Saturday, March 31, 2012

Riding Jumbo the Elephant in Phuket, Thailand

Our first port of call was Phuket, Thailand. The island of Phuket is 12 miles wide and 30 miles long. Its original economy was based on rubber trees and tin, but its beauty has always made it a destination for those wishing rest and relaxation.

Here we are coming into the port with the tugboat alongside and fishing boats in the distance.

We were one of the first ones off the ship before 7:30 a.m. We had a private tour booked with Barb and Ed, and the van wasn’t allowed inside the port gates so we hoofed it the ½ kilometre or so to the gates. We were hoping we didn’t have to walk back on the return! It was already quite warm.

One of the first things we noticed was the wires! It seems like they have never taken down a wire and just keep adding them!

Our first stop for the day was the Big Buddha. You can see it on the hill in the distance.

Free entry! We liked that. The Big Buddha is a recent monument, which was officially opened in November 2011, and is still only 70% complete.

We started to walk up the hill and noticed these cool chairs along the way.

And neat garbage cans…a great way to make use of the tree trunks.

Mmmm…coconut ice cream! We were there so early that nothing was open yet and there were very few other tourists.

And there is the Big Buddha…45 m tall and made of white marble tiles.

We met an English lady, who lives in Phuket for 6 months of the year, and she kindly took our photo. Not a bad way to escape the English winters.

The Big Buddha has been funded entirely from donations from around the world, part of the reason why it has taken a while to build. Can you spot the Canadian $5?

Up the many steps…the reason for the canvas overhang soon became apparent.

Now you can see the reason for the canvas! 

Baboons! We had noticed some litter along the way. These guys fling everything out of the garbage can looking for food.

Spectacular views…

This video clip gives you a better idea of the size of Big Buddha.

Big Buddha up close…

These gold statues were all around the base of the Big Buddha. Unfortunately, we only had a driver today, and not a tour guide, so we were left wondering about the significance of them. 

These two statues must be awaiting completion. I guess it’s bad karma to have the face uncovered?

If you walk around the back of the Big Buddha, you'll find this smaller statue which is 12 m high and made of brass.

Again, interesting, but we had no idea of the significance.

You could hear these bells tinkling in the tree. This is another way that people have made donations to the Big Buddha. You can put a message or prayer on a bell and leave it in the tree.

This baboon was giving us the hairy eyeball.

This guy was so funny. He found this plastic bag in the garbage and whipped through it in no time to find some fruit. There was a t-shirt, which he flung to one side, a few empty snack wrappers that went the other way, and then bonus…fruit! Too bad they don't pick up after themselves.

The steps going down to the washroom were decorated with flowers.

The cat was guarding the washroom.

Primitive, yet effective!

And with that we were back in the van and on our way to do our elephant trek. Jumbo was our elephant. He was seven years old and had a mind of his own.

This is our driver! I’m not sure how old he was, but his father was following along behind us.

And this is where we spent a lot of time! Jumbo wanted to eat…a lot!

We left well before Barb and Ed, but soon they caught up. Their elephant, Lucky, was Jumbo’s mother. Maybe she could straighten him out!

Nope...they carried on past us!

We caught up to them at this look out. It was beautiful. At one point, Jim said “We can go back to the ship now.” It was a highlight.

Jumbo was eating again. Here comes Poppa to try to help out our driver.

Fantastic view at the top of the hill.

Guess what? Jumbo was hungry again!

The ride uphill was fine. The ride downhill was a bit scary. The elephants got into a bit of a jog and we were bouncing all over the place. Barb yelled out “Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into, Ollie!” We cracked up! Lucky and Jumbo stopped at the bottom for kisses.

Baby Jumbo with us on board. 

The Canavans and the Schnarrs with Lucky and Jumbo hugging.

We never did get our driver’s name, but he was happy with the 50 Thai Baht that Jim gave him (about $1.50). It went into his pocket pretty fast!

We didn’t stop for refreshments or souvenirs after our ride. It was time to head to our next stop.

The Phuket Butterfly Garden…it wasn’t on our itinerary, but with just the four of us, the itinerary was pretty flexible and our driver suggested it.

We had to go through the insects first. Hmmm…a bird eating spider?

At first we thought this was him, but it was a cast off shell. Wow! Like he walked right out of it.

And here he was!

I decided if I saw anything this big, it would be a short tour for me!

We headed into the butterfly gardens. It was really hot and humid.

Lots of these pretty butterflies.

And this guy…

They gave us little dishes of bananas to set down. I guess the butterflies must like them!

And then it was on to our next stop…a quick tour of the town.

This looked like a beautiful old home…

A wedding shop…

A Honda dealer…

Not sure what any of this stuff was, but we did notice the streets were very clean.

We asked to stop at the local stores, so our drive, Eak, dropped us off here.

Barb found some fancy shoes for about $5…no, she didn’t buy them!

After 30 minutes in town, we were on to our next stop. Beautiful scenery…

I believe this is King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest serving head of state. He has reigned since June 1946. He looks pretty young here!

Oooohhh…a cashew factory. That wasn't on the itinerary either, but we were up for it.

Can you believe this guy shells the cashews one at a time. This is how it is done in India using mostly cheap female labour. Mechanical shelling methods are difficult to design because of the irregular shape of the nut, hardness of the shell and brittleness of the kernel. A newer method involves centrifugal force where the nuts are thrown against metal plates and cracked when the machine spins. They can retrieve about 85% whole kernels this way. We bought different flavoured cashews…sour cream, wasabi. Yum!

Our next stop was Wat Chalong, the most important of the 29 Buddhist temples of Phuket.

Notice my new hat? A bargain at the shops downtown for $5.

Jim outside the temple. You had to take your shoes off and...ouch, ouch…somehow keep off the hot tiles.

Locals and many Thai tourists come to pray and pay respects to several revered monks who were the founders of Wat Chalong, among them Luang Pho Cham and Luang Pho Chuang. These two monks were well known for herbal medicine and took care of local villagers during a Chinese tin miners' rebellion in the 1870s.

Inside there were lots of golden statues…

Maybe cats aren't allowed inside, but this guy was getting as close as he could.

The second floor…

And the view from the third floor…

There were many descriptive murals inside with scenes from the life of Buddha…

After the temple it was time for lunch. Can you believe we did all those stops in the morning? We were pretty hungry by now.

Fresh seafood…

And blue crab…they really were tinged blue.

Ahhh…a beer for the thirsty guys…

Yummy pad thai…you can’t come to Thailand and not try the pad thai. I probably should have taken a photo before we dived into it.

I really don’t think Barb was guzzling the beer.

The view from the restaurant.

Sea gypsies live in one area, fishing and pearl diving, until the area is depleted and then move on. They have their own language and religion of animism.

And ta-da! Back at the ship in plenty of time for our sailing. We couldn’t wait to have a shower and cool off!

The vendors on the pier were quickly packing up as we left.

Some new developments with pristine beaches. Goodbye Phuket! A beautiful island with wonderful people.

Now we have two sea days before beginning our overland tour in India...


Anonymous said...

We went almost same places what you did! Were you iän Kamala?

Krishna Thapaliya said...

The hike through the most rugged and fascinating trails of Sagarmatha National Park, witnessing the traditional Sherpa culture in the villages of Khumbu and being in close proximity with world’s highest peak - Everest Base Camp Trek.