The best of Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang

Idyllic Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang

Idyllic Kai Bae Beach, Koh Chang


Despite the presence of some newer resorts and hotels, there is still a rawness to Koh Chang. It is Thailand’s second largest island but far from its busiest, with no high rise development and a jungle covered interior. The thatched bungalows like the type we stayed in here ten years ago still remain, though some have had a bit of a makeover and a price hike. There are lots of mid-range places to stay, and the atmosphere is decidedly chilled, even at the busiest beach, White Sands. Roaming vendors on the beach are few and far between, and you can seek out nightlife if you want it, or easily avoid it.

Behind Kai Bae

Kai Bae’s string of eateries and shops retains a laidback, backpackery vibe (minus the sleaze)

We recently spent a week on Kai Bae Beach, an idyllic spot with lots of families with small kids around (perfect for us!). The beach is lined with palm trees and rope swings, and a scattering of low-key resorts. Behind the beach lies an eclectic mix of backpacker bars, cafes, restaurants, stalls selling flowy beach dresses and ubiquitous massage places. After much exploration on our recent Koh Chang escape, here are my picks of the best of Kai Bae Beach:

Food + Drink

Most of the places to eat and drink are located on the road behind the beach. In amongst the usual mix of Thai and Western offerings we found some real gems. Must-eats at Kai Bae include:

Barrio Bonito

Barrio Bonito – Kai Bae’s must-eat Mexican

+ Barrio Bonito, the most authentic Mexican I’ve ever had in Asia (with all Latino staff you know you’re onto something). Head here for delicious tostadas, tacos and the best margaritas.

+ Took Ka Ta Kai Moon was the best local Thai place we tried. There are chickens cooking over charcoal out the front, and an open air kitchen where women are busy pounding mortar and pestles and making Thai salads. Highly recommended is their amazing som tam, Thai style BBQ chicken and sticky rice, washed down with coconuts.

Took Ka Ta Tai Moon

Our favourite local eatery for Thai salads and chicken

Chicken ans Som Tam

Simple yet delicious chicken, sticky rice and som tam at Took Ka Ta Kai Moon

+ Riddim Shack, where we had jerk chicken and Carribbean-style dirty rice – a unique take on local ingredients. British owner David mans this little Reggae Bar tucked down ‘Walking Street’ – a name usually assigned to girly bar strips in Thailand, though Kai Bae’s version was low key (and decidedly un-girly). The beach was unseasonably quiet given the protests taking place in Bangkok, so we had to pre-order the food here the day before (and it was well worth doing so!).

Coffee on Koh Chang

Coffee on Koh Chang – a surprising number of options!

For coffee, we tried all the main places on Kai Bae, from the little Italian Aperol bar and cafe, to the fairtrade, organic Northern Thai coffee shop, but the best we tried was from Mochaccino. The other cafe worth seeking out at Kai Bae is Papa’s Deli, a Euro bakery/deli with amazing chocolate croissants and charcuterie, should you need a break from all things Thai.

Things to do

Kai Bae is more for relaxing and swimming than strenuous activity, but we did hire kayaks from a stand on the beach for 100 baht/hour (that’s about $3!). Our kayak fit two adults and two children, and it was fun traversing most of the beach, keeping an eagle eye out for any good places to eat along the way.


Kayak rentals – $3 an hour

Every afternoon, two baby elephants were led by their handlers into the water at the northern end of the beach. They were trained to spray water on anyone who had a ride, and stand up on their hind legs. I wasn’t entirely sure about the ethics of riding baby elephants trained to perform timely tricks for tourists, but their cuteness was undeniable.

Baby Elephant Bathing

Each afternoon baby elephants would visit the beach

We ventured to several other beaches on the songthaews that drive up and down the main road (you flag them down and jump in, and the fare for four of us ranged from 50 baht for a short distance to 100 baht to another beach). White Sands is much more developed than the others, yet still manages to retain that backpackery charm with ramshackle restaurants on stilts, bungalows and cheap massage huts mixed with the more upscale resorts.

Lonely Beach

Lonely Beach is still quite undeveloped

Lonely Beach is quiet with large swathes of beachfront land entirely undeveloped – which is surprising in a place like Thailand. It’s still the most chilled out, but no longer the domain of 20-something backpackers, with more middle-aged and older Europeans and Russians in the mix.

Massage huts are everywhere you look on Koh Chang (with most signposted in English and Russian) – this is another huge difference from when I first visited in ’03, when they were few and far between. The going rate for a Thai massage is 250 baht/hour (around $7) to about 400 baht/hour for different variations of massages from oil to aloe vera. The best massage I had was at Kai Bae’s ‘The Bodiwork’ on the main road behind the beach, which offered a more a spa-like atmosphere and professional experience. I felt like I was walking on air after a visit, and while the prices are slightly more than at the beach huts, it’s definitely worth it.

I loved our stay at Kai Bae and felt it was the right beach ‘fit’ for us – a comfortable middle ground of not too busy, not too crowded, but not too quiet or isolated either. For more info on Koh Chang and what each beach offers, I am Koh Chang offers a no holds barred look at the island, and there’s also the super informative Koh Chang Guide.

Living in Asia: What’s it really like?

During the almost three years I’ve called Asia home, many friends, family members, acquaintances and well-meaning strangers have asked me lots and lots of questions about what life here is like. They range from the really general and sometimes hard to answer “so, what’s it like?” to the just-don’t-get-it “but what do you EAT there?!”. Then there are the skeptical questions like “you had a baby in Bangkok, what was THAT like?!” (with nose screwed up). I’ll do my best to clear up some of the myths and misconceptions about life in Asia (as an expat), though this is by no means an exhaustive list of the questions I get asked (or other expats) get asked:

Q:Are there many other expats there? (By the way, these qs pertain to life in both Phnom Penh and Saigon)

A: Yes – thousands and thousands, from all over the world! So many no-one ever seems to know the exact number (and of course, it’s ever-changing). Phnom Penh has many, many foreigners working for NGO’s (from outrageously high paid staff at the UN etc. through to volunteers at grassroots organisations). Then there are embassy workers, English teachers, bar owners, and a growing corporate/business community involved in all sorts of industries from hospitality and tourism to banking. In Saigon there’s a hugely diverse mix too, though the expat community seems to be more business oriented than Phnom Penh’s. So basically, no, I’m not a lone western female eliciting curious stares and I’m not considered special or unique – there are many of us!
Q: So, what do you EAT there?! (one of my favourite questions – hilarious don’t you think?)
A: Um, what don’t I eat?! It’s Asia – not another planet! For starters, I still cook at home alot and make similar things I used to make at home (but take advantage of the great local produce so lots of things using coriander, lime, lemongrass, mint etc.). In both PP and Saigon there are restaurants of every (well, almost) cuisine under the sun, plus an abundance of local eateries from cheap street eats through to classy, high-end restaurants showcasing the best of Khmer or Vietnamese cuisine. There are western-style cafes, French restaurants, pizzerias, kebab shops – you name it! And no, it’s not all food poisoning and tummy troubles (the once or twice we’ve ever been sick living in Asia was from western restaurants, not local! And never from street food!). Which brings me to my next point…
Q: You can’t drink the water there, can you?
A: Well, I don’t drink the tap water but I’ve heard of a few brave souls who insist the water in PP and Saigon is absolutely fine to drink and don’t seem to be any worse for wear for it! Most people (myself included) have a water cooler at home – the kind you find in offices – and get refills delivered. Others just boil and cool the tap water and this is fine too. You just get used to it and when you go to a western country it actually feels strange pouring a glass of water out of the tap! Oh and as for the ice question – that you should be wary of ice in restaurants is rubbish – ice is made in factories in Asia from purified water, it’s totally fine! Trust me!
Q:What about going to the doctor? Is it safe?
A: It depends where you go. There are western standard (and trained) doctors in Phnom Penh and Saigon and it’s just like going to the doctor at home. Then there are some dodgy local clinics that are rife with misdiagnosis and shoddy hygiene etc. but only the stingiest of expats would put their health at risk by going somewhere unreliable for health matters.
Q: You had a baby in Bangkok – what was THAT like?!
A: Yes, I did and it was great! Well the childbirth part was no picnic but the medical facilities, great staff and level of care were amazing! I had my baby in Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok, which not only has hotel room-like recovery suites but shops and cafes in the lobby – you can even ring and order Starbucks and dim sum (and more) and have it delivered to your room. If it wasn’t for the having a baby part, it would have been like a holiday. Oh and the other question relating to this I get asked is, “So is your baby Thai now?” No – while it’d be cool if she got dual citizenship she was only eligible for Australian citizenship (the rules!).
Q:So what’s it like there? (the ultimate question!)
A: How to sum up?! It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s enjoyable, it’s sometimes frustrating and challenging, it’s sometimes cheap, it’s sometimes expensive, it’s chaotic, it’s peaceful, it’s close to lots of other great places to travel, it’s an adventure some of the time and it’s mundane and ‘normal’ at others. It’s also what you make of it and often about the people you meet and spend time with (one of the absolute best parts). It can be addictive, and it’s something I’m really glad I’m doing – I totally recommend it to anyone considering a move to this diverse, crazy, amazing continent called Asia!
Do you (as an expat or long-term traveller) have any questions about your life you’re always answering? And for non-Asia dwellers, is there something you’ve always wondered about what life in Asia is really like?