Wat Khun Samut

Wat Khun Samut where the floor has been raised half way

The total distance from the boat jetty where we started our walk to the temple was 1,644 metres. As we arrived at the temple the first structures we passed were the kutis, the accommodation for the five resident monks. These were built on stilts in order to stay above high tide. A bit further I spotted the crematorium on our left and then the open sala where the local people would come to meet the monks. We were met by the village chief. Her son had phoned ahead to say that we were on our way. They had apparently just finished eating and invited us to sit down and have some food. We weren’t really that hungry as we had a late breakfast not that long ago. But, they were insistent and started spreading out food on the floor in front of us. As it would have been rude to refuse, we sat down to tuck into a very delicious meal.

While we were eating, I asked Khun Samron about the local community. She told us that due to the land erosion, there were now only 400 people left in Ban Khun Samut Chin. A reduction of about 30% compared to about 20 years ago. There are now only 70 houses. She said that she herself had moved her house three times. Her mother had moved five times in the last thirty years. Many people had given up and had now moved away. This has led to limited human resources for the community such as doctors and dentists. The local school now only has 30 students which shows that most of the young families have moved away. Their other problem is that many of them have a title deed to land that no longer exists. Their future is looking bleak.

The breakwater and the pylons in the distance

After eating, Khun Samron then invited us to go and take a look at the temple. They have now built a raised walkway that took us to the temple. In that Bangkok Post article, I had seen a photo of people jumping from water jar to water jar in order to reach the temple. Shame in some ways that they are no longer here. But it is understandable that the most convenient method is used now. During our visit it was low tide and so there was only mud around the temple. Nothing like the dramatic pictures I had seen on the poster for Global Warning. I am told it is only like that during the monsoon season and only at high tide. The day we went it wasn’t high tide until 8 p.m. So, I don’t really have any “dramatic” pictures to show you. However, their story is dramatic enough.

We decided to save the temple to last and walked straight past it to the jetty. Here we could see the concrete pillars that had been drilled into the soft mud in order to provide a breakwater. The sea wall seemed to be working to an extent as sediment had built up on the far side resulting in the water level on that side being higher. But, more is needed to make it more effective. We could also see evidence of where the monks and other local people had been planting saplings. Mangrove forests are nature’s way of stopping land erosion. In the distance we could see many more of the telephone and electricity poles. Also we could see concrete structures that were probably the remains of community buildings.

Surfing on the mud

I had said earlier that most people around here seemed to be shrimp farmers. But, looking out to sea, I could see quite a few people out on surfboards. No, I don’t mean that they were surfing on the waves. They were using flat boards to skim over the surface of the mud in order to look for cockles. This is a traditional method that goes back hundreds of years. Some modern versions use boats which kind of ploughs the sea bed digging up the cockles. But these have been accused of ecological damage and I am glad that they are not being used here. I could see small boats further out, but I was told that they were looking for plankton to be used to make a shrimp paste.

There had been a heavy storm earlier in the day. Now there was a clear blue sky and a refreshing sea breeze. It was extremely pleasant and we decided to just sit there for a while and enjoy the sea air. I can see why the locals were keen to stay here. Before, when I was thinking about catching the public boat here, I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to do all day. I would have to stay here for nearly five hours waiting for the public boat to return. But, as it turned out, we were there for over four hours anyway just hanging around. I think I will come again soon so that I can spend the day exploring the area a bit more. And I could always bring a book to read.

Inside the temple

After resting, we decided to take a closer look at the temple. Really, it is an ordinary looking temple though with an extraordinary history. It has developed from a religious symbol for the local community to one for their fight against the threat of land erosion. While all other buildings, both private and government, have moved further inland, it is the temple alone that has refused to relocate. Though, of course, compromises had to be made. The kutis where the monks slept were rebuilt on stilts. The temple building itself couldn’t be raised. However, what they did do was raise the level of the floor by about a meter. They have also blocked the lower half of the windows. So, to look out of the window, you have to sit down on the floor.

To enter the temple from the front, there is a gangplank that we used to safely cross without getting our feet muddy. During high tide, there would be a moat of water around the building. As the once grand entrance had now been halved, I had to dip my head as I entered. I was almost hesitant to take off my shoes because of the condition of the building and floor. But, the Buddha images were all arranged close to the floor and tradition dictates that we should humble ourselves by bringing ourselves as close to the physical floor as possible. We could see straight away that there must have been a fair amount of damage to the interior design. The whole inside of the building had been whitewashed. Though, with gaps everywhere, it looked like someone was either in a rush or ran out of paint. Leaning against the wall behind the Buddha statues were the original hand carved wooden doors that could no longer hang from the smaller doorframes.

At high tide the water is almost as high as the floor

At the back I jumped down from the raised floor to the ground to take a closer look at a Buddha image that was standing guard there. Despite the battering it had received from the monsoon weather, it was still in relatively good condition. Looking under the raised floor boards, I could only see mud in the dim light. However, at the far end, I could just make out the pedestal for a large Buddha image. This was probably made from concrete and couldn’t be moved up. So they just raised the Buddha image up onto the new wooden floor. Around the temple I could see where they had planted saplings over the years as the mangrove forest was of varying ages. At least they were doing their best to stop the waves eroding the foundations of the temple. But, it might all be too little too late.

Before we left we went to say a farewell to the village chief. She was only too happy that we had come to visit her community. She got her camera out and took a picture of our group. Before I parted I gave her a print out from Google Earth showing this area. She seemed pleased because it was far greater quality than what she had seen before. She excitedly picked out individual houses saying who lived where. It would be interesting to see satellite pictures of this same location five years ago. Then we could clearly see the rate of progress of the land erosion. Some experts put it at least 5 meters of erosion per year in this year. Others say more.

As we parted, I promised that I would help spread the message of the plight of the villagers and their fight against land erosion. I also said that I would be back later this month in order to explore the area more thoroughly.

To find out more details, please visit our sister site at www.KhunSamut.com. You will find more pictures and videos as well as detailed instructions on how to reach the temple. Much more to come later this month when I return.

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