The Chinese have a long and colourful history on Koh Samui, with the first immigrants arriving from the Chinese island of Hainan in the late Ayutthaya era.
The Chinese were not always well received in their travels, thousands were killed when they attempted to migrate to the Philippines and Indonesia. In contrast, the Buddhist communities of Thailand hospitably welcomed the migrants and it did not take long for the Chinese immigrants to become integrated with the local people by marriage, with following generations now recognised and accepted as being Thai-Chinese.
During the reign of King Rama III, the King, fluent in Chinese, opened trade routes with China, encouraging more Chinese and Hainanese to settle in Thailand. Koh Samui was a popular destination for these settlers who were mostly traders, dealing in cotton, porcelain and silk. They also introduced Chinese rum, pig breeding and Hainan-Chinese architecture to the Island.
In 1872 the leaders of the Hainan-Chinese in Koh Samui erected a small shrine at Ban Na Kai, about one kilometre south of the current shrine. This wooden shrine was dedicated to Guan Yu, as well as his two guardians Zhou Chang and Guan Ping.
In 1935 it was relocated from Na Kai market to a roadside position (photo above) in the Hua Thanon market.
The new shrine is the project of local entrepreneur, Khun Virach Pongchababnapa, who is also the driving force behind the popular Pavilion Samui Villas & Resort in Lamai.
In 2008, a committee, headed by Khun Virach Pongchababnapa, began designing the new shrine, as well as working on a project to celebrate the Koh Samui Chinese community. The shrine is a celebration of Chinese heritage and is dedicated to Guan Yu, a legendary warrior who died almost 2,000 years ago.
Khun Virach Pongchababnapa
The new Guan Yu Shrine will be a meeting and focal point for the Chinese community on Koh Samui as well as being a popular destination for the ever increasing number of Chinese tourists. The shrine can be used in a multitude of ways, such as, wedding ceremonies, giving the wedding couple, families and friends the opportunity to pay their respects to Guan Yu, who importantly in a marriage symbolises loyalty and honesty.
The first stage of the new temple featured a temporary effigy of the glowing red face of Guan Yu. It sat like a powerful avenging force on the retaining wall above the shrine complex. This has since been removed to make way for the real statue to be erected.
Below are some photos taken during the erection, assembly and painting of the of the new Guan Yu Koh Samui Shrine.
Entry to the shrine is through large, ornate solid timber doors that set the scene for what lies ahead.
The interior of the main hall at the shrine is decorated with golden murals featuring Chinese calligraphy, fabulous dragons and other assorted images. Ornamental prayer drums and banners hang down from the ceiling and generally festoon the whole interior. The overall outlook is of gaiety and lavish ornamentation.
A video of the opening ceremony of the Guan Yu, Koh Samui Shrine
Old photographs and portraits of ethnic Chinese settlers who lived out their lives on Koh Samui are interspersed with the decorations.
The descendants of the pioneers have been encouraged to make available for display any photos, documents and even voice recordings of their ancestors at the shrine of Guan Yu. Khun Virach says he hopes the items will help preserve the history of Chinese people on Koh Samui for posterity.
The revenue raised from any ceremonies, donations and sales will go towards Shrine maintenance, further expansion of the temple and the creation of a mini “Chinatown” with restaurants, shops and Chinese medical practitioners on the land behind the shrine.
WHO IS GUAN YU?
The official website of Guan Yu Shrine
A short and informative video about Guan Yu
Another landmark in Samui is Wat Phra Yai or Big Buddha
Big Buddha – Wat Phra Yai