Thursday, November 8, 2012

Phuket Big Buddha

As you travel around the southern end of Phuket Island there is a single feature in the middle of the island that dominates the country side, clearly visible the huge, white image of Buddha.  At over 45 meters tall, sitting atop the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata it is easily visible from great distances and has quickly become one of the island’s significant and venerated landmarks. There are perhaps over a 1,000 foreign and Thai visitors wondering around the site on a daily basis, even though it is not yet complete.

Sitting on the top of the hill offers spectacular 360 degree views of the island (picture extensive vistas of Phuket Town, Kata Beach, Karon Beach, Chalong Bay and more).  The Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha as it is known among the Thai’s is 25 meters across at the base. The body and surrounding ornate portion of the base is layered with beautiful white Burmese marble that almost glows in the sun light, making it a unique symbol of hope for all. Whether looking at the panoramic views or the gigantic image of Buddha they are all breathtaking.

Once you have reached the base of the statue you will be struck by the feeling of peace and tranquility that pervades the site, the only noises you will hear are the tinkling of small bells hung from the tree branches and the yellow Buddhist flags in the compound flapping in the wind plus soft background dharma music.

Note that funds for the massive construction project are provided completely from donations and through the sale of souvenirs.  A unique souvenir that you do not take with you is the white tiles that will eventually be used to cover the entire statue.  After purchasing one or more of these tiles you write a message on the tile(s) and thus your visit to this shrine will become part of the statue.   I have visited the Big Buddha many times since moving to Phuket in 2008, always marking my stop with a short message on one or more of the tiles.  So I can say that my children, my brother and his family and my parents also have a place on the statue.  At the base of the statue is a hall displaying the history of construction, including techniques used.  It is in this hall where the tiles can be purchased along with other souvenirs and there are vast arrays of donation boxes for people who wish to just contribute to this amazing project.

Getting up to the Big Buddha can be an adventure in itself, there is a winding narrow, 6 km road off Chao Fa Road East near Chalong that leads up to the base parking lot.  In my many visits this road has gone from a dirt path to a fully paved road, but is still a bit tricky in spots.  When I first started making my pilgrimages up the mountain there was little along the road once you past through the village near Chao Fa Road, but as progress on the statue continued many new businesses have sprung up, including restaurants, coffee shops, elephant rides, 4 wheeled ATV rental and even a paint ball gaming area.  There is now a full fledged parking lot when you reach the top that replaces the catch as catch can parking that was available before.  Of course once you have reached the base of the statue, your journey is not complete, there is still the stairs up to the actual base of the statue, so please be prepared.

Please dress appropriately for what is a religious site, i.e., no bare shoulders or midriffs or short-shorts, but there are sarongs available free of charge if you are wearing something a bit daring.  The statue site is open from 8 am until 7:30 pm, making it a great place to catch a fantastic sunset (weather permitting) around 6:30 pm.

The project actually began as an idea at the turn of the century that a few friends had while wondering about in the Nakkerd Hills.  They felt this would make an ideal spot for great scenic vistas of the southern part of the island.   After much discussion and finding the right spot, it was decided to build a giant image of the Lord Buddha that would have more significance to Buddhist.   The project like all major undertakings did have its share of problems along the way, not the least of which was getting the necessary building permits.  The 30 million Baht necessary for the massive structure come entirely from donations. “This project is huge and requires a lot of money. But so far we are managing just fine. I’m amazed at the amount of help we have received from everyone who knows about this project. It seems they all want to be a part of it,” explained Suporn Wanichkul, president of the Mingmongkol Faith 45 foundation, which was formed to build the Giant Buddha.  It was determined that there would be two images of Buddha on the site, a smaller one, 12 meters high, is made of 22 tons of brass costing eight million baht and is dedicated to HM Queen Sirikit.  It is dwarf by the second giant statue that dominates the mountain top and is dedicated to HM King Bhumibol.

A variety of the scenic views from the Big Buddha.

Writen by Uncle Doug, October 2012

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