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Waterworld in Thailand

Rising seas are already devouring this coastal village. Is Bangkok next?

At night, monks sleep on platforms as seawater sloshes underneath. Inside the main sanctuary, stained gray with water damage, the floor has been elevated several times. Like many in Khun Samut Jeen, monks must stoop down to open windows.

Strolling barefoot along a walkway ringing the temple, the abbot points to several man-made barriers rising from the sea. One was built by Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, he said. A newer one was built by contractors, hired by the monks after a donation drive.

But replenishing mangrove forests, he said, is their best defense. Deforested long ago by locals, the shrubby mangroves hold the soil taut. Phra Athigarnsomnuk and his monks now collect fallen mangrove fruits, tend to them in small pots and later replant them at low tide in the marsh surrounding the temple.

“The researchers told me about global warming, about the ice caps melting, how that makes the seas rise around our temple,” the abbot said. “All I know is to keep planting mangroves.”

As dusk settles over Khun Samut Jeen, tides shift and water creeps in. The setting sun casts amber glimmers over the marsh. Even the mudskippers, big as rats, begin to retreat before the sea level peaks around midnight.

“We feel a bit of a loss, but we’re not sad,” said Somkuan, who has already bought more property further inland. “We’ll just keep retreating. We have no choice.”

More from Thailand correspondent Patrick Winn:

Want to play monk? Fork over $700

Elephant polo: It's kind of a big deal

Seven reasons why Thailand is a mess