With the monsoon season slow in leaving, the weather in Bangkok has been pretty gray lately. Thankfully Bordeaux has a friend visiting us this week, so we had the perfect excuse to slip down to one of the islands in the gulf of Thailand. After a bit of research, Bordeaux decided we should visit Koh Si Chang, a tiny nearby island with none of the beach culture of Pattaya or Ko Samet. We departed from Bangkok after stopping by work on Friday morning. We were running a bit late by the time we left our apartment, so we decided to take a taxi to the Ekkamai bus station. I haled the first cab I saw, an ancient hot-pink car. As we got in, Bordeaux remarked on how old the taxi was. Overhearing him, the taxi driver said, “What? Old taxi? Oh, sorry. Old driver, too.”
After a two-hour bus trip to Sri Racha, a short tuk-tuk ride to the pier, and a choppy 45-minute ferry into the gulf of Thailand, we arrived at Koh Si Chang. There had been such a small amount of information in the guidebook that I had been a little worried about the island: would it be just a drab port town, with an uninviting atmosphere? Or alternately, would it be another generic resort, overrun with tourists and devoid of character? Amazingly, Koh Si Chang was exactly what I had dreamed it would be. The main town had a friendly island atmosphere, with shops and fruit stands lined up on quiet streets that sloped down to the port. Between the pale blue and green houses were lush gardens, overgrown with orchids, frangipanis, and banana palms. And all of this was watched over by a towering gold Buddha seated on the hilltop.
After getting settled in to our bungalow at the Tiew Park Resort, we headed out to explore the island. At the far end of town are the remains of Rama V’s island palace, now a manicured public garden. We entered the park via a thin oceanfront promenade, set against a rocky beach where children were swimming and diving off of battered fishing boats. In the distance we could see the shore of Thailand, it’s green hilly peaks appearing through the haze like the spiny back of a submerged crocodile. Set below a jungled cliff, the gardens were a strange labyrinth with twisting paths curving around goldfish ponds, Buddhist shrines, and a giant clamshell fountain. After an hour of exploring, we returned to town, where we decided to have dinner at a restaurant called Pan and David’s. Though the menu offered a cosmopolitan mix of dishes made with imported ingredients, we were in the mood for Thai seafood. We ordered a spicy salad with fish and shrimp, an extremely fiery jungle curry, and squid stir-fried with garlic and pepper. It was a delicious dinner, perfect for our first night on the island.
We were planning on returning to Pan and David's for breakfast the next morning, but while walking around town we were tempted by a woman making fresh roti on a streetside wok. We each had a plate of banana mataba, a sort of folded-over roti. They were served sizzling hot, the roti crispy and golden, stuffed with sweet bananas, and covered in a drizzling of condensed milk.
It was bright and sunny out, surprisingly for the rainy season, so we chartered a tuk-tuk to Hat Tham Pang beach on the other side of the island. Hat Tham Pang is the only one real beach on Koh Si Chang, a thin slip of white sand on the edge of a clamshell shaped cove. The water was the color of an old fashioned lime soda, and just cool enough to offer an inviting refreshment from the sun.
After floating on the waves and burning in the sun, we settled into lounge chairs at one of the beachfront cafes for lunch. The cafes on the beach have erected a long canopy of sun-umbrellas along the sand, providing a cool stretch of shade under which to eat. We ordered, and after just a few minutes they brought out three huge plates, piled with food. It was unbelievably delicious. There was a plate of fat noodles, greasy with soy sauce, fried with mixed seafood; a spicy papaya salad made with fresh crab; and, my favorite dish, squid stir-fried with cashew nuts.
After another hour of swimming and sunning, we headed back into town. We stopped on the way for an afternoon treat at Pan and David’s. We each ordered a scoop of one of their flavors of homemade ice cream: chocolate and walnut, almond, and strawberry. They were all creamy and smooth, tasting even better as they began to melt in the afternoon heat. The strawberry was likely the best; the strawberries were so fresh that they still tasted a little tart.
We got back to our room just as an evening rainfall began. After napping through the rhythm of the monsoon, we headed out to find dinner. We chose an outdoor seafood restaurant that seemed to be popular with Thai diners. We ordered steamed fish with lime sauce, and prawns stir-fried with vegetables, which, due to an odd typo, was listed as ‘prawn stir fried with regretable.’ When the latter dish arrived, we all wondered if it really had meant regrettable. It was a plate-sized disc of fried batter, with no clear signs of vegetables. We eventually figured out that we had ordered incorrectly, and had been brought the prawn and pork omelet, which was the dish listed below what we had wanted. It was too late to correct our fish dish as well, and we were the brought crispy-fried sweet and sour fish. Thankfully, both dishes were very tasty, if not exactly what we had ordered. The fish was served whole, grimacing face on one end of the platter, crispy tail falling off the other end. To finish the meal, I took the fish head onto my plate; as an adventurous final note for the perfect island weekend, I ate all I could from it, down to the tiny, crunchy eye.