The spirit houses of Koh Samui are testament to the strong Buddhist culture on the island.
The glimmering rays of daybreak fall gently on the two ornate white and gold spirit houses. They stand majestically in the coconut palms in front of my villa at Samran Gardens. Spirit worship is on show everywhere with the vibrant little houses colouring virtually every corner of the island. In Koh Samui, like all of Thailand, a spirit house is strategically placed at each dwelling, business or place of recreation. Thai people, for the most part, believe in spirit worship. Animism, as it is known, is an integral part of Thailand’s culture. It is also considered the oldest form of religion in the world. When Buddhism first arrived in South East Asia, spirit worship was woven into the teachings and the religion.
There are in fact many kinds of spirits associated with the lives of the Thais. The spirit of the ancestors, the spirit of the house, the spirit of the temple and the spirit of the rice field to name a few. All of these have a strong influence on behavior, lifestyle as well as peoples relationship with the environment. As apartments and condominiums replace traditional houses, spirit worship seems to fade.
Prof. Sombat Tapanya who writes for the blog, ‘Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai’ says. “The younger generation is abandoning traditional customs and rituals in favour of materialistic lifestyles and technology. There are few restrictions and self-control these days, which is disheartening. Seeing a very large tree with vibrant coloured cloths wrapped around the trunk or a spirit house adorned with garlands is part of the magic of Thailand”. He concludes.
When a home or business becomes occupied, the spirit master of the village, usually an elder, is summoned to the site and he will dictate where the spirit house or “San Phra Phum” should be positioned. The spirits and angels that inhabit that particular area need to be taken care of appropriately. Spirit houses cannot have shade falling on them at any time of the day. In the village of Maenam on the island of Koh Samui, ‘Aa’, the manageress of the Samran estate explains the significance of the 2 houses outside my front door. “The smaller house is for the spirits who are living here. The bigger one is for the angels. They are not always here and come and go, so there has to be two houses”, she smiles. You can feel the aura surrounding them, so I ask, “Why do I see offerings of pineapples and green bananas on some days and then mysteriously the next morning the offerings are gone?” She giggles. “The poorer people of the village know they can take what they need to feed their families.”
The little houses contain diminutive figurines. They are placed inside to assist the spirits. Often there is furniture, even little pet statues and all the comforts they may need. They resemble a Thai dolls house. Throughout the year, the houses are lavishly adorned with garlands of marigolds and jasmine. Offerings are made to the spirits on a daily basis, rice, incense, fruit, red ‘Fanta’, and there has to be a straw in the bottle. It’s important to keep the spirits happy and ensure harmony, health and happiness to those living close by.
On the left-hand side of the road from Chaweng to Lamai there is a kaleidoscope of colour. Thai red, royal purple, marigold orange, and coconut green. Garlands hang heavily over the pointed pagodas of the spirit houses tilting precariously on the edge of the cliff. They shake and shudder as an endless stream of motorbikes zoom by. “Toot, toot!” It’s tradition to hoot twice when passing the site and happy smiles can be seen all around. Yes, spirit houses, coconuts and smiles. All signature’s of Koh Samui.
Unusual places to visit close to Lamai.
The Magic Garden
A Samui farmer created the garden back in 1976. Thai statues and sculptures made of stone are camouflaged in the thick of the jungle. It’s well worth a visit and very spiritual. It is best to use a tour company to get you there as the cement road to the garden is very steep and can be quite dangerous at times.
Laem Sor Pagoda
Easily one of the most beautiful attractions on Koh Samui, the chedi is covered in gold mosaic. It’s challenging to find but worth the effort. Located south of the island both the sunrise and sunset at the pagoda ensure a dazzling golden spectacle and are a sacred place to visit.
Tong Krut Pier
There are several quaint seafood restaurants on the water’s edge and you can arrange for a long-tail boat to take you snorkeling at Koh Tan. Koh Tan is a small primitive island with a population of about 2000 people. There is a bounty of tropical fish in the coral reef just off the beach and at night the bats of the island far outnumber the inhabitants.