After two action packed days in Cambodia, we took an early morning flight from Siem Reap to Phuket, Thailand! Transportation on Phuket is limited to over-priced taxis and tuk-tuks, or hiring drivers for the day. Our hotel, Phuket Marriott Merlin Beach, had airport pick-up for a high price, and so I looked for other options online. We planned to do one day of sight-seeing with a driver around the island, and the Phuket International Airport is very far away from the Patong beach and Phuket city areas, so we decided to combine an airport pick-up and one day sightseeing to Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha on the southern part of the island and hire the driver for both. It was slightly less expensive than doing them on separate days, and the driver was much less than a taxi would have been. Our driver picked us up from the airport and drove down to our hotel, about one hour away. After checking in, we headed to Wat Chalong first.
Wat Chalong is a Buddhist temple that was built in 1837. Since we didn’t visit any newer temples in Cambodia, I was excited to see one of these ornate temples up close. There were several multi-story buildings in the complex, two of which were open for tourists. In order to enter the buildings, women must have shoulders covered and both men and women must have pants or shorts to the knees. Shoes are not allowed inside and must be left outside the gate.
The first building we entered had several stories with colorful murals on the walls and dragons on the stairs. Upstairs was a room full of golden Buddhas and statues of famous monks, more than we had seen in one room in other temples around Asia. On the top floor was an outdoor terrace with a great view of the other temple buildings and the surrounding area.
The next building we entered seemed to be less for tourists and more for locals coming to worship. Outside the temple were different things to buy as offerings. Interestingly, people were buying little squares of gold leaf and carefully sticking them on the Buddha statues, so that the statues were only partially covered in gold. Others bought orange cloth to leave in front of Buddha to provide them with new outfits. Still others bought flowers and other arrangements. This was also very different from other countries. The temple was light and ornate and colorful. Still others bought firecrackers and other explosives that were detonated inside of a brick enclosure regularly. It was very unsettling to have the peaceful setting disturbed by the incredibly loud firecrackers periodically.
The grounds of the temple had small grass courtyards and a souvenir tent area near the bathrooms. The buildings are close enough together that we didn’t need a stroller for our baby. We did have a baby carrier for the multi-story building. Because there were driveways and parking lots between buildings, there weren’t wide open space for the boys to walk or play safely, but they were able to get a little energy out before we moved on to a nearby attraction- the Big Buddha.
The Big Buddha near Wat Chalong is just that- a giant Buddha on a hillside. When we visited, it was not yet completed, but climbing up on the hillside afforded us incredible views of the southern part of Phuket. Austin made a guess that the half-completed stairs and area surrounding the Buddha was a ploy to get tourists to donate money. Underneath the Buddha was a large gift shop and exhibit outlining the construction plans. We made our way through the gift shop and up the side stairs to the top of the hillside. Aside from the new giant Buddha, there were smaller shrines and sculptures around it.
The views from the base of the Buddha were unreal! The sun was shining and I could not have dreamed up a more beautiful color for the water. By walking from one end of the hillside to the other, we could see views of the mountains to the east, the bay to the south, and beaches to the west. We spent about an hour taking in the view and walking around on top of the hillside.
Directly underneath the Buddha was a makeshift temple where worshippers and monks were chanting prayers, which added to the ambiance of the site. Compared to Wat Chalong, this worship area was very plain and seemed to still be under construction. The chants and songs were amplified and broadcast throughout the complex.
Utilizing our airport pick-up driver to take us to Wat Chalong and Big Buddha was a great option for us with our busy schedule on Phuket. Taxis and even tuk-tuks are expensive on Phuket, and it is difficult to hail taxis and tuk-tuks from these places back to hotels. Most people have their drivers wait anyway while they visit the sites. We ended up not using the stroller at either location, mostly because Wat Chalong was small enough to not need one and Big Buddha had stairs that made stroller difficult. We either held our toddler or used the backpack baby carrier. Snack and water options are limited at these sights, to be sure to pack something for the kids. We asked our driver to stop somewhere for lunch before heading to the temple, and I’m glad! I’m sure there are many scenic lookout areas on Phuket, but the iconic Buddha and beautiful Wat Chalong were close together and a great place to start our week in Thailand!