Published on August 4, 2007
The southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat has long been known for its rich jungles and beautiful beaches, but the environment isn't what's drawing the crowds. Over the past couple of years, it's become one of the hottest spots in the Kingdom with visitors flocking to its temples to witness the daily consecration of Jatukam Ramathep amulets.
Introduced in the province with little fanfare 20 years ago, these amulets have gained a huge following among Thais, who believe they bring fortune.
Today, incantation ceremonies are held all over town, with the centuries old Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan a favourite place for consecration.
Not all residents are pleased at the onslaught of visitors, though, fearing that vibrations from trucks carrying the newly minted amulets into temple grounds will damage this important historical site.
The pagoda, which stands 56 metres high, has a distinctive Sri Lankan style and its spire is covered in gold. Stupas and trees surround the pagoda and golden Buddha images are lined up on both sides of the building.
It's hot in the city and we're relieved to leave for Khanom, a small coastal town about 80 kilometres north of the city, where we board a long-tailed boat to try our luck at netting some cuttlefish.
Because of the rocks, even medium-sized fishing boats can't come close to the shore. Night has already fallen as we transfer from the small long-tailed boat to a larger vessel, but within 10 minutes of boarding, the green light and fresh bait on the hook has landed our prey. Our host grins and tells us we are lucky.
"Usually, cuttlefish are best caught when the moon is on the wane. The moon is bright tonight so they are harder to catch," he explains.
"These days, we catch less fish because the trawler owners are greedy. The local people are satisfied with a plain and peaceful life. But the trawler owners try to take advantage of nature. They spread anaesthetic under the sea, wait for a few minutes and catch as much fish as they want."
"It's not fair to the fish. It's a dishonourable fight and really selfish," complains a fisherman.
After a few hours of moving from place to place and no more fish in the net, we sail back to the shore. Other boats, we learn, caught up to 10 cuttlefish and their owners offer to grill the meat for us. We decline and head to the resort to get some sleep.
The next morning, we head out on sparkling aquamarine waters to see the pink dolphins that are unique to the Khanom coastline. Some small fish swim alongside the boat and the helmsman tells us they are called luk pla pan or baby Pan fish, a favourite food of the mullet.
Before long we see the dolphins, said to be the only school left in Thai waters. Not much is known about the dolphin's colouring because of their remoteness and rarity, but it is thought that they turn pink as they get older.
Pink dolphins are also found in small populations off the coast of China and Vietnam and are struggling to survive due to pollution and over-fishing.
We arrive back to Khanom in the evening and head to the weekend market in town, where stalls are selling aromatic fish soup, fried chicken and vermicelli salad. Business is brisk and before long, the stalls kill the lights, signalling that their pots are empty.
A giant colourful playground has been set up in an adjacent lot and the local children are having a great time on the slide. A group of women are taking part in an aerobics class while others, their shopping finished, have gathered around the stage to watch traditional dancing, country folk performances and comedians.
"The market is busy and there are many more people because of the Jatukam ceremonies. The amulets are being made and consecrated every day. It's good for us, we sell more," confides a merchant, gesturing towards the shrine where, despite the late hour, an incantation is just finishing.
Even here, in quiet Khanom, Jatukam fever is raging.
Nattaporn Luangpipat The Nation