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Wat Plai Laem may not be the oldest temple on Ko Samui, but it’s probably the most spectacular, and a good place to take children for a bit of Thai culture and a break from the beaches. Although relatively new – it was built in 2004 – it’s constructed in traditional style and methods, so appears much older.
Wat Plai Laem is a compound consisting of several temple buildings and statues, and is far less commercial than Big Buddha, with no shops on site, but only a few vendors selling drinks and fresh fruit on ice. It’s definitely worth a stop, particularly if you’re staying in the area.
This is a living and active temple, where worshippers come daily to pay respects to the 20-metre tall statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion, with her nine sets of arms, each representing a sector of Buddhism. Equally as impressive is the Laughing Buddha, which represents the Chinese-Thai beliefs.
Both statues sit on platforms reached by concrete walkways, amid an artificial lake teaming with catfish, carp and turtles. Considered an act of goodwill, Thai Buddhists feed these already fat fish, and for 10 baht, buckets of food can be bought from automated machines that chant a prayer and thanks before filling the bucket with fish pellets. Families release turtles into the lake, another Thai tradition and act of goodwill.
An active community of monks lives at Wat Plai Laem, with wash-lines of orange robes drying in the sun evidence of their living quarters. The temple buildings with their brightly painted and bejewelled roofs are worth looking inside where intricate paintings depict religious scenes. Donation boxes are strategically placed, each collecting for a different cause; one is for the temple dogs and cats, of which there are scores of lazing in the sun; another is for the adjoining Plai Laem primary school; and another yet goes toward maintaining the temple grounds. Swan-shaped pedal boats are available to rent for a paddle around the lake. Go on, you know you want to.
The temple regularly hosts fairs to raise funds, and these are a great way to experience Thai community spirit. The usual market food vendors are in abundance as well as stalls selling everything under the sun. Children throw darts at balloons in the hope of winning oversized fluffy toys or fish in tanks of water for prizes. Fairs take place in the evening to avoid the heat.
During Loi Krathong in November, the temple’s lake is a hive of activity as locals come to float their homemade lotus-shaped krathongs into the lake. It’s a spectacular and peaceful experience to watch hundreds of colourful banana leaf boats filled with incense and candles floating under the full moon.
Of course, please remember to dress respectfully when visiting Thailand’s temples.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 4th June, 2015.