Samui Wining & Dining
GOLD IN THE SOUTH
Down in the far south of the island lies the little-visited golden chedi at Laem Sor.


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One of the best things about Samui is that it’s not huge. Even though it’s Thailand’s third-largest island, it’s still only around about 25 kilometres from side to side. This means that it’s big enough to hold lots of hidden treats tucked away here and there, but it’s not so big and complex that you’re going to get lost, or exhaust yourself travelling for hours. The other thing which makes everything so much more accessible is that probably 98% of Samui’s attractions are more or less at sea level – there are only a couple of things that are (well worth) seeing that involve a mountain day-trip or safari.

      For those of you with a nervous disposition – especially if it’s your first time on our holiday island – take heart. Samui’s ring-road does just that – it goes around (almost!) the edge of the island, and it’s just about impossible to get lost, as you’ll always end up back where you began. But after you’ve been out a few times on your rented scooter (they’re not motorbikes despite what the locals like to call them) then you’re ready for the Little Adventurer’s Handbook chapter two. And that’s when you realise that the ring-road is actually only three-quarters of a ring.

       Take a look at a map of Samui. The ring-road has the highway number 4169. And if you follow it around with your finger you’ll see that it completely cuts off the bottom quarter of the island. Something to bear in mind is that the coastline south of the ring-road is where you’ll still find utterly untouched beaches with not a café or a jet-ski to be seen. (Although it has to be said that in the last few years the sky-high prices of beach land elsewhere have prompted several quite large resorts to put down roots in this area.) This is the part of the island where, if you venture off down an unmarked track into the fringes of the jungle, you’ll still be able to come across 100 year-old wooden houses up on stilts, with no electricity or running water, or catch a glimpse of a style of life that has faded out elsewhere. And it’s also where you’ll discover Laem Sor Pagoda.

          Samui has more than a few temples and venerable places of related interest, but many people now feel that some of the bigger sites – such as Wat Phra Yai which houses the huge statue of the golden Buddha – are becoming overcommercialised, and losing their inherent charm. Certainly it’s hard to relate all the gift and novelty shops and the cafés selling overpriced T-shirts and souvenirs, to the Buddhist ideal of tranquillity of life and self-elevation. And the complete lack of all this is one of the most delightful aspects of Wat Laem Sor (wat is Thai for temple, by the way).

          A Thai Buddhist temple is not just one building, but rather a collection of buildings, shrines and monuments. This may include not only congregation halls but also the monastery, a crematorium area, shrines, even a school or sports ground, and so on. Often there are isolated covered areas or gardens for walks or meditation. There is usually a chedi, too (sometimes translated as stupa or even pagoda). This generally-bell-shaped tower may sometimes contain a relic of the Buddha, but will more usually be built to contain the ashes of an important monk or personality.

          The chedi at Wat Laem Sor must rate as one of the most spectacular not just on Samui, but in the whole of the southern region. It’s not actually ‘golden’ or covered in gold leaf, as many of the smaller images of the Buddha or other artefacts sometimes are but, rather, it’s a complex patchwork of small, pure yellow tiles. There are many styles of chedi, each from a different era and many representing differing elements of Enlightenment, such as ‘miracles’, ‘reconciliation’, victory’ ‘Nirvana’ and so on. In the original blend of Tibetan Buddhism there are just eight of these chedis, each of a specific shape.

          But Thailand has a land and culture of its own, and its adaptations of the originals have taken a local twist along the way, often as a result of local politics or simply courtly fashion. It’s unclear quite what the design pedigree was for the chedi at Wat Laem Sor, but it’s huge and very old, and was recently restored to perfection. It’s right on the water’s edge, and is stepped and layered into three or four stories topped by a futuristic pinnacle that, if it was matt black and made of zirconium, would go perfectly on the front of one of George Lucas’ starfighters. There are two gigantic golden warrior statues on either side of the doorway, tusked and bearing immense swords, to keep away malign spirits, and possibly immodest tourists! But if you can sidestep these two intimidating behemoths then the photo opportunity here is unique: there is nothing at all between you, the chedi that’s framed by the foreground trees, with the sea and sky beyond, and the pastel-hued islands in the background. And then there’s the ‘meditation forest’ next to it, and the tranquil lagoon alongside . . . there really is a timeless dimension here.

          But, then, I rather suspect that it has the Thai-Buddhist equivalent of a mojo protecting it. The monks themselves are some of the most friendly I’ve ever come across, and will smile and deeplynod at you (they can’t actually wai you, but it comes humbly close to it). That’s indubitably because you’ve managed to solve the puzzle of the maze and actually found the place, untangling the clues, defeating the Minotaur and the Meter-Taxi monsters en route, and not having been misled by the false clue of the other golden chedi, also named ‘Laem Sor Pagoda’, actually all glittery and gold-coloured but much smaller, and situated visibly on the hill above.

          Okay – because you are a reader of this prestigious publication, I can let you in on the cheat-codes that’ll get you to the real Wat Laem Sor. It’s on just about the furthest and most-southern tip of the island, close to Bang Kao village. Follow Route 4170 just past the village and turn into a smaller road leading to the beach where the pagoda is. The nearest major landmarks are ShaSa Resort and Centara Villas – get on that road and it won’t be long before you’ll find the gold in the south!

 

 Rob De Wet

 

 


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