A little Gem off the east coast of Thailand
The tiny island of Ko Si Chang sits ever so peacefully just off the east coast of Thailand, and it may very well be the perfect place should you want to avoid the hustle and bustle as well as the commercialism of the most popular resorts found in the vicinity.
I wouldn’t bother looking for fast food outlets or shopping malls like the ones you find in other parts of the country either. That’s because you won’t find any of them here. In fact, you won’t even find any motorised transport other than a few of those three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaws that are unique to the area.
While Ko Si Chang island may be small in size, it does, however, pack a big punch which usually happens the moment you disembark the ferry from Sriracha on the mainland. But before I tell you about all the hot spots, you need to get in touch with a little of the island’s fascinating history. But I promise not to hold you up too much as I am sure you would rather go sightseeing.
Though Ko Si Chang has but a few beaches, most of the coastline is rather rugged so, for the most part, you will find it relatively quiet here. The island once functioned as the customs checkpoint for ships bound for Bangkok, but more importantly, it was the former summer haunt of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V).
The charming and charismatic fishing village of Tha Bon situated on the eastern side of the island is the only real town here. Just north of it is Saan Chao Paw Khao Yai, also known as the Chinese Temple. The temple itself is an enchanting hillside complex of colourfully decorated shrine caves that overlook the main town and offers great sea and cliff views.
Inside one of the caves is a sacred stalagmite where pilgrims pay homage to a monkey god called Sun Wu-Kong. Legend tells us that the role of this monkey god was to guard a seventh-century pilgrim named Hsuan Tsang on his travels across the Gobi Desert in China to all the way to India. In Thailand, this monkey god is known as Heng Chia. Don’t you just love all these Thai Legends?
The Chinese Temple
Since you are here, why don’t you light a few incense sticks or perhaps a candle or maybe even shake a numbered siam-si-stick out of one of the bright colour coded cups you’ll find in the shrine. While locals pay respect to deities, tourists can have their fortune told. Who knows, perhaps you too will be blessed.
All you have to do is choose one of the cups filled with several numbered long thin sticks. Then shake the container until one of the sticks falls out. After that, go to the board of fortune outside the cave to match your number with a fortune slip. And there you have it. The message you get is very much like that which you get from a Chinese fortune cookie. Go on then, give it your best shot.
After you are finished exploring the cave, don’t forget to climb the five hundred odd steps to the Buddha’s Sacred Footprint on the shoulder of the Kayasira Mountain. From there you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular panoramic views of the island as well as the smaller islands in the neighbourhood. When you do decide to leave, why not take the alternative stairway for a completely different view as you descend the mountain.
Located on the west coast of Ko Si Chang are the island’s only real beaches of which Hat Tram Pang is the most popular. The beach stretches about a kilometre long and is lined with deck chairs and beach umbrellas for your convenience. You can rent a kayak for the whole day, or if you prefer, by the hour from Uncle Juk’s water sports stall. If you like you can also rent inner tubes snorkelling equipment and or fishing rods.
Two other beaches on the west coast are those of Hat Sai and Hat Khao Khat with the latter being little more than an actual beach. Here you will find a public park with several white pavilions that offer spectacular views across, not only of the ocean but also the rugged cliffs and headland too. From the pavilion, walk down a path to a few fishing spots hanging precariously over the waves.
Rama V Summer Palace
Perhaps the most famous site on here is the partially overgrown ruins of the Rama V Summer Palace occupying a huge chunk of a sprawling hillside midway down the east coast. You’ll find the palace just behind the pebbly beach of Hat Tha Wang and though relatively easy to reach on foot, you can if need be, get there on one of the three-wheeled peddled powered samlor taxis.
The palace was built around 1890 as a kind of health resort for members of the royal family who came and are still coming here to relax. It also formed part of an elaborate complex comprising of homes for royal advisers, quarters for concubines and chalets for convalescents. Who knows what else went on in this place.
However, in 1893 the palace was abandoned after a fleeting occupation by the French. Then in 1901 Rama V lost interest in his island project and subsequently had his golden teak palace moved to Vimanmek Mansion at Dusit Park in Bangkok where it was then reconstructed.
While restoration work on the remaining structures of the palace complex on Ko Si Chang Island has been carried out, for the most part only the foundations remain with a riddle of staircases, a couple of rock pools, some tattered mosaic floors and an alleyway of hundred years plus Frangipani trees. There are however two elegantly restored pistachio green villas.