National Geographic Photo of the Day

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Kingdom of Thailand – Day 11 (June 24th 2009)

Got up a bit late. Took my time at the breakfast buffet, a pretty nice spread. Mum and Aunt took a walk to the nearby export market while Dad sat checking his bank details over wifi on my laptop.

Earlier, a certain Mr.Tawpoo (an employee of the hotel) had told us about the places we could see and he negotiated a price for today's sightseeing behind the back of the reception. AGENT ALERT!! Mum and aunt got back soon and we all got ready to go out. Then there was some pretty heavy rain, the likes of which I've seen most often on CNN when they show a hurricane with driving winds uprooting trees. But within an hour the rain had ceased and the sky was clear and blue. Our driver was Mr. Tawpoo .... First stop, the Phuket Butterfly park, more like an insectarium. All kinds of insects – giant hissing cockroaches, stick insects, praying mantises, huge tarantulas, even a few big scorpions – apart from the wonderful variety of butterflies, more than I've seen in most butterfly parks including the one at Sentosa. Next, we moved on to Wat Chalong. On the way Tawpoo told us he could show us a place near the hotel where we could get good seafood on the way back tonight ... AGENT ALERT!!

Wat Chalong is the biggest Buddhist temple complex in Phuket. The central temple is the tallest, with several floors having statues of Buddha, and the terrace giving a nice view of the surroundings. The striking difference from temples back home in India is the neatness of the entire place, it’s like they've swept the whole complex clean and there is no rubbish lying around on the grass either. Moreover, the people here and everywhere in Thailand never ever litter, they throw garbage in dustbins, even if it’s just a small bit of plastic. There is a stark contrast even between a public dustbin in Thailand and an Onyx / Neel Metal Fanalca bin in Chennai. Whereas the former has all the crap inside of it with neat surroundings, the latter has crap overflowing as well as all around it, so much so that people would actively avoid even that part of the pavement. It’s not just this temple complex, every bloody place, every road, every sight there is to see, every bit of pavement, is kept spic and span. Lots of cats at Wat Chalong, every nook and corner in the temple has a fat, healthy kitty taking a nap and sometimes a rub against a tourist/worshipper's legs.

Wat Chalong was followed by a 6km drive up a mountain road to the Big Buddha. One should remember that Phuket is to Thailand as the Andamans are to India. Yet, the perfect roads and guard rails all along the way would give a different impression. This little island even has the big names like Tesco, KFC, Burger King, McDonalds, Swensens.

The Big Buddha rests on top the mountain. About 40m tall, the Buddha is white, with a white marble lotus seat for the statue being in construction right now. The Big Buddha looms over and you get a fair idea of the size of it once you're through with the climb to its base. There's also a smaller (yet pretty sizeable) gold statue of the Buddha near the base.

Another long drive down the mountain and to the end of the island and we were at Cape Phromthep. This viewpoint rests on the tip of Phuket. Alongside the viewpoint is a lighthouse used to demarcate the territorial waters of Thailand (green light shines within this limit) and Malaysia (red light here). It’s named in honour of the 28th child (yeah, you read that right) of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who was an admiral trained at the British Royal Navy Academy and instrumental in training the Thai Navy.

The view from this point was positively awesome, the clean blue waters all around lapping at the rocks, with the pristine green forests leading right up to the shoreline and blanketing the hills. The sunset was supposed to be at 6.46pm, but the clouds moved in right around 6.15 and they never left. So we got to see only a slightly muted sunset. Oh well...

On to Patong Beach, a long stretch of coastline that resembles Pattaya's beach road most closely with all the brands and restaurants we saw there and a few malls too. Took a bit of a break here for around 10 minutes, not much you can see at a beach in the dark, but the calm waters belie the true power of this destructive (as well as constructive) element of Mother Nature. The people who were on this beach on that fateful 26th December would surely have been witness to an awesome sight, sadly the price of seeing this marvel of nature would have been death for most.

It’s been many years since, but from the look of beach road, people are willing to carry on with business even with such a risk at their doorstep. Literally, since the beach road is so damn close to the waves. And certain other roads are similar to those at Pondicherry, where the road is separated from the water by not more than a few metres (still even these roads are perfect). The inevitable AGENT question: “You go airport when sir?” popped from Tawpoo's mouth on the drive back. Thailand doesn't seem to be short of tourists though, even off-season. I shudder to think what the place would look like during tourist season. Avoid the season at all costs.

And so our sightseeing came to an end and it was time to head back to Phuket city. The drive back took a long time and once we got there we took a walk around the area. The security guard at the hotel reminded us that the food was good at a particular restaurant nearby and that he could get us a particular taxi or tuk tuk driver to take us there for a special price. We said no thanks, just walking. Damn, everyone and their uncle here's a broker. This is like the Matrix; anyone could be an agent, anywhere!!! ;-)

Had dinner at Chester's Grill, followed that up with a big Banana Split among other stuff at Ice-Cream Heaven a.k.a. Swensen's :D . It’s like Swensen's, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King etc are littered around every street in Thailand, they sure must make a killing if they're gonna be profitable with 2-3 restaurants of the same franchise on one street. Must have gained 4-5kg on just this trip to Thailand. Oh, I'll miss Swensen's when I get back home :(


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