When it’s just the two of you, you have no plans to adhere to, no timings to particularly hit, and therefore life has a very relaxed way about it.
Having Nik’s Mum and Dad with us hasn’t made life any less relaxed but it has highlighted that we have become a little less diligent about schedules since we left the UK and we regularly find ourselves not quite ready to leave when we have made plans to do so.
Changing continents has brought about a significant change in the culture that we are immersed in as we travel the globe. One of differences is highlighted by today, the change in the religious dynamic. Catholicism disappeared somewhere on the flight from Australia and so far we are in a world dominated by Buddhism (at least so far) and today’s self-organised tour of local attractions take in a couple of significant religious sites on Phuket Island.
The self-guided tour was achieved by securing the services of a local taxi for the day and getting him to drive us to the locations and wait whilst we pottered around doing touristy things. When I say taxi, I mean Tuk Tuk, and when I say Tuk Tuk, I really mean pimped up Bedford Rascal van with bench seats on the side of a semi-open rear section (the latter providing a wonderful breeze and therefore respite from the amazingly hot temperatures).
Sitting on top of the Nakkerd hills between Chalong and Kata is one of the islands most famous landmarks. Standing 45 metres tall with a 360 degree view of the island is a giant statue of Buddha, and you cannot help but be impressed. He is a very happy and friendly looking chap and looks resplendent in his marble tiled exterior, particularly against the cloudless blue sky.
The site is still under construction and it is estimated that will take at least another 5 years to complete (more based on the number of workers and their pace on our visit) and it seems to be funded solely from donations and purchases from visitors. The final plans include a temple built inside the base of the statue, a large terrace and steps surrounding it with a few smaller statues. Clearly to get the most donations / purchases, building the large Buddha first makes it an attraction and increases the number of people that will come up and part with their cash.
One particularly nice method of doing this is to purchase a small metal bell which has a heart shape attached to the clanger, which people write messages on and then attach to trees an structures at the base. With the gentle breeze the now hundreds (if not thousands) of ringing bells create a wonderfully relaxing sound as you walk round the site.
Next stop was Wat Chalong, a site of Buddist temples. The contrast between these and the large Catholic churches of S.America is stark, with extremely colourful and extravagant designs of dragons, people riding peacocks, and generally quite tall and pointy buildings. You are required to remove your shoes before entering the temple, which when there are marble floors exposed to the powerful midday sun makes for an entertaining game of running barefoot from shadow to shadow to stop burning our feet.