The Kuan Yin Shrine in Bangkok is in an old Chinese building
within a community on the Chao Phraya River where time
seems to have stood still for the last 200 years.
The site originally had two shrines built in the reign of King
Taksin (1767 ? 1782) by his Chinese supporters. The
dilapidated buildings were torn down in the reign of King
Rama III (1824 ? 1851) and rebuilt to house Kuan Yin, the
goddess of mercy.
Today, the Kuan Yin Shrine is in the care of a local Chinese
family living in the area. In Thai, the goddess of mercy is
known as Jao Mae Kuan Im.
Kuan Yin, an ancient Chinese goddess, embodies the virtues of
love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness, a legend that goes
back to 300 BC.
The youngest daughter of a Chinese king, she was blessed with
virtue and spurned her corrupted father's greed for wealth
and power. When she rejected his order for an arranged
marriage, he drove her out of their home.
Rejected, persecuted and exiled by her father, she dedicated
her remaining years as a nun healing the sick and destitute and
as a savior of shipwrecked sailors. When her father was
mortally ill, she sacrificed her eyes and arms for the antidote to
Her selflessness earned her eternal worship and the Kuan Yin
Shrine became a Chinese cultural heritage. The early Chinese
immigrants to Bangkok continued the tradition and built a
shrine for the goddess of mercy on the Chao Phraya River near
where they lived.
An elevated walkway, a recent addition, runs from the pier
along the riverbanks and a small footbridge with a red arch
links the walkway to the main gate of the shrine. At the end of
a small red-tiled courtyard is the period Chinese structure
housing the Kuan Yin Shrine.
Images of classical Chinese characters are engraved on the
front walls and above the opened main door, two fiery dragons
ride the crest of the roof, glaring down fiercely. The wooden
doors in the sidewalls leading to the inner quarters behind are
Inside the shrine, painted walls of Chinese warriors and old
red Chinese lanterns hanging from the rafters create a mood
reminiscent of ancient China, a mood seemingly unchanged
over the years in the Kuan Yin Shrine.
A smaller altar with several Kuan Yin statues stands in the
open yard in the center of the shrine. In the main altar, in the
covered area to the rear, a metre-high gold statue of Kuan Yin,
the goddess of mercy, sits serenely facing the Chao Phraya
It's not a busy shrine on non-festive days. The occasional
worshipper comes in to pray and pay respects as the day goes
lazily by. Life on the river is quiet except for a few children
playing by the pier and the odd fisherman.
Meanwhile, in the Kuan Yin Shrine, the goddess of mercy,
gazes benignly at the bustling river beyond as the riverboats go
The Kuan Yin Shrine is one of the many Bangkok Shrines in the old city.
The Kuan Yin Shrine is one of the legacies that make up the rich cultural milieu of Bangkok. This article first appeared in Tour Bangkok Legacies, a historical travel site on people,
places and events that shaped the landscape of Bangkok.
The author, Eric Lim, is a free-lance writer who lives in