On a hillside in northern Koh Phangan, overlooking dense canopies of green and azure sea, sits a quiet temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Guanyin.
Easily missed as you drive along the road between Thong Sala and Chaloklum, a small road peels off into greenery, giving no hint at what lies beyond. An inconspicuous fading sign written in Thai, along with ‘Goddess of Mercy Shrine Joss House’ underneath, gives the only clue that something of interest might lie beyond.
Once off the main road, driving upwards you will pass under a traditional Paifang archway into the Temple grounds. There is a parking area, shaded by tarpaulin, off to the right where you can leave your vehicle. It is there that you can pay the 40B donation which goes towards upkeep of the temple and its grounds.
When I visited I was the only farang around. A few workmen were busy building a large structure down the hill, several women worked quietly around the grounds picking and stacking banana leaves and sweeping walkways. The Temple buildings themselves were empty, save for myself.
Ascending the stairs of the main temple, the smell of incense filled the air. There was a feeling of quietude about the place, something quite at odds with the visual energy emanating from the wealth of colours decorating the temple exteriors, and the animated sculptures of the dragons spiralling up columns, reaching skyward.
At first you might think that the main temple is all there is, but if you walk a bit further down the road, other structures will reveal themselves to you. From small shrines to Buddha, to spirit houses overflowing with offerings and burning incense, nooks and crannies are worth exploring.
You may see signs pointing to a Waterfall. I visited during the rainy season, when waters run generally high, and I can only presume the meagre trickle of water down the rocks was the “waterfall” towards which I was being directed. But we didn’t come here to see water. We came to a temple, and this one still has much to impress. Coming across a weathered set of stairs, head upwards. As you ascend, pagoda roofs overlap each other in a jumble of oranges and golds against the greenery of the jungle below.
At the highest point in the temple complex, the waxen remains of offering candles at its feet, a golden Buddha stands tall; looking out over the north of the island.
I turned off the main road on a whim, expecting not very much, and instead I found a place imbued with a calm and surprisingly vibrant beauty.
All content including images © Leigh Eros 2017. Do not reproduce without permission.