Early Morning at Chalong Temple

Chalong temple is the largest temple in Phuket and I happen to pass by almost every morning (and evening) depending what route I take to work. The early morning light makes temples shine, and the early morning means no day visitors have arrived at the temple yet. For more about the temple with lots of photos (updated in 2012) - see here: Chalong Temple.

One morning last week I stopped on the way to work to enjoy the temple in the morning light. There were already a large group of Thai tourists there at 8am, but they were watching a dance routine that had been put on for them, so I got the temple grounds more or less to myself and enjoyed wandering around in the sunshine. Hope you enjoy the photos, and hope that if you visit Phuket that you remember to visit a temple - it's not just beaches, you know!

Temples in Phuket

Cat in the window at Chalong Temple Chalong Temple Cat

Chalong Temple Buddha image at Chalong Temple

Old dude at Wat Chalong

Reflection of Chalong Temple

Early morning at Chalong Temple

Phuket Big Buddha - Getting Bigger...

Note - this blog post was in 2007. There are some newer photos of the Big Buddha on the blog - see Big Buddha 2009 - Big Buddha 2010.

When the Big Buddha is finally finished, it is going to be magnificent. And I am pretty sure it will be on the tourist trail. When we first went up there a few years ago, the work was just starting and the road was hard work on our car. We've been up the mountain many times and I have blogged about it before (see Buddha Mountain 1 - Buddha Mountain 2). We realised that we'd not been up for about a year, and it's clear that the project has been making great strides in the last year. The Big Buddha is getting bigger. You can clearly see the shape of the Buddha now, despite it being covered in scaffolding. Looks like the major building work is almost done, and it's time to add the decorations.

Da Big Buddha Big Buddha - getting there slowly

You can write your name on bricks used in the construction

My son enjoys the view over the hills of Phuket

The road up the mountain is being improved too. A concrete road now exists for much of the climb, though there are still some stretches of dirt. But it's not damaging our car any more! Having a good road will be essential once the Big Buddha is complete to allow the tours to include it in their itineraries.

The road up still has some dirt...

Scary shrine Golden shrine

The weather last week was great - I still wouldn't trust the road in wet conditions. The views were great (as always). We go up there for the views and the fresh air. The Big Buddha itself is nothing to look at just yet - a pile of concrete in the approximate shape of the Buddha, covered from top to toe in scaffolding. We'll be sure to drive up again when the project is complete.

View from the top

You can even see Phromthep Cape in the distance

Flag and view of Koh Lon Shrine and view over Chalong Bay

An Update...Now and Then...

Much has been happening lately and the house site is a flurry of activity. Along with all the work, we have been making final selection on things like, bathroom and kitchen counter tops, floors, walls, sinks, tubs, toilets, faucets and shower heads. Even in a small town like Chiang Rai the choices are mind boggling and trying to sort out too many rooms at the same time can get quite confusing. Fortunately the wife and I make a good team and conflict is not a part of the decision making process.

Aside from the house activity we finally took delivery of our new Big Black Truck and had our puppy neutered, as if you needed to know that. I fully intended to delve further into my feelings on these events in todays posting but have recently found myself waxing nostalgic. Thinking back on where I have trod, what I have done and who I have known in my years in Thailand. I know I said I didn’t want to put pen to my previous incarnations but that was then and this is today. Who knows about tomorrow?

To begin with let me say that from the very first day in Thailand I was helped by others. Chance encounters with interesting people lead to open doors and opportunities than I would never have dreamed possible when I first set foot in this place I now call home, just days short of my 21st birthday. A full list would be too long and pretentious and name dropping is best avoided. I have know Moms and Khunyings, monks, military and police generals, politicians, business titans, celebrities, actors, models, Miss Thailands, godfathers, hit-men, gamblers, prostitutes, vendors and little street urchins. I even visited the jail once to see a young guy I had watch grow up on the streets. An unfortunate punch had led to a death and he was paying the price, as he didn’t have the money needed to make things go away.

Living here one not only meets Thais but people from all over the world. Working in a 5 star hotel and hanging out in hotel lobbies and health clubs I was privileged to meet many movers and shakers who I would have never had access to in my home country. World leaders and diplomats, usually only briefly, more time spent with their security entourage, arms dealers, major Fund administrators, Hollywood movie-stars, directors and producers, and sports celebrities.

I remember being very irritated with guy I was sharing the sauna with one quiet afternoon at my health club. In his vain attempt to make it hotter he kept turning the dials all the way to the right. That in essence turned things off as one dial was a delay timer. I was thinking what a twit this guy was and I was about to insult him with some wisecrack about his incompetence when he left for the Jacuzzi.

It was then that I realized that this relatively short, very muscular and completely naked guy was a famous Hollywood action star. (Jean-Claude Van Damme) I guess his short hair and the close proximity in the sauna, which does not lend to staring at another guy, let his true identity go unnoticed for a while.

Another time a film crew was making too much noise at the pool, winding down after a night shoot. I asked them to keep it down and the star went down on one knee and mockingly kissed my right hand, begging me not to take away their pool. (Try to picture Gregory Hines in a G-string for a moment.) After much laughter and more conversation he obviously got his wish. I did however remind him that there would be life after FOX at the hotel and I needed to consider our regular customers and their need for uninterrupted sleep.

A somewhat more humbling experience was when I went to visit a sexy young model I was sleeping with. My knock on the door was answered by a familiar face but not hers. It was a young man I had known since his days as a street urchin, sneaking around under tables in restaurants shining shoes for a few baht. His street-smarts, survival instinct and good looks had allowed him to grow and prosper. He had become a popular DJ in one of the night spots I frequented.

I could see the wave of emotions wash across his face as he opened the door to find me standing there. In his state of shock he still managed a polite wai and apology. Strangely, instead of anger or jealousy, I felt an oddly perverse sense of pride. I calmed his fears with assurances that we were OK as friends and asked him to wish the young lady a pleasant day as I turned and walked away.

My contacts and experiences were so vast and varied that I was accused on numerous occasions of being a spy or worse, usually by friends of friends. I laughed at their stupidity in thinking anyone with my lifestyle could get away with anything like that. I was hardly low-key, I had spent a fair amount of time on Thai TV, doing debate programs, game-shows, sitcoms and even a little modeling for print media.

With 30 years in Thailand this walk down memory lane could go on forever and end up boring you to death and pumping up my ego far too much, with memories of my misspent youth. Lets move on to a more timely and relevant question. Why is a guy like me building a house in a small Northern Thai Village? The answer is that, the guy like me now, is not like the guy like me then. It is almost like that guy was a completely different person even though I know I am who I am because of that guy.

I don’t know if it was age, phase of life, finding true love and companionship or a growing awareness of my own mortality but my goals and priorities have changed. City life no longer holds the same appeal. We do still have the condo in Bangkok but have less and less interest in spending time there. We find our country life much more active and fulfilling on a deep primal level.

I guess there is also a sense of giving back. After being afforded such a rich and varied life, I finally feel like giving back by living among those who are less advantaged. Hopefully by living together we will enrich each-others lives and be better people for it.

Mama Noi Restaurant at Karon Beach

I have probably eaten more at Mama Noi as much as any other restaurant in Phuket. Why? Well, it's just round the corner from where I work at Sunrise Divers in Karon Beach, about 1 minutes walk from door to door. Sure, there are a few other nearby options such as a (very) local roadside restaurant that does great Phad Thai for 40 Baht, a place called "3 Siblings" which is over the road from the 7-11 100m away which does simple cheap Thai food, and the very good Sala Bua which is part of the Karon Place Hotel and only open in high season, but Mama Noi keeps me coming back.

You'll find Mama Noi next to the Siam Commercial Bank, just off the back road (Patak Road). It's easy enough to find and always looks clean and welcoming, with green plants and many colourful orchids hanging outside. There's nothing really fancy here, but it has many regular customers (myself included) - foreign and Thai alike. A restaurant with regular local customers is always a good sign.

Inside you may notice signs saying "Self Service", and indeed this is half true. You will need to place your order at the counter, then take your own cutlery and glass of water to your table. Drinks are in a large glass front fridge - again, self service. BUT, not all drinks are in there. I almost always order a banana milkshake (Kluay Pan) - the best I have found anywhere and only 30 Baht!

Food - the name Mama Noi suggests Italian connections and the original owner (as far as I know) used to live in Italy. The western menu includes pasta, lasagne, salads, sandwiches, chicken and chips and more, while the Thai menu includes basically any Thai dish you can think of. My current favourites - Yellow Vegetable Curry (Gaeng Garee Pak), Fried Pork in special sauce (Moo Phad Mama Noi), Chicken Penang Curry (Penang Gai)... The minestrone soup is not bad either and the sandwiches are decent.. the Massaman curry is good too.. in fact I don't really recall a duff meal here though the fried rice tends to be rather bland.

It's a popular place, price is OK (not super local cheap, but not expensive) - for example, the curries will be around 80 Baht, fried rice 60 Baht, and did I mention the excellent 30 Baht milkshakes...? (Update 2013, prices have risen since this was written in 2007!)

More Karon Beach Information

Suggested Hotels in Karon Beach
Karon Beach Guide

Mama Noi Location Map

View Mama Noi Restaurant, Karon Beach, Phuket in a larger map

A Day In The Life...

We spent yesterday with our contractor and his wife. As is our custom on payment day, we make a day of it. We all went to the bank and then went to various suppliers looking for just the right materials for counter tops and bathrooms and the like. We contracted the whole job to them but everything is itemized so we can choose a slightly higher priced material and pay the difference.

We did a pretty good job of negotiating costs in advance so almost everything comes within our estimate. Some things we take notes on for future reference, while other items are ordered on the spot to be delivered when we need them. We also stopped by to see two of their other projects at different stages of completion.

The girls got hungry, as Thai women are wont to do every few hours. Normally you are given little notice and even less time to get something into their mouths, but on this occasion the offer of fresh shrimp from one of the fish-farm restaurants near Thung, was good enough for them to suppress their needs for a little longer than normal. Last time lunch was on them so this time it was our turn, as is the custom. We ended the day at the house site discussing the progress so far and what comes next.

Sometime in the middle of all this my wife got a call. It was the modern village grapevine at work. Cell phone to cell phone, trying to track down everyone to let them no of another death in the village. Her mother’s phone was off as she was knee deep in the neighboring fields trying to catch fish. Not sure if it was the basket or scoop or net or some other fishing technique. Anyway we called one of the bricklayers on site to see if she was in earshot or not.

After finding her we brought her up to speed and thus started the well rehearsed rituals of death in a Thai village. My wife has spent a fair amount of time over there, last night and today, but her mother is the real champ. She lives for these occasions and spends all day and sometimes late into the night doing all the things they do as a matter of course.  To be fair it is almost mandatory that one participate in all communal events in a village.

I took this occasion to try and sort out some of my wife’s extended family. This latest death turns out to be her grandmother’s niece who was around 69. With everyone having at least six or seven kids and all of them having six or seven kids, village families can get so large, that they can’t even keep them all straight. I have a hard enough time with the aunts and uncles.

Apparently my wife’s mother was one of seven kids and her deceased father was one of six. Of the thirteen I think there are ten left. As I mentioned in another posting all the grandparents departed in the last three years. Since I am roughly the same age as her parents that means I am also close in age to all her aunts and uncles. Fortunately most of them have a very hard time with Central Thai so we don’t have to deal with each-other very much. My wife also provides an effective buffer for me.

In the process of explaining who was who my wife got very descriptive of how poor people in the village were back when she was a kid. I had heard it before but I like the story of the one village TV, that was powered by a car battery, as there was no electricity. Twenty or thirty people, children and adults, would crowd into all the available space in a small wooden house leaving some to stand by the door or window to watch a tiny black and white TV. They had heard of color TV but had no concept of what it was, so tried to colorize their screen with see-through color strips. 

Apparently the house suffered greatly from all the stress and strain and needed to be repaired often. Sometimes people didn’t even have enough to eat and the only recourse was to go off into the jungle and find some jungle food or kill something. That lead to the occasional poaching of an animal that belonged to a neighbor who was better off.

My wife and I have previously discussed the particularly pragmatic, Thai view, of ethics and morals and have come to the following conclusion. Need, is usually seen to outweigh the concept of right and wrong. As example “I am not a liar, I only lie when I need to”. Often the Farang view of the world as (black or white, good or bad), is at odds with the Thai view, which to put it kindly, is much more flexible and creative.

That was yesterday, while today I spent exploring new trails on my bike and getting some much needed exercise. No two days are ever alike...