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Nice and Easy at Si Chang island

On disembarking from the ferry that links the town of Sri Racha in Chon Buri province with the island of Koh Si Chang, visitors soon spot a highly original form of transport.

Resembling an unusual combination of motorized trishaw (tuk tuk) with the kind of chopper handlebars you might see in the classic 1969 US biker movie Easy Rider, these unique vehicles are actually powered by automobile engines (usually Toyota).

Since the island only has a limited number of attractions, these vehicles provide the ideal solution for day trippers, who wish to visit the island but want to return to the mainland within the same day. The standard fare is about 250 baht (US$8.50), which includes use of the driver and the vehicle for as long as you need them. The drivers are happy to take you to one location, leave you there to explore the area for an hour or two, then pick you up and take you to the next interesting site.

Historical Insights
Sri Racha is located about 120 kilometers away from Bangkok and can easily be reached from the capital by car or bus. From Sri Racha, a ferry (Single fare: 40 baht [US$1.33]) departs from Koh Loi jetty for the island on an hourly basis. Many Thais head to the island to visit the site of Judhadhut Palace, which once served as the summer residence of King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V), the hugely popular monarch who reigned the kingdom during 1868-1910.

The palace was eventually abandoned in 1894 following the death of Crown Prince Vajirunhis, while hostilities with France had already shown how vulnerable the location was to a modern navy. The main building was taken to Bangkok around 1900, where it has become an attraction in its own right (as Vimarn Mek Palace).

While several of the remaining structures on the site have been restored, a walk through the gardens and up the hill under ancient frangipani trees is a delightful way to spend an hour or two, especially during the afternoon. The site now also has its own coffee shop, which serves light dishes and snacks, along with a range of hot and cold beverages.

A Pilgrim’s Progress
Saan Chao Pho Khao Yai (‘Shrine of the Father Spirit of the Great Hill’) is a very popular destination among visitors to the island. The Chinese temple predates the summer palace by several centuries and its history ties in with the days when junks from Ming China would drop anchor along the eastern side of the island.

The temple includes a shrine to the famous monkey that accompanied Hsuan Tsang during his pilgrimage from China to India during the seventh century. There are also shrines to Guan Yin (a bodhisattva known among East Asian Buddhists as ‘the goddess of mercy’), as well as statues of King Chulalongkorn the Great (see photo, right).

If you’re reasonably fit, you should easily be able to climb the stairs to reach the temple’s uppermost level, where there's a ‘Buddha footprint’. As well as lighting incense sticks, many of those who reach the top light several hundred firecrackers for good luck.

Koh Si Chang also features three colossal Buddha images just north of the temple of Wat Tham Yaai Prik. This area plays host to the Tham Chakrabongse Meditation Center.

A Refreshing Dip
If you start feeling a bit tired, just ask your driver to take you to Haad Tham Phang (‘Collapsed Cave Beach’) for a spot of swimming or bathing. This is by far the island’s most popular beach. There are several other beaches on the island (including Haad Tha Wang and Haad Tham Saai), though, all of which have cleaner, clearer water than on any mainland beach on the northern Gulf. Although the beaches are not particularly sandy, this can actually make a pleasant change. It's also a wonderful location thanks to the absence of jet skis.

A Speedy Circuit
While these incredible vehicles enjoy a form of monopoly, the 250-baht charge is very reasonable since the driver is willing to make several drops and pickups during a visit. If you're in a rush, though, and simply wish to make a quick lap of the island (without stopping), it ought to be possible to negotiate a slightly lower rate. The owners of these fascinating vehicles will become immediately apparent when you disembark from the ferry.

The island has several options when it comes to accommodation, although most of the choices tend to be towards the budget category. One convenient option that's just a short walk from the port, which is particularly convenient if you are traveling with children, is Sichang Palace Resort & Hotel (Tel: +66 [0]38 216 276). You can find other accommodation options listed on Pan & David's Ko Si Chang homepage.

Affordable Eatery 'Ticks All The Right Boxes'
There's an excellent seafood restaurant located just a short walk from the port (and Sichang Palace). Simply head along the road that leads away from the port. On reaching the first T-junction, turn right and walk for about 50-100 meters along the right-hand side of the road. You will soon arrive to a restaurant that boasts a pleasant view over the port area. Although these directions may be rather vague, you really can't go wrong since there are no other restaurants of a similar standard within the same vicinity. While the menu includes some fairly expensive options, it also offers some absolute bargains. Khao Phad Kung ('shrimp fried rice'), for example, only costs 35 baht and this is by no means the only affordable option.

Transport Connections:
Minibus: A Rot Dtoo ('mini bus') service now operates between Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Sri Racha. The single (one way) fare is 100 baht per person. The journey takes about one to one-and-a-half hours, depending on traffic conditions.

Bus: Regular and air-conditioned buses depart from Bangkok's Eastern Bus Station at Ekkamai (BTS: Ekkamai) for Sri Racha every 30 minutes from 5.30 am to 7 pm. The single fare on an air-con bus is about 100 baht.

Car: From Bangkok, I suggest you follow Route 3 (see road numbering explanation here) in the direction of Chon Buri and Pattaya. Follow the signs for Sri Racha, which you will see along the way. Other highways heading in the same direction should also allow you to exit and make your way to the port, which is just a short distance south from the rather more commercial port of Laem Chabang.

Boat: Boats depart for Ko Si Chang from Sri Racha's Koh Loi jetty on an hourly basis. There are plenty of signs for the jetty around town. A single fare to the island is 40 baht per person.

Please note that if you face a long wait (eg, a boat has just left), there are several excellent restaurants just a short walk away from the pier.


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