Off the beaten track: a rare Buddha statue at Wat Samret
The Jade Buddha at Wat Samret is definitely worth a visit
It’s a bit of a mystery why Wat Samret, in the south of the island, really doesn’t get more of a mention in guide books. Well away from all the expected attractions, this temple is not just unusually atmospheric, it also boasts a very rare gem. No doubt you’ve seen many a carved Buddha. But you won’t have seen one that’s chiseled out of white jade.
Time seems to slow down at this wat; come here and you won’t feel that sense of having to rush around. It’s an indolent place, more than a little sleepy. Probably you will have it to yourself but you may glimpse one or other of the monks that are part of a small community here.
The Jade Buddha is housed in a special room all of its own. You may need to ask a monk to gain admission, otherwise simply go in, taking care to step over the threshold rather than on it – this is good temple manners. The Jade Buddha wears a peaceful half smile. You’re welcome to take photos.
The story behind this particular statue is a strange one. Although Buddha statues are so plentiful in Thailand, this one comes from Burma. The jade itself, a huge block, came from Mandalay and was taken to Rangoon. Three artisans worked on the block and each started carving a Buddha. This wasn’t an everyday procedure and soon word went round about what was happening. A monk from Wat Samret who was traveling near the border with Burma got to hear about the jade Buddhas and was duly tasked with bringing one back to Koh Samui.
This all happened over a hundred years ago. Transport of course wasn’t so easy in those days and the finished Buddha was first sent by sea to Singapore and from there was shipped to Bangkok – no chance of making a stop at Koh Samui. From Bangkok, the Buddha was shipped south with the boat stopping at Lipanoi.
Today the journey from there to Wat Samret would take perhaps a half hour. Back then, most round-the-island transport was done by boat; it was more practical. But no boat could take the heavy weight of the jade. So it had to go overland. there were no roads, only paths and tracks through the forest. Finally, after two weeks, it reached the temple and was installed.
The other statues, by the way, ended up in the north of Thailand and Pakistan. No more white jade was to come out of Burma as shortly afterwards the Burmese authorities put an end to its export.
Wat Samret is close to Ban Hua Thanon in the very south of the island. The area is the most undeveloped and unspoiled in Koh Samui, and if you’re in a car, you can combine a visit to the temple with dropping in at Ban Hua Thanon, a small fishing port, and taking a look at the southern coastlines of Koh Samui. This is a very beautiful area and ideal if you would like to get away from the busier north and west of the island.