The island of Koh Mak is located in the East of the Gulf of Thailand, 35 kilometers from the mainland, at latitude 11 ° 49′ North, longitude 102 ° 29′ East. Koh Mak is the third biggest island in Trat province after Koh Chang and Koh Kood, with an area of 16 square kilometers, it is mostly flat. The island has a circumference of 27 kilometers, and white sandy beaches stretch from the north-west of the island round to the south.
Administratively, Koh Mak is a tambon (sub-district) attached to Khing Amphur (district) Koh Kood, Trat province. The traditional occupations of the island are agricultural: most of the land is cultivated as plantations of coconut or para rubber.
It is said that the island was first settled by Chao Sua Seng, who established a coconut plantation, and who occupied the post of Palad Jeen, or Chinese Affairs Officer, during the reign of King Rama V (King Chula-longkorn). Later, Chao Sua Seng sold his coconut plantation to ‘Luang Prompakdii’, Plian Taveteekul, who also held the post of Chinese Affairs Officer and who came originally from Ban Koh Po in Prachankiriket province. This is now the province of Koh Kong in Kampuchea, but at the time it was a province of Thailand.
The taveteekul clan
Now I would like to relate the history of Luang Prompakdii and his family, the descendents of the Taveteekul clan. To this day, his children still own most of the land on Koh Mak.
As far as we know, Luang Prompakdii was himself of Chinese descent, and emigrated from China to Thailand at the time of the Great Revolution in China to settle at Ban Koh Po. He received a royal appointment to the post of Chinese Affairs Officer for the province of Prachankiriket, for which reason the villagers called him Than Palad Jeen. He was married to Khun Mae Mulee and had eleven children, as follows: Nai Mueng Taveteekul, Nai Prom Taveteekul, Nang Tae Wongsiri, who married Khun Wongsirirak, Nai Kanna Taveteekul, Nai Au Taveteekul, Nai Dam Taveteekul, who drowned at an early age, Nang Kimhun Wattana, who married Nai Panompuong Wat-tana, Nai Aeb Taveteekul (Luang Uthai-satchavethee), Nang Payorm Aungsuworn, who mar–ried Khun Boribansarathikit, Nai Aab Taveteekul, Nang Sumlee Bunsiri.
Luang Prompakdii sent his fifth son, Nai Au Taveteekul, to study in China, and later sent his fourth son, Nai Kanna Taveteekul, to accompany his brother to work on the coconut plantation on Koh Mak.
Life in old Ban Koh Po
Ban Koh Po (that is, Koh Po village) was a tambon or sub-district of Pra-chankiriket province, or Koh Kong, and in the old days Koh Kong town was a place from which agri-cultural products were sent to be sold in Bangkok, especially rubber and rong thong (gamboge, a kind of gum resin collected from a tree and used as a colourant in paints and dyes).
We know, for instance, that there was a tax collector called ‘Nai Kong’ who was charged with collected taxes from the gamboge-tappers and sending the taxes to the Royal Finance Bureau (from which we may conclude that the cultivation of gamboge was the most popular way of making a living in those days). Historical evidence shows that he was responsible for the gamboge-tax from 2411 to 2435 B.E., that is, 1868-1892, in the reign of Rama IV.
The name which Nai Kong was given by the King was Luang Yothapirom; he was a royal officer with a direct connection to the Palace, which at the time controlled the administration of tax collection. His family also lived in the village of Koh Po.
Ban Koh Po is located on the banks of the Koh Po River, and the villagers lived along the banks of the river. This village has a long history, and a densely settled population, and in those days was an administrative and trading centre. The offices of the Royal administration were there, and the offices of the appointed Governor of Prachan-kiriket: Pra-pichai-chonlathee, who was also called “Saang”.
Every aspect of progressive development was at that time concentrated within Ban Koh Po. Royal officers and prosperous families lived there, and traders, some of whom traded on a large scale. Big sailing boats came to and fro, carrying on a constant trade with Bangkok.
The family of Luang Prompakdii and Khun Mae Mulee was one of the best known, most respected and prosperous in Prachan-kiriket. Luang Prom-pakdee’s trading interests were highly diversified. His trading post and house were situated right in the centre of the village, on the river bank, by a pier that stood out into the river. North of this pier were terraced houses for workers and servants; and south of the pier stood Luang Prompakdee’s own house, built in the old Thai style with a high, steep roof and a verandah looking out over the river.
Further along from Luang Prompakdee’s house were the houses and offices of other traders, and the houses of royal officials and villagers, all settled very closely together along the river bank. Then came the house of the Governor, Prapichaichonlathee; then more houses, and so right out to the edge of the village.
Running parallel to the river was an old path, which divided the village into two. The houses were built in a row along both sides of the path, sometimes close together or and sometimes further apart depending upon how much land each owner had.
In those days, Koh Po also had many brewers of alcoholic drinks, who exported to distant places. This in turn meant that there were traders in alcoholic drinks- and also the ‘drinks stamp’ officers, the men who administered the royal taxes on this commodity.
Later, King Rama V reformed the administrative system away from direct royal rule to a system of Ministries, each Ministry being responsible for a particular aspect of administration. Rama V’s system was very similar to the administrative system still used in Thailand at the present day.
The administrative reforms of Rama V brought big changes to Prachankiriket. Old pro-cedures were abolished and government offices were relocated from Koh Po to Tambon Laem Dan at the mouth of the Tapangrung River, inside the Straits of Kong.
The new provincial governors were appointed directly by the Ministry of the Interior. Prayapichaichonlathee who was sent as Governor to Prachankiriket. His previous name had been Jorn Chatraputi, and he became known locally as Chao Muang Jorn.
The timber business
Meanwhile, Luang Prompakdii and Khun Mae Mulee had expanded their business interests, setting up a timber factory and buying up mangrove wood. They bought the woods on the southern banks of the Bang Krasop River, a place which is still known as Rong Pheen (‘Wood Factory’) to this day.
The province of Prachankiriket had very large mangrove forests covering the flooded, muddy estuarine areas. Every area of mangrove forest was a flooded zone, all the way from Klong Lad at Koh Nuu, where the stream from Koh Nuu cut through to join the Koh Po River on the west bank. This forested area was interlaced with many creeks, and the mangroves flourished there plentifully.
At that time, charcoal-burning was not being done in that area. Luang Prompakdii and Mae Mulee were the first traders who bought mangrove wood and shipped it to Bangkok on a regular basis by large sailing boat. On its return journey, the boat brought back goods from Bangkok for sale in Pra-chankiriket.
The purchase of Koh Mak
Khun Mae Mulee was highly respected by the people and known for her devotion to Buddhism. She owned rice fields which she rented out, collecting the rent in rice; part of this rice was set aside so that it could be given as alms to the monks on a regular basis.
With her close connections to traders and royal officials, Khun Mae Mulee was well informed, and this is how she learned that Chao Sua Seng, another of the Chinese Affairs Officers, wanted to sell his coconut plantation on Koh Mak. Khun Mae Mulee agreed to buy the plantation for the sum of 300 Chang, which was the name of the currency in those days (One Chang = 80 Baht). And that is how the coconut plantations on Koh Mak came into her family, in whose possession they have remained to this day.
The French colonial onslaught
As time went by, the situation in Prachan-kiriket felt more uncertain in many ways. The situation of the whole of Thailand was also uncertain. This was the heyday of European co-lo-nialism, when the nations of Europe were competing to exploit nations throughout Asia and the other continents. Lands belonging to many less developed countries were seized by Europeans and turned into colonies. Many parts of our own Siam (Thailand) were seized and ruled by the British and the French on many occasions.
Prachankiriket province was Thai territory in the past, its population of the same descent as other Thais. But in 2447 B.E. (1904) the French, expanding their colonies in Indochina, annexed Prachankiriket-or Koh Kong-and integrated it into Cambodia, which they had already seized. This occurred during the rule of Rama V (Chulalongkorn).
At the time, the loss of Koh Kong to the French wasn’t carefully recorded in Thai chronicles, so later generations do not know how this happened. But it is accepted as a fact that Thailand lost this part of her territory to the French.
The territory of Prachankiriket or Koh Kong borders on Trat province, which is still Thai territory. This border is a long one, run-ning as far as Ao Kompong Som in Cambodia. The inner part of the island of Koh Kong was a huge area of forest.
King Rama V made journeys to patrol his eastern territories in this area, travelling down from Chanthaburi province along the sea border on the East of the Gulf of Thailand.
As is recorded in history, Bangkok was built in 2325 B.E. (1782) at the start of the Chakri Dynasty. Until the reign of King Rama IV, or around 2400 B.E. (1857), the security of the kingdom was endangered by the colonial ambitions of the French. The French invaded Vietnam in 2401 B.E. (1858) and seized many important cities such as Saigon and Binh Hoa; later they took complete control of the whole of Vietnam.
The French did not use force against Cambodia as they had against Vietnam. Here they resorted to a softer, diplomatic approach by sending a representative to negotiate with King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, proposing that Cambodia should become a French ‘protectorate’. Eventually the Cambodian monarch acceded completely to French wishes.
It was easy for the French to use their great military force to impose their will on Thailand’s neighbours, who were in a weak position and unable to fight back.
In their ambition to expand their power, the French had their eyes on a large area of Thailand bordering on Cambodia: Pratabong (now the Cambodian province of Battambang), Siamrat (now integrated into Cambodia as Siem Reap) Srisophon and Prachankiriket. All of these had been Thai territories since the old days.
It is recorded as an important event in Thai history that we were forced to lose our land to these French ‘colonial hunters’. The French tried to force the Siamese ruler at the time to accept that the land to the east of the Khong River (Maekhong) should be under their rule. This included the North and South of Laos, the country of the Laotian people, whose relationship to the Thais went back many generations.
Then the French used military force to invade Thai territory, but met fierce resistance from Thai forces.
Realizing that Thailand would not be overcome or bullied easily, the French launched a naval expedition on 13 July 2436 B.E. (1893), sending a fleet with two gunships and a pilot vessel up the Gulf of Siam into the mouth of the Chao Praya River. Fierce gun battles took place between the French and Thai navies, in which the Thai force was at a disadvantage, having less modern ships than the French enemy. Thailand’s fighting ships sustained heavy damage, but one of the French gunships was also holed.
Because of the disadvantageous position of the Thai force, in respect both of weaponry and ships, the Thais agreed to negotiations for a ceasefire.
French demands for territory
The French colonial powers dictated very oppressive conditions for a peace treaty, and as losers of the war the Thais were bound to agree to these terms unconditionally. What the French demanded was:
1. The Thais must accept that Vietnam and Cambodia, all the territories on the eastern bank of the Maekhong River, and all the islands in the Maekhong were under French rule.
2. The Thai military forces must be withdrawn from all territories east of the Maekhong River within one month.
3. Thailand was pay reparations for the fighting in the Northeast and also at the mouth of the Chao Praya River.
4. Thai military personnel were to be punished, and compensation was to be paid to the wives and children of French soldiers killed or wounded in the fighting.
5. In all, the compensation demanded came to a total of three million French francs.
6. As a guarantee, the Thai King would also be required to deposit three million French francs in foreign currency in advance, or else let the French have the right to collect taxes and tax stamps. (These taxes were mainly levied on an annual basis on production of fruits and other agricultural products from Pratabong and Siamrat.
Dejected, the Thais accepted five out of the six conditions in the treaty and immediately delivered the deposit of three million French francs. However, the Thais would not agree to give up their territories east of the Maekhong to the French, as this was the land of people who were blood relatives of the Thais going back many generations. That land did not belong to any other nation, as the French were arguing in support of their own interests.
The French could see that the Thai ruler was still slow to give his official words of approval to the treaty in the wording that had been presented to the Thai negotiators. Monsieur Pavi therefore sailed the French fleet out of the mouth of the Chao Praya River and established a new base at Koh Sichang. They then boldly announced a blockade of the Gulf of Thailand, with the intention of cutting Thailand off from the outside world and from necessary trade goods. By these means they put pressure on Thailand for a while; the blockade was lifted on 3 August 2436 B.E. (1893).
Later the French sent their fleets to seize Chanthaburi province, and they also dictated two further treaty conditions to the Thai ruler:
1. Thailand would have to withdraw its military forces from the provinces of Pratabong and Siamrat;
2. A demilitarised zone was to be established, reaching 29 km. back from a border defined as running along the Maekhong River; Thailand would not be allowed to have soldiers within this zone.
Historical records show that the diplomatic negotiations between King Rama V and the French lasted eleven years altogether, from 2436 B.E. to 2447 B.E. (1893-1904); the French finally withdrew their troops from Chanthaburi on 28th December 2447 B.E. During the negotiations, King Rama V sought concessions from the French on the matter of rights to collect taxes, and their territorial demands. Finally it was agreed that the French would withdraw from Chanthaburi in exchange for the control of certain areas which were part of Trat province, such as the lands south of Laem Singh and some of the marine islands-and also the province of Prachankiriket or Koh Kong which lay to the south of Trat.
Prachankiriket under French rule
After Prachankiriket fell to the French, the lives of its people changed in every respect. The French sent Khmer military and civilian personnel to administer the province; to the locals, these were foreigners, who spoke a foreign language. The Khmer officials dealt with the local people in an suspicious and overbearing way, demanding forced labour, and treating people badly, even beating them; in fact this was a habit Khmer officials had towards their own people, too. Crimes were committed which caused people to live in fear and insecurity, worrying for their own safety and that of their property.
As for Luang Prompakdii and his family, although they already had bought the coconut plantation on Koh Mak, a secure property firmly within Thai territory, far from the oppressive rule of foreigners, yet he still felt tied to his home in Ban Koh Po, and to his relatives and friends there who had passed together through the difficulties and happinesses of life. His livelihood was still prosperous and comfortable, and he dwelt at Koh Po-a beautiful environment of hills and forests, river and rocks, indeed a setting which could hardly find its match anywhere else. People who lived in this region felt attached to its landscape, and though they might have to move away for a long time they would still not forget their old home town. And so Luang Prompakdii long continued to live at his house in Koh Po. The responsibility for looking after the coconut plantation in Koh Mak he gave to his sons.
However, one night an incident occurred which changed his mind about staying on.
Why Luang Prompakdii moved to Koh Mak
The rich people of that region were concentrated together in Koh Po village, because it was still the centre of trading, just as it had been when it had belonged to Thailand. One very rich trader in Koh Po was Luang Panom Tao, or Chao Sua Tao. He was known far and wide on account of his wealth, which came from trading in forest produce, gamboge resin, fragrant woods, herbs and herbal medicines. His house in the centre of Koh Po was built in the Thai style with teak wood brought from Bangkok, with steep roofs, an elevated floor and teak walls.
Luang Prompakdii was a close friend of Luang Panom Tao, and later on a son of Khun Luang Panom Tao, called Khun Wongsirirak (previously known as Nai Tek) took as his wife one of Luang Prompakdii’s daughters, Nang Sao Tae. Wongsirirak and Tae had many sons and daughters together.
Then one night in the year 2453 B.E. (1910), in the sixth year of French rule at Koh Kong, Luang Panom Tao’s house was robbed in the middle of the night while everyone was fast asleep. Many of his valuable belongings were taken.
In those days the Thai currency was coins made of silver. Luang Panom Tao kept much of his savings in the form of these Siamese silver coins, as well as Indochinese silver coins and old-style paduang ingots. As it happened, the robbers were unable to carry off all of his money and they dropped quite a lot of it while making their escape. Many villagers found the coins and kept them to themselves, which raised their living standards somewhat.
Luang Prompakdii became considerably more nervous after that big robbery. Later that year he eventually moved his entire family to live on the coconut plantation in Koh Mak.
The settlement of Koh Mak
There was an abundance of land on Koh Mak. Some parts of the island were old orchards, but much of the land was uncultivated, and these virgin lands were cleared and cultivated by Luang Prompakdii’s children.
Luang Prompakdii and Khun Mulee both were strongly devoted to Buddhism and were constantly making merit. They built a temple in Koh Mak, but it was deserted again after two years. Then Luang Prompakdii built a large sala (hall) for the temple of Wat Pai Lom in Trat province, at the time when Than Chao Khun Buraketkhanajarn was the abbott.
They were serious practictioners of Buddhism, generous and very kind. They kept working on their plantations in Koh Mak with their children until the end of their lives, and passed away at an advanced age on the island of Ban Suan Yai. Their deaths brought great sorrow to their children, who diligently organised their funeral and a Buddhist sermon at Wat Pai Lom in Trat.
In conclusion, we can see how Koh Mak became covered with coconut and para rubber plantations, owned throughout the island by descendants of the same family. The childen of Luang Prompakdii, on receiving their inheritance from his coconut plantations, divided up the unoccupied lands for their children and grandchildren. Eventually all these lands became cultivated with either coconut or para rubber, leaving no land for outsiders save any land which members of the family were willing to sell.
At present, Koh Mak is still very rich with coconut and para rubber plantations. The islanders still work mainly in agriculture, although there are some who fish or catch squid.
The start of tourism on Koh Mak
The first bungalows for tourists were built around 2517 B.E. (1974) at Ban Ao Nid on the east of the island. However, tourism was not yet flourishing in this area, and transport and telecommunications were difficult, which put a halt to developments for some time.
Later in 2530 B.E. (1987), part of the beach areas of the island were developed into tourist attractions. Bungalows and resorts were built to serve Thai and foreign tourists properly.
Here the author would like to sum up the main facts. Luang Prompakdii and Khun Luang Panom Tao lived originally in Koh Kong province, or Prachankiriket, together with other Thai people, before the province fell into Khmer hands.
Prachankiriket was Thai territory from a long way back. Luang Prompakdii had his home in Tambon Koh Po; he was an influential person who commanded much respect. He was appointed to the post of Palad Jeen (Chinese Affairs Officer), and so took charge of collected taxes from the Chinese. Luang Panom Tao, Khun Wongsirirak and Luang Uthai Satchavethee also received royal-given surnames from Rama V.
Prachankiriket province, Koh Kong, was seized by the French in 2436 B.E. (1893) and added by them to Khmer territory. Many years after that, Luang Prompakdii’s family moved to live on the island of Koh Mak, as I have already related.
I have set down this compilation of the history of Koh Mak as a memoire for the younger generations of the island-to give high respect to our Kings, Rama IV and Rama V, who wisely used diplomatic skill to secure Chanthaburi and Trat from the grasp of the French colonial hunters and ensured that Thailand has remained an independent nation to the present day, and also to give respect to the ancestors of Koh Mak, to Luang Prompakdii (Plian Taveteekul), Luang Panom Tao, and Khun Wongsirirak (from whom Wongsiri’s family is descended).
I believe it is most likely that the pattern of land ownership on the island will change in the future, passing into the hands of outsiders to some extent. I made a promise to Khun Mae Sa-nguan Suttitanakul, my mother, that I would try to search for information to write about the history of the island-with love, and with the feelings which come from ties of blood.
Finally, I must not end without extending thanks to Khun Jakrapad Taveteekul, who contributed by keyboarding the Thai original of this draft, and then to Khun Somchai Suttitanakul, my beloved brother, who helped me with my researches. From these efforts, this booklet came to life.
Somsak Suttitanakul, Koh Mak Resort. April, 2536 B.E. (1993)
Updated by Jakrapad Taveteekul, February, 2545 B.E. (2002)