Ko Chang, the “Elephant Island” of Trat province, has long been my favorite out of the five Thai islands that are both large and popular. For me, it edges out Ko Phangan and Ko Lanta mainly because of its natural attractions: a bundle of waterfalls, 700-meter mountains and secluded beaches accessed via back roads. One such road is so rough that I prefer to leave the motorbike behind, and hike it.
That would be the road to Ko Chang’s only undeveloped beach, Hat Wai Chaek, whose name is also transliterated as Chek or Shak, among other ways. Hiking there avoids potential motorbike problems in a remote area with little to no cell service. Using my own two feet also allows me to fully appreciate the jungle, which I explored well beyond the road to Hat Wai Chaek in 2019.
On that excursion I jogged much of the roughly 10-km round-trip — and that does not include the two-hour motorbike ride from my bungalow in Bang Bao to where the road to Hat Wai Chaek begins west of Salak Phet Bay. Bringing only a day pack along, I left my camera in the bungalow. So while I’ve added photos from previous trips to Hat Wai Chaek, you’ll have to use your imagination for the rest.
A road into wilderness
The lack of a ring road encircling Ko Chang has helped to keep rural landscapes in tact around southeastern villages like Ban Salak Phet and Chek Bae. Down in that languid Salak Phet Bay vicinity, a sprinkling of small resorts and guesthouses joins stilted houses, fishing boats, rubber farms, mangrove-draped rivers and conical mountains towering high above. It is a beautiful area.
Set aside from all of that, the road that runs near Hat Wai Chaek was cut in the early 2000s as the start of a planned link between the island’s two southern bays: Ao Salak Phet in the east and Ao Bang Bao to the west. If completed, it would have composed the final stretch of a ring road around all of Ko Chang, bringing traffic and presumably more development to the southeast.
Without that road connection, few tourists stay in the southeast due to the long ride to the west coast, where most of the island’s beaches are found.
By the late 2000s, work on the road had stalled. Funding from the rural roads dept. was diverted to sealing the similarly remote road running down to Long Beach and a memorial commemorating the 1941 Battle of Ko Chang, both in the far southeast corner of Salak Phet Bay. With only around half of the 10 km route to Bang Bao completed, what had been built of the road fell into disrepair.
If not for its access to Hat Wai Chaek the road would get virtually no use, ending as it does amid thickly forested land where Ko Chang’s belt of mountains extends straight down to the steep and rocky coastline. This forbidding terrain partly explains why the road was never completed. The fact that much of the needed land is controlled by Mu Ko Chang Marine National Park is another complication.
As recently as 2017, landowners and the leaders of Ko Chang’s various sub-districts agreed in theory to complete the road around the island. For now however, the project is shelved pending budget availability, environmental assessments and approval from national park authorities, which may well never be granted. “No sign of it happening soon,” Ian of the iamKohChang website told me recently.
Leaving the bike behind
The road to Hat Wai Chaek has steadily deteriorated over the years. The notably strong monsoon storms that whack Ko Chang erodes the pavement and deepens the ruts. After coming across a traveler with a badly skinned arm and a motorbike flung into the woods during my last two-wheel excursion to Hat Wai Chaek, I decided to start parking at the abandoned guard booth where the road begins. While they are dangers for motorbikes, the many hills and bits of flat pavement mixed with gravel are ideal for hiking, or what I’d classify as trail running.
At first I jogged up the inclines, stopping to view birdlife and sip on the water that filled my pack — essential since there are no shops or even houses on this road. On the downslopes, my soles slid on the gravel as I worked to slow my hurling body. It was all kinds of fun until exhaustion set in.
Eventually I passed the unmarked turn for Hat Wai Chaek and kept going over a dry stream bed by a washed-out bridge. Beyond it stands a derelict pavilion, presumably built for all of the tourists who would have come here if the ring road had been finished. I stopped to catch my breath and admire the centipedes.
Now I can’t quite recall how far I jogged beyond that pavilion, but it was farther than I expected the road to last — at least a half km if not a full one — and this part of the road was in better shape than earlier stretches. Upon reaching its anticlimactic end, I was curious to see what lies beyond that point. I looked uphill.
Up into the mountains
Patches of grass and other scraggly flora blended with a natural stone ground as I climbed upwards, unsure if I was on an actual trail or not. Near the top of that first hill I paused at a clearing for a view of the Gulf. After a drink in the breeze, far away from any sounds of civilization, I pulled myself further uphill and hiked into the woods on a “path” that seemed to have been walked before.
Farther along that ridge I could look down through the branches into the untouched interior of Ko Chang. While large resorts and other development fills parts of the island’s west coast, its inland reaches are almost entirely blanketed in jungle. This differentiates Ko Chang from Ko Lanta, Ko Phangan, Ko Samui, Phuket and even Ko Yao Yai, all of which have roads and development in their bellies.
I used the seaborne breeze on my left and an old compass to determine my direction. West, into the wilderness. Soon I noticed white plastic ribbons tied to branches; I later learned how they had been placed along the route of possible future road development a few years prior. It was a relief to see signs of humans so far out there.
At the ridge’s end I descended along another dry stream bed. I stepped carefully on rocks that shifted with my weight, occasionally sliding on my rear when the terrain steepened. Every so often, I spotted another white ribbon. After perhaps 20 minutes of lumbering downhill, faint sounds of sea waves reached my ears.
Finally I emerged on to a stone slope set high above the sea, with a rocky beach extending through a wee cove to my right. Turning in that direction, I spotted the lighthouse at the end of busy Bang Bao pier in the distance. Other parts of Bang Bao Bay came into view as I stepped further out — I could even see the “ghost ship” room block at the defunct Grand Lagoona Resort east of Khlong Kloi.
The ghost ship didn’t look all that far away. Could I make it there?
At this point, I hopped down to the shore, took off my running shoes and jumped into the blue sea to ponder my next move. Though deep right offshore, the water was calm enough that I did not have to worry about waves dragging me into the rocks.
After my swim I walked to the far end of the cove and noticed another white ribbon dangling from a branch. It tempted me to find out if I could hike all the way to Khlong Kloi, but the coastline was too steep to safely follow and inland terrain cut sharply uphill. My pack was light — drinking water running low.
There was also my motorbike to think about. If I made it all the way to Khlong Kloi, I’d end up close to my bungalow with my bike sitting a two-hour drive back in Salak Phet. My cautious side prevailed, and I returned the way I’d come.
Down to the beach
Almost immediately after dropping back down to the road’s end, I bumped into a lost Russian couple on a motorbike. Somehow they did not look surprised to see this sweaty man suddenly emerge from the jungle; they were preoccupied with their search for Hat Wai Chaek. I pointed them back up the road, and we talked for a few minutes as they steered alongside me before disappearing up ahead.
The turn for the one-km dirt road to Hat Wai Chaek is not marked, but it’s obvious given that you’ll find no other roads around here. I strode through the woods, spotting a lizard before crossing another dry stream bed. Anticipation bubbled up as I reached the coconut trees. A salty breeze swayed the tall grass. I thought of my hiking enthusiast brother back in the States, and how I wished he were here.
Hat Wai Chaek is a 400-meter crescent of sand that looks a little different every time I visit. Once it had almost entirely disappeared in a king tide that left rubbish piled on the stripe of sand that remained. On a low-tide occasion it was at least five meters wide and free of tidal garbage thanks to a pair of good samaritan backpackers who were camping by the wide estuary at the eastern end.
Apart from the few travelers and some coconut husks piled up, a broken-down shack is the only obvious sign of civilization at Hat Wai Chaek. The crew behind Ting Tong Bar on Lonely Beach used to run Wai Shak Bungalows on the western headland, but it permanently closed in 2015. Two years earlier, I was mystified to find its 200-baht huts hosting several hippie types at this distant locale.
When I’ve walked up there in subsequent years, all that was left of Wai Shak Bungalows was a crumbling roofed pavilion where backpackers once lounged. A harmless golden tree snake appeared down below, contributing to my various other experiences proving that snakes enjoy abandoned bungalow joints. The billiards table was still there, balls and a warped queue included.
Whereas most of the beach affords a southwestern view to Ko Khlum, the broken-down pavilion and the rest of that western headland covers Ko Wai and Ko Lao Ya in the outlook. Ko Rang, perhaps, on a clear day as well. In recent years, the landowner took advantage of this vantage by building a house fronted by a concrete elephant. It stands as the only non-deserted structure for miles around.
I’ve heard that part of the water directly off Hat Wai Chaek hosts one of the few reefs found immediately around Ko Chang that’s worth a glimpse, though I haven’t brought a snorkel and mask down there myself yet. I prefer to walk the length of the sand, take a leisurely dip in the sea and chat with anyone I meet. Out of my six visits to Hat Wai Chaek, I’ve come across other people about half of the time.
Having already spoken to the Russian couple, I offered them a wave before hiking back up the road. By that point, I lacked the energy (or water) to jog it. As I stretched out my rubbery legs next to my motorbike, the Russians zoomed past again and returned a wave. I made it back to Bang Bao in time for sunset.
The post about Hat Wai Chaek on iamKohChang has notably clear directions that I used when first visiting the beach seven years ago. You also might want to peep this post on Explore Koh Chang; while this article that I wrote for Travelfish a couple of years ago has info on other places of interest in southeast Ko Chang, in case you want to include Hat Wai Chaek on a broader day trip to the area.
Hat Wai Chaek can also be reached by kayak from Khlong Kloi Beach, which comprises the east coast of Bang Bao Bay; or from the west coast of Salak Phet Bay, where Salak Phet Seafood and Resort rents out kayaks. The Beach Meter folks wrote up notes from their kayaking excursion from Khlong Kloi to Hat Wai Chaek. Or you could stop there on a private tour by boat or pick-up truck.
As a warning, I don’t suggest doing as I did and hiking into Ko Chang’s mountains unless you’re experienced in the jungle and properly plan the expedition, bringing plenty of water, snacks and a compass — and not the one on your phone! I went alone, which was probably not a great idea, though I did tell a friend.
Hapless hikers have gotten lost and needed to be rescued after venturing into the southern jungle alone. Do consider hiring one of Ko Chang’s experienced trail guides, such as Mr. Thomas, Mr. Ton or Jungleman Raht. 🌴