Thailand has the largest community of ethnic Chinese people in the world. For over 400 years the Chinese have moved to Thailand. King Rama VI (1910 – 1925) decided to fully integrate the large Chinese community into his Kingdom by making all those who wished to stay to adopt Thai surnames. King Rama VI was from the present Chakri dynasty that itself has Chinese ancestry.
There are plenty of examples of Chinese culture in Thailand. There are China towns in cities and towns; you can see Chinese characters on shop signs; and many of the dishes served to foreigners in Thailand. Another more obvious example of Chinese culture is the prevalence of Chinese Temples.
They are noticeably different to Thai wats in many respects. For a start iconography and the form of Buddhism worshipped is different. The aesthetic of Thai and Chinese temples are very different. From an architectural point of view Thai wats depend on their high, steep roofs often cleverly overlapping. Gold leaf is used to create the awe in the statutes and building flourishes of ornamentation. The interiors use high ceilings and windows to create large spaces and light.
A Chinese temple has a roof with gentle slopes. The impression in a Chinese temple is created by a rich embroidery of dragons, lions, Buddhas and other images found wound around pillars, over arches and in standing statues. A wider palette of colors is used. Inside a Chinese temple it feels darker and more enclosed. A different but still appropriate way to reinforce faith.
You can find big Chinese temples in Bangkok and Changmai, indeed all over mainland Thailand. More surprising are Chinese temples in small isolated communities such as Koh Samui and Koh Phangan used to until the second half of the Twentieth Century. The Chinese temple in Koh Samui is located in the main town of Nathon. It is an imposing building and well worth a visit.
The Chinese temple in Koh Phangan is near the popular beach resort areas of Mae Haad, Haad Yao and Chaloklum. Although there is an old tradition of Hainan fishermen visiting the southern islands there was no major Chinese temple in Koh Phangan until a woman had a dream while visiting Koh Phangan. In her dream she was told to build a temple in Koh Phangan. It might be considered a divinely sanctioned temple.
To find out more about Haad Yao in Koh Phangan visit: www.haadyao.info