Oct 12 2012

Guan Yu Shrine, Ko Samui

Published by at 3:35 am under Sights & activities


A big red head. That’s what you see poking through the top of a building when driving along Ko Samui‘s ring road in Hua Thanon, just south of Lamai. So what is it? Virach Pongchababnapa, an islander of Chinese decent, aims to build a 16-metre tall bronze statue of Guan Yu, valued at 20 million baht, that will be a future tourist attraction. Currently, only a dummy of the head is visible, resting on the platform where the statue will stand. Once complete, this statue will stand a full four metres taller than Big Buddha.

See the big red head coming out the building?

We chatted to Virach, who heads the committee charged with constructing the shrine, to find out a little about Guan Yu. Historians are unsure of when Guan Yu was born, Virach said, but he died in the year 219, after serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He played a fundamental role in a civil war that led to the demise of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the state of the Three Kingdoms period, of which Liu Bei was the first emperor.

Guan Yu has been granted god-like status over the centuries, and his life stories have largely been fictionalised through books such as the historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. These stories have also been passed down through generations, in which his escapades have been hyperbolised. Guan Yu now represents loyalty, righteousness and honesty among the Chinese people, particularly in southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and their descendants overseas. He is a figure in Chinese folklore, popular in Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism, and small shrines pay homage to him in many traditional Chinese shops and restaurants.

Impossible to get that white cable out of the photo shot, no matter the angle.

Virach, who is also the managing director of the Pavilion Samui Boutique Resort, has taken on a mission to build awareness of Chinese-Hainanese heritage on the island. The Guan Yu shrine will be the centre of the Chinese community on Samui, Virach hopes, and he plans to offer free Mandarin lessons to the descendants of the Chinese-Hainanese on Samui, to help the children reconnect with their heritage, as well as free tuition in other languages and skills to improve employment opportunities.

This guy guards the door to the shrine. I’m not arguing with him.

The shrine as it stands now has walls adorned with old photos of Samui residents who have Chinese lineage; Chinese families or those of mixed Thai-Chinese decent will be encouraged to come and add information about their family tree to the records, via written information, portraits, video and audio, so future generations will be able to, say, hear their great-grandmother’s voice – quite a noble project. Land behind the shrine has been secured, and future proposed projects include a building to house a “Chinatown” with restaurants, shops and Chinese medical practitioners.

Inside the shrine is just as colourful.

The shrine will be used for wedding ceremonies; the ceremony cost of 25,000 baht will go towards the expansion of the temple and the creation of the Chinatown, and support the language and skills lessons offered to the community.

Whether you want to pay homage to Guan Yu or not, there is no doubt that the building and features are impressive. Virach says the shrine is “modern Chinese style, but preserves traditional artefacts”, many of which have been donated by other Chinese communities. A small room upstairs is used for tea-drinking, and offers a beautiful view of the longtail boats in Hua Thanon harbour.

The view looking up.

Those interested in history will enjoy the old photos of Samui hanging on the walls, and booklets with information on Guan Yu as well as the heritage of Samui-Chinese are available.

Several other temples are in the area, including Wat Kunaram, which houses Samui’s famous mummified monk. Hin Ta Hin Yai are also nearby, as is the Muslim fishing village of Hua Thanon, where some of Samui’s best seafood can be enjoyed, so a day in this area can be well spent. Got two days up your sleeve? You might consider this island itinerary.

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