Buddhism is deeply ingrained in Thai culture, and over 90 percent of the population are followers of the religion – including most of the population of Koh Samui. Wats can therefore be found in various towns and villages on the island and each one plays a central part in local life, particularly during national festivals such as Songkran and Loy Krathong.
Wat Pra Yai
The Big Buddha, as it's known in English, tends to be the first stop for visitors exploring the temples and shrines of Koh Samui. Located on the northeastern corner of the island, the temple features a shining 12-metre golden statue of the Lord Buddha. He is depicted in the Mara posture, with his left hand’s palm facing upwards on his lap and the right hand facing down as it rests on the knee. This illustrates a time on the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment when he used the calm of meditation to successfully resist the temptations pushed on him by Mara, a devil-like figure. The statue was constructed in 1971, and is often the first thing to catch visitors’ eyes when they arrive by plane. Inside the temple, a rich aroma of incense hangs heavily in the air, with burning sticks placed by locals who come to make offerings of fresh fruit and flowers on a daily basis. The shrine is particularly spectacular to behold at sunset, and the temple is also a major focal point during festivals like Songkran and Loy Krathong.
Wat Plai Laem
Many visitors exploring the northeastern part of Samui, which is also where the Big Buddha is situated, choose to complete their temple tour by visiting Wat Plai Lem – another of the island’s most important spiritual sites. The temple, although relatively new, offers visitors a fascinating insight into Chinese-Thai spiritual beliefs and its architecture represents hundreds of years of spiritual traditions. The stunning statue of Guanuin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion, is one of the highlights of the temple. The immense white statue is positioned at the centre of the temple grounds surrounded by a lake teaming with catfish and commanding a serene presence. The worship of Guanyin can be tracked back to ancient China, but her influence also extends across Southeast Asia. She is believed to be a source of unconditional love and a protector of all beings. Many Buddhists also see her as a fertility goddess, and pray to her for support in bearing healthy children. The elaborate design of the temple was the work of Jarit Phumdonming, one of Thailand’s most prominent artists. The interiror of the temple features frescoes and murals depicting the life of the Lord Buddha.
Koh Samui’s Wat Khunaram is another temple that often makes it onto visitors’ sightseeing lists. The temple’s somewhat unusual main attraction is the mummified body of one of its monks, Luong Pordeang, who died in a seated meditative position in 1973. Today, the body shows few signs of decay and represents a reminder of the strength of Buddhist belief. While the sight of the mummified monk may be shocking for some visitors, Thai Buddhists do not fear death. Instead, it is seen as part of the natural order and offers the chance to be reborn into a new place and position, that much closer to nirvana. In addition to housing Luong Pordeang, Wat Khunaram is a functional Buddhist temple that local people go to worship at on a daily basis.
Wat Hin Lad
Few temples in Thailand are set in such a picturesque location as the Hin Lad Waterfall Temple, which is nestled in the tropical jungle at the start of the trail up to Samui’s famous Hin Lad Waterfall. Unlike other temples on Samui, Wat Namtok Hin Lad tends to attract locals at the weekends, when then go to make merit and then picnic at the waterfall. Thanks to its secluded location in the jungle, the temple is a fine place for visitors to unwind and reflect. The charming gardens offers plenty of nooks and crannies for quiet contemplation and there is even a designated meditation area. A plethora of Buddha images and sculptures are peppered around the temple grounds, along with a number of signs featuring statements of wisdom. Many of these signs have now been translated into English, so visitors can reflect on their meaning as they stroll through the temple grounds.
Mae Nam Chinese Shrine
Chinese culture has long been an integral part of local life on Koh Samui as many of the island's original settlers hail from Hainan. The Chinese Shrine in Mae Nam is a modern representation of this lasting tradition with its brightly pained exterior and sculpted dragons protecting the spirits of ancestors. The temple becomes a vibrant focal point for Chinese New Year celebrations every February, with dragon dances, percussion, acrobatics, and the rattle of fire crackers filling the surrounding streets.
Posted by Max Vee