Tod Phaa Bpah ceremony in Koh Samui

Phaa Bpah Tree

The first day we arrived in Koh Samui, there was a festivity brewing on the neighbouring beach. People coming, food stalls was getting set up, live music blaring. By the time the night falls, the music got louder, more people coming as well as monks. When we took a peek from the beach we saw bushes of these bouquets of flower made of money. We had no idea what was happening, but assuming it was a private party, since there was no Buddhist festivities going anywhere else on the island.

Closer to midnight, people dispersed and the stage was left to a small group of karaoke enthusiasts, so we went and took a closer look (hey, if you can’t sleep from the noise, might as well join the party!). The compound looks like a small Buddhist temple under construction, and a local woman told us that there would be a festival there in the morning at 8. When asked what’s it about, she didn’t give any answer that we could understand, but we seemed to be welcomed there, so we wandered around until the sound system guy shut the karaoke and everybody left for the night.

The following morning, there was indeed a party. More people came, both from inland and by boat, each carrying even bigger bushes of colourful money tree (and yes, they’re made of real money bills, not fake ones). Monks were sitting on the stage and lead the prayers, tables were set to display all the money trees, and there were women dancing in groups. After that festival, I noticed the money tree everywhere in Koh Samui, sometimes in one or two branches set on a small shrine in shops and houses.

I never found out what the festival was about, since it seems so local and gone in one day I couldn’t even Google the name. Not until Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge put up its theme of “Symbol” that I thought about the money trees and wondering what they symbolised. Searching the internet for the meaning of the money tress proved to be easier. The money trees were called Phaa Bpah trees, which means something it symbolises: cloth forest trees. In the old days monks made their robes from scrap of cloths discarded by people. They were not allowed to receive anything directly from common people, so instead, people used to tie a piece of cloth on trees in forests for them to find and make robes from. Today, instead of cloth, people make money donation to the monks, attached to a branch reminiscent of the cloth tree forest. I’m guessing the festival was held to gather money for the construction of that small temple by the beach. In any case, it was a rather special welcome for us to the island (even if we didn’t get any money trees to keep).

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