Having left the tranquillity of the jungle behind us, we headed the three and a half hour drive from Khao Sok National Park down to Phuket for the last leg of our stay in Thailand.
Arriving into the small town of Karon we were staying at the Old Phuket hotel, ideally located between the long stretching beach at the front, and at the back a short walk takes you to the Karon Temple, locally known as Wat Suwan Khirikhet. With much of the afternoon already gone we relaxed at the hotel and recouped, before heading out in the evening for dinner.
Walking out to the beach we took in the sunset over the perfect little waves that were rolling in, and admired the huge golden coils of the Nāga statue. The Nāga is a Thai dragon, or serpent, and people come to the statue with incense and gifts to pray and make wishes. When these come true they bring an offering, it must be doing a good job as the statue was surrounded by small trinkets and statues of its own. Nāga are recognisable all over Thailand, often spotted as the railings around Buddhist temples. The story goes that Nāga wanted to become a Buddhist monk but Buddha would not let an animal become a monk so the Nāga vowed to protect the temples instead. For dinner I enjoyed some Pad Thai, which originates from the Phuket region, washed down with some Chang beer and after that we called it a night.
For our second day in Phuket we ventured to the madness of Patong, this is the area full of questionable bars where every street and crevice is packed with market stalls. It’s a pretty crazy place and I definitely would not recommend staying in the area, but a visit and some shopping is all we needed, so for this it did the trick! Scoping out the stores as we trudged through the sticky 31˚C heat, we were out for a bargain and were not disappointed.
In Patong it is absolutely key you do not buy anything for full price. Bartering is a way of life here and unlike in India where it tends to be a bit of a slog in Thailand they seem to really enjoy it, it’s almost a game. We were tending to knock things down to 40-50% of the price they told us originally, exclaiming loudly “oh gosh that’s very expensive” to show our purse strings were tight. We then bartered away, back and forth, making deals with them for two for one offers and threatening to walk off. The joy is that if you do walk off you will find the same piece of clothing or souvenir in the next shop anyway. Bagging ourselves some great bargains throughout the afternoon we rewarded ourselves with a beer tower (much needed in the heat) and then headed back to Karon, speakers blazing in the back of an oversized Tuk Tuk. As if we needed more shopping we headed to the Karon Temple night market in the evening (every Tuesday and Friday), I didn’t find anything else but it was cool to see the temple lit up in the darkness. After a big day of trawling the markets popping my feet up in the evening was all the bliss that I needed!
Sadly our time in Thailand had come to an end, but we still had a morning to fill in Phuket. Waking up early I began the day with a stroll along the golden sands of Karon Beach and a paddle in the lovely warm sea there. With the low light catching the mist from the white water it was a fantastic start to the day. After breakfast the plan was fairly relaxed and everyone did their own thing, relaxing in the pool, late packing, or God forbid more shopping! I opted for a visit to the temple instead, to see it in the daylight. Our rep joined me as did one of the others and we headed the short walk to Wat Suwan Khirikhet.
It was fairly picturesque with its bold reds, blues, greens, yellows and golds covering the carvings and statues of the temple buildings. The story of the Buddha was told in a series of golden statues, and the green and gold of the Nāga skirted the stairways and walls. Our rep is Buddhist and headed into the temple to make an offering to the monk there, and receive a blessing in return. He invited us in to watch so we removed our shoes and knelt quietly behind while he and the monk chanted and repeated mantras in Thai. The monk took a bamboo brush and dipped it in a bowl of water next to him, as he chanted he flicked a generous amount of water over each of us in turn. After repeating this a few times he invited us forward where he took a brightly coloured woven band and carefully tied it on our wrist’s, being sure not to touch the girls as it is forbidden. Our rep explained this was a blessing of protection and the bracelet symbolised this. We felt very lucky to have experienced this, especially as we are not Buddhist’s ourselves.
Following our visit there was just enough time for a swim in the sunshine before packing up and checking out. As we headed off to the airport I had a bit of a snooze, just catching sleepy glimpses of the Big Buddha that sits atop the hill on the middle of Phuket, before catching our flights home.