Happiness is a Big Buddha Photo Album
JUST AS Phuket will need to change to meet the circumstances in 2009, we had to adapt the Phuketwan Business of the Year Award for 2008.
There were certainly businesses that did well on the island (although probably not as many as in previous years) despite the pain of the airport blockades in Phuket and Bangkok.
But the more we thought about the businesses and the alternative, the more we thought we'd have to adapt the big prize.
And so, after a lot of thought, but without further ado, welcome to the award for the Phuketwan Attraction of the Year 2008.
And the winner is . . . the Big Buddha, or to give it its proper title, the Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha.
Through 2007 and even more effectively in 2008, the 45-metre tall Big Buddha became one of the most important additions to the icons of the tourism industry on the island.
Today the Big Buddha ranks with the Heroines as a symbol of Phuket and everything it stands for (or in the case of the buddha, sits for).
Along with the artificial reef of aircraft and helicopters that was eventually sunk successfully off Bang Tao beach late last year, the Big Buddha is a man-made addition to the island's array of attractions.
Yet unlike the Sunken Squadron beneath the sea, the Big Buddha is an ever-visible sign, high on a mountain top, that Phuket really does have a culture that extends beyond its natural attributes, the beaches and the reefs.
So much of what is now happening on the island is about ''internationalisation.'' The island is becoming increasingly bland and suburban as a destination, and a place to live.
This has both positives and negatives. Visitors feel comfortable coming to a place where they can retreat to familiar features (McDonald's, Starbucks and the shopping malls, etc).
But it is the adventure and the enchantment of Thailand and its renowned hospitality that really brings them here in the first place, and it's what they are anxious to explore.
The Big Buddha helps a lot to redress the balance. In this part of the world, it's a one-of-a-kind.
The BB a wonderfully appealing attraction, and it works through high season and through low season as well.
A visit to the top of Nakkerd Hill is actually more impressive when the wind is blowing and the storms are gathering than on fine, still, sunny days.
Hundreds of visitors are drawn to the gigantic monument every day now, and they are usually not disappointed. The views to both east and west coasts are fantastic from 380 metres up.
A couple of times Phuketwan has ventures even higher, up in a crane twice, and once in a crawl through the darkened innards to emerge on Big Buddha's shoulder.
These journeys gave us some memorable photographs, which form part of the Photo Album with this article, and a great deal of admiration for the workers who built the Big Buddha.
As with many constructions on Phuket, most but not all of them were Burmese.
In the early days, they scrambled up with amazing ease to flesh out the features of the big fella by hand, loading buckets at ground level then pulling them up on ropes.
Later, they mixed concrete on the shoulder to take up the face. Today the wooden scaffolding has gone, and so have the workers.
What remains is a sense of mee kwam suk (happiness) that is usually spoken about by the buddha's most dedicated advocate, Suporn Wanichkul.
As president of the Mingmongkol Faith 45 Foundation, he works tirelessly on the Big Buddha project and can be often found there, dressed all in white.
For him, the biggest and most pleasant surprise (apart from the buddha itself) has been the willingness of people from all over the world, of all faiths, to give to the project, which now is rapidly approaching completion.
We've been to the mountain top at all times of the day and night and seen the Big Buddha grow, and never come away without a little extra mee kwam suk.
If there's one place on Phuket that can be almost guaranteed to lift your spirits, rain or shine, this is it. See you up there.
Did we get it right? Tell us in Comment below
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