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Bangkok Travelbug December 11 Tha Chalom – fishermen’s patron saints
December 03, 2011

Tha Chalom – the fishermen’s patron saints

Traditionally the Bangkok Travelbug features scenes of Christmas in Bangkok for the December issue. This year it just wouldn’t be appropriate in view of the natural calamity that has hit much of Thailand.

By late-November the death toll from the terrible floods in Thailand since August stands at 666. There are still 17 provinces flooded at varying levels.

The dry streets of downtown Bangkok seem unreal compared to the sorry images of inundated homes in the surrounding provinces; the brave smiles on stoic faces in sharp contrast to simmering anger boiling over in others.

Almost five million people are still affected from the floods. Samut Sakhon a coastal province stands to receive waters from western Bangkok through canals that would drain into the Tha Chin River. Huge water pumps have been installed to speed up the flow of water to the sea.

Tha Chin River in mid-October

Besides several industrial estates, Samut Sakhon produces more than half the seafood that is consumed in Thailand or exported. For this reason we feature in this issue Tha Chalom, the fishing community in Samut Sakhon and their patron saints.

Fishing boats of Tha Chalom

Contents (click on the link to go directly to the topic)

About Tha Chalom

Tha Chalom) is the name of the narrow tongue of land formed by a sharp meander in the Tha Chin, the last in a series of twist and turns as the river flows into the Gulf of Thailand. A tributary of the Chao Phraya, the Tha Chin is one of the major rivers draining the Chao Phraya basin.

"Tha" means port and "chalom", a sea-going sailboat that looks like a Chinese junk. The official seal of Samut Sakhon depicts such a vessel.

A sub-district in the city district of Samut Sakhon, Tha Chalom is home to a huge fishing fleet that is moored on the southern edge of this strip of land.

Mahachai just across the river is the fish market and Tha Chalom catches the fish. During my visit, many of the fishing boats were already back and the crew busy cleaning and drying the nets.

As a sea-going community, safety at sea is naturally a primary concern and there are a number of patron saints which the people pray to. Let us visit two of these places of worship in Tha Chalom.

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The Guan Yin Shrine

The Guan Yin Shrine is located with Wat Chong Lom (Wat Sutthiwat Wararam) an old temple from the Ayutthaya era about two km from the Tha Chalom pier.

The shrine is distinctly Chinese with two huge dragons coiled around the pillars at the entrance.

Strings of red lanterns hang overhead as one approaches the altar before the 9 m high statue of the Goddess of Mercy.

Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy

Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy is one of the most revered deities in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism practised in Asia. She is renowned for her purity, kindness and compassion.

Legend has it that she was Miao Shan, the youngest daughter of a king in China in the 7th century. From an early age, she devoted herself to help the poor and those who were suffering.

When she spurned her father’s bid to marry her to a man of his choice, he drove her out and subjected her to hard labour. Even his attempt to kill her failed. She was taken to safety by a spirit.

When the king was ill and dying, a monk advised him that his only salvation was a potion made from grinding the arms and eyes of someone completely free from hatred.

The desperate king sent envoys far and wide to find this person. They found the person and the medicine was made. When the king asked to see his savoir, he was shocked to see that it his daughter Miao Shan whom he had treated so badly.

As he prostrated before her in shame, she rose into the clouds. In atonement the king made a shrine to honour her. Through her compassion and kindness, Miao Shan left this cruel world and attained enlightenment.

Guan Yin is known to help the sick and destitute, those lost in their journeys or ship-wrecked. For this reason, many coastal communities who depend on the sea for their living worship her.

"Ask humbly for love and protection, in our time of darkness and need"

Guan Yin is sometimes depicted as the thousand-hand Bodhisattva (one who has attained enlightenment through compassion) with an eye on each palm; a thousand eyes to see those who are suffering and a thousand hands to help them.

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St Anna Church

About 300 m from the Guan Yin Shrine is another huge statue dedicated to a patron saint, this time Catholic.

Anna and Joachim were a rich and pious couple who lived in Nazareth. They were childless. They prayed hard for a child and pledged to dedicate the child to the service of God. Their prayers were answered and the child was called Mary who later conceived a son called Jesus.

Anna, the maternal grandmother of Jesus, was canonised as St Anna and is worshiped many parts of the Catholic world. Her statue is in the grounds of the St Anna Church, Samut Sakhon.

St Anna Church, Samut Sakhon

Inside the church

Besides the church, there’s a school of the same name within the grounds and a small chapel by the banks of the Tha Chin dedicated to St Anna.

St Anna School, Samut Sakhon

Chapel dedicated to St Anna

Inside the chapel

On top of this chapel is a huge statue of St Anna gazing out to sea, reputable the tallest statue of St Anna in Asia.

St Anna gazing out to sea

A special feature of this statue is that it’s on a rotating base and the statue can be rotated by a winch to face the sea. This was done so that fishermen out at sea can then turn to St Anna to pray for their safety.

St Anna watching the waters

St Anna is the patron saint to several places in the world like Brittany in France and Quebec in Canada. The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church regard Anna as a saint.

"Compassion for those who invoke you and love for those who suffer"

St Anna Church, Samut Sakhon is one of two churches in Thailand dedicated to St Anna, the other is St Anna Church in Nakhon Phanom.

St Anna Church, Nong Saeng, Nakhon Phanom

May Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy and St Anna smile on the flood victims of Thailand, grant them relief from the ravages of Nature and the follies of Man, ease their suffering and restore their lives to normalcy.

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Map of Tha Chalom

View Tha Chalom, Samut Sakhon in a larger map

Getting to Tha Chalom

To get to Tha Chalom, you have to travel to Mahachai first. Please see taking the Maeklong Line to Mahachai From Mahachai board a ferry at the pier to cross the Tha Chin River to Tha Chalom. Fare is 3 baht one way.

Ferry crossing from Mahachai to Tha Chalom


Since 11 Nov 2011 until further notice, the State Railway of Thailand has suspended the train service between Wong Wian Yai and Mahachai owing to floods in Bang Khun Thian district of Bangkok.

Exploring Tha Chalom

Like most provincial towns, the motor cycle taxi service is available. Agree on the price first. You’ll need transport to get to the two places mentioned earlier.

When you get back to the pier, try the deep fried fish cakes sold by a street vendor near the entrance. They are delicious and cost just 20 baht.

This lady was also very helpful in giving directions around town.

Friendly face of Tha Chalom

After that take walk along some of the narrow streets of Tha Chalom by the river.

The quieter side of Tha Chalom

This street goes through a temple and on to the Ban Laem train station. This is the second leg of the Maeklong Line that goes to the Maeklong station in Samut Songkhran.

Ban Laem train station

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With that, we wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Next month

Khon Kaen – the Issarn heritage

Book hotels in Bangkok

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Till next month then.

Eric Lim

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