Koh Samui: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We’re not actually staying at Lamai but at a small beach around the corner from it on the south east coast of the island, called something like Ton Thieng. The day after our arrival we grabbed a cab and visited the Wat Khunaram temple whose claim to fame is the body of Koh Samui’s most famous (there are others) mummified monk sitting in orange-robed and sun-glassed splendour.

Here’s some information about it:

Koh Samui’s Mummified Monk at Wat Khunaram is an unusual sight yet it offers a unique insight into Buddhist and Thai culture. The monk Luong Pordaeng died in 1973 in a seated meditative position, and ever since his body has been on display in an upright glass case at the temple. Remarkably, even more than 30 years on the monk’s body shows little sign of decay. For some visitors, having a dead man in full view might be a shocking sight, but for Thais it is something to reflect upon and revere.

Far from being frightened by death, most Buddhist Thais are highly accepting of the end of life as the natural order of things and they view death as an opportunity to be reborn into a better place, one step closer to nirvana. There are other mummy monks on Samui and throughout Thailand, but Loung Pordang is among the most highly revered.

Loung Pordang is said to have told his followers shortly before his death that if his body were to decompose he should be cremated, but if not then he wanted to be put on display as a visual reminder of the Buddha’s teachings. For Thais, both the life and death of Loung Pordang serves as an inspiration to follow the Buddhist precepts and walk the middle path.

History, Highlights and Features

Loung Pordang was born as Dang Piyasilo on Koh Samui in 1894 to a prominent family within the tight-knit island community. Like many Thai Buddhist men, Khun Dang ordained as a monk in his early 20s, where he spent two years at Wat Samret before disrobing and marrying a local woman, with whom he had six children. Later on in life after his children were grown he returned to the monastic life, where he immersed himself into studying Buddhist texts and meditation. The name given to him as a monk was Phra Khru Samathakittikhun.

After spending some time in Bangkok, he returned to Koh Samui where it is believed that he did an intensive meditation session in Tham Yai (Big Cave), and lived out his days as a highly respected monk and abbot. In the week before his death, Loung Pordang, aged 79, stopped eating and speaking, and sat in a deep meditative state before his life slipped away. It is believed that his simple life, healthy diet and long meditation sessions contributed both to his long life and to his body’s amazing preservation after death. The only noticeable change to the body has been the disintegration of the eyes, which have now been respectfully covered by sunglasses.

Aside from the Mummy Monk, Wat Khunaram is a fairly typical Buddhist temple, where local people come daily to make merit and pray. Amulets and other Buddhist artefacts may be bought, and visitors are welcome to join or observe the daily rituals and have a look around.


Although we had beautiful weather the day after we got here, since then it’s been cloudy and sometimes stormy, with incredible high surf and waves up to eight feet high. On Christmas Day both the tide and surf were super high and waves were crashing over the sand bags onto the lawn and terraces of neighbouring resorts. The day reminded both of us of storm watching on the west coast of Vancouver Island, except instead of cold weather and a fire burning in the fireplace, it’s warm and we turn on the air conditioner at night.

There’s not much right around the Promtsuk Buri, just a few shops (although it does have one sad little “Single Bar” with almost never any customers). In the evening we’ve headed out to Lamai Beach, party central on this part of the island, for dinner and a few drinks at the Barrio Latino and Aussie Bar & Grill, the latter where we also shot a few games of pool (with me defeating Ty once – huzzah!).

The good:

Christmas Day saw us strolling along what was left of the beach, given the high water which had washed away much of the beach furniture and massage apparatus left out overnight. Sometimes the waves came up so high and with such force that, even though I ran away from them, the water wooshed up to my butt and soaked my pants. It was great fun watching the few souls brave enough to enter the water jumping waves, diving through the huge ones, and, unfortunately, getting pounded into the sand by others. Luckily no-one seemed hurt and all were having a good time frolicking. We had a very tasty Christmas Lunch of cheeseburger (Ty) and Jamaica Jerk Chicken (Lisa) that was almost like turkey at the crowded beachfront Bikini Bar and consumed several Christmas beverages at Chillin’ right on the beach not too far away. While there, we watched Thai kids open their presents and listened to loud Christmas carols blasting out over the water.

A strange event occurred, too – at about 5 pm, while we were still sipping our beer, a 40ish tourist man – possibly Russian – in a speedo and nothing else appeared. He had a drink and a meal, then opened a jar of Vaseline and anointed his skin, waited for an opportune moment, and dove into the waves. Swimming on his back with a very odd stroke, he headed out past the huge waves into deeper, and yet deeper waters, swimming so far out that we could no longer see the splash of his arms. We were still on the beach for probably 20 minutes after he left and there was still no sign of him. We wondered whether someone would actually intend to swim out to his death in that way, one last supper, a swim while day was ending – it was very disconcerting. Others at the bar had seen him leave, too, but with no lifeguards, no life-saving kit, and no-one who spoke enough English to understand, there was nothing we could do, had there been something that needed to be done …

In the tourist areas here there are the following:

1)    Five hundred and sixty seven massage parlours: people seem to have believed that if one massage parlour was good, 567 of them in the same two mile strip was better – not.

2)    Five hundred and sixty seven 7/11 and Family Mart stores – ditto.

3)    Five hundred and sixty seven small boutiques selling the same sarongs, bikinis, board shorts, flip-flops – ditto.

4)    Five hundred and sixty seven taxis

5)    Many, many tiny pharmacies, sometimes with only a couple of things on the shelves, whose sole purpose must be to dispense erectile disfunction drugs like candy without prescriptions (see below – the ugly).

What there are not:

Bookstores, cultural centres/art galleries (other than those selling the same reproductions of photographs of women’s eyes, Bob Marley, palm trees etc), theatres, hardware stores …

It does not seem to be possible to meet local people living regular lives; in the tourist areas there’s no “middle-class” life to speak of – at least, we haven’t been able to find any evidence of it.

The bad and the ugly:

1) Motorcycle riding: To ride a motorcycle or scooter in Thailand is to have a death-wish. Depending upon which account one reads, either 28 or 37 people a day die in motorcycle accidents here; hundreds of thousands each year are seriously injured and maimed, including vast numbers of tourists. Of course, these stats aren’t publicised by the tourism industry but are easy enough to find online. I am amazed to see tourists here doing things they would never, ever, consider doing back home, one of the most prominent being the riding of motorcycles without helmets, wearing only shorts and flip-flops. Many of these folks have never ridden motorbikes before – WTF? Why would you ever consider riding here if you weren’t an experienced rider? And why would you ever ride a motorcycle without a helmet? The cement roads, curbs, and tree trunks aren’t any softer or more forgiving here than they are wherever you come from … It really gives me the creeps to see everyone riding around here bare-headed – unbelievable. (And motorcyclists seem to thing they have a god-given right to ride down a one-way street in the wrong direction; in fact, there’s often as much traffic going the wrong way down a one-way street as the right way.)

2) Sex trade: The last time I was in Thailand we stayed mostly on out-of-the-way islands where the main source of income is fishing or rubber (not the condom kind) production, so I didn’t have the dubious pleasure of seeing the Thai sex tourist trade in all its glory. In Ao Nang there were a few bar streets with “hostesses” looking for and finding customers, but we didn’t frequent them; however, sometimes in restaurants we’d see an uncomfortable-looking western man sitting in silence with his new Thai “girlfriend” before or after their assignation. The Sabai Mansion allowed unregistered guests to stay over, and almost every morning we’d see a trickle and sometimes a parade of Thai women out the door in the morning after an evening’s entertainment with western men. Here on Koh Samui at Lamai Beach there are “girlie bars” galore, ranging from tiny two table establishments to more elaborate set-ups such as the Lady Boxing bars along the main shopping drag. Extrapolating from the number of old men with young Thai women I’ve seen here, I guess the availability of erectile disfunction drugs has really increased the number of sex tourists in Thailand. The services provided include so-called P4P (pay for play) and GFE (the girl friend experience) – could it get more sleazy?

However, the beaches are beautiful, the food is good, most of the people are lovely, and Bang Po, the area in the northwest of the island where we’re going next, is mercifully free of girlie bars.

See more pics here.