It’s not so far from Bangkok, but the bus trip to Si Racha (from where the boat leaves for the island of Koh Si Chang) takes a long time. Bangkok sprawls and progress is slow. Bangkok is a real mixture, with roadside stalls, dusty open-fronted shops and run-down apartment blocks juxtaposed with shining offices and car show rooms.
You put some of that (the traffic, anything modern) behind you when you step on the boat and take the 40-minute journey to the island. It’s small, with a settlement on the east side, a beach on the west side and not much else. Most things are within easy walking distance, and there are tuk-tuks for anything further away.
By looking in at the gate of the Buddhist monastery at the right time, Judy was invited to have breakfast with the monks and nuns, and we returned later to have a tour. Set on a hill above the town, the bright cleanliness of the monastery is in stark contrast to most of the rest of the island. Our guide was a young nun, gentle and shaved-headed, who had joined the monastery 8 months earlier, after her graduation ceremony.
Buddhist monasteries have quite a degree of autonomy and there were several aspects of this one that are not typical. The monks still do the early morning alms round, but they also have a garden in which they grow their own produce. Buddhists normally consider manual labour inappropriate for a monk, but here they had built everything themselves.
As well as showing us around, our guide spoke about her beliefs as a Buddhist. Buddha himself was born into the royal household and was shielded from life’s realities until one day he saw an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a holy man. He decided to become a holy man so that he could avoid old age, sickness, and death, eventually becoming enlightened under a bodhi tree in India. He still became old and died, but at least by becoming enlightened he avoided the endless cycle of life, misery, and death that is the fate of the rest of us.
The idea of karma was graphically illustrated in one small building. Your fate (karma) in one life depends on how you lead your previous life. To enjoy a good and healthy life indicates good karma. A row of deformed foetuses in jars shows what happens if you have bad karma. The row of jars was set in between the legs of a human body, slowly desiccating and decaying, to illustrate of the impermanence of life.
Although encouraged to live in the present and not to look ahead to the future, our guide expressed the hope that she would like to spend the rest of her life there. Hmm. There were many questions I would like to have asked, but decided not to.