An Accidental Theme Park

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An Accidental Theme Park

Situated just 40 or so minutes drive from downtown Pattaya, the seaside town of Bang Saen is popular with locals and Bangkok-based Thais for its extensive and usually clean beach. On weekends the long stretch of sand is packed with day-trippers.

Just a few streets away from the main beach is the Saensuk temple complex, fi rst opened in June 1986 and, if rumours are true, possibly threatened with closure before too long. It covers 32 rai of land and started as a meditation centre for monks and novices, but has always been open to the general public. The complex is noted for its vast array of Buddhist, Hindu, and Chinese deities, but especially for its incredibly life-like and macabre renditions of Buddhist teachings.

This is the kind of place a surrealist such as Salvador Dali would have enjoyed. The statues are meant to give an earthly body an idea of what Buddhist hell is like. It’s not a pretty sight in what is more an accidental, rather than intentional, theme park.

The translations of the Thai text into English make for wry reading. ‘Ones who make a corruption are punished in the hell. They are named as the spirits of the pigs.’

They don’t seem too keen on humour either. ‘Ones who pull the others legs are punished in the hell. They are named as the spirits of the snakes.’ Maybe something has been lost in translation.

Much is made of so-called Eastern Mysticism. Much of it, I’m certain, is simply based around misinterpretation or poor transliteration. Some is just plain indecipherable, unless you happen to be of a certain age and were an avid follower of the American television series Kung Fu which starred Michael Carradine as an inscrutable disciple of martial arts: all fl ying kicks, unusual grunts, and fl ashbacks littered with pearls of Asian and ancient wisdom.

For example, part of the caption underneath the statue of the ninth saint Pra Pin Tao Loo Pua Lo Tui reads: ‘Anyone whose age count ends on this ninth saint has a prediction that he is as a small rabbit which is waiting for a moon, and as the leaves, wet with dew are touched by the wind to be fresh. It is also like a mirror which needs wiping. It means he has to try hard to get success he is going to meet his soul mate. He will have luck, will have a son…’

This is one tourist attraction where you can easily spend a couple of lazy hours being fascinated by the wide variety of statuary and, if you feel the need to ‘make merit’, wander over to the nearby pond and relax a little while feeding the carp and turtles.