Maha Chedi Pakdeeprakas, also known as the Great Nine-spired Pagoda, is located on a small oceanside mountain in Ban Krut. The shrine features radiant stained glass windows detailing the life of Buddha. Ban Krut is a sleepy resort village in Prachuap Khiri Khan, three plus hours south of Bangkok, where Thailand narrows between the gulf and Burma. Friendly and clean, Ban Krut has a strong environmental movement. While there I bought a tee-shirt featuring an arresting graphic of a huge factory burning brightly. The Thai text announces to the government that any attempts to build a coal-fired electricity plant in the vicinity will be met with violence. In English it states: IF YOU BUILD, I WILL BURN. The government recently shelved the planned plant, while it explored its other options.

All nine of the great spires are currently under construction, framed in an elaborate and shaky scaffolding of bamboo and scrap lumber. The shrine is being built slowly, as the local people can generate the needed income. Hundreds of Thai tourists make pilgrimages here everyday, to make offerings and to admire the stunning views.

The primary source of income for the shrine's construction comes from the tourists, who pay a fee and are given a complete 'offering kit.' The kit includes a yellow candle, a handful of incense sticks, a lotus bud and several tiny sheets of gold foil. At the feet of a huge statue of a seated Buddha, the faithful light their candle and incense, standing them in vast cauldrons of sand. The Buddha statue looms twenty feet tall, a hint of an imperious smile playing at his golden lips. After leaving the feet of the Buddha, the faithful tour the area, visiting the life-sized sculptures of famous monks. With a prayer and a bit of static, they paste their slips of foil onto the various monks, giving the tired looking men a patina of weather-beaten gold leaf.

Despite the breathtaking views and the natural beauty of the place, the shrine still has a decidedly chaotic Thai edge to it. The calm quietude is regularly torn by ferocious explosions emanating from a small shack with windows of heavy chain link. The faithful, after completing their circuit of the monks, often end their stay by setting off long chains of firecrackers in a bid to awaken the spirits. Some of the chains are over a thousand crackers long, sounding like little wars, complete with a spectacular finale where five fist sized bundles explodes, leaving behind a slip of blessed paper to be collected and added to the household shrine. The bomb room is festooned with shards red paper and smells like gunpowder. It doesn't photograph well at all, hence the shot of lotus buds at the foot of a statuesque monk.

Cha am is a larger resort area in Prachuap Khiri Khan. Closer to Bangkok, it is more popular with the wealthier Thai crowd, though it still retains a small town feel. At the end of the beach, a temple features a fat sculpture of the Buddha. The six-armed figure uses his extra hands to cover his nine orifices in a bid to deny the sensual world. If it takes the Buddha six hands, what chance do the rest of us have?

On a bike ride around Cha am we found this lovely older couple, abandoned under a holy banyan tree. Once fixtures in a spirit house, they had been left behind when the house owner moved or redecorated. To throw such things away would amount to heresy and might result in very angry spirits. There are such holy trees scattered everywhere, with all manner of spirit houses and their inhabitants in varying states of disrepair, resting underneath them forever.

Cha am has lovely and colorful spirit houses, perhaps as a result of the gratitude anyone would feel to live so close to the beautiful ocean. This communal house served as another area where unwanted statuary were abandoned, though the main house was obviously well maintained.

Despite the holy implications of this page, most of the seaside activity is definitely of a secular bent. Thais love water sports, particularly banana boats pulled behind jet skis that weigh heavy in the water with their huge outboard motors. Inner tubes are a cheaper, quieter thrill. Though they love water sports, Thais generally loathe the sun, preferring to have the lightest skin tone possible. They often play in the water wearing jeans and tee-shirts. In Cha am we saw a hundred young Buddhist novices playing in the water in their full robes, splashes of saffron orange against a blue,blue sea.

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