Despite being a relatively small island in Thailand, Samui is home to many different cultures and also many different religions. Simply driving around the island, and seeing the multitude of international restaurants, may give you some idea as to the wide array of people found here. But, at some point, some of them will require somewhere to satisfy their spiritual needs.
A survey done online, in 2011, asked 1398 people if they attended church while travelling or holidaying. The answers were quite surprising – 40% said they would attend any church they found and 37% said they wouldn’t. While the 37% was expected, the 40% was higher than expected and goes a long way to show that people still feel the need for some spiritual stability in their lives. Most spiritually enriched people feel the need to attend their church, mosque, synagogue or temple as they feel it’s important for fellowship. Spending time with like-minded people is always encouraging, and when we face today’s life challenges, it’s comforting to know there are people who you can reach out to in times of need.
But what happens if you’re in a country whose main religion is totally different from yours? In Thailand, there are four main religions. Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Buddhism is the largest and official religion of the country – nearly 95% of the population is Buddhist. Islam is the second largest with nearly 4%, Christianity third with 0.5% and lastly Hinduism with 0.1%.
The temple (or wat) is the centre of social and religious life for most Buddhist Thais, and there are more than twenty Buddhist temples on the island. The peaceful atmosphere of a Buddhist temple makes it a relaxing outing. People can sometimes be seen picnicking in the grounds, children chasing a ball around or even various animals seeking shelter in the shade. All are welcome. Buddha images and temples are considered sacred so always enter a temple with respect and ensure you are appropriately dressed (no cleavage showing, knees and shoulders covered) and remove your shoes before entering.
In Maenam you’ll find one of the few Chinese Buddhist temples on Samui. If you turn towards the sea at the traffic lights and follow the road around to a small pier, there is a Chinese temple there which becomes the local community’s focal point during Chinese New Year, with fireworks, crackers, drums, acrobatic performers and much more. Quite different to the peaceful feeling of the temple at other times of the year.
Muslims comprise Thailand’s largest religious minority, and are mainly concentrated in the southern provinces. Islam was introduced to the Malay Peninsula by Arab traders during the 13th century. Most Thai Muslims are of Malay descent showing the common cultural heritage shared with Malaysia. There are approximately 2,000 mosques in Thailand, around 100 in Bangkok but only one on Samui. The majority of fishermen on Samui are Muslim, and the largest concentration can be found in Hua Thanon, where the island’s only mosque, Masjid Nurulihsan, is located. The Jummah Salaath is held between 12:15 pm and 1:30 pm and the sermon is conducted in Thai.
Christianity was introduced to Thailand by European missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. These early Catholic missionaries were later joined by Protestants, Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventists. Most Christians on Samui are expats, but there are a growing number of Thai people who attend Christian churches. The Samui Mercy Church in Bophut is a Baptist church that opens its doors to anyone to wants to join them in worship. They offer an English service every Sunday from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm and a Korean service on the first and third Sunday of each month from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. They also offer a unique children’s service, a music ministry (which they encourage those with musical skills to join) and bible study groups (which start with lunch).
St. Anna Catholic Church in Nathon has mass on Sundays, with a Thai service at 8:30 am and an English service at 10:30 am. St Mary’s chapel, down the road from the Tesco Lotus in Chaweng, is another catholic church and offers mass on Sundays at 10:30 am.
There is also a Jewish synagogue in Chaweng. Daily prayers are held at 6:00 pm and 7:00 pm. On the Shabbat, there is a Chassidus class at 9:30 am followed by a service at 10:00 am and lunch at 12:00 pm.
Also in Chaweng, there’s a Hindu temple that was constructed in 2003, by the Nepalese community. Hindus worship and respect many gods and goddesses and you’ll see most worshippers in the temple between 5:00 am and 10:00 am every day. The differences between Hinduism and Buddhism are quite small due to the historical intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, and Buddhist monks are regular visitors to Samui’s Hindu temple. To find this temple, head south after Tesco Lotus Chaweng, take a right turn a few metres after the traffic lights. Follow the road and you’ll find the temple about 50 metres past a school on the right hand side.
So you needn’t feel spiritually deprived while holidaying on Samui, the island provides spiritual enrichment for everyone.