Why Visit Koh Si Chang
What’s the nearest island to Bangkok? . . . Quickly . . . your answer is . . . Koh Samet? Nope. . . . Koh Chang? Wrong.
It’s Koh Si Chang. An island under 2 hours drive from Bangkok. But you probably haven’t heard of it.
There is of course a good reason for this. Over 20 years ago I used to write the occasional article for Untamed Travel magazine, which was based in Bangkok and was a more focused & lighthearted version of the Lonely Planet. They succinctly summed up Koh Si Chang as ‘Thailand’s crap island’.
And to be fair, if you’re looking for palm fringed paradise beaches, crystal clear waters, beach bars, parties, 5 star luxury or indeed anything that you might associate with a island in Thailand, that description is correct. You’re going to be very disappointed.
Which brings us back to the question – Why Visit Koh Si Chang?
The simple answer is because it’s not a typical Thai island. Koh Si Chang is an island with strong royal connections where you can experience traditional fishing culture & community and visit several interesting historical sites. Plus the seafood is inexpensive and excellent. Add to this is that it’s an easy day trip from Bangkok or Pattaya and there’s no reason not to visit if you want to do something different during your holiday. And if that wasn’t reason enough, you can also get to travel in a skylab – the original Thai tuktuk.
How to Get To Koh Sichang
By Road to Sri Racha
Buses from Bangkok to Sri Racha leave from the Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekamai) every 30 – 40 minutes. The ticket price is 95 Baht for the 90 minute journey. Also many buses including minibuses to Pattaya will stop in Sri Racha. There is also a minibus that runs between Suvarnabhumi Airport and Sri Racha which costs 130 Baht and takes about an hour and 15 minutes.
Alternatively, hiring a taxi or Grab car to take you from your hotel in Bangkok to the pier in Sri Racha will be around 800 – 1,000 Baht.
When you arrive in Sri Racha, take a tuktuk (50 Baht) or motorbike taxi (20 Baht) to the pier.
Boats to and from Koh Si Chang
Wooden passenger boats to Ta Laang pier, Koh Si Chang depart from Koh Loi Pier in Sri Racha. Departures are usually hourly during high season and every 90 minutes to 2 hours during low season. The 40 minute crossing very frequent both during the high season (hourly) and low season (at least one boat every two hours). The trip takes roughly 40 minutes and a one-way ticket is 50 Baht.
At high tide, boats may drop you off or pick you up at Ta Bon Pier, a bit further north from Ta Laang. It’s worth bearing this in mind when you are leaving the island. Check in advance if your boat will leave from the pier you arrived at or a different one.
The last ferry to Koh Si Chang leaves at 19:00 and the last ferry from Koh Si Chang to the mainland leaves at 18:00.
Map of Koh Si Chang
This map shows the main sights, points of interest plus a selection of our favourite places to stay, eat and drink.
What to See on Koh Si Chang
The island is home to a Royal Palace built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1892. During its heyday the Palace boasted 4 mansions, 14 halls and a magnificent pavilion surrounded by ornamental gardens, ponds, walkways and a private beach. The main royal residence (Phratinang Manthatratanarot) was a 3 story high octagonal teakwood mansion which sat by the beach near the Asadang Bridge.
In 1900, after Koh Si Chang was invaded by the French, the island was deemed to dangerous for a royal residence and main building was dismantled and re-assembled at the Dusit Palace in Bangkok. It was renamed Vimanmek Mansion and was a popular tourist attraction, in addition to being the largest teakwood building in the world. It was closed to visitors in 2016 and dismantled again for extensive renovations in 2019. It has not yet re-opened.
The octagon stone base of the main royal residence is still visible and the buildings within the palace compound and the palace gardens have been lovingly renovated and restored. Click on the pictures for a larger view.
It is possible to spend half a day walking around the Palace buildings and gardens, taking in the exhibits and exploring the maze of walkways, gardens, ponds, caves and hidden coves.
After visiting the Palace you can walk to the Bell Stone, Wat Asdangkhanimitir, Khao Noi View Point and then on to the Tourist Service Center (see map).
There is a marine biology research center with a small museum located next to the entrance of the palace grounds and a little beach called Tha Wang which is popular with local islanders and children. Entry to the Marine Life Museum and Phra Chudadhuj Palice is free of charge.
Located on the right hand side between the Palace and Wat Asdangkhanimitr, the Bell Stone is a natural rock formation in the shape of a frog. If you hit the Bell Stone with a rock it rings like a Bell. To the right of the Bell Stone is an old photogenic Chedi.
Built by Royal command on the hillside south of the Palace, Wat Asdangkhanimitr is a very unusual Thai temple consisting of a round church like consecrated hall with a Thai style pagoda roof. Gothic arch windows and doors with stained glass are used in the mix and a ceremonial walkway runs around the outside. Eight stone inscriptions depicting the Lord Buddha’s teachings are built into the walls of the walkway.
There is a sacred tree in front of Wat Asdangkhanimitr called the Sri Maha Bodhi tree which was planted by King Chulalongkorn from a sapling brought from Boddh Gaya in India by one of his Princes.
Today the temple is still used by the islanders and once a year in May a special ceremony is held next to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree.
Khao Noi View Point
Khao Noi View Point is located between Wat Asdangkhanimitr and the Tourst Service Centre. It offers magnificent views over the island and across the sea to the mainland. Don’t forget your camera.
Chinese Temple and Buddha’s Footprint
North of the harbor is a Chinese Temple ‘Saan Chao Pho Khao Yai’ or Shrine of the Father Spirit of the Great Hill. This was established by Chinese sailors during the Ming Dynasty and it still attracts thousands of Chinese pilgrims from Thailand and across Asia. The temple gets especially busy during Chinese New Year when boatloads of Chinese Buddhists make a pilgrimage. The Father Spirit is a large rock inside a cave that has naturally worn into the shape of a human figure.
Other shrines within the temple are dedicated to the famous monkey that accompanied Hsuan Tsang during his pilgrimage from China to India during the seventh century and Guan Yin ‘The Goddess of Mercy’.
Next to the temple is a steep pathway with over 500 steps which leads to another magnificent shrine housing a copy of the Buddha’s footprint. There are panoramic views from the shrine across the island and the sea towards the mainland. Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell on the summit bell three times to let the mountain Gods know you’ve arrived.
Haad Tham Phang
Haad Tham Phang, or Collapsed Cave Beach, is the most popular beach on the island with a gently sloping sandy beach. Beach chairs and kayaks are available for hire and there are several beach restaurants offering tasty, reasonably priced, food and drink. The beach can get busy at the weekends and on public holidays however during the week it is extremely quiet. There are other smaller beaches around the island but they do not offer any facilities and are more stony.
North of Haad Tham Pang is Laem Chakrapong, a cape of splendid rocks at the foot of a steep rocky hill. It is a favorite fishing spot and a place to watch beautiful sunsets. The concrete road to Laem Chakrapong is lined with many different trees with plaques in Thai and English detailing the trees names and origin.
Wat Tham Yai Prik & Meditation Center.
Located next to the big yellow Buddha, Wat Tham Yaai Prik started life in 1970 as a solitary abode in a limestone cave. The temple has grown over the years as the Abbot’s fame as a teacher of meditation has spread. Today Wat Tham Yai Prik houses over 40 monks and nuns from various walks of life.
The temple is open to visitors and the nuns act as guides. Various meditation and living areas are housed within the limestone caves and death seems to be a common meditation theme. Many meditation caves have photos of corpses in various states of decomposition or dissection – the point being that by contemplating death, you will understand the nature of existence.
Chom Kao Kard
Chom Kao Kard is a public park with pavilions and an elevated concrete promenade offering splendid views of the cliffs, sea and rugged headlands. It is a famous spot for taking in the magnificent sunsets.
Things to Do
Explore by Skylab
A skylab is the original tuktuk. A three wheel vehicle that’s a cross between a rickshaw and a motorbike. The nickname skylab comes from the fact that there became popular in the late 70s around the time NASA’s first space station, called Skylab was in the news. Over the years cheaper and more efficient tuktuks have become ubiquitous and there are very few places where skylans are commonly used. Koh Si Chang is one of the places where time has stood still.
You can hire a Skylab and get a personal tour of the island for about 400 Baht (or you can hire a scooter for B300 per day and go exploring on your own). The island is only 8 square kilometers so it is impossible to get lost and the roads are in good condition. Private cars are not allowed on the island so the roads are safe.
The skylab drivers will take you around the main sights and are the best option if you want to see all the island has to offer in a few hours. At the end of the day they’ll drop you off at the pier.
Bring your own gear or rent on the island. You can fish off the rocks, the public piers or rent a boat for the day. There are plenty of fish and squid around and you will be very unlucky not to catch a fish.
Kayaks are available for rent at Haad Tham Phang.
Visit Bat Island
If you are staying a night on Koh Si Chang you could also visit Bat Island or Koh Khang Kao. This small island has a nice beach and is very good for snorkeling and fishing with plenty of coral close to the shore. You can rent a boat to take you to the island and bring you back or you can kayak there from Koh Si Chang.
Visit Ko Kharm
Koh Kharm is another island located about 800 meters northeast of Koh Si Chang. It is a 11 minute ferry ride. The island is home to about 40 families this tiny island is extremely peaceful and a great place for a traffic free walk. From the ferry pier head east to the stony beach of Haad Kruad where you will see the three islands Koh Kham Noi, Koh Prong and Koh Ran Dokmai.
Then carry on to Ao Sapparod (Pineapple Beach) which is clean, sandy and suitable for swimming. A small path from Ao Sapparod will take you to a viewpoint which offers magnificent sunset views. A walk around the whole island takes about 2 hours. The regular ferry will stop at Koh Kharm on the way to and from Koh Si Chang but you must inform the boat captain or staff that you want to get off at Koh Kharm. If nobody wants to stop at Koh Kharm the ferry will sail on by.
Spoil Yourself In One Of The Seafood Restaurants
The island is famous for its seafood, especially squid, crab and prawns. If you like seafood check out iThalay and Pee Noi’s Seafood.
Where to Stay
The majority of visitors make a day trip to the island. But if you want to stay the night on the island or in Sri Racha itself there are several good options. The area near Sri Racha is home to a multitude of Japanese companies. This gives the area a distinct Japanese feel and also means that there are numerous value for money 4 star hotels and serviced apartments which are devoid of package tourists or families with screaming kids.
My picks are the Novotel and Somerset Harbor View. Both around 2,000 – 2,500 Baht / night or less and both within walking distance of the pier and also plenty of places to eat.
We do a stopover in Sri Racha a few times a year, mainly because there’s a great great craft beer bar, Teab Ta, on one of the piers and also for the excellent streetfood stalls which pop up near the Novotel every evening.
On Koh Si Chang itself, the Novotel also has rooms and a boat service to take people between the two hotels. But for a budget stay, Hello SiChang Bungalow is usually under 1,000 Baht/night. They are located on a small hill and have great views across the island and to the main pier. Somewhere Si Chang is a step up in quality and has a pool for around 2,000 – 2,500 / night. And for a very nice modern boutique resort by the sea, try De’ Anchor – around 3,000 to 4,000 Baht/night.
The History of Koh Si Chang
For centuries Koh Si Chang was considered the gateway to Thailand. It was the place where large ships from Europe, India and China stopped to discharge their cargo into barges for onward delivery to Bangkok and Ayutthaya. This practice still occurs today and you will see large ships and barges anchored between Koh Si Chang and the mainland on your journey to the island.
The Chinese temple on top of the hill north of Koh Si Chang harbor was founded during the Ming dynasty and even today receives pilgrims from across Southeast Asia and the Chinse mainland.
However the island is most famous due to its royal connections.
In the 1800s King Mongkut (Rama IV) visited on his steamship. He noticed that the islanders lived longer than most Thais and concluded that this had something to do with the island’s clean air. He visited the island many times – but he always slept on board his ship.
King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) went one step further and built a summer palace on the island. His son Prince Asdang Delavudh spent up to nine months a year living on the island.
When King Chulalongkorn took to the throne Koh Si Chang was a popular holiday resort with westerners who would rent lodges built by the Thai authorities for both Thai and Western tourists.
In 1888 King Chulalongkorn’s son Prince Maha Vajiravudh became ill and the court doctor suggested he should spend some time by the sea. King Chulalongkorn decided to send him to one of the lodges on Ko Si Chang where the Prince stayed for eight months and eventually became better. Not long afterwards he was joined by his sister Princess Saovabha Phongsri who was also recovering from an illness.
In 1891 Prince Asdang Dejavudh (who was just three years old) made it a royal hat-trick. He too fell ill and was sent to the island to recover. Unfortunately for him his condition was quite serious so he spent several years on the island.
In 1892 King Chulalongkorn decided to build a royal summer retreat, the Phra Chudadhuj Palace. Building work was still in progress when a dispute between France and Siam spilled into the Gulf of Thailand. French troops invaded and occupied Ko Si Chang bringing construction of the palace to a halt. After the dispute was settled the palace was completed, but the King never spent another night on the island.
In 1900 while visiting towns along the eastern coast, King Chulalongkorn visited and discovered the palace was deserted. He gave orders to pull down the main royal residence and rebuild it in Bangkok where it remains to day as the Vimanmek Mansion – the largest teakwood building in the world.
Today Chudadhuj Palace is still a picture of grace and serenity. Buildings within the palace and the gardens have been renovated and restored by Chulalongkorn University but the atmosphere is still tinged with a nostalgia reminiscent of the times of King Chulalongkorn.
The islanders are still friendly and some still live to a ripe old age as they go about their daily lives fishing and working in the various trades that revolve around fishing and shipping.
This is a relaxed historical island that will take you back in time and show you the real Thailand. It offers a rich diversity of experiences and sites to see minus cars, bars, neon signs, shopping malls and McDonald’s.