Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wat Khun Samut or The Sinking Temple

Here's a post I stated writing a long time ago but never really finished. I do think it's worth sharing:

With the continuing humanitarian crisis in Burma at a high boil, now seems like a good time to share with you a trip I took to Wat Khun Samut, often referred to as the "Sinking Temple".


A good friend M was in town for a long awaited visit. M was interested in some of the bicycle rides E and I had taken around Bangkok and was keen on giving riding in town a go. A couple months previously, we had ridden out towards the ocean only to stop at wat Krabeu. This time, we would not rest until we made it to the ocean. We decided to go pay a visit the the famous sinking temple Wat Khun Samut. Seemed easy enough, as long as we could tolerate the heat, the traffic, and the distance. It looked to be about 50 Kilometers to the shore.

We set out and quickly were in Phra pa daeng, a green protected area directly across from Khlong Toei, the large port on the Chao Phraya. We got our bikes onto one of the small boats and ended up on the other side of the river happy to go for a refreshing ride. Here's a few older phots to give you an idea.
Looking back
Bikes in Bang Kachao

We stopped for a snack and ate it at one of the local wats.

The ride took us from the green protected area, back out into the sprawl. We rode under the rather impressive if not scary mega bridge. I never tire of taking pictures of this thing.

It's a monster that spans the river, covers an immense swath of land, and moves untold numbers off in different directions over this dytopian landscape.

We rode along with cars, buses, and large trucks which was frankly quite unpleasant. A good thirty kilometers from this location, you find yourself in another world entirely. You're in the tidal flats, surrounded by some kind of palms, and aquaculture. There are some great dining opportunities out here. There are a host of fresh seafood lunches, many offering fresh crab. Unfortunately, enjoyable dining was not in our plans.

We found ourselves somewhat lost, so we asked around and found ourselves a boat to more of less the middle of nowhere.

Or at least it seemed like the middle of nowhere. We told people where we were going and they directed us to the right dock, where a man happily drove us at incredible speeds toward our destination.

He pulled up at some dock near what looked like fish farms.

This cracked and thirsty piece of land looked like a road where you might meet your end. It was certainly hot. I was expecting to come across the forgotten corpse of some unlucky explorer from a bygone era.

Anyhow, we were heading toward the ocean where the sinking temple was supposedly located. We found a path and followed it toward the ocean.

At this point I could only guess at what I was looking at but would later learn that I was looking at a late in the game effort to hold back the sea.

Saplings struggle to survive as the tide tears away that land as the tide comes in and goes out.

We arrived at the temple and started to poke around. There were some new structures, but the real point of interest was the sinking temple that has been featured in many international newspapers.

It's hard to see it, but the wat has sunk and they have build a new walkway and floor to house the Buddha images inside.

These photos are of rather poor quality and don't accurately portray just what has happened here, but the temple has sunk dramatically. When the tide comes in, the ocean lets itself in, and there's nothing anyone can do.

While snapping away photos I was approached by man I believe was the abbot. He was a tad standoffish at first but he soon opened up and wanted to tell us about his temple and his work. A man of immense warmth and few teeth, the abbot spoke no English and eagerly told me things that were at times hard to decipher. He would excitedly tap me on the knee to tell me some fact, opinion, or tidbit about his life.

I asked about how far the ocean had come in, and to my surprise, the answer was two kilometers! An entire town was submerged, and all that is left is this wat. The last holdout has taken it upon himself, with a little help, to try and stop the ocean's incursion by replanting the area's once abundant mangroves. How does one do that you ask? Baby mangrove trees of course!

We were give a quick lesson and aplanting we went!

Here's M and our new friend replanting the mangroves!

Is it too late?

As I mentioned earlier, this wat has been profiled in newspapers all over the world and one of the first culprits is global warming. Now, I am certainly not a skeptic when it comes to global warming, but this is certainly the lazy persons answer to the problem. People destroyed the mangroves due to the practices of shrimp farming. It was discovered far too late that the mangroves are in fact vitally important. Yes, ocean levels are rising, and some land is receding, but mangroves provide a barrier to incursions by the sea. During storms the mangroves provide a buffer to the ocean's destructive path. This simple concept was witnessed during Hurricane Katrina and during the recent Typhoon that struck Burma. Fewer or no mangroves meant the ocean had a free pass. Habitat destruction made a natural disaster all the more disastrous.

There have been some rather fascinating articles of late about the possible future flooding of Bangkok as well as other low lying metropolises. It makes for fascinating, albeit troubling reading. For more information about Wat Khun Samut, go here, or here.


Robyn said...

Nice post. I'd love to go to that wat. I spent 5 hours in the mangroves on Langkawi island last week and came away with a new appreciation of how important they are to the ecosystem (a fantastic guide helped). Planted some baby mangrove seedlings too.

a said...

Thanks! Going to this place really meant a lot to me. The same goes for my companions I'm sure. This spot is worth seeing, especially when you consider the proximity to the city. We did ride our bicycles over the vary flat landscape to get there! It is close! Well, sort of. Something to think about.

Would love to hear more about your experience as well. Any photos?

Robyn said...

It was for a non-food related article (yes! I do write about things other than food! if you can believe it) that will be out in Dec I think. I was working with another photographer so don't have any pics (the disadvantage of working with another photographer) but I'll try to remember to send a pdf.

Let's just say I'm not a naturalist type (though I do enjoy the outdoors) but after learning about these mangroves from an infectiously enthusiastic naturalist guide I'm looking forward to revisiting.