As part of Thailand, Koh Chang Island generally shared the rich history and tradition of the Thai people which existed thousands of years ago. On its particular side and accord, the island of Koh Chang has a long and detailed history which dates back to the Ayutthaya era (1350-1767). Back then, the whole of Trat province, including Koh Chang, was known as Baan Bang Pra. However, it did not take long after Koh Chang started to develop its own identity and received its own name. It was during the reign of King Naresuan, the island was named Koh Chang because of its shape. The northernmost tip of Koh Chang resembles the look of the upper body and trunk of an elephant wading the sea with a baby elephant following. In Thai etymology “Chang” means elephant, and “Koh” means island. Elephants are greatly revered animals in Thailand and for the island to receive the name Koh Chang or Elephant Island is such a great pride and honor.
During the reign of King Rama V (1868-1910), Trat province was actually handed over to the French as part of an agreement to pull out the French troops and cease the occupation of Chantaburi Province. However, King Rama V successfully reclaimed the province in 1906 in exchange for Sri Sophon, Pratabong and Siem Reap. The reclaiming conquest of Trat from the French was regarded a significant event for Thailand and as a token to their King the people especially the locals of Trat erected the Rama V Monument. It is located in front of the City Hall which is the annual venue for the celebration of the province’s Independence Day every 23rd of March.
Considering the geographical location of Koh Chang, it was left to its own quiet and tranquil island life until the Indochina war (1940-1941) broke out. The French navy tried to recapture Trat and the famous French-Thai battle took place at southeast of Koh Chang on 17 January 1941. The Thais were victorious in driving the French fleet out of Thai territorial waters. However, many Thais lost their lives during the momentous naval war. Thus marking the respect to those who lost their lives for country’s defense, the Thai Navy holds a commemorative ceremony every year on the 17th of January.
After the naval battle and over the next 30 years, the island belonged to a small group of local families. Most of the local residents made a living through farming and growing coconuts and fruits on the mainland. For those living near the shorelines were dependent on fishing activities. Tourism and physical development then were not part of the island’s landscape. The fertile land of the island’s interior portion was considered the source of income and venue to earn their living. The villagers stayed and occupied the areas near the place where they usually do agricultural activities. The beach was considered worthless.
The island was further populated by fishers who lived on the mainland of Trat and of the neighboring islands near Koh Chang. Many decided to build houses and decided to settle in the island. Their frequent fishing trips made them residents of Koh Chang Island.
Generations later, the patriarch of the family which owned most of Kai Bae beach on the western side of Koh Chang decided to split his land between his children. He favored his sons and awarded them with the fertile inland for them to grow rubber and fruits. The daughters were given a token gift of the land by the sea. In the end, the daughters made their fortunes with their share land along the shores, most of which is still owned by the same family and as the island continues to witness development taking gradually at pace, so does money keep pouring in.
It was in 1982 that Koh Chang and the more than 40 neighboring small and big islands were declared parts of Mu Koh Chang National Park. Koh Chang particularly was considered a marine park. Approximately 85% of it is under protection from development; however this is mainly the interior portions which are mainly rainforests and leaving most of the desired coastal areas dedicated for tourism industry and development.
Presently, Koh Chang has gained a name for itself – one of the best tourist destinations in the world! And its future is still in the making.