Bangkok is full of unusual surprises, although places like the Snake Farm, amulet market or Museum of Forensics have certainly been “discovered” and well trodden by guidebooks, backpackers and expats alike. One pleasant exception to this is Wat Hua Krabeu, or Temple of the Buffalo Heads, where a monk’s penchant for collecting has become somewhat of a crusade.buffalo skulls at Wat Hua Krabeu — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
The abbot of Hua Krabeu, Phra Wiboonpattankit, has used his temple for the creation of a memorial to the Asian water buffalo, which is in danger of becoming extinct. Since 1987, the water buffalo population in Thailand has decreased from 6 million to less than 2 million, as farming became mechanized and buffalo meat became a prized delicacy, with 400,000 buffaloes being slaughtered for their flesh each year. Additionally, the word for buffalo “kwai” in Thai, is synonymous with stupidity and backwardness, and a reminder of the past in a country which has undergone massive urbanization and modernity in a very short period of time.
However the abbot sees the buffalo in a far different light, talking about its use not only in agriculture but in show business as well, starring in the famous movie Bang Rajao, as a logo on Carabao albums, and as stalwart entertainers in the yearly races at the Chonburi Buffalo Festival. Phra Wiboonpattankit wants to create a shrine to the beasts before they disappear and has planned to erect a two story structure full of memorabilia that will serve as a memorial to the buffalo, reached by passing through a tunnel made entirely of buffalo skulls!an ode to the buffalo at Hua Krabeu — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Initially, a few villagers left skulls at the temple in memory of their deceased buffaloes, and as the abbot progressed with his memorial idea, he asked others to donate skulls whenever their animals died. Many contributions have come from the nearby and appropriately named “buffalo head” village, where old age is claiming the lives of a once healthy population. Realizing that he needed more skulls for his shrine, the abbot has taken to asking for cash donations with which to buy skulls from slaughterhouses, and his collection has now grown to over 8,000, many of which are fully preserved head and horns. A truckload carrying about 40 heads runs about 10,000 baht.
Phra Wiboonpattankit reminisces about how when he first came to Hua Krabeu thirty-five years ago, the area was mostly rice fields being plowed by buffalo. Although the fields are now long gone, replaced by shops, malls and cars, the abbot hopes his shrine will make people do a bit of self reflection, saying that the animals have proven to be useful from birth to death, and that life is not meaningful if one doesn’t make oneself useful to society.
Hua Krabeu is located on the west side of the Chao Phraya River, just south of the Outer Ring Road and off of Rama 2 in the Ban Khun Tien district. Most taxi drivers know the temple.