The Floating Nun

10th October, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Manda writes:

It was an early start for us this morning as we were keen to make the most of having our own transport for the day. So off we rode on our motorbike to re-trace some of our footsteps from the day before.

Bridge on the River Kwai

The blackness of the steel span bridge stood out in contrast against the light blue backdrop that was the colour of the sky. The blueness was unfortunately not the colour of the water as this had a murky brown hue to it. Something told us that it was going to be another hot day.

The bridge looked less eerie in daylight and with the busloads of tourists all buzzing around, trying to find the best photo vantage point, it definitely felt more manic than yesterday. Along with the mobile souvenir sellers and boat trip touts, this was simply too much commotion so early in the morning! We took a few pictures and carried on.

We stopped to visit the nearby Chinese Cemetery along the way with its colourful tombstones. This cemetery is a resting place for all those Chinese who lost their lives during World War II. While we were there, a Thai family were paying their respects in some ceremonial display. They were burning a boxful of something and a monk was offering words of prayer. Seeing people pay their respects to loved ones, made us see the tombstones in a different light - it wasn't just another tourist location to cross off on a map.

Wat Tham Seua and Wat Tham Khao Noi

Both Wat Tham Seua and Wat Tham Khao Noi are set on a hilltop 15kms outside of the centre of Kanchanaburi. To get there, we crossed a dam and lots of rice paddies and sugar cane fields. When we finally got near enough to catch a glimpse of the monasteries for the first time, we were very impressed. The cluster of beehive-shaped domes, Chinese styled architecture and the absolutely huge Buddha looked magnificent, all towering above the low-lying land below.

Once we had parked our bike, we made our way over to the cave monastery. It was refreshingly cool inside and so we took shelter in here for a little while longer. Once we had cooled down, we went back out and began the steep ascent up the steps to the Wat Tham Seua complex. Having made it to the top, we bought some cold drinks straight away then sat in the shade and watched others arrive at the top step, all gasping for breath. One young lad feigned collapsing, which pretty much summed it up.

If I thought the Buddha looked big from ground level, it looked enormous at the top. To my surprise, I could hear a mechanical sound churning away in the background. I then spotted a conveyor belt moving monetary donations into the lap of the Buddha. It was rather high-tech I thought!

Giant Buddha at Wat Tham Seua

The view from up here was lovely. On one side we could see the River Kwai and on another, a patchwork quilt of rice fields with mountains in the distance. It was like a postcard view. We climbed up one of the domes to get some better pictures of the complex from above and they turned out quite well! My legs, on the other hand, were aching and wobbling by the time I reached the top.

View from one of the chedis, Wat Tham Seua

Views from Wat Tham Seua.

Once back at the base of the domed temple, we found out that we could also climb up the Chinese-styled Wat Tham Khao Noi as well. The mind was willing but the feet refused to co-operate!

Wat Tham Mangkon Thong

Wat Tham Mangkin Thong is famous for one of its resident nuns. She is the well-known 'floating nun'. Yes, you read that correctly, the floating nun. Although not the original, this nun still manages to pull in the crowds. How did it all start? Well, her predecessor used to float on her back in a tub while meditating. The old nun has since passed away and her succesor has 'sort of' carried on the tradition. Except she does not meditate - instead, she strikes Buddha-like poses in the tub of water, much to the bemusement of the tourists. In case there is any confusion about the nun's routine incorporating any meditation practice, there is a sign by the entrance that basically says that the nun will not float for anything less than 200 baht (as there were over twenty people watching, we only had to pay 10 baht each). It has become a tourist show and is entertaining to watch, if a little odd.

It's hard work, but somebody's gotta do it.

As we sat in the purpose-built auditorium surrounding the tub, I was surprised at how quiet everyone was as they watched the nun go through the various poses. She performed each one gracefully and rotated around so that everyone could see each stance clearly. At the end, she pulled herself out of the tub and did a wai (thank you gesture) to the audience. Naturally she'd have to perform the same routine again for the next busload. Poor dear, she must look like a prune by the end of each day!