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Looking Back: The spirits that guard the city

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Looking Back: The spirits that guard the city | Thaiger

PHUKET: When building towns and cities, ancient Thais adhered to several deeply rooted practices for hundreds of years. One such belief is the construction of shrines that would house the “city pillars”.

Thais believed that the city pillars would be the resting place of spirits that would guard their city from natural disasters, diseases, enemies and any other malevolence that could befall them. City pillars are usually made out of the strongest wood available. Phuket has four city pillar shrines in different locations on the island. The first one, called “Sarn-Lak Muang Mai”, or the new city pillar shrine, was built in the year 1809, during the reign of King Rama III.

Today, this shrine is located in Baan-Muang-Mai near Thepkrasattri Road. The pillar that can be seen today however, is a new pillar installed in 1985, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Thalang and the heroic deeds of Lady Chan and Khun Mook. This shrine faces towards the west. The second city pillar shrine in Phuket is located in the old seaside village of Baan Tha Rua.

At this shrine, visitors will find a small boat with a single oar. Legend has it that a long time ago, the spirit that resided in this city pillar once visited the dream of a local villager and asked for a boat so that she will be able to travel the nearby canals and sea as she pleases. After that, the villagers of Baan Tha Rua constructed a small boat and offered it to the guardian spirit at the shrine. The Baan Tha Rua city pillar shrine faces towards the east, out to sea. The third city pillar shrine in Phuket is located in Wat Rang Pa Sak temple, on the Cherng Talay-Baan Don Road in Thalang district.

Near the entrance to the temple, visitors will find this city pillar shrine. This particular shrine faces north and it is said that in the old days, the location of this shrine was infamous for the number of dangerous animals that lived in the nearby surroundings. The fourth city pillar shrine in Phuket is situated near the Banyan Tree Resort near Le-Pang beach in Cherng Talay. This shrine is surrounded by a beautiful garden.

The guardian spirit of this shrine is often referred to as “Chao-Mae Kesinee” and is revered by the locals. Judging from their locations and the directions they face, the four city pillar shrines in Phuket were likely constructed to protect Thalang, the main town center of Phuket Island in the old days. Although there is good motive for the construction of city pillars, there is an ancient and sinister tradition that has been practiced for hundreds of years when raising city pillars.

According to ancient Thai superstition, the construction of a city pillar requires a human being to be buried under the wooden pillar when it is erected. The ancients believed that the spirit of the sacrificed person will stay on and live inside the city pillar, guarding the ruler of the city and its people against disasters, diseases and foreign enemies. The ritual is known to have been practiced in the past.

According to historical sources, the victim who is to be sacrificed must have certain auspicious names given to them at birth. During the auspicious hour, priests will travel around the villages yelling these auspicious names out loud. Whoever responded to the names being called was seized. The date and time for erecting the city pillar was chosen carefully by astrologers.

Prior to erecting the city pillar, the “chosen ones” were treated to the finest food and pampering. At the site of the city pillar, a deep hole was dug and a large piece of fine wood was hung just above it. On the chosen day when the pillar was ready to be put in its place, crowds were invited to witness the event along with the King, prince or governor and all their high ranking officials.

As the fateful hour approached, the ruler of the city called upon the human sacrifices to guard the city in their death. They were then pushed into the hole. After that the ropes restraining the city pillar was cut, letting the heavy piece of wood fall into its final resting place and in doing so, crushing and burying alive the unfortunate victim along with it. Much of the accounts about the tradition of burying humans alive beneath city pillars have simply been passed down through the generations.

Not much has been written down and few historical evidence related to the ritual have been found. For this reason, historians cannot be sure about the extent to which these rituals were actually practiced, or if humans were really sacrificed at all.

According to local legend in Phuket, when Thao Thepkasattri (Lady Chan) passed away, the governor of Thalang decided to rebuild the town in 1809, which he named “Baan Muang Mai”, or the ‘New Town’.

According to the stories, he made preparations to erect a new city pillar. He invited 32 monks to chant prayers for seven days and seven nights, after which he commissioned one of the town administrators to go into the villages and call out the chosen names that will lead them to find a human sacrifice to be buried with the city pillar and forever be made to guard Thalang Town. From here on the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred.

According to legend, a young girl who at that time was eight months pregnant, returned the call of her name and was immediately seized. She was later buried alive with the city pillar in Baan Muang Mai. Perhaps the only way to separate legend from historical fact may be to excavate the site where the city pillars sit, but for some who truly believe in the story, that would only disturb the benevolent spirits that have been guarding Thalang Town for generations since.

— Anand Singh

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Entertainment

Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws

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Sex toys popular in Thailand despite conservative laws | Thaiger
PHOTO: In Thailand, sex toys are very popular and very illegal.

While Thailand is a conservative country with conservative laws, the underground sex trade and sex toy economy is a thriving not-so-well-kept secret. Thailand is famous for its LGBTQ acceptance and red-light districts, but many don’t realise that most drugs, gambling, soliciting for prostitution, sex toys, and even vaping are against Thai law.

The customs department confiscated more than 4000 sex toys just last year, and owning or selling these toys carries a 60,000 baht fine or up to 3 years in jail. The strict laws are in place to align with the traditional Buddhist Thai society but seem very contrary to the underground sex industry Thailand is known for.

The need for sexual privacy rights and relaxed laws governing sex has been gaining popularity for years with the juxtaposition of strict laws and hedonism creating a very profitable black market. Bangkok’s red-light district is estimated to be worth US $6.4 billion, and in districts like Soi Cowboy, Nana, Patpong and Silom, sex trade and sex toys are sold openly even though it violates the law. The sex industry is thought to comprise up to 10% of Thailand’s gross domestic product. Then there’s Walking Street in Pattaya, Bangla Road in Phuket, etc, etc.

Still, Thailand is a Buddhist country with traditionally conservative values so laws are unlikely to change anytime soon. Even sex education in Thailand is geared towards the negative consequences of sex and not open to sexual rights or embracing sexuality, according to a UNICEF report in 2016. Those who oppose decriminalising sex toys and the sex industry believe that embracing it legally would lead to a rash of sex-related crimes.

Others argue that decriminalisation would be liberating and empower women by reducing the stigma of being sexually free. It would allow a modernized view on sexual well-being. It would also likely reduce teen pregnancy rates, by removing the negativity towards those who need or use contraceptive.

Nisarat Jongwisan has been fighting for the destigmatisation and legalisation of sex toys since 2018 when she appeared on a TV program speaking out against the Ministry of Culture. She now intends to use the Thai parliamentary mechanism for creating a petition and gathering 50,000 signatures, which would allow her to submit a bill to the parliament for a vote.

With strict laws, the black market will continue to grow. While sex toys and the sex trade can be criminalized, sexual desires are not easily quashed, and people will find ways to satisfy them. Without any regulation, black markets can profit freely, selling sex toys with no concern over fair pricing or quality control. The global sex toy industry sold nearly US $34 billion dollars last year, and with continued lockdown and the closures of entertainment venues, these sales are set to only increase, even in the face of Thailand’s conservative laws.

SOURCE: Vice

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Thai Life

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story

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“Mommy, there’s a snake!” – Expat in Phuket shares her story | Thaiger
Pope's pit viper / Stock photo by Thai National Parks via Flickr

The following story was written by Amy Sukwan, an American who has been living in Thailand for 7 years.

To share a story with The Thaiger, click HERE.

“Mommy, there’s a snake!” my 8 year old daughter Eliza said, waking me up in the middle of the night.

I came out of our modest bungalow in Phuket at some unholy hour in the middle of the night, to see what my daughter’s whole “snake” thing was about. In the light of our front porch light, about 3 metres from our front door, 3 of our cats were surrounding something that looked at first to me to be a stack of rotting bananas.

“Eliza it’s nothing.” I tried to assure my daughter. Right at that moment the rotting bananas rose up into an aggressive posture as 3 cats circled it, hissing viciously. It was a surreal sight in the porch light.

“Mommy can you kill it!” My daughter begged me, as the thing, about four feet or over a meter long, lashed at one of our cats, who was quick enough to jump away. The snake had a big head that I could see in the porch light. It was distinctively mallet shaped, in what I was pretty sure was the viper class.

As much as I wanted to go back to sleep and pretend that this was all a bad nightmare, I now had a crying, frantic daughter who was terrified for her cats and a situation that I was quickly recognizing was pretty bad. Mai dee.

I needed to call in backup – my Thai husband. Eliza was already screaming his name. “Ka! Loon Ka!” My 8 year old screamed.


There are many venomous snakes in Thailand. Most people know about cobras but the viper class is the most deadly in the world, as vipers are both unpredictable and very difficult to charm. I was looking at a pit viper of some sort, I was pretty sure.

Snakes normally don’t bother you if you don’t bother them. But interactions are most common late in the dry season in Thailand, as it is now, in late March, as the snakes slither around houses in search of water. Thais don’t want them around for obvious reasons. You don’t want venomous snakes to breed and make babies close to your homestead.

If you are not sure if a snake is venomous or not, a good rule of thumb is to look at its head size in proportion to its body size. If the snake head is close to the same size as the rest of its body, and the snake is generally more wormlike in appearance, it is probably not venomous. If the head is large, say two or more times the diameter of the body, it might be poisonous. This does not constitute medical advice. If you get bitten by a snake, you should go to the hospital.


My husband woke up as Eliza was screaming for him. He came out groggily but as soon as my daughter pointed at the snake he saw the problem. “No good! I kill!” Ka said as he grabbed a machete from our kitchen rack. He wasted no time in coming to this decision.

So after being bathed in the surreal sight of three cats circling a hissing, striking, and very likely deadly serpent under our porch light, I got to be treated to an even weirder view. Ka went full Steve Irwin on the snake as he danced around with the machete. The viper sideswiped and tried to strike him. Then, it suddenly backlashed and made contact with his knee. Both me and Eliza cried out from the sidelines.

“She bit me!” Ka said as he macheted the viper’s mid body, and then its neck. Among my many shortcomings is a complete inability to gender snakes. So I will remain with my husband’s classification of the viper as female.

The snake stilled over the course of several minutes as my eight year old screamed in terror. It still seemed to be wiggling even five minutes later, though its body slowly stilled. Ka helped me put it in a plastic bag.

“You go hospital now!” I screamed at him.

“No worries. She don’t bite me with poison.” Ka seemed sure of this. He’d grown up on a 50 rai spread of backwoods in Phuket and was something of a designated snake killer.

My husband had tracked and killed a 5 foot long snake months before, which he had assured me had no poison, but which he had not wanted around the house. I was able to identify that one through Google images and a snake discussion group as an Indochinese Rat snake, which was indeed not venomous.

There was only one bite mark on his knee the viper had come in from an unusual angle and only one fang had punctured through. But I could see from closer inspection of the now dead snake what I had already known. It looked like a dark green Pit Viper. She was about 4 feet long, or maybe 130 centimetres. The poor girl had probably been looking for water.

Symptoms of a poisonous snake bite include pain at the site, swelling, and changes in heart rate or breathing. Needless to say Ka is still alive and well, and probably had enough experiences of snakes to know that this was a dry bite, or one without venom, as about 50% of snake bites are. I wouldn’t have taken my chances on this, though.

The reason that poisonous baby snakes are thought to be more deadly is not because they have more venom, but because they always release venom when they do bite. I prayed in Buddhist style for the snake to have a better life next time, as she had made merit by not killing either our cats or my husband. But for the amateurs out there, I wouldn’t advise going to Steve Irwin about these things. Normally snakes bite you because you bother them.


It turns out that sometimes you chase the story. And sometimes the story chases you.

I’d seen a recent post on The Thaiger asking for guest bloggers to share their stories regarding Thailand. I think I laughed out loud on reading it. After 7 years in the “Land of Smiles,” with 2 Thai husbands and after giving birth to 2 children here, I’d like to think I’ve seen it all. I probably have 10,000 stories.

But what do I want to write about? Should I mention my early days as a farang in Thailand, during the time when I was working as an OPC for a timeshare? Do I want to give advice on making visas, as an American staying in Thailand or for a Thai going to America? Should I talk about going to Thai hospitals? Or maybe I should write something about Thai Buddhist funeral proceedings? I’ve put my first husband and both my mother and father in law in the ground at Wat Prathong. Should I talk about ASQ and travelling during Covid madness? Or should I mention the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan? I’ve been to five of those, personally.

This weekend I was harvesting cashew fruit with a Thai friend of ours in Phuket who has a large spread of family land. We burnt the cashew nuts, and I thought that this would make a great story, as many farang ask me about growing and harvesting practices in my little outback area. Unfortunately a quick Google search revealed that cashew nuts are dangerous, even to people without allergies, as they contain a chemical close to poison ivy. Only professional processors should deal with cashew nuts, in short. I’ve been eating the fruit and burning the nuts for years. But I gathered that life is too dangerous. So much for that story.

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Food Scene

Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month

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Thai Airways food landing in 7-Eleven next month | Thaiger
PHOTO: Yum yum, it's airline food 'on the go'

Warning. Some low-altitude turbulence is coming to a 7-Eleven near you. Thai Airways has cooked up a new money-making scheme during Covid-19 to sell its airline food in 7-Eleven. Set to take off on April 15, the mostly grounded and indebted airline will attempt to offset its losses during the pandemic by selling food in the ubiquitous convenience store and other supermarkets throughout Thailand.

It’s a clever strategy for a struggling company, but will customers take the bite? Surely a few crispy pork and rice dishes will knock the edge of that 300 billion baht debt!

Claiming that their busy flight schedule has always previously stood in the way of the airline’s foray into the fast food market, Thai Airways now has the supply (and time) with most flights grounded by the pandemic’s decimation of the travel industry and less hungry mouths to feed in the sky.

The first meals schedule to arrive on the shelves of 7-Eleven just after the Songkran holiday are Thai Airways’ halal chicken biryani dish, and the traditional Thai dish nam phrik long ruea, crispy and fluffy fish and sweet pork served in a fermented shrimp chilli paste. The primary push into the food industry will be more unusual meals to stand out in 7-Eleven’s selection.

The question remains whether the food selection will fly off the shelves, but the airline’s hopes are high after their airline launched pop-up restaurants in September and the public ate it up. It seems that, contrary to a million stand-up comedy jokes about how terrible airline food is, people have really missed it with so much cancelled travel due to border closures and restrictions.

Thai Airways hopes this creative departure from their main business will help bolster the struggling airline, who were previously denied a government bailout after declaring bankruptcy last year. They have tried everything from the pop-up restaurants to jumbo yard sales to renting out flight simulators. Even with the sharp reduction of flights due to the pandemic, flying will still be the company’s main mealticket, but they hope meal sales will make up for low ticket sales until the travel industry recovers.

So stow your tray table and fasten your seat belt as we see if the 7-Eleven offerings of Thai Airways’ food takes off.

(The Thaiger has a better solution. Let 7-Eleven lease Thai Airway’s grounded planes and run the whole business instead)

SOURCE: Coconuts Bangkok

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