Sunday, May 12, 2013

Road Trip: Phuket, Thailand - Part 1

During our last trip to Phuket, we missed out on a lot the island had to offer so this time around, we decided to hire a car and tour guide. It was a wise investment. We saw at least double what we would have accomplished on our own and we got a bit of commentary along the way. Here are the highlights of our morning.

 Our first stop was one of the many gorgeous Buddhist temples. See how this statue almost looks like it's flaking? These are small pieces of gold foil that worshipers attach to the statue as they make their wishes.
 There's a whole story behind this Buddha that is submerged. Apparently, it was completely submerged long ago and a farmer tied his cow to it, not realizing it was a golden Buddha. The cow was found dead the next morning and they started digging out the statue. This is as far as they are able to uncover the Buddha - every time they tried to dig deeper the hole would fill with water and soil. So they built the temple around the submerged relic.
 If you look closely, you'll see a cup of what looks like pick-up sticks. Worshipers shake the sticks while kneeling in front of this altar until one of the sticks falls out. They then take the stick to a cabinet full of paper fortunes in another area of the temple and match the number of the stick with the fortune. Kind of like fortune cookies with a bit of extra work.
Brian, the engineer, took this photo because he was a bit concerned about using bamboo as scaffolding. Here they are repairing part of the temple.
 Our next stop was to the Lemongrass House, which is a retail shop for homemade spa products. All of their stock is less than 3 months old and completely made from scratch in Thailand. We came away with some nice shower gels, handwash and a lemongrass diffuser to remind us of Thailand back in the sand box.
 Outside Lemongrass house, we got an up close view of what the Thai call spirit houses. You see them everywhere outside of residences and businesses. They are houses built to honor the spirits of the gods and sometimes your ancestors. The house on the left (higher) is for the gods and the house on the right (lower) is for grandfather and grandmother. Incense, fruits and flowers are given each day as offerings.
 No, these aren't real elephants, though we had to do a double-take. Pretty amazing statues and just random along one of the highways.

This is a good time to share our traveling music for our road trip. When we got in the van, we worked with the tour guide to set our itinerary and then headed off. Soon after, she rummaged through a stack of CDs and popped one into the player. For the rest of the morning, we were serenaded by ...

 Our next stop was a cashew factory, which was actually just a huge store, mad packed with people and a tiny room in the back where you could see the processing steps. Each cashew comes from a separate cashew fruit, which is about the size and shape of a small green pepper. The first step is to boil the end of the fruit that contains the nut for 20 minutes. Without the boiling process, the cashew nut it toxic. Then, as you'll see in the photos, they use this machine to pierce each single nut and then a pick to separate the nut from the shell. We tried to ask if they now have automated machines to do this, but no clear answer.
 Then, the nuts get roasted and another woman scrapes away the skin to leave a whole cashew (when she doesn't break it). If the process is seriously this manual, I can completely understand why cashews are so expensive!
 Our final stop of the morning was Wat Chalong, which is the most popular of the Buddhist temples in Phuket and I think the largest.
 We walked up three sets of stairs to this area protected in glass. Apparently, inside the glass globe is a tooth from the Buddha, which is considered extremely sacred.
 Here's a view of the gardens from the top.
 Inside the first floor of the temple are many many Buddha statues. Our understanding is that they are memorials from worshipers who have died.
 When a Buddhist has been blessed with really good fortune, he celebrates and gives thanks by lighting firecrackers. This chimney of sorts is for that purpose. It happened twice while we were visiting and was super loud. Must have been some really good fortune!

And that was our morning. I'll give you a break and talk about the afternoon in a future post.

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