Ko Si Chang, Chonburi
San Jao Pho Khao Yai is easily noticed when arriving on Ko Si Chiang by ferry from Sri Racha.
Ko Si Chang makes for an interesting and relaxing daytrip from Bangkok or Pattaya. The island is located quite close to Bangkok in Chonburi province. It can be reached by ferry for Si Racha (Chonburi province). Reaching Si Racha will take about one and a half hour, while the boat trip to Ko Si Chang lasts 45 minutes.
Ko Si Chang is located close to the Eastern Seaboard, an area located between Si Racha and Pattaya, consisting of industrial estates and the Laem Chabang Deap Sea Port. As a result you will notice an impressive number of barges and ships when taking the boat trip to Ko Si Chang. A lot of loading and unloading apparently is being done outside of the port. Once arrived at Ko Si Chang, the ships and barges are visible, but somehow do not influence the quiet environment on the island.
View over the sea from the Chinese Temple on Ko Si Chang.
When arriving at Ko Si Chang from Si Racha, you will notice an important Chinese temple, called San Jao Pho Khao Yai (Khao Yai Spirit Shrine). Legend has it that the shrine was discovered by a Chinese merchang, who saw a light shining on top of the mountain when approaching Ko Sichang by ship. He asked the shrine for wealth and success, and was appropriately rewarded. The shrine now attract devotees from Thailand (many of Chinese descent) as well as from Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. During the Chinese New Year festivities the shrine is particularly crowded, and a lot of firecrackers will be going off. But otherwise, the shrine is not too busy and well worth a visit.
You will see images of the God of the Mountain, the Eight Immortals (from the Tao religion) , the Buddha, the Bodhisattva Guan Yin . You need to take quite a few steps to reach the shrine, located within the rocks (with some artificial rocks added, we noticed), but the view over the sea is also splendid from the location.
Ko Si Chang has its own version of the Tuk Tuk threewheeler. It is much more spacious than its Bangkok counterpart. You should negotiate your fare beforehand. Don't be surprised if the first offer sounds outrageous.
Transport on the island is provided by the local tuk tuks. They are actually much larger than the ones in Bangkok and easily seat 5 people on two benches. Another main attraction on the island are the well kept grounds of the former Phra Chuthathut Ratchathan or Royal Palace, that was inhabitated during the reigns of King Rama IV and Rama V. Quite a few renovated buildings and a Lanka stupa (Wat Atsadang Nimit) on the hill and well worth the climb) are still standing. Another vantage point to admire Ko Sichang is the Mondop further uphill, and housing a Buddha Footprint.
This particular building on the Phra Chuthathut Ratchathan palace compound was used to house foreign guests. It now is a very attractive coffee house.
There is also a wide open space close to the shore, where the main palace building was once standing. This building was 'moved' to Bangkok and reconstructed there (the Wimanmek Mansion, reportedly the largest wooden building in teak). At the end of the 19th century, when this was done, the French colonial power was becoming more and more threatening, so the island was not anymore suitable for Royal visits. One of the buildings on the compound now serves as a very attraction coffee shop, close to the beach.
A Lanka style stupa in the royal palace compound, Wat Atsadang Nimit, can be reached just a bit uphill.
The Institute of Marine Sciences is located close to the old palace grounds. It houses a small but pleasant exhibition, and the staff will be happy to show you some animals like sea urchins and starfish from closeby (you can hold them yourself).
Since Ko Si Chang is so close to Bangkok, and offers a splendid environment and good, fresh air, it is a puzzle why the island did not see the tourist development seen on other islands. There must be a policy behind this (but we do not know it). Maybe the reason is aquamarine research. Another reason may be that there are no wide long beaches. In any case, this island is relatively unknown to the average Bangkok foreign resident, but certainly worth a day trip or an overnight stay. One thing you may notice when there is the lack of noise. Even on the quietest day in Bangkok, we are all surrounded by the incessant background noise of a big city. Ko Si Chang has a few bungalows and guest houses, some airconditioned, but there are no major hotels.