Dec 14 2011
Those in search of a spiritual experience on Ko Samui will not be disappointed, as the island offers many temples and religious sites to explore. Each temple offers a unique experience, but all have a sense of serenity. Here we’ve done the legwork for you, and rounded up the most impressive.
Big Buddha (Wat Phra Yai) creates a spectacular sight as you walk up the many stairs to his golden image. Visitors drained by the heat and the trek upwards are cooled by a sea breeze as they gaze past ornate bells and over the boat-filled bay. Wat Phra Yai is located at the end of Bang Rak, as you round the bend to Choeng Mon.
Wat Plai Laem, a few hundred metres past Big Buddha, is probably Samui’s most colourful temple. Repainted and repaired after floods in March 2011, the wat (temple) houses two impressive statues vying for attention: a laughing Buddha and an 18-arm strong Buddha.
Each statue is approached by way of a tiled bridge over a lake teeming with supersized fish eager to be fed. For 10 baht, buy a bucket of food to throw to the fish and see the water bubble up as they fight their way to the surface to gorge themselves. Locals release turtles into the water as a deed of goodwill, while couples rent swan-shaped paddle boats for fun. Wat Plai Laem is a rather cheery temple to visit and it’s good option for children to visit.
A temple you may think twice about taking kids to — or at least, you’ll want to have an explanation prepared for — is Wat Kunaram, home to Samui’s famous mummified monk, Loung Pordaeng. Although this temple is popular with locals, sensitive visitors may be a little disturbed by the open display of the monk’s well-preserved body, still sitting in a meditative pose more than 20 years after he died. It is quite amazing how well-preserved he is, dressed in his orange monk’s robes, donning a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses to ease what would have been an even more disturbing sight.
Mummified monk aside, Kunaram is interesting to visit, with Buddha displayed in all eight positions; one for each day of the week and two for Wednesday, one each for day and night. The day of the week that you were born on determines which image you should pray to. Apparently the only unlucky time to be born is a Wednesday evening; this might explain why doctors always schedule caesareans for Wednesday mornings – and nothing to do with the fact that Wednesday afternoons is doctors’ golf day… Wat Kunaram is located on the 4169 ring road between the Na Muang waterfalls and Hua Thanon.
Wat Hin Lad, at Nathon on the way to the Hin Lad waterfall, is set in forest-like gardens. Gigantic trees with exposed twisted roots, vines with scented blossoms and fruit trees all conspire to create an almost surreal experience. Hear a waterfall and river in the background as you walk on moss-covered paths, past inspirational signposts nailed to trees. Signs indicating ‘shoe parking’ ask you to leave your shoes outside as you enter the various temples to ask a monk for a blessing or prayer.
Entering the temple grounds past the elephant trekking station, walk over a bridge crossing the river and come to a pearl-white Buddha statue. Mottled by tree shadows, this statue’s cool silvery exterior is a sharp contrast to the glaring gold of Big Buddha and the colourful hues of the two Buddhas at Wat Plai Laem.
Ornate dragons adorn and protect the Chinese temple at Mae Nam, which has a distinctly different look to Thai Buddhist temples. This temple is Samui’s focal point for Chinese New Year celebrations in February, with lion dancing, drums, acrobatic performers and the smell of sulphur heavy in the air from endless crackers going off.
Whichever temple you choose to visit, do please remember to behave with respect. As the signs indicate, dress politely and leave your shoes in the shoe parking lot.
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