Phra Kru Ba Neua Chai was a famous Muay Thai fighter before he was ordained as a monk and founded the Monastery of The Golden Horse, near the Thai-Myanmar border.
Here, he attempts to build a brighter future for the impoverished children of the Golden Triangle.
The temple is located about one hour drive to the north from Ching Rai. At the local road signs the name of the Wat (=Temple) is written currently in the form “Wat Tham Pa Are Cha Tong” in addition to the Thai language.
The shrine, Archa Tong Monastery is often referred as "Wat Maa Tong" - The Golden Horse Monastery.
Phra Kru Ba Neua Chai used to be a Muay Thai fighter known as Samerchai. He started his fighting career when he was 13 and from the age of 14 till 29 he took part of hundreds of fights, losing only 3 times in 15 years.
Then suddenly, at the age of 30, while preparing to fight for the world champion, he quit the ring, went back to his home region Chiang Rai and headed for the jungle caves in Mae Sai and began meditation.
It was there that he experienced what he believes was a vision. The vision was: go to the Golden Horse, a sacred shrine which, according to the legend, has been around since the time of Lord Buddha. (According to local mythology, Buddha even left a sacred footprint there).
The Temple had long been abandoned, as it was somewhat remote and the cliffs were overgrown with dark forest.
The year 1992 Samerchai was ordained as a monk and first moved the Golden Horse alone.
At that time, in the early nineties, there was a continuous war between Thai military and various drug dealers.
The Thai army had almost lost hope of trying to combat the drug trade in the region when they desperately attempted a new tactic: instead of raking through villages with rifles, they asked local monks to combat the drug menace by taking Dharma (Buddha's Teachings) to the hill tribe villagers.
After searching far and near for monks to join this program, they finally they came across Phra Kru Ba Neua Chai, who was willing to take the risks and virtuous enough to lead the fight. As a monk who was also capable of defending himself, he was a perfect choice. Despite the dangers of opposing the drug barons, Kru Ba was undeterred.
In Thailand it is common practice to make an offering of gratitude to a respected monk if one has a stroke of luck or good karma. According to a story a local lottery winner donated a horse to the monastery and Kru Ba realized that this could play an important role in his border patrol plans.
The hilly terrain and the isolated location of the monastery makes the horse the most practical form of transport in these parts of Chiang Rai and many times horses are the only option while following the paths across the rough region.
Since then, more than 500 horses have passed through the monastery. Kru Ba, in turn donates them to the army or to hill tribes who need them. Now the small cliff top monastery is something of a ranch, with bamboo stables, a paddock and mountain tracks. The horses are all saved from slaughter and are usually donated by lottery winners or people who have come to listen to Kru Ba preach.
Not only was he combating drug problems, he also took in orphan boys whose parents had been killed by drug dealers and ordained them as novices.
The abbot Kru Ba, other monks and novices travel widely on horseback, fearlessly dispensing prayers, health care, education and tough love to villagers far from the protection and support of governments or non-governmental organizations.
Then - on top of their monastic duties and equestrian skills - the boys are being indoctrinated into the art of Muay Thai by Kru Ba.
Almost every Saturday, there is Muay Thai boxing between the youngsters. The winner and loser will earn 700 and 300 Baht respectively. Gambling is prohibited. Only the benefits of healthy body, mentally quick and self defense is gained from Muay Thai.
“Boxing for me is something which frees the body and releases the soul from barbarianism.” Kru Ba has been said.
“When I box I use every single part of my body and my mind. Buddhism teaches you not to harm or take advantage of people which some may find to be in direct opposition to an aggressive looking sport like boxing.
For me, boxing helps me to become a better Buddhist. I learn to control my emotions. I find beauty and peace and stillness in boxing. I get rid of my animal instincts and control them to the point that they become beautiful, an art form for sport, for education, for the discovery of truth. The word Thai means freedom and when I practice Muay Thai I feel free - free from my emotions, from anger.”
Several novice monks who have now grown up and left the monastery have been offered work as translators of various language groups for the army. Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Cheen Haw (Chinese), Lua, Hmong and Yao boys have all graduated to these positions.
Currently at Wat Maa tong there are also other Monks in addition to the Abbot Kru Ba and the novices from the local hill tribes.
Phra Kru Ba Neua Chai himself cuts a larger than life figure. His personal cult status in the community has been the seed from which this tree of success has grown. The conditions are still demanding, but the experience he offers these young hill tribe boys is unique.
One way to follow the Golden Horse Monastery as featured in "Buddha's Lost Children" is to follow their the official English-language webpage at the Facebook.