Wat Nai is a small, but elaborate, Buddhist chedi near to Baan Tai and the road to Thong Nai Pan is the oldest structure in Koh Phangan. The Thai authorities believe that it was built around 1800 and the government has designated it as a site of special historical significance.
It is completely free to visit, but you are likely to need your own transport to get there as it is not that near a big town or village. If you are going on a motorbike the easiest way to find Wat Nai is to take the road to Thong Nai Pan from the Baan Tai road and take the first left turning after you pass the large temple of Wat Po on your right. The giant ‘Yang’ with the ribbons tied around the base of the tree is about 50 metres further on – if you come to the big tree then you have gone too far.
The Wat Nai chedi is the only intact part of a larger temple complex that remains. There were originally three chedis. The base of one of the chedis, made of bricks, remains and the base of the other (made from corals and concrete) is now mostly hidden by the roots of a bodhi tree.
The remaining chedi is twelve cornered with crockery inset into the concrete, along with a range of different images in relief on the side of the chedi. As well as small and large Buddha statue, images of a Chinese soldier, and characters from Thai folklore (like the Garuda) can be clearly made out.
The origins of the Wat Nai chedi are not known for sure, but there has been a lot of speculation about their origins. The most likely explanation is that a small group of Thai monks briefly established a temple at Wat Nai during the late 1700s or early 1800s at a time when the island was not permanently inhabited and there were no other monks permanently settled on the island. At this time most of the south of Thailand was covered by dense jungle, and travel down to the Southern region was only really possible by boat. Koh Phangan’s most numerous visitors at that time were the Moken people (also known as ‘sea gypsies’) who would move nomadically between the islands of the Angthong marine park fishing. Around the time the temple was established it was also the same period as when the Li people of the Chinese island of Hainan started to migrate to the Gulf of Thailand fleeing persecution by the Han Chinese on their home island. The images of the Chinese soldiers are possibly a clue that the Chinese migrants of the time had some involvement with the temple.
Whatever the history is, it is an interesting site to visit. The Wat Nai chedi is located in a leafy green area and a visit can easily be combined with a trip to the Baan Tai elephant trekking centre, Jungle Flight, Than Sadet waterfall and the two beaches of Thong Nai Pan.