310km (193 miles) E of Bangkok

The capital of Trat Province is Trat, hitherto regarded as the gateway to the Ko Chang Marine National Park. Because of the region's direct transport links, though, visitors can now head straight to any of three piers to access the park's many islands, and it's becoming less of a gateway. On Ko Chang itself, a single, looping, cliff road runs along both coasts with the final, southern section nearing completion.

Despite having Marine National Park status, many of the islands here have been subjected to large-scale developments, particularly the largest, Ko Chang (Elephant Island), so called for its jumbolike outline, with its highest point some 740m (2,428 ft.) above sea level. This development, which has transformed the character of the island, was instigated by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- a clear case of putting financial gain before ecological interests. For years, it was purely a foreign-backpacker and Thai weekend getaway, but now, with a glut of fancy resorts having opened, a more upscale international clientele is visiting. A luxury marina and condominium complex at Klong Son Bay, in the northwest, is under construction, and several international hotel chains now operate here. These developments are bound to bring more visitors, but the environmental impact on the waste disposal system and dry-season water supply is a concern.

For now, adventurers will find plenty of activities, including elephant treks, waterfalls, and kayak trips through the mangroves in Ko Chang. The island also has a top-notch vegetarian detox retreat at the Spa, Ko Chang. Plus, in dry season (late Oct-May), there's good scuba and snorkeling.