Saphan Rak Sarasin, meaning the “Sarasin Bridge of Love”, is a story that can come right off the pages of any Shakespearean tragedy. From a time when social class and family name in Phuket was as strong as any Montesquieu and Capulet, the legend of the Sarasin Bridge is one that took place 42 years ago this very week.
The legend is well known to Thais throughout Thailand, immortalised in both film and folk songs, it is a tale of two young lovers who decided to bind their forbidden love endlessly together with reckless abandon.
Historically, the couple, refused permission to marry, tied themselves together with a traditional Pha Khao Ma cloth to symbolize their eternally bound love, and together in each other’s arms, jumped into the sea from halfway across the Sarasin bridge.
Enter stage left, our two star-crossed lovers, who were of different ancestry and socioeconomic status. The young man, a bus driver named Ko Dam Sae Tan, and the beautiful young university student in a respected teaching program named Kiw Kanchana Sae Ngo.
Both lived in Tha Chatchai in Phuket and fell in love with each other despite their differences. Kiw would board Ko’s bus as part of her daily commute. The local route gave them plenty of time to talk and get to know one another and talk about life and their differences as well as the many similarities. The two found love in each other’s eyes and saw past the social norms of the day that society insisted made their love unacceptable, and decided to make a life together.
Though they loved each other greatly, their relationship was shamed in the eyes of those around them but they pressed on insisting love has no bounds. Ko went to Kiw’s father to request his daughter’s hand in marriage, but he was swiftly refused. How could he let his daughter who had such potential, marry a man who lived hand to mouth? Kiw’s father forbade her from seeing Ko again after this bold act of love.
Kiw’s father ruled the family with an authoritarian might, as was the custom of the day. He gave his daughter no freedom to choose her own path, as he expected that Kiw would marry a wealthy man who could elevate the family status as well as provide a substantial dowry for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
As time passed, under her father’s watchful eye, Kiw grew up to have a successful career as a teacher, but her father would remain entrenched in every facet of her love life and continued to demand an end the forbidden love of his daughter.
The couple’s love was muddied by the waters of heredity and social status and though they put every effort to prove that the love they have for each other was strong and true and in no need for the trappings of social norms no matter what they did, Kiw’s father refused to accept Ko Dam.
Kiw was repeatedly beaten by her father and was restrained because she continually would flee to met with Ko Dam. Kiw’s father attempted to force her to marry wealthy suitors but she refused tooth and nail.
After seeing the persistent love of Ko Dam and Kiw, they eventually won the hearts of the people of Tha Chatchai at the time. Shamed and treated as unacceptable at first, later many people would try to persuade Kiw’s father to accept Ko Dam as a son-in-law, but nothing could change his mind.
With growing despair, the couple decided to take their union into their own hands. They arranged to meet halfway across the Sarasin Bridge on Feb 22, 1978, which had been the symbol of their love as the apex of their commute, and bound themselves together with their Pha Khao Ma cloth, and jumped into the water, taking their own lives and ending their pain forever. By binding themselves together, they knew they would be together forever, never to separate, and would be forever bound in the minds of Thailand as well.
As William Penn once said, “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time eternity.” This is perhaps truer this week in Phuket history than in any other.
The Legend of Sarasin Bridge is another love lesson inscribed in the heart of Phuket and no matter how many years have passed, the story is told again and again and reminds us all that love has no norms, no class structure, no borders. Love is love and we must all take a leap to be with who we wish to be with.