I meant to post this about 2 months ago, after my presentation at EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association). I presented about 2 weeks after I returned from Thailand, and appreciated the wonderful feedback I received at the conference. This is still a work in progress, and I am hoping to revisit and expand upon it in the near future. For now, here is the poster – at the link!


Feedback is always appreciated! Feel free to comment here or email me personally.


On my last visit to the sunken temple, I happened to be there when a massive group of Thai tourists pulled up in motorized long tail boats. This group was visiting from Phuket, in the south of Thailand, and had been touring all around Kanchanaburi Province. I spoke to a few of them as they stopped to take pictures and pray inside. No one I spoke to had much of a sense of the history of the place. They had come, as one said, because they had to complete the Kanchanaburi circuit, and this was one of the stops. The groups strode up from their boats, took lots of photos, bought flowers for prayer offerings from the children waiting outside the temple, prayed, and then left to go back to their resorts in town. One man suggested that the shrine to Rev. Uttama inside the temple was off-putting – he thought that people would want photos of a historic site and the shrine would ruin their pictures.

I encountered these tourists after spending a few hours speaking with the small community that lives just uphill from the sunken temple. When the original village was flooded, a group of about five families stayed, moving to higher ground directly adjacent to the temple rather than going to Mon side. Several suggested that Uttama had asked them to stay and take care of the Temple. They are quite isolated in their settlement; there are no roads connecting the village to the surrounding area so they must take boats to get anywhere. The Thai government never built roads inside the village either; the monastery paved one road from donations they receive from visitors to the temple and former residents. They have no electricity, but the monk has said that if a few more people move to the village (it has slowly grown to 18 households), they will get it. Meanwhile, the children must be ferried by boat to Mon side if they want to go to school; the boat costs 250 baht/month (~ $9). The children sell flowers to tourists to raise this money. touristsTourists visiting the temple


The monk from the village near the temple sits watching the tourists visit.  Below, the children wait with flowers to sell to tourists. 


For the first time, I hired a motorized long tail to go out to the temple (I usually canoe, but I was bringing a Mon friend to translate for me this time). This allowed me to get more photos of the trip out then normal. Below is a view of Mon Side from the water.


Most of the people I’ve interviewed about their lives in the old village and their subsequent relocation to the current Mon side have stressed the physical differences in the two villages – specifically, the crowding and steep terrain in the new settlement versus the flat and “peaceful” old village. I’m posting these to give a sense of the physical environment of Mon side today.


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Yesterday morning, I canoed out to the sunken temple again. This time, I knew I would actually be able to get inside and (hopefully) swim around. The last time I was there, I could just see the top of the door, and the water has gone down a ton in the past few weeks. I borrowed an underwater camera from a friend and went to see what I could see.

The water was even lower than I thought it would be. We pulled up our canoe on the floating prayer house and swam out to the temple. Once inside, we could actually stand on the temple floor – the water came up to my chest/neck. We were joined by some Thai tourists who got out to the temple on a house boat around the same time that we got in the water. I think we inspired them and a few jumped in and followed us inside.

Swimming inside and around the temple was surreal and, at times, a little creepy. The water was pretty dirty and it was hard to even see my feet. I took a video; you can see how murky the water was.

And some photos from the morning:

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It is pretty extraordinary to see just how drastically the reservoir water levels decrease over the course of a few months. I am going back out to the temple tomorrow (hopefully), but I’ve already seen the water go down by several feet.


The temple is approx. 30ft high. At the end of the rainy season, it is completely covered. Most years (hopefully this one), by the end of the hot summer season, the water goes down to not just uncover the temple entirely, but also create a small island at its base. The reservoir is quite large – it has a maximum storage capacity of 8,860 million cubic meters covering a total catchment area of 3,720 square kilometers. Average runoff into the reservoir is approximately 5,500 million cubic meters per year.