Most islands in Thailand have the kind of picture-perfect beaches that dominate wall calendar photos and Windows desktop screensavers– beaches with showstopping limestone cliffs and impossibly clear blue water. Bangkok’s closest island, Ko Si Chang, is not one of them. But on a recent trip there a few weekends ago, I discovered Ko Si Chang has a lot more to offer than Instagram/ Facebook jealousy-inducing beach photos. If you’re looking for a taste of true island life in Thailand, head to Ko Si Chang.
After a hectic week of navigating a new school and chasing around “naughty” (as our British coordinator would say) students, my roommate Lily and I decided that some relaxation time on the beach was in order. Ko Si Chang was close, and with only one and half days to spare, we couldn’t afford to jet off to one of Thailand’s superstar beaches.
I knew we were in for a less touristy experience when I was one of four “farang” (foreigners) on the packed 7pm ferry from Si Racha (of siracha sauce fame) on Friday night. After 40 minutes of cruising around oil rigs and gazing at the outlines of distant mountains, we made it to the Ko Si Chang pier. There are no cars allowed on the island, so we were greeted by swarms of tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis awaiting the ferry. We took off in a tuk-tuk with a little boy in red superhero pajamas and (presumably) his grandpa, an older man who would soon become our personal tuk-tuk driver for the weekend. Even at night, you could tell you were on an island. The air was fresher, the streets were less cramped, and you could sense a slower pace of life.
Lily and I stayed at the Ban Khun Ning Si Chang Resort—a basic but clean hotel run by an incredibly friendly woman and her sons. After a much-needed western-style breakfast (French press coffee and cheesy eggs never tasted so good) on Saturday morning, we headed to the beach. Ko Si Chang’s sole swimming beach is nothing extraordinary, but still prettier than most of the Lake Michigan beaches I’ve been to. It consisted of a small cove surrounded by rocks and was mainly populated by locals and long-sleeve shirt clad Thai tourists who stayed under the protection of umbrellas. Thai people’s aversion to the sun can only be matched by American girls’ addiction to tanning beds and bronzer. But that’s a topic for another blog post…
Lily and I met two fellow vacationing expats at the beach and decided to share a tuk-tuk to the Chinese Temple. The Chinese Temple is gorgeous in its own right, but it also offers incredible views of the island and the Gulf.
The Temple is built into a cave and features stunning Buddha statues, along with a prayer cave where guests can make a donation and tape their handwritten prayer to the cave walls.
The hike to Buddha’s footprint was well worth the never-ending vertical climb. The views were incredible.
After our trip to the Temple, I took a short walk around the island by myself. There were only a few hotels, but I was the only tourist in sight. Colorful houses and small seafood restaurants lined the streets; locals sat in plastic chairs outside their houses, chatting with shopkeepers. After asking an older woman where the 7-11 was, she offered to take me there on her motorbike. I politely declined, but was happily surprised: this was the kind of Thai hospitality I’d heard about.
Even though Lily and I left the island at 7:30 on Sunday morning, our hotel owner insisted that her son drive us to the pier for free– in the sidecar of his motorbike, of course.
Friendly locals, a beautiful temple, and a nice beach made our quick trip to Ko Si Chang well worth the trip.