Not to be confused with the much larger and more popular Koh Chang in Trat province, Koh Si Chang is a magical little island close to Bangkok that exists mostly unknown to travelers. This piece of paradise in the Gulf of Thailand only has one beach, which is quite small, and the mountainous terrain makes this an interesting island to explore. Unlike other nearby islands, Koh Si Chang is not a party destination and doesn’t even have any bars in town. With little tourist infrastructure to attract people the island stays relatively quiet, especially on weekdays. Despite the laid back atmosphere, there is plenty to do to keep visitors busy.
Koh Si Chang is a fishing island, and the town is filled with people who make a living from the sea. Because so few travelers visit the island, the majority of residents don’t work in the tourism industry; this is great news, because instead of trying to sell you a cheap souvenir or a snack, locals typically just go about their day and don’t bother travelers. However, don’t think that people here are rude! When you stop to talk to people, you’ll receive nothing but smiles and gracious hospitality. This is the way Thailand is meant to be!
The ferry pulls up to a pier in the heart of town, which is also where are the restaurants and the majority of the attractions are. However, you can rent a motorbike right on the pier which will allow you to head straight to the beach and get settled into your beachfront bungalow.
Things to do in Koh Si Chang
Beach: As with any Thai island, the main draw on Koh Si Chang is the beach! Haad Tham Phang is the only real beach on the island, and though it’s very small it has everything that you need. Despite its small size, the beach doesn’t feel crowded because there are so few people. The crystal clear water is a stunning blue/green, and at low tide you can walk out far from shore in water that’s shallow enough to stand. There is a kayak rental kiosk on the beach, and a small shop operated by the Tam Pang Beach Resort that sells beer.
Explore: Motorbikes are the primary form of transportation on the island, and are a practical necessity if you want to bounce back and forth between town and the beach. The mountainous topography of the island makes for some amazing riding, though even a beginner motorbike rider could handle most of the roads. One great place to discover is Cape Nguu, with the postcard-perfect views that backpackers expect to find in Thailand; another fun road to find is a route between the beach and town that takes you up the mountain and past the Wat Tham Yaai Prik.
Nature: In addition to the beaches and mountains, Koh Si Chang has other interesting options for getting in touch with nature. There are friendly wild boars who roam the island, and they even will come lie down next to you when you’re relaxing on the beach! If you’re more interested in marine animals, the Chulalongkorn University Aquatic Studies Program is based on the island and offers a free aquarium. The signage is all in Thai, but the fish are still beautiful to watch.
Buddhist Culture: If you’re interested in learning about Buddhist culture, Koh Si Chang is a great spot. In town is the giant Yellow Buddha, also known as Tham Chakrabongse. There are beautiful views from Buddha’s lookout, in addition to the many smaller Buddha statues and even a cave that’s open for exploration. Additionally, well worth the trek out of town and up a mountain is the only copy of Buddha’s footprint in Thailand. (It’s a replica that was brought from India to Thailand by the Royal Prince in 1891.) Ring the bell three times to let the spirits know that you are there to pay homage, and then leave a few baht in Buddha’s footprint for good luck!
Local Culture: Koh Si Chang also has fascinating local culture. The island is the home of a Chinese temple, also known as Saan Chao Pho Khao Yai, which is the Shrine of the Father Spirit of the Great Hill; for good luck you can light firecrackers off the temple’s patio, and a small donation will ensure happiness for your family. In more recent history, Koh Si Chang was the prime vacation destination of the fifth king of Thailand, and the Chudhadhuj Palace is open for tours where you can feel like a king for a day.
Where to stay?
Haad Tham Phang is the only real beach on the island, and the only place to stay on the beach is the Tam Pang Beach Resort. Don’t let the name scare you, the “resort” is definitely in the backpacker budget! The accommodation is very simple, with hard beds and barely running water, but the bungalows are sufficient and there’s really not much more you need on the beach on a Thai island. The resort’s location definitely makes up for any inadequacies with the rooms; the bungalows are located on a bluff directly over the beach offering incredible views from the patios (which come with reclining chairs), and it’s only a minute or two walk to the sand. The resort also features a small shop with a very nice staff which sells beer for reasonable prices and also carries gasoline for your motorbike.
If you’d prefer to stay with a bit more luxury and don’t mind being away from the beach, Charlie’s Bungalows is a good option located in town. Slightly more expensive than the resort, the rooms are of much higher quality.
How to get there?
- All ferries for Koh Si Chang leave from the mainland city of Sriracha about 60-90 minutes southeast of Bangkok, so the first trick is getting there. When purchasing tickets, be careful not to mix up the island’s name; if you say Koh Si Chang they’ll sell you a ticket to Sriracha, but if you accidentally say Koh Chang they’ll sell you a ticket to Trat. Very few foreigners travel to Koh Si Chang, so it’s likely they’ll be expecting you to say Koh Chang instead. Always confirm that your minibus or bus is going to Sriracha and not going to Trat.
- Minibus: The easiest and most basic way to get to Koh Si Chang is by minibus from Victory Monument in Bangkok to Sriracha. At the point when the minibus route is closest to the ferry pier they’ll just pull over and put you out on Sriracha’s main road. As soon as you’re out of the minibus, tuk-tuks will stop by and offer you a ride to the ferry pier.
- Bus: The other option is to take the bus from Bangkok to Sriracha. Buses leave from the eastern Ekkamai bus station and will take you directly to the Sriracha bus station. Tuk-tuks are waiting at the bus station to take you to the ferry port.
- The ferry from Sriracha to Koh Si Chang is a 40-minute ride across the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a relatively small boat with no services on board, but the trip itself is fun traveling through very busy shipping lanes and past many small islands. Be careful: The ferry that leaves Koh Si Chang for Sriracha leaves at the pier next to the one at which you arrived! When you’re leaving, make sure you’re going to the pier that’s next to 7-11.
Where to next?
- Bangkok: Koh Si Chang is only a hop, skip, and a jump to one of the largest and craziest cities in Southeast Asia!
- Koh Samet: After relaxing in Koh Si Chang’s laid back atmosphere, you’ve earned a trip to Koh Samet, central Thailand’s most well-known party island. If the beachfront fire shows and buckets are calling, Koh Samet’s the place to go!
- Pattaya: If you’re looking for an urban environment that’s smaller and less hectic than Bangkok, and even has urban beaches, Pattaya is within easy reach of Koh Si Chang! Beware this place is mighty seedy, only for those looking for a truly wild Thailand experience.
Written by: Ambassador Chase Berenson