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Big Buddha: a long way to the top, even for a Phuket tuk-tuk

Phuket's Big Buddha: Now With Uplifting Garudas

Sunday, October 11, 2009
SURPRISES are in store for anyone who has not been up to visit Phuket's Big Buddha for a while. There's the crowd, for a start.

During the week, even in monsoon season, between 500 and 800 people make the trek to the top of Nakkerd Hill. On Saturdays and Sundays, the crowd swells to 1000 or more.

By our calculations that already makes the Guy in the Sky Phuket's most significant non-natural year-round attraction, ranking behind the beaches and the coral reefs.

We are overlooking here the obvious appeal of Patong's Soi Bangla and those monuments to shopping, Jungceylon, Central Festival and Tesco-Lotus.

For a long time, watching the Big Buddha being built was great fun. The concrete, now mostly under the gorgeous white jade exterior, was painstakingly carried up bucketload by bucketload, originally mostly by Burmese, scurrying across bamboo scaffolding.

The ears and the face were sculpted in sheds nearby, then lifted up.

For a time, it seemed as though the BB would be finished this year. But no . . . a recent trip to the top illustrated the scale of the work yet to come.

While the giant image itself is more or less finished, the landscaping beneath the BB could take at least another two years.

A scale model now on display reveals the enormity of what still has to be done. Where once it was possible to walk around the whole base of the sitting sculpture, now one side falls away into a new construction site.

The lower reaches of the hilltop are what's being molded now, with plans including wheelchair access for the disabled from the enlarged carpark up to the image.

We knew that the Big Buddha would eventually be sitting on a layer of lotus blooms. What we did not know was that, beneath the lotus blooms, there would be another layer, this time of mythical garudas supporting the entire structure with uplifted arms.

With tiered layers of stairs below the garudas and a large three-headed, multi-tusked elephant trumpeting upwards, the model heralds an impressive monument.

Eighteen monks already live at the top of the hill, and no doubt accommodation for more will become available eventually.

Donations seems to be pouring in at a great rate, more than matching the speed with which the concrete keeps going into buckets.

Eventually the lotus blossoms will surround an internal museum and exhibition area.

I once staggered blindly up through the gloom, across narrow bamboo bridges then out through a crawlspace onto the shoulder of the Big Buddha, where some of the concrete was being mixed.

It was amazing to see the workers clamber about on thin air, with the whole of southern Phuket below. Even from the base of the Big Buddha, the views across the island to east and west are unrivalled.

There is still talk of a cablecar, winding up close to the 45-metre structure, atop the 380-metre hill, from the backblocks of Patong. But it may never happen.

Suporn Wanichkul, president of the Mingmongkol Faith 45 Foundation, says: ''This is a temple. Best to leave it natural.''

Khun Suporn adds, though, that his perspective is a personal one. Meanwhile, the daily trek for tourists and religious pilgrims continues, ever upwards.

The Big Buddha was Phuketwan's Phuket Attraction of the Year for 2008.
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


And there are more and more properties being developed along and off of the road up there - all clearly higher than the 80m limit. TIT.
The idea of a cable car actually makes sense - much less pollution from vehicles.

Posted by Peter on October 12, 2009 09:04

Wednesday July 24, 2024
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