Another Elephant Island in Thailand
The elephant is a central national symbol in Thailand, so it is only fitting that the country has not one or two, but three islands called Elephant Island or Koh Chang. Most people know about the big Koh Chang, Thailand’s third largest island, situated in the Gulf of Thailand not far from neighbouring Cambodia. Also in the Mu Koh Chang National Park just off the northwestern tip of Koh Chang is a small uninhabited island called Little Koh Chang or Koh Chang Noi (Noi meaning small).
Here, however, we will concentrate on the third Elephant Island which is situated in the Andaman Sea between mainland Thailand and the southern tip of Myanmar. This Koh Chang Noi is only now starting to emerge on the radar of the more adventurous travelers.
Area: 18 sq. km² (7 sq. miles)
Location: 20 km southwest off the mainland coast at Ranong
Population: Can’t be many
Weather: Hot and humid – best season weather-wise is November-March
Industries: Rubber, cashew nuts, fishing, tourism
Facilities: Very basic
You will love Koh Chang Noi if you love…
- budget travel
- thick books
Avoid Koh Chang Noi, if you prefer…
- fine dining
- nearby hospital
- swimming pool
- WiFi and connectivity
Arrival at the Koh Chang Noi Southern Pier
We took the little public ferry boat from neighbouring island Koh Phayam. We were the only ones getting off at Koh Chang Noi, while the rest stayed on the boat bound for the pier at the outskirts of Ranong. Our first encounter with Koh Chang Noi says a lot about this island. It must have been low tide, since the tiny arrival pier was well above our heads as we stood on the roof of the ferry. We threw our luggage up onto the pier and hoped that we were able to follow. With a few monkey climbing moves we made it withouth dumping into the water. Koh Chang Noi is not for luggages on wheels, stilettos, and luxury travelers expecting to get pampered.
There was one person on the pier. He had a motorcycle with an attached cart. That was our ride. We rode on a small gravel road through rubber plantations. We had read that there was a village with a supply and snack shop, so when we saw a couple of houses we asked our motorcycle guy to stop, so we could inquire about its whereabouts. Well, that was it. This was that village. And sure enough, there was a small shop with supplies.
“Take us to the best beach”
Take us to the best beach, I told our driver. On all other Thai islands, this would have been a rookie mistake. In local understanding, the best beach usually means the beach with most tourists, the most international fastfood restaurants, and the most fancy tourist facilities. After all, this must be the best beach, since everyone chooses to go here, right! In this particular case it didn’t matter, since the scale of tourism is so small that there are no such places.
The main stretch of beach is called Ao Yai (Big Bay). It is a 3-4 km stretch on the west coast of Koh Chang Noi, separated into two main stretches by a canal flowing to the sea. This is where our driver let us off. We chose to head south. It didn’t take long before we had to practise our balancing skills as we had to tightrope walk on a narrow concrete log that crossed a stream. Some parts of the beach are rocky, while others have green vegetation and trees all the way to the shoreline; since we arrived at high tide.
After a few attempts to find accommodation, we found a simple, but spacious concrete bungalow at a family-run resort called Full Moon Bungalows. Like other small bungalow resorts on this island, facilities are scarce but sufficient if you like it simple, and if you are not afraid of a little wilderness and darkness. You will find most accommodation on the island to be prices from 200 to 500 Thai Bath, probably cheaper if you rent long-term.
Full Moon Bungalows
Speaking of darkness, as I showered that evening, the lights went off just as I had applied shampoo. It was exactly 9 PM. The resort provides electricity from 6-9 PM. After that the island sleeps. Scrambling in the dark, I found a something to dry myself with – hopefully a towel.
The next day we bought some candle lights and match sticks from the small supply shop. We found a rock which we used as our candle light holder. We were prepared for night number two.
Simple facilities in natural surroundings
The wind is you fan, the lukewarm shower water or the sea is your cooler. Beds have mosquito nets and come with clean blankets. The mattresses are the typical budget bungalow types – they are hard. As you are parked in the wilderness, you should expect sounds from the jungle at evening and nighttime. Most likely, you will have a few resident geckos doing their best to keep the insect population in check. We heard of two separate cases of visitors finding snakes in their living quarters.
Some people leave the island after one sleepless night, others come back year after year for extended periods to connect with themselves and nature.
Exploring Koh Chang Noi on foot
During the day we explored the area on foot. The atmosphere on Koh Chang Noi is very relaxed. There is not much activity along the Ao Yai beach stretch. There are no big resorts and no apparent development on the way. You can tell that there are a lot of long-term visitors on the island. There is a community of people who know each other well, and whichever bungalow they are staying at, they have personalised it with their own beach art creations, wall paintings, and hammocks.
There are a few beach bars and restaurants. The small resorts serve Thai and a few Western dishes at prices below 100 Thai Bath per serving. If you want Italian, you can visit Little Italy and try their stone oven pizzas. If you want vegetarian food, try Crocodile Rock’s restaurant on the rocky southern end of Ao Yai. The village shop has daily necessities, snacks, and fruits. This is where you get your mosquito coils, tissue paper, and shampoo.
In the evening we visited the Tsunami Bar in the southern end of Ao Yai. This is a “cast-away” bar decorated with driftwood, old fishing gear, and sea debris. We were three customers during the two hours we spent there, but the cocktails were superb.
The beaches of Koh Chang Noi
The beaches have smooth sand. The sand is mostly light brown and yellow with pads of black sand in between. The width of the beach is very tide dependent. You will find plentiful natural shade from casuarina trees and other vegetation at the beaches. When we visited in March, the water was clear and suitable for swimming and snorkeling. There are rocky areas along some stretches, but you can easily avoid these by taking a short walk to a sandier stretch.
The beauty of the beaches may not live up to that of nearby Koh Phayam, but that may just be one of the reasons that Koh Chang Noi is still as pristine and relaxed as it is.
Some further readings on Koh Chang Noi (Andaman Sea / Ranong)
There are not many resources on Koh Chang Noi, but the ones that are, are superb.
Tezza’s Beaches & Islands
Tezza takes us through his personal encounters with Koh Chang Noi with detailed descriptions of accommodation and restaurant options, various beaches, and general information. Tezza’s accounts of (mostly) Thai islands and beaches are some of the best and most insightful out there.
The Koh Chang Noi section from t-GLOBE has great maps of beaches and accommodations on the island, along with area descriptions.
Read this for a quick overview of what you can expect to experience on Koh Chang Noi. As usual, Travelfish provides great info on accommodation, restaurants, getting there and away, and the overall vibe of the island.