Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
The Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha – or to its friends, The Big Buddha – sits at the peak of one of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata in Phuket, Thailand. The Buddha dominates the area, and while it’s impressive enough by itself most people look at it in awe for a moment then turn to enjoy the view. The statue stands 45 metres high, towering over the landscape, and faces towards Phang Nga Bay in the east.
In all directions there are sweeping views of picturesque bays and sleepy coastal villages (which in Phuket, are deceptively calm from this distance), so it’s pretty easy to see why that specific location was chosen for the statue.
There’s plenty of ways you can get to the Big Buddha – by tour bus, all-terrain buggy, taxi, or even strapped to the back of an elephant. The road that leads to it is well-worn and winds through a forest of trees and minor industrialisation, before it spills out into the wide clearing at the peak. It’s a relatively young statue, with construction starting in 2004 and remains incomplete. The white Burmese marble facade gives it a brilliant, blinding sheen, but the lotus throne it’s seated on is half built.
It’s an impressive, dominating structure. Even more impressive if you know that it’s been built entirely by donations, and around 30 million bhat will be spent on it by the time it’s complete. It’s a serene slice of paradise, a narrow wedge of peace and quiet amongst the turmoil of Phuket – even if it is slightly marred by the fact that you have to exit through the gift shop.
There’s a fee for entry, a number of souvenirs, the option to buy a bell to hang in the tree and ring with your wishes (250 bhat) or to buy a tile for the statue itself, and write your wishes on that (350 bhat). It’s a neat way to raise money for construction, and let’s just hope it’s finished one day. I gladly would have given more if it meant the cheap Burmese workers were paid better.
A word for the wary traveller – towards the end of the day the site is swarming with monkeys, and I realise they might be cute, but they’re wild animals. Worse than that, they’re wild animals who have grown used to humans, and know an easy target when they spot one. Just give them a wide berth and leave them alone. Go up there, pay your respects to the giant Buddha statue, and enjoy looking out at Phuket from a distance. It’s probably the best way to enjoy it.