Swimming counter-clockwise from where our Koh Chang snorkeling boat was anchored, we reached the far side of the small, rocky island. There was no one else around, except for the fish that idly swam a few feet below us, always just out of reach. The sun made its first appearance of the day and illuminated the sea floor in a spectrum of vibrant colors. Coral glowed neon blue, purple anemone swayed on the current and bright butterflyfish and brilliant parrotfish vied for our attention.
Further ahead of us, what looked like a murky shadow emerged as a dense school of fish. Hundreds – if not thousands – of foot-long, yellow-spotted, silver fish moved synchronously in rhythm with the soothing tide. We chased after them, marveling at their effortless ability to travel in perfect formation. Watching the massive school of fish was the pinnacle of the day; a day that had started quite grim.
A Trip to Koh Chang, Thailand
After a week in hot and humid Bangkok, we were ecstatic to be spending time on a Koh Chang beach. We weren’t looking for a long list of things to do in Koh Chang: we simply wanted to soak up the sun, swim in the sea and put our feet in the sand. It wasn’t until after we saw how clear the water was that we decided to take a Koh Chang snorkeling tour. There was just one catch: our Koh Chang trip was during the ‘Rainy Season’ – and we were in no way prepared for just how dismal the weather would be.
Koh Chang Rainy Season
Our first day on the island was full of sunshine, but on the second day it started to rain…and rain…and rain. Ponchos and umbrellas became the hottest souvenirs and the main road flooded with each downpour. Regardless of the foul weather, each morning we watched truckloads of tourists depart on Koh Chang tours. A 90% chance of rain was looming on the forecast for the remainder of our stay, but since we weren’t interested in indoor Koh Chang activities (and we’re not even sure there are any!), we went ahead with our plans and booked a Koh Chang boat trip…and wondered what it was going to be like to go snorkeling in the rain.
Sattra Tour Koh Chang
The most popular and inexpensive option for snorkeling Koh Chang is the Sattra Tour. With a price of just 500 baht ($15 USD) – plus an additional 200 baht ($6 USD) to enter the National Park – it is one of the most affordable Koh Chang excursions. The Sattra tour is offered at most hotels and travel agencies – and we found the best price for the boat trip in Kai Bae at the small excursion hut next to the all-you-can-eat buffet. The full-day adventure departs Bang Bao, Koh Chang and makes swimming stops at four islands near Koh Chang: Koh Yak Yai, Koh Rang, Koh Yak Lek and Koh Wai.
Koh Chang Snorkeling Review
There are multiple boats in the Sattra Tour fleet – and the one we were on was large, slow and – surprisingly – near capacity. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who were willing to get rained on while snorkeling in Koh Chang. In fact, even as we were loaded onto the ship and the rain pelted us from a dark, foreboding sky, the mood amongst the passengers was jovial. Without much instruction, the relaxed crew prepared the boat for the day’s outing and soon enough we headed out to sea.
Moments after getting underway, the crew handed out motion sickness tablets – and we were bewildered by the number of people who so eagerly swallowed the pills. The boat cleared the protection of the harbor and in the open sea both the rain and rolling swell steadily grew more intense. The cheerful vibe completely vanished. Passengers sat slumped in their chairs and the crew reappeared with plastic bags for those who were feeling ill. We kept our eyes on the horizon and did our best to block out the unpleasant sounds of the seasick voyagers.
Koh Yak Yai
After what seemed an eternity, we arrived at Koh Yak Yai (so aptly named under the circumstances). More of an islet than an island with only a narrow swimming area roped off, we were bemused that the ‘island’ was the first stop on our Thailand 4 island tour. However, despite the slight let down – and continued showers – we couldn’t wait to get off the Barf Barge. We were the first to jump in the water from the bow of the ship.
The snorkeling gear was in remarkably good condition (well, at least considering the price of admission). We adjusted our masks and tubes and reveled in the sights – and, particularly, the sounds – of the sea. We had feared the stormy weather would have clouded the water, but it was, in fact, quite clear and there was much more to see than we anticipated. We spent the entire 45 minutes with our faces in the water watching the sea life swim by – and we were the last to climb aboard when time was up.
Meanwhile, on the ship they had prepared a simple buffet lunch of traditional, yet basic, Thai dishes: a spicy potato curry, chicken pad Thai and chicken fried rice. Still dripping wet, we stood in line for a plateful and the boat motored to the second island, Koh Rang.
We arrived at Koh Rang before we had even finished our lunch – Rang Beach is less than a mile from Koh Yak Yai. We hurriedly slurped up the rest of our noodles as the crew lowered a slide from the side of the boat. With snorkel gear in hand, I zipped down the slide and squealed like a child as I flew off the end into the water. A larger island sat just south of where we anchored, so rather than heading for Rang Beach, we swam to it to investigate what sea creatures might be living around the island. Unfortunately, there weren’t many and the current at the south end of the island made it much more difficult to swim.
We retreated to Koh Rang Beach – which is home to the Koh Rang National Park Ranger Station. The sand was fine and clean and, for just a moment, the rain stopped. We lounged on the beach digging our feet into the sand and watching large sand crabs dive into holes.
Koh Yak Lek
The third island on our Koh Chang snorkeling trip, Koh Yak Lek, was larger than the first, but not by much. Even though it had started raining we were quickly in the water and happily snorkeling in the rain – a truly unique sensation. We swam away from the boat toward the back of the island where we knew not many of the other passengers would venture.
In the solitude, we were astounded by the abundance of fish and marine life. And, that’s when we encountered the enormous school of fish. We also spotted a family of swimming squid, a long, black eel, parrotfish that were two-feet long and massive, multicolored sea clams that snapped their shells shut when they sensed our approach. The stop on Koh Yak Lek alone was worth the trip – and we would have been content if it was the only stop on our Koh Chang boat trip.
Koh Wai is a larger island, about halfway between Koh Rang and Koh Chang, and the last stop on our 4-island tour in Thailand. The rustic island has a somewhat dilapidated ‘resort’ consisting of a cluster of small cabins on the beach. We were told that Koh Wai snorkeling was some of the best in the region, but when we peered into the water, we were disappointed in the water clarity. We could barely see our hands through the turbid water. Whether due to the sand, the storms or pollution, the limited clarity did not lend to fish spotting. Instead, we bobbed – with our heads above water – until they called us back to the boat.
Back to Koh Chang
The ride back to Koh Chang was substantially smoother than the ride out (but not void of seasick passengers). The crew served fresh fruit and spicy chicken kabobs. We bought a couple beers to go with the food and listened to Bob Marley crackling through the speakers on the relaxing ride back to Koh Chang.
Final Thoughts on Snorkeling Koh Chang, Thailand
Although the boat trip started out disastrously, once we were in the water we were quite impressed by the viewable sea life. The small islands (first and third stops) were spectacular for snorkeling, which isn’t always the case when islands are frequented by so many visitors. We didn’t have high hopes for Koh Chang snorkeling (given the weather), but overall, we were pleased with the trip – especially for the price. But, it’s perhaps, best to properly set expectations for this type of tour before signing up to go.
The boat trip is designed to accommodate as many passengers as possible – which is what keeps the cost affordable – and the crew worked efficiently to disperse gear, meals and snacks. The food was decent and the crew was hard-working. Despite the lack of provided itinerary, the friendly staff answered any questions we had. They also were prepared and quick to respond to ill guests.
Koh Chang Map: 4 Islands Snorkeling Tour
We want to know: Have you taken a snorkeling trip in Koh Chang? What was your experience? Tell us in the comment section below!
More Koh Chang Things To Do
Koh Chang Diving
For those who want to dive deeper into sea life, there are Koh Chang Diving Tours. The companies will even teach and certify novice divers and then proceed to several small islands near Koh Chang for additonal dives. Check out these diving tours for your trip to Koh Chang.
Koh Chang Tours
There are several tours for popular activities in Koh Chang. Trekking to waterfalls, bird watching and fishing excursions can all be booked through hotels or with tourist agencies. There are also elephant camps on the island (Koh Chang translates to Elephant Island, after all!), but we recommend researching treatment of animals before participating.
Many of the beachfront resorts offer kayak rentals. We rented a kayak for a half day (300 baht / $9 USD) and paddled around the offshore islands…in the rain. (Did I mention we visited in Rainy Season?!)
During our Koh Chang trip, we stayed in Kai Bae Beach (which we loved – more on where to stay in Koh Chang below!). But, we also spent half days in White Sand Beach and Lonely Beach. A ride via songthaew (a pickup with two benches in the truck bed), cost 50 baht ($1.50 USD) per person. Note: It costs more if the truck is parked and not yet carrying passengers.
Top Tips for your Trip to Koh Chang
Where To Stay
During our visit to Koh Chang, we stayed on Kai Bae Beach at The Stage. The affordable, boutique hotel is located off the beach (which is accessible via a 5 minute walk), but has two pools and air conditioning in all rooms. They also offer a simple included breakfast and free wifi. However, there are many Koh Chang hotels to choose from ranging from cheap and basic to beachfront luxury. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Serenity Resort Koh Chang, The Chill Resort and Spa and Gajapuri Resort and Spa. Or find a deal on a Koh Chang accommodations by bidding on Priceline.
Staying in apartments can be less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space. Koh Chang holiday apartments can also be searched on Airbnb (save money on your first stay by using this link!), FlipKey (which is part of TripAdvisor) or on VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner.
Getting to Koh Chang from Bangkok
Koh Chang is best reached by bus or private transfer. There are two direct bus options from Bangkok: public bus (Government bus 99 from Ekamai Bus Station; around 270 baht) or tour bus/minivan from the Suvarnabhumi Airport (find the kiosk on Level 1 at Door 8; 500 baht one-way, 900 baht roundtrip). The ride should take about 5-6 hours depending on traffic.
We aren’t keen on driving abroad, but renting a car can often save time and money (especially when traveling with more than two people) – and it allows for greater discovery.
Before You Go
- Take along plenty of sunscreen and consider bringing a swim shirt to wear while snorkeling to avoid sun exposure! Even while snorkeling in the rain, we managed to get sunburned on our backs (and we reapplied sunscreen after each swim!)
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- Visiting in Rainy Season? Check the Koh Chang weather 10-day forecast here.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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