Koh Kret and the Mons People
By Verawat Chiranai
Koh Kret also known as Ko Kred, is an island in the Chao Phraya River, 20 km north of Bangkok in Nonthaburi Province. The island dates back to 1722, when a canal was constructed as a shortcut to bypass a bend in the Om Kret branch of the Chao Phraya River. The island continues to serve as a refuge to the Mon Tribes, who dominated central Thailand between the 6th and 10th centuries and have retained a distinct identity in their flavor of Buddhism, and their distinctive pottery.
The island is roughly square in shape, each side measuring about two km, and a path runs around the entire island. The walk at a pleasant pace takes an hour and a half or two hours.
Koh Kret is another world compared to Bangkok and much of it retains the air of a rustic village, with wooden shacks propped against palm trees and the occasional dilapidated temple slowly crumbling. Hence the main attraction is just walking around, browsing the merchandise in the many pottery shops.
Wat Poramai Yikawat is the main temple on the island. There are several white marble pagodas carved in the Mon style and a small museum showcasing the temple’s treasury.
Ko Kret is renowned above all as a center for kwan arman style of Mon pottery, which is just baked unglazed red clay carved with intricate patterns. This is regarded as the most beautiful of all unglazed pottery available in Thailand.
The natural course of the Chao Phraya river takes many meanders as it makes its way through the flat central plains to the delta. From at least the late Ayutthaya period (17th-18th century C.E.) attempts have been made to smooth out some of the more extreme deviations, so as to shorten the route to the sea and also improve river flow. An early map by Engelbert Kaempfer, an employee of the Dutch East Inda Company, shows the Cut which formed Koh Kret already in place before C.E. 1689. According to Chronicle sources the original specification only required a width of 12 meters but the increased river flow did the rest of the work.
It is still possible to make out the original course of the Chao Phraya on Google Earth. The pattern of irrigation ditches around Khlong Om and Khlong Bangkok Noi clearly mark the old river channel.
Wat Paramai Yikawat has been the spiritual center of the Mons in Thailand since the late Ayutthaya period, from which date the earliest Mon settlements in this area; King Taksin (1767-1782), however, is credited with founding the Mon Pottery Village on Koh Kret. In 2834 Msgr. Pallegoix made a voyage up the Chao Phraya River, and mentions a settlement of 6,000 Peguans (Mons originally from Pegu—modern Bago) on both sides of the river at Pak Kret, cultivating gardens and making pottery that he describes as “crude.”
Though a huge new road bridge has recently been constructed, connecting Pak Kret with the west bank of the river, Koh Kret itself remains mercifully isolated, a rural idyll only a few miles from Bangkok.
The Mons are an ancient and influential people of Southeast Asia. They settled in southeastern Burma and the central plains of Thailand before the arrival of the Burmans in the west of their lands, and the Thais in the east.
They were one of the earliest civilizations of Southeast Asia, becoming Buddhist and literate at a very early date. Their script, developed from the Indian Deva Negari script, was one of the earliest writing systems in the area, and is the precursor of modern Burmese writing.
The Mons founded major centers at Hamsavati (Pegu—modern Bago, Burma) and Nakorn Pathorn in central Thailand. Many artifacts from their Dvaravati civilization (roughly 6th to 11th centuries C.E.) have been found in lower Burma and central Thailand. In Northern Thailand they founded the city of Haripunjaya (modern Lamphun—see www.Lamphun.html, an important city in the history of Chiang Mai and the Northern Thai kingdom of Lan Na. It was via the Mons that Buddhism was introduced to the Thai peoples who entered the region from perhaps the tenth century onwards.
New Mon settlers have been arriving in Thailand from Burma for centuries, usually as (welcome) refugees during the Burmese wars with Ayutthaya. Many of the ancestors of the Mon communities living in Nonthaburi and Koh Kret were settled in the area by King Taksin after the Burmese sack of Ayutthaya in 1767.
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The above was sent to us by Veerawat Chiranai (“Bird”), in Bang-Kaso, Nonthaburi, Thailand, who was the collector of this fine sample of Thailand soil. Thank you.