Trips to Big Buddha and the Botanic Garden were the most touristy thing I did in Phuket, apart from the customary visit to the Phang Nga Bridge. The bridge happened when I was trying to find the entrance of Sirinath National Park and the reason why I missed out on the park timings. Although the bridge is nothing spectacular except that it connects the island of Phuket to the Thai mainland, it had a very breezy, relaxed vibe.
The sea around the area was sluggish, colourful fishing boats dotted the calm water and the Thai mainland stretched ahead in rugged emerald hues. Friendly locals crowded the path leading to the bridge selling water and cold drink bottles, fried snacks like grasshoppers, shrimps and cheap souvenirs. They were smiling friendly bunch who were content just to chat, smile and gossip with each other. Immobile fishermen in straw hats and fishing poles were scattered all over the bridge and little yellow crabs and mud skippers scuttled about the slightly littered beach. It was breezy, fresh and very relaxing, just the perfect place to blow away your Sirinath blues.
Big Buddha beckoned and off I went twisting up and down the wooded Phuket roads. I love riding in Phuket, mainly because apart from the tourist haunts, the rest of the island is quiet, delightfully traffic free and fragrant with wilderness. Occasional spots of light shower caught me by surprise and flower petals blew in the wind. I passed by the Karon, Kata, Kamala, Surin and a few other beaches and nearly reeled from the crowd of people who had flocked there.
Among Phuket’s endless stretch of beaches I loved the Mai Khao (part of Sirinath National Park), Nai Harn (with nearby Ya Nui and Ao Sane hidden coves) and Kata beach. Morning glory trailed prettily on most beaches and they bobbed their lovely lilac faces in the sun. Big Buddha is near Chalong and not very close to Patong, where I was staying. But the drive was fantastic and I had nothing to complain about.
Touted as the most iconic and revered spot in Phuket, the smiling peaceful Big Buddha sits atop Nakkerd Hills and offers 360 degrees panoramic views of the island. Sweeping vistas spread all around and it was hard to concentrate on the shimmering Burmese marble statue of the 25 meters high Buddha. Tinkling bells and Buddhist peace flags broke the windy silence of the summit and it is definitely one of my favourite Phuket spots. It is also much popular for sunsets but I was determined to catch mine at PhromThep Cape.
The Botanical Gardens located in the Muang district of Phuket happened immediately thereafter and was a pleasant post lunch break. Lunch was at a small fishing village near the backwater and it was a long, winding one. Small tanks held priceless catch from the sea and after careful selection and weighing, it was prepared the way customers wanted. I walked around staring at the lively seafood, getting more and more confused with every tank. It was a claw and fin galore and I loved the prospect of a nice cheap seafood meal.
But fear in their alive popping eyes made me change my mind and I ended up choosing egg fried rice and steamed morning glory. I loved Thai food and its intrepid vegetarian options. Fresh, crunchy and colourful, the dishes are usually flavoured and fragrant due to the heavy use of exotic sounding ingredients. Lemon leaves, bamboo shots, kafir lime etc are my favourite and I loved the way they prepared water cress, morning glory and spinach. The Botanic Gardens arrived after a quick detour to an elephant shelter and I entered a humid, fragrant space. It was small, strangely over decorated with bizarre clay figurines of scantily dressed voluptuous Thai ladies and was very very steamy. However for an area so small, Phuket Botanical Gardens had an interesting abundance of gardens of herbs, cacti, fruit trees, flowers, lotus pools and even a miniature replica of Thai village (complete with a patch of rice field).
I wandered around the flower filled gardens under the sweltering heat, checked out the masses of colourful blossoms (and carnivorous plants) and scurried out as fast as possible. I love Thai flowers-the various hued, printed orchids, bahunias, blue lilies and all, but could not handle the oppressive heat. I rode around the empty noon streets of Phuket, checked out the quaint Old Phuket Town and explored its vintage Sino Portuguese loveliness. Phuket’s Old Town had a lot of character and was teeming with colonial mansions, Chinese and Buddhist shrines, tiny printing shops, quirky little museums and a slice of ex red light district. I wandered along the tiny sois (lanes), gawked at the silently busy Amulet Market and lazed at a quaint cafe over few glasses of fresh juices. Thailand is richly blessed with abundance of exotic fruits and nothing beats the Thai sticky heat, like succulent sliced Thai fruits or freshly squeezed juices.
Built on the prosperous tin boom the Old Town of Phuket is very easily walkable (if you can bear the heat) and basically includes Thalang Road, Phang Nga Road, Soi Romanee, Dibuk Road and Kraabi Road. They hold some amazing collection of Baba (rich Hokkien Chinese traders) community architectural jewels like Shrine of the Serene Light, the Memory at On On Hotel (of the movie “Beach” fame), Thai Hua Museum, China Inn etc.
Its a pleasant place to spend an afternoon before catching a Phromthep sunset. Located between Nai Harn and Rawai beaches, Phromthep Cape turned out to a stunning carnival. A beautiful rocky headland, it is the southernmost point of Phuket and was filled with manic crowds rushing to catch an iconic Phuket sunset from there. Apart from the Big Buddha, Monkey Hill, Khao Rang Hill, Kata Viewpoint, Panwa Viewpoint and Radar Hill Viewpoint, Phromthep Cape offered spectacular Andaman Sea sunsets.
The sun came out from the clouds and anticipation of a sunset rose like a fever among the bustling crowd. A tiny rainbow appeared suddenly and drew admiring gasps from the viewers. Shops, restaurants, shacks, parking lots-everything was filled to the brim and people ran up the stairs to the walkway in hordes. I too made my way up, looked into the blue eternity of Andaman Sea and imagined the coastline of home, India and Sri Lanka at a distance.
The solitary uninhabited island of Koh Mun stared at me as I hiked down to the end of the cape. The undiscovered jewel of Yanui Beach shimmered in the evening sun and I burst my lungs, hiking all the way up. The Phromthep Lighthouse which also doubles up as a maritime museum was unfortunately closed that day, so I wandered towards the Windmills Viewpoint. Relatively quieter it was very pretty with slim white sails swishing out into the azure Andaman Sea vista.
It had been my most beautiful Phuket day and somehow I had managed to pile from gardens, Big Buddha, sunsets in it. Although most memorable and dear to my heart for my infamous tattoo adventure, Phuket tops my list of favourite places in Thailand.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE