One of my favorite discoveries in Bangkok is a large amulet market found close to the Grand Palace (about a 10-minute walk) on Prachan Road. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before and increased my interest to know more about the fascination with Buddhist amulets in Thailand. Why do so many people wear them? What do they mean? Why are they believed to have powers? How can you tell if one’s ‘real’ or not?
Thai Buddhist amulets come in all shapes and sizes. You’ll see rich men with large pieces in gold and diamond cases, old men with more then ten dangling from a chain, women with small, tasteful gold Buddhas on a thin Thai gold (sooo yellow!) necklace and toddlers with a tiny charm. People seek the amulets out for their blessings, security and magical powers. Generally speaking, they are meant to protect you – protect you from harm, accidents, danger, bad business, bad people, bad luck (the belief in luck plays a very important role in day to day Thai life, but that’s for a different post). Some are thought to have greater protection for certain things or provide good luck in certain areas of your life.
What makes them so special? They’re made by monks, often who are well-known for their own magical or meditative powers, who put special symbols and blessings in the amulet. Amulets that have ‘proven themselves’ by protecting the wearer and got people talking become well known and sought after. There are many stories of guns not being able to work around special amulets or people wearing a certain amulet and coming away from an accident unscathed.
The amulets can be bought all over. Just walking down the street you’ll see someone with a table set up and men squinting through their magnifying glasses, examining the amulets and seeing if they’re real. There are also several eBay-type sites for people to bid, buy and sell. The older, more well-known and more rare they are the pricier they are, with some amulets selling for tens of thousands of dollars. People will then have their amulets encased in hard plastic to protect them and then have decorative handmade cases cases created to show off their piece.
While I definitely understand more now, thanks to some Thai friends, than I ever would have on my own, I’m still amazed at the sheer quantity of different amulets, knowledge it takes to recognize pieces from specific monks and know the story behind them or if they’re real, and the industry that’s been created around these charms.
What objects have you been intrigued by in other countries? Was there something everyone seemed to own?
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Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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