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Praying Mon through a fiery haze at Phuket's Big Buddha

Phuket Big Buddha Celebration: Photo Special

Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Big Buddha Photo Album Above

HUNDREDS of Mon people who live on and around Phuket visited the Big Buddha on Monday for a series of Buddhist ceremonies.

Most of the rites surrounded the molding of a celebratory Buddha image. The Mon traditionally wear red longeis and many of them chose to chant with monks on the eve of Thailand's Asamha Bucha Day holiday.

Western tourists mingled with the Mon as the ceremonies took place.

Wikipedia says there are eight million Mon in lower Burma, with another 114,000 based in Thailand.

The online reference source says: ''One of the earliest peoples to reside in Southeast Asia, the Mon were responsible for the spread of Theravada Buddhism in present-day Burma and Thailand.

''In Myanmar, the Mon culture is credited as a major source of influence on the dominant Burmese culture.''

All day long, Mon were to be seen on the backs of trucks, in pickups and seung taus heading up Nakkerd Hill, close to Chalong Circle in the island's south, to the 45-metre Big Buddha.

Among those helping to mark the celebration, dressed in white as always, was Suporn Wanichkul, president of the Mingmongkol Faith 45 Foundation.

He is probably the foremost advocate of the Big Buddha and the contentment (mee kwam suk) he says can be found at the spot, 380 metres above sea level.

The Mon gathering was yet another example of the different traditions and cultures that exist on the island side by side, some without the recognition they deserve.

The Big Buddha has a garland of construction bamboo around the base now, with work continuing to complete the giant image in white jade.

Behind the beaches and the coral reefs, the Big Buddha is probably already Phuket's third most significant tourist attraction, and it has appeal all year, even on wet and windy days.

The views over both sides of the island from the top are spectacular, and Khun Suporn's claim that the hilltop is a source of mee kwam suk has never been challenged.

The changes on the winding six-kilometre road to the top come almost every day, with new restaurants and viewpoints being added and an elephant trekking camp now also prominent on the lower slopes.

The Big Buddha, Thailand's tallest sitting buddha, is expected to be completed in December this year.

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