Samui’s History: Hua Thanon and the Guan Yu Statue
Kelsey, Archipelago Communications
2nd March 2017
Hua Thanon is a quaint community, near cheerful Lamai. The little village is the last place on Samui with a historic fishing fleet, and it has maintained its Thai influence despite Samui’s high tourist population. In between the colossal Guan Yu statue, and the colourful food market, sits the Content Castle – directly across from the chartreuse sea. Visiting Hua Thanon allows travellers to catch a glimpse of Samui’s history before the tourism industry took hold as its main economic power.
The beginnings of Koh Samui
Samui was first discovered around 1,200 years ago (some sources assume), but was relatively unknown until the 1800s. The first inhabitants and immigrants thrived in vast farmland, rich agriculture, and vacant fishing villages. In order to explore the island, one had to walk, which took hours upon hours. Prior to reaching Samui one had to take a lengthy boat ride if they wanted to meander the hardly touched land.
A fishing boat on the shores of Hua Thanon.
However, the visitors discovered mountains of fertile soil perfect for growing an abundance of plants, vegetables, fruit and more, and as such, made the lengthy boat ride and lack of transportation worth the effort. It has been reported that the Chinese were the first immigrants to make Samui their home. They enjoyed the variety of natural resources, which up until recent years was Samui’s main source of income, until the tourism industry blossomed.
Samui’s tourism industry began in force around the time the roads were constructed. Various complications caused delays in the completion of the road, but by 1973, the road was finally finished. Around this time, tourists began to discover the wonders of Samui. When they arrived, they were met by an island of pristine white beaches, fishing fleets full of unique boats painted in bold and bright colours, exotic fruits, and a small population. The waterfalls, hikes, and beaches had barely been touched – it seemed – since the dawn of time.
In the 1990s, public interest grew for Samui. People were fascinated by its natural wonders, such as the Sivatara Waterfall, where luscious greens surrounds the water cascading over rocks. Rumours about the island’s abundance of fresh fruits and fish spread to the rest of Thailand and beyond – and with that, Samui’s popularity mounted.
“In between the colossal Guan Yu statue, and the colourful food market, sits the Content Castle – directly across from the chartreuse sea.”
Samui Southeast: Guan Yu and Hua Thanon
A hundred steps from the gates of the Content Castle sits the monument of Guan Yu. The size of the Guan Yu statue is minuscule compared to the respect he’s commanded as a revered warrior over the last 2,000 years. Guan Yu played a major role in the Han Dynasty battle. He helped bring the Han Dynasty down, which made way for the period of the Three Kingdoms.
During the war, he managed to befriend his enemy, Cao Cao, who had captured Guan Yu during a battle. Eventually, Cao Cao recognised Guan Yu’s powers as a warrior and a person and a companionship was born. Meanwhile, Guan Yu managed to remain loyal to Liu Bei. Warfare continued between Cao Cao and Liu Bei. Guan Yu miraculously continued to battle without destroying any of his loyalties. In 219, Guan Yu passed away after being killed in combat.
Guan Yu overlooks Hua Thanon.
Around the start of the 19th Century, King Rama III of Thailand introduced trade routes between his country and China. As a result of this, many Chinese immigrants began to make Samui their home. The resultant rich history of Chinese pioneers lives on inside the shrine of the Guan Yu statue, where faded images of the pioneers are spread amongst the Chinese decor and symbols.
The legendary statue was funded by Khun Virach Pongchababnapa – a savvy businessman who was also the mastermind behind the Pavilion Samui Villas and Resort, a swanky beachfront resort in Lamai. Discussions on the new shrine began in 2008. They wanted to create a monument that would honour the early Chinese inhabitants on Samui. Before the statue was built in Hua Thanon, there was one constructed in 1872 in Ban Na Kai, the tribute was smaller in size but the symbolism of the great warrior was equally strong. In 1935, the shrine was moved to Hua Thanon.
Samui’s history paints an image of an island inhabited by fishing villages with a small population. Today, visitors see Samui as a prosperous island, with a thriving tourism-led economy. The fishing village days of Samui may be over, but the island is merely building on its history, rather than erasing it. There will be more roads in construction, more tourists arriving, yet the lavish agriculture and resources – the items that helped so many for centuries – will always remain. Visitors can catch a glimpse of the historical roots of Koh Samui when they drive through Hua Thanon, where an old fishing fleet remains, where there is a formidable food market, where Guan Yu’s massive statue stands, and where tourism hasn’t yet trampled its sandy shores.
Find out more about the timeline of Samui’s history, Guan Yu, and Hua Thanon here: