Samui Wining & Dining
The Way of The Dragon

There may not be many on the island but Samui’s Chinese temples are certainly worth the visit.

96One of the many attractions Thailand has for tourists is its rich cultural heritage. And visiting some of the temples and holy shrines is often high on many people’s list of things-to-do when they arrive. There’re over 40,000 temples in Thailand with around 34,000 currently in use. And Samui has its fair share of beautiful and interesting places of worship.

However, not all of the two dozen or so holy sites on the island are Thai Buddhist in origin. There’re five Chinese temples on Samui and they are more than worth the effort to find and admire. Statistics suggest 14% of the Kingdom’s population of approximately 65 million people are of Chinese descent and are concentrated mainly in Bangkok and the coastal areas. They are very well represented in all levels of Thai society and play leading roles in business and politics. Many can trace their ancestry to eastern Guangdong, whilst others, like those on Samui, come from the southernmost Chinese province of Hainan.

For the lay-person, there are some distinct differences between the Chinese and Thai temples. One that is easily distinguishable is that Chinese temples are usually heavily adorned with dragons and they also tend to be more vibrantly coloured in general. In comparison, they also seem smaller than their Thai counterparts although they do appear to have more iconic images. When you visit do remember to be respectful  dress-wise, removing your shoes, sunglasses and hat and have a look and see if there are any notices asking you to refrain from taking photographs (though the latter isn’t something I’ve come across here).

I do want to touch on the dragons a little. And unlike myths of evil European dragons, the Chinese dragon was, and is, regarded as the most sacred animal, and used to be the imperial emblem of Chinese emperors. These mythological creatures date back to 3000 BC and can represent happiness, immortality, procreation, fertility, activity, wealth, power and good luck, depending on which type of dragon they are. Chinese dragons are additionally believed to ward off evil spirits, protect the innocent and bestow safety to all that hold its emblem.

For the Chinese, the number nine has special significance. It’s the largest possible single digit and Chinese dragons are frequently connected with it. For example, a Chinese dragon is normally described in terms of nine attributes and this is also why there’re nine forms of the dragon and the dragon is said to have nine children. Dragons were described visually as a composite of parts from nine animals: the horns of a deer; the head of a camel; the eyes of a demon; the neck of a snake; the abdomen of a large cockle; the scales of a carp; the claws of an eagle; the paws of a tiger; and the ears of an ox. It’s something to look out for when you visit a Chinese temple.

A tour of the Chinese temples on Samui will actually take you right around the island and probably to parts that you’ve never been to before. Start off in Chaweng at the Jee Kong Chinese temple in the Laem Dim market area; it’s beautifully decorated with lots of intricate carvings. If you’re on the Beach Road at the southern end of Chaweng just follow the road into town until you have to turn left at the one-way sign. Go along that road for a few hundred metres, veer left and the temple is a further 100 metres on the left, after the Chaweng Boxing Stadium.

Once you’ve finished there, go onto the ring-road (4169) and head south. Pass by Lamai and you’ll then come to Hua Thanon fishing village which also houses a small Chinese temple run by the Hainanese Temple Association of Hua Thanon. I believe there are plans to dedicate a museum to the early settlers and their descendants within the temple and the association is collecting artefacts and photographs to exhibit. 

Just after the village, turn left off the ring-road and take the 4170 road towards Ban Taling Ngam. Follow it all the way to the Snake Farm and just across from it you’ll see Karee Mas road (it’s a left turn on a sharp right-hand bend on the 4170, if you come to the Elephant Gate turning you’ve gone a few kilometres too far). Go down there about 800 metres to the first left-hand turn and follow the dirt road almost to the end before turning left again onto the temple grounds. There you’ll see the Chinese temple to the goddess Zhao Mei Guan Im. It’s a relatively young temple, around 30 years old with paintings that tell the story of the goddess. This is also a very quiet, secluded beach with fantastic views across the Gulf to Koh Taen and Koh Mud Sum. 

Next stop is Nathon and as you approach it you’ll be directed down a one-way system away from the principal thoroughfare. Just park up and walk back along the main ‘market’ road which has shops and restaurants on both sides of the street. Look for Soi Angthong 4, it’s marked by a bright red shield over the side street and is the way to the Chinese temple which was built in 1862. Two golden lions guard the main gate and there’s a tranquil enclosed garden where you can relax and an altar within the temple where you can light candles and pray if you wish.

And, finally, making your way along the northern coast of Samui you’ll come to a set of traffic lights in Maenam (around 20 minutes from Nathon). Turn left here and almost at the bottom of the road just before the small pier there’s a right turn. Take that and Maenam Chinese temple is just 50 metres along there on the right. You can park up opposite it just by the beach. This temple is just four years old and is very colourful (great for photographs). You’ll notice lots of dragons in and around it, and opposite the temple there’s a tall pole with a dragon wound around it looking over the temple. Inside is rather small but there’s plenty to take note of and admire. 

You may not know much about Chinese religious beliefs but that shouldn’t stop you marvelling at some very intricate artwork and appreciating all the endeavour that has gone into building and maintaining these holy shrines. The Way of the Dragon is so much more than just a cultural tour of the island.

 


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