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Monkeys and mangroves in Koh Siray

VILLAGE OF THE WEEK: Koh Siray may not seem like an island – it’s separated from Phuket only by a short 200m bridge over the Tha Jeen canal. Indeed, despite the Koh (island) in its name, modern day Koh Siray is actually deemed part of Phuket Town as it’s only around 4km from the heart of the city.

Thursday 5 January 2012, 12:51PM

Fishing boats on Koh Siray.

Fishing boats on Koh Siray.

Much of Koh Siray is covered in a natural landscape of lush mountains and rich mangrove forests that Rassada Tambon Administration and proud villagers help to preserve.

Village head, Mr Maitree Duangjan, describes the island’s topography as mostly mountains, with about 30 per cent flat land near the canal, and some muddy, stony beaches on the east side.

Just one village, Baan Moo 1 Koh Siray, covers the whole island, except for the little Morgans Village situated in Laem Tukkae, where residents have their own separate area.

The main village houses a wide range of inhabitants attracted to the island’s fishing industry. The 20 sq km area covering Koh Siray Moo 1 starts at Tha Jeen bridge and has a registered population of almost 3,500.

However, Mr Maitree believes this number is much higher. “It could be nearly 4,500, as many people live in the village even though they are registered as living elsewhere. But if you count labourers that work on fishing boats and piers, for example, I believe the number could reach 10,000,” he said.

Such large numbers stay on this small island because it’s the biggest fishing port in this part of the country. Visitors will see the many fishing boats bobbing in the water at Phuket Fishing Port in Koh Siray, only a few hundred metres from the bridge.

“Major businesses here are all related to the fishing industry. There are two large shipyards, many repair and hardware shops, cold storage for fishing and a few cruise ship piers, as this spot is probably the easiest way to get to Phi Phi island from the east side of Phuket,” Mr Maitree said.

Eighty-five per cent of the island’s inhabitants are Buddhist. Their most sacred temple is Wat Koh Siray atop Siray Hill, that was built by Luang Pu Supha Kantaseelo in 1960. A year later he spearheaded     the project to have an 18.5 metre Reclining Buddha built, which was completed in 1963. Then the beautiful Ubosot (chapel) was erected a few years later to house the Buddha.

The Ubosot sits on top of the mountain where visitors are welcome to enjoy the magnificent views over Koh Siray, Phuket City, Saphan Hin, Phuket Fishing Port, and Laem Tukkae.

The temple has always been at the centre of the local community, playing an important role in religious activities. Each year the villagers come together at the end of Buddhist Lent for their annual blessings and Chak Phra ceremony.

Chak Phra literally means “pulling of the Buddhist monks” and is celebrated in many southern provinces. At Wat Koh Siray, a beautifully adorned carriage with a Buddha statue is pulled across town by monks and participants to make merit. At the end of the ceremony the monks bless the village and villagers.

Laguna Golf Phuket

Mr Maitree has been the village head for two years, and at 33 years old, he is a young leader determined to bring more development to the village, yet preserve it’s natural beauty.

He helps promote a better quality of life for the people of Koh Siray. He encouraged villagers to come together to form a community watch to keep an eye drug use and to prevent children from going off on the wrong path. The community watch have regular meetings to discuss various matters in the village and how they can work towards resolving issues.

They organise sports like football and sepak-takraw, and encourage the youth in the village to participate to give them a shared activity and focus. In August this year, Baan Koh Siray Moo 1 football team joined Rassada Municipality football tournament and finished in a respectable fourth place.

Mr Maitree and the community also helped develop the monkey viewing platforms for visitors. Before there was just mangrove forests where monkeys came from each evening to search for food from nearby houses.

After submitting an application on behalf of the villagers to Rassada Municipality, the roadside development now includes a platform for monkey watching near the forest. Also look out for the unique road signs that you won’t see very often saying: “Monkey on road.”

the Koh Siray monkey viewing platforms have become very popular among villagers and tourists. Each day in the late afternoon, at 5 or 6pm, families and tourists arrive with some food, bananas, sometimes peanuts and different kinds of fruits to throw to the monkeys, who will come out from the mangrove forest.

But Koh Siray has more than just fishing boats, mangrove forests and monkeys. The village is the home of many charity projects and shelters. There are shelters like the government’s Home for Children and Mothers, Phuket Sunshine Village home for children and Life Home Project, home for HIV positive mothers and children.

In past years, Koh Siray has never been viewed as a tourist destination, but new developments are bringing changes. The luxury hotel, The Westin Siray Bay Resort and Spa, recently opened its doors to tourists seeking a sanctuary on the quieter side of Phuket, far from the busy streets, parties and night life of the west coast.

Being on the east coast, Koh Siray’s beaches are often muddy, stony and sometimes have cloudy water, but the island’s appeal is as a natural getaway, where visitors can appreciate the unspoilt environment and escape the crowds.

Koh Siray has seen more activities in recent years, but Mr Maitree and his community are determined to keep their island peaceful and quiet.

“It is clear that Phuket depends a lot on tourism, and in the past year we see more tourists visit Koh Siray; some to stay at The Westin, some to take boat trips to the islands around Phuket, some just happen to drive by. But we will try our best to accommodate tourists and keep our home in good order, as it is what we are, it’s our own identity as villagers who have lived here for a long time and will continue living here for years to come.”
  –Kazira Hanshanasattru

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