scene includes colourful wooden shacks. They’ve been given a rock ‘n’ roll twist with music memorabilia and song lyrics decorating every wall, from legends such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.
The tunes match the decor, with rock and indie classics making a refreshing change if you want something different to the EDM in the other bars. Most have a menu full of delicious Thai dishes to compliment their cocktail list and beers, so it’s quite easy to find yourself settled into a pile of cushions for several hours.
A lot of the bars have live music performed by long-haired locals with 70s moustaches and vintage T-shirts. They also welcome visitors to join them on stage for spontaneous open mic sets.
Tip: Check out Joy Cottage, Stone Free and Margaritaville
Follow @rockskippers on Instagram for more beachy photography