Jun 17 2013
Travellers looking to get away from the crowds of Phuket and see the island’s more traditional, peaceful side are well advised to head east. Off Phuket’s southeast coast lies Ko Siray, a small island with great hilltop views, scenic roads to explore and some good beachfront dining.
Connected to Phuket by a short causeway, Ko Siray is more rough and rugged than Phuket’s better-known west coast beach resort areas, which is part of its appeal. One of the first sights you’ll notice just after driving onto the island is the monkey viewing platform. Set at the side of the road, the platform gives views into a rather dingy mangrove forest where there’s a resident population of macaque monkeys hanging around. There are often vendors selling bananas and other fruit to toss down to the monkeys.
From here, carry on further onto the island, and eventually you’ll come to a clock tower where the road forks into two directions. If you continue on to the left, you’ll cruise along a quiet paved road that loops around the coast and meanders up and down some hills, passing by a few villa estates. Just past the Nchantra Pool Suite Residences is a red and white sign, in Thai, that marks the entrance to a low-key local restaurant.
The restaurant, found at the end of the coconut tree and bougainvillea-lined lane, has a string of small dining salas along the waterfront of Haad Pleumsuk (Happiness Beach), and serves up a good range of Thai dishes. The menu’s in Thai only so if you don’t know the names of the dishes and don’t have a guide book handy, you might need to look at what other diners are having and point. If you’re up for something spicy and especially delicious, try the kung pad kreung kang (prawn curry).
The food is good here, and the views are great. On a clear day you can see the islands of Phang Nga Bay in the distance. The beach itself is a bit scruffy and swimming in the shallow bay is possible only at high tide, but there are always a few local families frolicking here especially on the weekends.
If you continue looping around the island you’ll come across the road leading to Laem Tukkae (Gecko Cape), where Phuket’s largest sea gypsy village is based. It’s also home to the four-star Westin Siray Bay resort (check rates on Agoda.com),
a rather incongruous touch of luxury in an otherwise rustic area. The resort has six restaurants and a spa, plus more than 250 rooms and pool villas sprinkled around the promontory.
From here, if you take the main road heading back to the bridge, you’ll come across the ornate entrance to Wat Ko Siray, which is set atop one of Siray’s highest hills. The temple has two sections, one at the lower part of the hill, where you’ll need to park your car or motorbike, then the main temple housing a golden reclining Buddha at the top of the hill. It was once possible to drive right to the top but it’s now blocked to traffic. The walk up from the base is no more than 10 minutes, all in the shade.
The temple’s design is modest but the views are fantastic, offering a bird’s eye view of the Siray sea gypsy village, Phuket’s east coast and out across the sea. Unlike other Phuket viewpoints such as Laem Promthep, there is a refreshing absence of crowds here. On any of our visits, the only other beings up here were the somewhat grouchy caretaker who implored us to make an incense offering, and a few lazy cats.
Ko Siray is found just east of Phuket Town, reached via Sri Suthat Road past the ramshackle Rassada fishing port area. Only about 20 square kilometres in size, Ko Siray could easily be explored within a few hours by car or motorbike, though a whole day could be spent here if you choose to linger at the beach, village and temple.
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