Friday, January 7, 2011
Royal Caribbean Cruise: Day 3 - Phuket Excursion
It is really worthwhile having an Oceanview stateroom. This is the view from our window as we pulled into Phuket.
Again, you have a choice of staying on board the ship, or hopping onshore for excursions (there are lots of mini tours you can book these via the Shore Excursions Desk on board).
If there is no port large enough, the ship anchors itself offshore and gets served by tenders (boats) that transport passengers back and forth every 15 minutes.
When you look back, you really appreciate the size of the Royal Caribbean ship. It looks grand compared to the other boats!
A short while later, we arrive at Patong Beach. It kinda reminds me of Kuta, Bali. Anyway, this is where we meet up with our designated tour guide - Yee Leong and I have been given the Temple Visit and Holy Places excursion. We're delighted to find there are only four people on this tour today, including ourselves. So we get a nice minivan with lots of space, instead of a lumbering coach!
Pranang Sang Temple is the oldest Buddhist temple on the island, erected some 545 years ago in Thalang when it was the capital city. The grounds are where the battle of Thalang took place in 1785 when the locals fought off Burmese invaders.
The temple is decorated with large bilingual paintings and murals that depict Buddha's life and Phuket's recent history. It's also got a main hall that has bizarrely not been completed for more than 100 years, due to many accidents and delays.
This place is also known as Temple of the White-Blooded Lady. Legend has it that a princess was framed and executed, but the white blood that flowed from her wounds proved her purity and innocence. Somehow it reminded me the Mahsuri legend from Langkawi, and I was surprised to find a linkage with Phuket. It seems her descendents are living here now.
This temple also suggests that Buddha has a different pose for each day of the week (and indeed, two poses for Wednesdays - night and day). There is also a reclining Buddha statue outdoors, and a mummified abbot at the temple.
It was found by a boy who tied his buffalo to the protruding head that was then covered in mud. The boy and the animal both died shortly, and appeared to his parents in a dream and told them about the statue. But everyone who tried to remove the Buddha statue from its place soon suffered misfortune or death. So they have covered up the statue with gold and built a temple around it. It is highly revered by the locals, and even the King visited it at one time.
Click on the right to read the full details.
The tour guide showed us a Bodhi tree. These are sacred to Buddhists, and the leaves are interestingly heart-shaped.
Next we visited the old town in Phuket. Our minivan was able to handle the little alleys that big buses are not allowed to! We visited the Saeng Tham Chinese Temple, "Temple of the Serene Light", which is remarkably similar to many Chinese temples elsewhere. A large proportion of Phuket's population are Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 19th century to work in the tin mines. These brought along their beliefs and set up their own places of worship.
We also passed by the Monument of the two heroines who led the defence of Phuket against Burmese attackers in 1785. Sisters Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sri Soontorn tricked the Burmese army by disguising women as soldiers and parading them around town, to give the impression that they were getting reinforcements. The Burmese, who were in larger numbers but famished, soon retreated.
The tour also brought us to Rang Hill or Khao Rang. It's a hilltop park that gives you a panorama of the city.
There is a restaurant up here called Khao Rang Breeze, perched above the steep jungle slopes. I wondered if it's any good, but we didn't have time to try it.
We bump into Calvin and Cherie, who almost look like the Wonder Twins here. They are off to the Thai massage segment of their excursion. Lucky people!
Well, it was not all Buddhist and Taoist temples. We were also brought to the Monument of the Father of the Thai Navy, HRH Prince Chumporn. They revere him deeply for his deeds to the nation, and you can see shrines dedicated to him along the coast of Phuket.
We made an unscheduled pit stop at the Sri Bhurapa Orchid cashew nut factory where we could get some (free) refreshments. Unlike the others, this 5.5 hour tour does not include any lunch or tea or snacks.
Luckily we did so, as this was where we bumped into Eunice who was finishing her elephant ride tour. We cajoled her into joining us for Promthep Cape.
But one more temple to go before we get to the panoramic cape. Wat Chalong, Phuket's largest and most sacred shrine.
Wat Chalong is full of legend and history. It's seen healing miracles, and the revered abbots there have played pivotal roles in overcoming rebellions and mediating peace.
The latest addition is a special chedi housing a precious relic - a fragment of bone from the Lord Buddha. It's right on top, with a majestic spire reaching heavenwards.
It's the grandest temple we've seen so far. Elegant, ornate and very imposing.
We didn't stay long at Wat Chalong as it was already closing. We headed to the famous Promthep Cape. It overlooks the southern part of the island, and commands a beautiful view of the sea.
There is a shrine here too! The four-faced Buddha shrine, encircled by scores of elephants. I wonder if it's related to the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok...
It was sunset at Promthep Cape, so we played with silhouettes, trying to get the the sunny starburst effect. Eunice's ponytail came in handy as a focusing point.
After a full afternoon of temples and holy places, it was only natural to partake in a little meditation.
And soon it was time to go back to the ship. It looked gorgeous, like a scintillating jewel upon the sea.
Not a single food shot in this post, I'm afraid. But the feasting continues back on the ship!
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