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Phuket's hilltop of happiness, the Big Buddha attracts many visitors

Phuket's Big Buddha Can See: Photo Special

Saturday, December 12, 2009
Phuketwan's 50-Shot Photo Special Above

PHUKET'S Big Buddha has a new pair of eyes. The gleaming dark pupils were carried up to its tall face today as 259 monks from all over Thailand chanted, and a fierce wind threatened to blow everyone off the mountain.

Each day brings change at the top of Nakkerd Hill, with tourists making the climb in increasing numbers and the huge white sculpture becoming a beacon for mee kwam suk, or happiness.

Today's VIP guest to mark the extended celebrations for HM The King's 82nd birthday was Khwankeo Vajarodaya, the Secretary of the Bureau of the Royal Household.

At precisely 9.39am, to drumbeats and gongs and the prayers of assembled guests, the pupils rose skyward. Some of the daredevils on the scaffolding above performed highly skilled acrobatics in the windy conditions, reminiscent of the days when the whole of the Big Buddha was covered in bamboo.

Suporn Wanichakul, President of the foundation that oversees the 80 million baht project, greeted Khun Khwankeo after reading a list of donors to the Big Buddha fund.

Phuketwan's photographer followed the BB's big pupils as they took a detour inside the belly of the building, then sailed skywards.

There are still layers beneath the 45-metre sitting buddha to be created, with the team of sculptor Prasit Labliam, art technician Burapha Rodori and consultant Cholasit Nakphiriphat envisioning bold sweeps of space and six-metre religious images as the hill is stripped and restructured, and a ramp for wheelchair access from the carpark.

A couple of trees at the top have grown a crop of tinkling bells, a source of delight for young and old visitors. The views remain the most stunning on the island, absolutely free, no need to purchase a $3 million baht clifftop villa first.

Happiness is freely available at the top, too, and very few people make the descent without taking some of it away with them. That would certainly have been the case today.

The monks themselves, when not required to chant, played tourists, taking in the views, enjoying the bright blue Phuket sky.

And what will the Big Buddha see, now that he has eyes?

He will see spectacular sunrises, looking to the day as it begins in the east, over Chalong pier, rather than waiting for the more commercial western beaches sunset.

He will see a Phuket with its share of problems, an island troubled by corruption, greed, and environmental destruction. He will also see honesty, courage and hope.

In 100 years, when the Big Buddha remains and those of us below have all gone, perhaps there will be only honesty, courage and hope. And, let's believe, happiness.
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