There are a great many temples (‘wats’) on Koh Samui far more than you may think from just touring round the island and glimpsing them from the ring road. In Thai society, the temples play an invaluable social role. There are no government support schemes for the sick or the elderly and so the ‘wats’ take on this role of caring, as well as being a spiritual focal point for the surrounding communities.
Some of the bigger temples are firmly established on the tourist map - particularly Wat Phra Yai, with its famous 12 metre-high golden Buddha. Others of note are Wat Khunaram and the mummified monk near the Mamuang waterfall, the golden chedi at Wat Laem Sor and Wat Plai Laem, near Choeng Mon, with its beautiful 18 armed statue of Buddha.
But, several times a year, particularly at times of religious celebration, the temples throw open their doors and become a cross between a car-boot sale, food market, fairground and entertainment centre. There are two glaring indications of this, one being the dozens of brightly-coloured strip lights that festoon the road outside. The other is the insane jam of motorbikes and cars lining the road outside for a hundred metres or more.
The grounds inside are now a maze of temporary shacks, stalls and shops, with the four main areas being shops, food, sideshows and a huge stage and sound system.
The shops sell absolutely everything from discounted electrical goods to cheap clothes, bags, shoes, DVDs, household goods, trinkets and jewellery. It’s a fascinating and almost bizarre mixture of diverse and unrelated items, and there are some genuine bargains to be found.
The range of foods on offer vary from a sit down meal to roast chestnuts and chicken skewers. Try to keep an eye out for the grilled insects! The grubs and grasshoppers are a tradition item in the northern region and if you dare to try them, you’ll find them surprisingly tasty!
There’s a variety of stalls and sideshows, too, where you can win a prize by bursting the balloons, lobbing the ball in a bucket or pinning cards with a dart.
In the evenings, the huge stage hosts a variety of entertainment which ranges from dance shows put on by the local schools, to professional theatre and dance companies. Sometimes here you’ll get a chance to see the real Thai performance of classical or traditional fables and stories, particularly that of the Menorah, which is a well-loved legend from this region of the Kingdom.
Remember to look out for these fairs - they are a glimpse of local life which no resort or hotel can offer you and also a great evening out!
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