Koh Si Chang, or Sichang Island, has a special place in the history of the Chakri dynasty. Three former kings vacationed there. Its remaining link to royalty can be seen in the names around the island where almost everything is named after members of the royal family, and some high-ranking officers, of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V. Some of the roads, buildings, bridges, parks and temples are named after high-ranking officers who contributed to their construction. Other sites were named after precious stones.
King Mongkut, or Rama IV, admired the island for its fresh and clean air, which he believed contributed to the long lives of the people who lived there. But even though the King made periodic trips to the island in the mid-19th century, he slept on his ship and didn't build a permanent residence there.
The face of Sichang Island changed considerably during the reign of King Rama V as it became a busy port and one of the gateways to Siam. After Prince Vajiravudh
(who would later take the throne as King Rama VI) stayed on the island for over eight months to recover from an illness, Sichang became the most popular place for
convalescence for members of the royal family.
Still, it was not until 1892 that the royal summer residences took on the formal status of a palace. When Prince Chudadhuj Daradilok was born to Queen Sri Bajarindra on July 5, 1892, at Chudadhuj Throne Hall on the island, and a traditional ceremony was held a month later to bless the new-born prince, and the Sichang summer palace was bestowed with the name Chudadhuj Palace.
The summer palace compound boasted four mansions, 14 halls and a pavilion surrounded by many ponds, brooks, cliffs and caves. The palace's architecture reflected the social and political climate of the time it was built. The Western influence is evident.
The pagoda-church of Assadang Nimit Temple for example. It's a true East-meets-West building with a traditional Thai pagoda built on top of the Western domed church. The floor was made of marble and the windows were decorated with stained glass, he added.
Regrettably, it was the rise of Western colonialism that forced the royal family to leave the island. The Franco-Siamese conflict regarding sovereignty over neighbouring Laos led to aggression by French gunships which blockaded the Chao Phraya River. The French also stationed their troops along the eastern coast of Siam, and Sichang Island was no longer considered safe for royal sojourns.
Though the Franco-Siamese treaty relinquishing land on the left bank of the Mekong River to the French was signed in 1893, the French did not pull out their troops until a decade later. The palace was left vacant and some mansions under construction in the compound were left unfinished.
In 1901, however, King Chulalongkorn realised that Munthat Rattanarot Mansion was still not finished, and he ordered the golden teakwood building to be dismantled and brought to Bangkok. By royal decree, the mansion was brought to Dusit Palace and rebuilt as the renowned Vimanmek Mansion.
The octagon stone base where the original mansion once stood can still be seen at the compound of the Chudhadhuj Palace on Sichang Island.
Wat Thamyaiprig started in 1970 a spartan, solitary abode at a limestone cave up the mountain on Si Chang Island. The temple grew as the abbot's fame as a meditation teacher attracted the religious-minded to enter a monastic life and learn meditation under his guidance. The temple now accommodates 23 monks and 22 nuns from various professional backgrounds.
"Some are experienced electricians, others are builders and carpenters," said Mae Chee Srisuda, who herself is a former teacher. "Our diverse skills have made it possible for our temple to be relatively self-sufficient."
Apart from a praying hall, meditation pavilions, and monks' living quarters, Wat Thamyaiprig also has large fruit and vegetable gardens to support its monks and nuns. It also boasts as many as 37 huge underground water tanks.
Si Chang is a rock island with no natural source of spring water. Therefore, they need huge water tanks to store the rain water for use all year round. Water tanks, for example, are built under every building in the temple. When it rains, the water will flow from the roof down the rain pipes to the tube which flows directly to the water tank underneath. When the top water tank is full, the water will flow over to a pipe which goes to the one below, until all water tanks are full. Then the excess water will be released to the sea.
The stored rain water is used for all water needs, from drinking to watering the vegetable gardens. But thanks to the temple's frugality, the temple is able to distribute excess water to villagers nearby.
The villagers need to pay about 90 to 100 Bahtfor one cubic metre of water in village stores, which is very expensive. However on water distribution days, the villagers bring their own containers to take the water from the temple for free, she said.
Water is not the only thing Wat Thamyaiprig offers the Si Chang inhabitants. The abundant vegetable gardens on the 19-rai temple generously yield all sorts of vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines, lettuce, water mimosa, cow peas and pumpkins, among many things. The yield is more than the monks and nuns need, for they only have one meal a day. The surplus is given for free to the villagers.
Although monks and nuns at Wat Thamyaiprig must chip in their labour at the temple, the nun said they never consider it a life of hardship.
Located off the coast of the fishing town of Sri Racha, Chonburi province, this island has many sites of historical value. Boats leave from the pier near Koh Loy, Sri Racha and take 45 minutes to reach the island.
Accommodation on the island is limited, as is the water supply. There is no natural source of water on the island, so the inhabitants reply on rain water stored in large cisterns that were built when the island was developed about a century ago.